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These notes are meant to compliment lectures and are not a

substitute for the lecture and readings suggested

TOPIC 2: Social Norms

• Social Influence refers to the efforts by people to change the attitudes, beliefs
or behaviours of other people. The aspects of Social Influence include:
Conformity, Compliance and Obedience

• Latané (1996) proposed the social impact theory which states that the
likelihood that a person will respond to social influence will increase with:
Strength (how important the influencing group of people are to you);
Immediacy (how close the group are to you in space and time); Number (how
many people there are in the group)

• Normative social influence refers to a type of social influence stemming from

our need to be liked and accepted by others. Informational social influence
stems from our need to have correct perception of our social world.

• Conformity is the pressure to act in line with social norms by adhering to

certain unwritten rules regarding behaviour. It stems from our need to be
accepted. Deviance is defined as the absence of conformity.

- Asch (1956) conducted research on conformity which involved

participants viewing a “standard line.” Then viewed three “comparison
lines” and were asked to state if the comparison lines were the same
length as the standard line.
- Sherif’s research on the autokinetic phenomenon (when placed in a
dark room and exposed to a single, solitary point of light most people
perceive the light as moving) was used to examine: how norms
develop in social groups and how strong the influence of these norms
have on behaviour.

• Factors affecting conformity include: Cohesiveness, Group Size and Social

norms. Cultural differences exist in conformity where members of a
collectivist society are more likely to conform than members of an
individualistic society. Note that there are instances where even if one wants
to conform it may not be possible to do so.

• Compliance involves directly asking people to go along with a request.

Cialdini (1994) identified six underlying principle of compliance:

Frienship/Liking, Commitment/Consistency, Scarcity, Reciprocity, Social
Validation and Authority.

• Obedience is where people behave in a certain way because another person

has directly told us to do so.

-Miligram’s obedience studies: Would you harm an innocent stranger if

ordered to do so?

• Social norms are rules and standards that are understood by members of a
group that guide/constrain social behaviour without the force of laws. They
emerge out of interaction with others, they may or may not be explicitly stated
and deviating from norms comes from ones social network not the legal

• Norms emerge from general societal expectations for our behaviour (Blake
and Davis, 1964; Pepitone, 1976), expectations of valued others for our
behaviour (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975), our own expectations for our
behaviour (Schwartz, 1977), standards that develop from observing others
(Cialdini, Reno and Kallgren, 1990) .

• There are two perspectives on how/why norms are formed:

- The Societal-Value Perspective argues that norms are arbitrary rules

for behaviour that are adopted because they are valued or reinforced
by nature. Any norm is neither inherently good not valued, its power is
granted by its acceptance within a culture (Berger and Luckmann,
- The Functional Perspective argues that norms develop in order to
encourage or curtail behaviours that are connected to survival on either
an individual level (Sherif, 1936) or a group level (Campbell, 1975;
Pepitone, 1976; Sumner, 1906)

• According to Boyd and Richerdson, three ways in which norms can be

propagated is through 1) Vertical transmission- from parent to offspring, 2)
Oblique transmission – from a leader of society to its followers, 3)Horizontal
transmission- from peer to peer interactions.

• Different kinds of norms include: descriptive norms, injunctive norms,

subjective norms and situational norms

• Two different norms govern how we allocate goods and services to our friends
and relatives, as opposed to strangers and acquaintances as illustrated by the
distributive justice norm. It states that for formal or short term partners
relationships are based on exchange principles whilst for intimate or long term
partners, relationships are more communal.

• We engage in a variety of maneuvers in order to maintain a positive self-
concept. Some of these include: Self-serving attributional bias (Ross & Sicoly,
1979), False Consensus (Ross, Green & House, 1977), Self-handicapping
(Berglas & Jones, 1978), Social Comparisons (Wills, 1981). Schwartz (1977)
argues that we have personal norms or self-based standards that come from
our internalized values and they are self-reinforcing

• Pluralistic ignorance refers to an illusion or a mistaken and unwarranted

impression of how other people feel or think on various matters. It can occur
when public attitudes on a issue shift but perceptions are lagging behind or
when perceptions are changing, preceding people’s attitudes.

• From the psychological perspective emphasis is placed on the “ignorance”

element. It is explained in terms of information processing, attribution and
internal motivations. It is due to people not being perfectly adequate
information processors due to cognitive short comings and self-serving biases.
From the social perspective emphasis is placed on the “pluralistic” part of the
phenomenon. It is not ignorance in the ordinary sense of not knowing but
rather a shared belief by two or more individuals. Pluralistic ignorance is seen
as being caused by error-prone messages from the environment

 Cialdini R.B., Trost M. R. (1998). Social Influence: Social Norms, Conformity,
and Compliance. In Gilbert, D. T., Fiske S.T., Lindzey G. (Eds), The handbook of
social psychology (pp 151-192). Oxford University Press.

 Shamir, Jacob, & Shamir, Michal. (1997). Pluralistic ignorance across issues and
over time: Information cues and biases. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 61(2), pp

 Savarimuthu, Bastin T. R., Cranefield, Stephen, Purvis, Maryam, Purvis, Martin.

(2007). How do norms emerge in multi-agent societies? Mechanisms Design.
Department of Information Science (pp. 1-8) Otago, New Zealand: University of
Otago Press.

 Lewis, M. A., Neighbors, C., Lindgren, K. P., Buckingham, K.G., Hoang, M.,
(2009). Theories of social influence on adolescent and young adults alchohol use.
In K. T. Everly, & E. M. Cosell (Eds.) Social drinking: Uses, abuses and
psychological factors (pp. 1-39). Nova Science Publishers.