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Social norms: A review of practical concepts and examples

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People influence our behavior. When we are with people, we have different expectations from them. They also have expectations of us. People often ask others to pay attention to their expectations.

History and general concept of social norms

Perkins and Berkowitz first developed the theory of social norms in 1986. The two researchers examined students’ alcohol consumption patterns. Ideas of social norms are also currently used for a wide range of public health issues. The most important of these are:

  • Smoking
  • Avoid high-risk driving
  • Creating a culture to use a seat belt
  • Prevention of rape

The primary purpose of this theory was to understand the environment and the effects of peers to change behavior.

Researchers in this study concluded that people of the same age have a more significant impact on each other. If you want to change a person’s behavior by focusing on one person, you will probably see fewer implications and results.

2020 Russian constitutional referendum in Chechnya
2020 Russian constitutional referendum in Chechnya

Social roles and social norms

The theory of social norms focuses directly on the influence of peers and their role in individual decision-making.

We expect people to behave predictably and to behave appropriately in each situation.

You have to behave according to whatever social role you choose. In this way, the expectations that you and others have from it are the same and consistent.

We must point out that social norms or customs are rules accepted in a group or society. So they may be different in each community. There may be different expectations of each person in the group.

If one person in a group or community does not follow the norms, the rest of the people in the group will be dissatisfied. 

 In general, natural laws continue to work alongside social norms to establish order in different societies. The existence of either of these two will not be another obstacle.

Although there are different definitions of social norms, there is agreement among researchers about social norms. For example:

  • It is related to behaviors and, in a way, influences decisions.
  • Social norms are the same among members of a group.
  • They have a grammatical or prescriptive mode.

Social norms are a socially acceptable lifestyle followed by a group of people in a community.

Ronald Jepperson, Peter Katzenstein, and Alexander Went see norms as collective expectations of appropriate behavior for a given identity. (Katzenstein, Peter, 1996).

But Wayne Sandholtz opposes this definition, saying that common expectations are the effect of norms and are not inherent. (Sandholtz, Wayne, 2017).

According to Sandholtz, Martha Finnemore, and Katherine Sikkink, norms are a standard for the proper behavior of people with identities.

Actress Jane Fonda with Costars During War Protest
Actress Jane Fonda with Costars During War Protest

The social roles we play

Each of us may play several roles in one day. Sometimes we are in the role of a son, father, or wife. Sometimes we may play the role of sister, brother, student, and employee.

Sometimes we are obliged to fulfill social norms in the role of a friend. Standards are a kind of social function that exists for expected and predetermined behaviors.

Social norms are not necessarily a set of written rules. Each group has its accepted norms. Social norms usually refer to different beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

Expectations of playing a role and social norms

Norms can be considered a set of expected behaviors that know about the behavior and performance of individuals. The goal of these norms is to create better order and predictable behaviors.

For example, teachers and parents expect students to do their homework and homework on time and to be in the classroom on time at all times.

In the previous example, which we described as a kind of social norm, the two conditions of being predictable and establishing order are pretty obvious.

When you hold the door after you enter the building for people who enter the building immediately after you or stand in line behind the store counter, they are an example of the daily social norms you encounter. Become. Many people commit to doing this because they want to play their part in each group properly.

Cat Brings Therapy And Delight To The Elderly
Cat Brings Therapy And Delight To The Elderly

The importance of social norms

Social norms are accepted criteria for behavior in social groups.

It does not matter if it is a friendship group or a workgroup. Even in the behavior of social groups of governments and nations, social norms play an essential role.

Many of our maps and norms in different groups are powerful ways to understand better and predict things. In this way, each person in the group can perform their role better.

The observance of norms in human society is very significant. In general, one cannot imagine a community without social norms. Humans need criteria to behave and function better. Order and predictability are essential in social relationships because they enable most people to adapt to the social standards of each group.

People are often under pressure to adapt to their social roles. Most people try to comply as much as possible with the guidelines provided for their role and social norms.

If we can play our role well in our groups, our teammates will approve of us. If we do not correctly play our position in the group, the group will not approve of our behavior and role.

Therefore, before attending a particular group, we need to have enough information about the expected behaviors and examine whether we can adapt to our group’s roles and social norms.

Read more : social norms for women

Saudi music festival
Saudi music festival

The reason people follow social norms

You may be interested to know why people follow social norms. Through extensive research, researchers have given reasons for this. We intend to describe them below.

