Norm (sociology)
Social norms are the accepted behaviors within a society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 or group. This sociological
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 and social psychological
Social psychology
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behaviors include all...

 term has been defined as "the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit. They have also been described as the "customary rules of behavior that coordinate our interactions with others."

Norms vary and evolve not only through time but also vary from between social class
Social class
Social classes are economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, economists, anthropologists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'...

es and social groups. What is deemed to be acceptable dress, speech or behavior in one social group may not be accepted in another. Essentially, social norms are rules that define the behaviour that is expected, required, or acceptable in particular circumstances. They are learned through social interaction.

Deference to social norms maintains one's acceptance and popularity within a particular group. Social norms can be enforced formally (e.g., through sanctions) or informally (e.g., through body language
Body language
Body language is a form of non-verbal communication, which consists of body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements. Humans send and interpret such signals almost entirely subconsciously....

 and non-verbal communication cues). By ignoring social norms, one risks becoming unacceptable, unpopular or even an outcast.

As social beings, individuals learn when and where it is appropriate to say certain things, to use certain words, to discuss certain topics or wear certain clothes, and when it is not. Thus, knowledge about cultural norms is important for impression management
Impression management
In sociology and social psychology, impression management is a goal-directed conscious or unconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event; they do so by regulating and controlling information in social interaction...

, which is an individual's regulation of their nonverbal behaviour. One also comes to know through experience what types of people he/she can and cannot discuss certain topics with or wear certain types of dress around. Typically, this knowledge is derived through experience.


Social norms can be viewed as statements (both implied and explicitly stated) that regulate behavior and act as social controls. They are usually based upon some degree of consensus within a group and are maintained through social sanctions. Three models explain normative rule content:
  • Focus on the actions of one's personal ego
  • Focus on ego's reactions to actions of alternative
  • Negotiation between ego and alternative.

Development of social norms

Groups may adopt norms in two different ways. One form of norm adoption is the formal method, where norms are written down and formally adopted (e.g., laws, legislation, club rules). However, social norms are much more likely to be informal, and emerge gradually (e.g., not wearing socks with sandals).

Norms can exist as both formal and informal rules of behaviour. Informal norms can be divided into two distinct groups:
  • Folkways: Informal rules and norms whose violation is not offensive, but expected to be followed. It's a kind of adjusting, accommodating type of habits. It does not invite any punishment or sanctions, but some reprimands or warnings.
  • Mores
    Mores, in sociology, are any given society's particular norms, virtues, or values. The word mores is a plurale tantum term borrowed from Latin, which has been used in the English language since the 1890s....

    : They are also informal rules that are not written, but result in severe punishments and social sanction upon the individuals like social and religious exclusions.

Individuals who fail to comply with formally- or informally-sanctioned social norms are reprimanded in a number of ways. For example, noncompliant individuals may be criticized by others , denied food, or any number of other negative sanctions.

Transmission of social norms

Groups internalize norms by accepting them as reasonable and proper standards for behaviour within the group. Once firmly established, a norm becomes a social fact, and thus, a part of the group's operational structure, and is difficult to change. With that being said, newcomers to a group can change a group's norms. However, it is much more likely that the new individual entering the group will adopt the group's norms, values, and perspectives, rather than the other way around.

Also, norms that are counter to the behaviours of the overarching society or culture may be transmitted and maintained within small subgroups of society. For example, Crandall (1988) noted that certain social groups (e.g., cheerleading squads, dance troupes, sports teams, sororities) have a rate of bulimia that is much higher than society as a whole.

Terms related to social norms

A descriptive norm refers to people's perceptions of what is commonly done in specific situations. An injunctive norm refers to people's perceptions of what is commonly approved or disapproved of within a particular culture.

Prescriptive norms are unwritten rules that are understood and followed by society. Everyone does these every day without thinking about them.

Proscriptive norms are unwritten rules that are known by society that one shouldn't do, or follow. These norms can vary from culture to culture.

Deviance is "nonconformity to a set of norms that are accepted by a significant number of people in a community or society (Appelbaum, 173)." In simple terms it is behavior that goes against norms.

The 'looking glass-self' is how one sees themselves by interacting with others, how others perceive oneself, what others expect, and how one should behave.

Example of a norm

Norms affect the way one behaves in public. When one enters an elevator, it is expected that one turns around to face the doors. An example of a social norm violation would be to enter the elevator and remain facing the rest of the people.

Game-theoretical analysis of social norms

A general formal framework that can be used to represent the essential elements of the social situation surrounding a norm is the repeated game
Repeated game
In game theory, a repeated game is an extensive form game which consists in some number of repetitions of some base game . The stage game is usually one of the well-studied 2-person games...

 of game theory
Game theory
Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances, such as in games, where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others...


A norm gives a person a rule of thumb
Rule of thumb
A rule of thumb is a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. It is an easily learned and easily applied procedure for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination...

 for how they should behave. However, a rational
In philosophy, rationality is the exercise of reason. It is the manner in which people derive conclusions when considering things deliberately. It also refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons for belief, or with one's actions with one's reasons for action...

 person only acts according to the rule if it is optimal for them. The situation can be described as follows. A norm gives an expectation
In the case of uncertainty, expectation is what is considered the most likely to happen. An expectation, which is a belief that is centered on the future, may or may not be realistic. A less advantageous result gives rise to the emotion of disappointment. If something happens that is not at all...

 of how other people act in a given situation (macro). A person acts optimally given the expectation (micro). For a norm to be stable
Structural stability
In mathematics, structural stability is a fundamental property of a dynamical system which means that the qualitative behavior of the trajectories is unaffected by C1-small perturbations....

, people's actions must reconstitute the expectation without change (micro-macro feedback loop). A set of such correct stable expectations is known as a Nash equilibrium
Nash equilibrium
In game theory, Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a game involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only his own strategy unilaterally...

. Thus, a stable norm must constitute a Nash equilibrium.

From a game theoretical point of view, there are two explanation
An explanation is a set of statements constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context, and consequencesof those facts....

s for the vast variety of norms that exist throughout the world. One is the difference in games. Different parts of the world may give different environmental contexts and different people may have different values, which may result in a difference in games. The other is equilibrium selection
Equilibrium selection
Equilibrium selection is a concept from game theory which seeks to address reasons for players of a game to select a certain equilibrium over another...

 not explicable by the game itself. Equilibrium selection is closely related to coordination
Coordination game
In game theory, coordination games are a class of games with multiple pure strategy Nash equilibria in which players choose the same or corresponding strategies...

. For a simple example, driving is common throughout the world, but in some countries people drive on the right and in other countries people drive on the left (see coordination game
Coordination game
In game theory, coordination games are a class of games with multiple pure strategy Nash equilibria in which players choose the same or corresponding strategies...

). A framework called comparative institutional analysis
Institutional analysis
Institutional analysis is that part of the social sciences which studies how institutions—i.e., structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of two or more individuals—behave and function according to both empirical rules and also theoretical rules...

is proposed to deal with the game theoretical structural understanding of the variety of social norms.

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.