How Social Norms influence behaviour

– By Justin Trisnamawan 

Our behaviors as humans is social with friends, family, co-workers etc. Social norms is beliefs of how one should behave in a situation. From what we know about social norms, it starts where other’s actions are highlighted and are influenced by the people around them. It is simply a guide line that we follow to judge what is acceptable or not of our own behavior. For example, breaking the law or littering is seen as socially unacceptable.

There are different ways that other people can influence our behavior, but essentially two main types are formal adoption and informal adoption. A formal social norm is found in groups such as, religion, ethics, tradition, legal systems and sport teams. Informal social norms are formed over time between everyone and strangers. It isn’t a written rule of how to behave, we do not expect to behave in certain ways in situation but merely a guideline.

In an experiment done by psy­cho­lo­gist Wesley Schultz (Schultz et al, 2007) researchers studied the influence of social norms on  house hold energy consumption. Households were randomly picked and put into two categories of high or low energy usage. The households where given information about their energy usage, the low energy households where given a positive “emoticon” (happy face) conveying they were doing a good job and the over consuming households were given a sad face emoticon showing they were using energy higher than average.

They monitored there consumption over the next month and as most would expect the higher energy consuming household reduced their energy use, however the under consuming household that received the social norm of good energy usage in fact increased there usage, this shows that the low consuming households took less care and relaxed about their usage, this is how behaviors can be affected through social norms.