Sometimes people respect social norms and consider themselves obliged to do so because they will face social sanctions if they do not follow specific standards. Sometimes they observe social norms for not being punished, and sometimes keeping specific criteria brings rewards. Therefore, to receive the award, they prioritize the observance of social norms.

If a person enjoys being in a group, they are obliged to follow these unwritten rules as group members. It does not matter if the target group is large or small, real or even virtual.

Social psychology research has shown that the more a person values the group, the more they adhere to the social norms in the group. Or, if a person in a group can define himself better for others, he will be more likely to conform to the group’s norms. (Hackman, J.R., 1992). 

Remember that if a norm is created entirely within a group, it will become part of an operational structure. Social norms may rarely change after being built in a group unless newcomers shift the group’s criteria. But in general, newcomers to the group usually accept the group’s previous norms, values, and views. It is doubtful that they will want to change it. (Hackman, J.R., 1992).

Daily Life Amid Coronavirus Pandemic In India
Daily Life Amid Coronavirus Pandemic In India

When do we learn and practice social norms?

People learn some norms in childhood. Sometimes many people forget that they learned some basic standards in childhood.

Teaching social norms in childhood will be very effective.

Sometimes people consider themselves obliged to observe social norms because politicians have used various policies and laws to oblige people to implement social standards.

It is interesting to know that humans learn social norms through social interaction.

 Humans, as social beings, learn when and where to comment on specific topics and what particular words and tones to use to communicate with other people.

People even use their social norms and experiences to learn when and where wearing certain clothes is appropriate or inappropriate (Kamau, C., 2009).

Social norms will not be fixed forever and will change over time. In the past, there was no norm for early marriage. But today, we see that people get married after they reach puberty. There are many other examples of creating and changing social norms. Many people avoid driving while consuming alcohol, Even if the police do not see them, and pay a driving fine.

In the past, female genital mutilation was considered a social norm in some countries, but now we do not see this social norm.

 Many people are involved in changing social norms. In addition to individuals, there are organizations around the world that monitor standard social norms. The purpose of their monitoring is to determine whether the existence of current standard criteria leads to a healthy and productive life experience or harms all members of society or some of them.

Hot weather in Antalya
Hot weather in Antalya

General behavior and social norms

To respect social norms as an individual and positively impact others, we need to be present as much as possible by engaging in a range of social behaviors in the community or groups.

For example, shake hands when meeting people. Of course, this should be in line with the culture of each country in which you are present. You need to learn helpful information about how different nations shake hands so that you do not get into conflicts. Also, during the corona pandemic, no one expects you to shake hands with group members or rub robots with them. Make direct eye contact when talking to people.

Keep your distance from strangers. It would be best to be away from the stranger so that your hand does not hit his body. This way, you can protect your privacy.

Prioritize courtesy and respect in your daily conversations. Avoid using vulgar words, even when you are outraged. It would be best if you refrained from expressing racist or discriminatory views when talking to people.

Treat the elderly and children kindly, take the lead in opening the door for them. If you are in a place where the elderly or children are standing, it is better to give them a place to sit or a chair because these people need more respect and attention and have lower body abilities.

If you come to someone else’s house as a guest, ask their permission to do different things. Do not turn on the TV without the landlord’s permission or enter the bathroom without the landlord’s notice.

Do not forget to follow the order in different queues and be at the end of the line.

Apologize if your body collides with another person while walking.

Make sure the toilet is clean after use. Do not forget to wash your hands after using the bathroom.

Please use the word please before requesting anything.

Pay attention to the way you dress. It is necessary to dress to fit any situation.

Do not interrupt when someone is talking, even if you disagree with him. Wait for the person in front of you to finish. You can express your opinion when allowed.

If someone did something for you, thank them.

If, for any reason, you are unable to attend the meeting, apologize to the attendees or let them know that you will be late for the meeting. 

For online meetings, it is also essential to notify them of their absence or late arrival because online meetings are just as important as face-to-face meetings.

Nigeria Lifestyle social
Nigeria Lifestyle social

Norms and values

Sometimes these two words are used interchangeably in everyday conversation. However, social scientists have provided a special meaning and concept for each of them.

Social norms can be considered standards, rules, guidelines, and expectations in people’s behaviour.

While values are a kind of abstract concept and include essential and valuable items, for example, honesty can be considered a general value. It is the norm to expect students not to cheat.

Values are known as general guidelines among the general public. But norms are specific guidelines and may vary from culture to culture. 

Values act as general criteria for determining good or bad for human beings and societies.

But norms are principles, teachings, and even expectations of individuals, and they must act on them in different social situations.

Vietnam lifestyle LGBT drag
Vietnam lifestyle LGBT drag

differences between norms and values

As you can see, there are differences between norms and values. But the direct relationship between values and standards in society is undeniable. If you live in a country and community that values education, you will probably see strict norms regarding education in this community. They are probably fighting illiteracy, and the number of working children in this society is decreasing every day.

For example, if private property is a core value in society, we will see strict laws against theft and damage to personal property.

The right to life is one of the most fundamental rights in many societies.

Therefore, if someone deprives a person of this right, he will be sentenced to the most severe punishment, which is death. But more straightforward crimes will be accompanied by lighter and more informal penalties and social norms.

Parade in Silent Protest in Harlem
Parade in Silent Protest in Harlem

Can social norms be problematic?

It is interesting to note that it will probably be classified as taboo if the behaviour or action deviates significantly from a social norm.

Social norms can sometimes become problematic and encourage people to do things and behaviours harmful to specific groups or harm people in the community.

 For example, racism and sex discrimination can be considered examples of social norms in different periods in different societies.

In the past, not working for women in society was considered a social norm. But not only do social norms not suppress this now but in many cultures today, anyone interested in working and able to perform specific tasks is encouraged to work and earn money.

However, unfortunately, there are still other racist and gender behaviours in some societies and countries.

Turkey Kurds unrest demo
Turkey Kurds unrest demo

What is a taboo?

Taboo means the social or cultural prohibition of an act. The government may not punish people in the community, but they are widely ridiculed or criticized by others.

People who grew up in a desirable cultural society respect taboos and refrain from doing things that they know as taboos. People who break the taboo may even be judged and criticized.

In every country and every culture, some behaviours are considered taboo.

Taboos are mostly related to things like courtship and dressing, and eating.

In some societies, taboos are rooted in religious beliefs. To get acquainted with some examples of taboos, pay attention to this example.

Most Jews and Muslims do not eat pork because their religion forbids eating pork. Therefore, if anyone eats pork in these communities, he has broken the taboo. There is no punishment for him, but he is blamed and sometimes ridiculed by those around him.

As we have said, taboos are usually social prohibitions in industrial societies and do not lead to punishment. There has been a lot of research on taboos in the past. Some behaviors are known as taboo in most countries and cultures. Global taboos include incest, cannibalism, and parental murder. Sigmund Freud also made a variety of arguments about global taboos (Freud, S., 1983).

Rohingya Women Rise Up In Bangladesh's Refugees Camps
Rohingya Women Rise Up In Bangladesh’s Refugees Camps

New taboos with changing customs and social standards

Today, contemporary Western multicultural societies are taboo on issues such as tribalism or ethnicity and even nationalism. These societies also have taboos for racism, sexism, homosexuality, extremism, and religious bigotry (Putnam, R. D, 2007).

We are witnessing new taboos with changing customs and social standards. For example, in the past, slavery was not a bad thing. But today, the ban on slavery is recognized and even referred to as a taboo.

More examples of this can be the prohibition of alcohol, tobacco, or the use of psychotropic drugs, especially among pregnant women.


In this article, we study social norms. To be more respectful of group norms, we need to know more about the causes of their formation.

But in general, addressing how social expectations and norms arise remains an open question. Because the answer to this question is different in each view, if existing social models are harmful, we must seek to correct or eliminate them.

At the end of the article, we also provided information abou

Social norms in Psychology

t taboos from ancient and modern perspectives. 

We hope this information has given you a good idea of ​​the subject of social norms

We look forward to your feedback and would like to know your views on good or bad social norms. Get in touch with us and leave us a comment.


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  2. Harorimana, D. (Ed.). (2010). Cultural Implications of Knowledge Sharing, Management and Transfer. Advances in Knowledge Acquisition, Transfer, and Management. Published. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-60566-790-4
  3. Katzenstein, M. F. & Social Science Research Council (U.S.). Committee on International Peace & Security. (1996). The Culture of National Security. Amsterdam University Press.
  4. Putnam, R. D. (2007). E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture. Scandinavian Political Studies, 30(2), 137–174. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9477.2007.00176.x
  5. Sandholtz, W. (2017). International Norm Change. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Published. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.588
  6. Herrmann, R. K., & Shannon, V. P. (2001). Defending International Norms: The Role of Obligation, Material Interest, and Perception in Decision Making. International Organization, 55(3), 621–654. https://doi.org/10.1162/00208180152507579
  7. Young, H. P. (2015). The Evolution of Social Norms. Annual Review of Economics, 7(1), 359–387. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-economics-080614-115322
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