Running head: HUMAN BEHAVIOUR AND SOCIAL NORMS Do social norms influence human behaviour? Human behaviour is the response to given stimuli, which are socially and environmentally affected. This response is something that can easily be influenced and shaped through many personal, situational, social, biological, mental factors. In this essay the case of social norms influencing human behaviour will be analyzed using previous studies. Social norms are part of a larger influential scale generally named as social influence.
Social influence is the exercise of power that an individual or a group can use on other individuals or society in order to alter their attitudes, behaviours and lead them to a desired direction. Social influence has as an outcome three different behavioural patterns, which are conformity, compliance and obedience. All of them will be discussed, but especially conformity and compliance, which mainly include the influence of social norms on behaviour (Franzoi, 2009; Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004).
Firstly, conformity in general is the action to adapt with the behaviour of the rest of the people due to perceived group pressure. Practically, this means that the way people dress, entertain themselves, protest, work, eat, go on vacations, disclose themselves and substantially anything an individual can occupy himself, is formed by group’s direction and tendencies because the majority of people, if not all of them, try to socialize and be accepted by their society in any possible way.
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This phenomenon is called conformity and it is an ambiguous question if independence, which indeed is a reality, exists anyway. This happens because people voluntarily direct their independence towards society’s preferences and tendencies in order to feel that they belong somewhere and they have a particular social identity (Franzoi, 2009). The second factor of influence is the compliance and it is has to do with the public and clear acceptance of one’s person to act according to given social direction by the indicated social power. However, compliance can be divided into internal and external.
This means that a person can comply with a situation either because someone else indirectly forces him or either because he believes he should act like this. For example, if someone asks his friend to lie in order not to have problems with parents (e. g. cover a sneaking out) but he does it in the name of friendship even if he does not really want it, this is a clear example of external force making you to comply. Internal compliance is the opposite state where personal beliefs and attitudes force you to do something without having any external pressure to do something.
This issue is very important because in the case of external compliance, social norms are in a great influential position in contrast to internal compliance where personal beliefs mainly take place on the decisional process (Franzoi, 2009). On the other hand obedience is the total performance of a given order by social power without any resistance against it or trial to sustain independence. Social power is the available social sources through social acceptance and social status that a person or a group of people can have in order to exercise persuasion and give motivation to make people change or fulfill their requests.
Consequently, these three parts of social influence represents the levels of personal accordance to social patterns, authoritarian or not. Specifically, it can be noticed that the level of individual’s independence sets if a situation is more about conformity (unconscious but voluntary acceptance of the norms), or compliance (internal or external acceptance) or obedience (total accordance to social power) (Cook et al. , as cited in Franzoi, 2009; Franzoi, 2009). Focusing more one the aspect of conformity and the influence of social norms, there are specific factors that affect conformity and levels of social norms’ influence on it.
These factors can be situational, personal and cultural. Situational factors can be group size, group cohesiveness, and social support. Group size is important because as Asch (1955) found, the larger the group, the bigger the phenomenon of conformity due to social norms. Group cohesiveness makes the group to have greater bonds due to similarity and ability to easily show empathy to each other (Christensen et al. , 2004) and social support is noticed to groups with higher levels of cohesiveness and bonding. On the other hand, there are personal factors ffecting the type of conformity such as self-awareness (ability to understand own self), self-presentation (try to present ideal self in order to conform), personal control (desire to feel that one has control, as a human right, over particular situations) and gender (gender differences- women are more likely to conform) (Franzoi, 2009). Based on all the previously referred material, conformity is totally driven by social norms, norms that are not written but sometimes are more powerful than law; the way that a person conforms to society affects the level and type of his compliance to society’s requests.
For example, if a person has as personal characteristic not to like altering his self-image/ presentation based on society’s preferences due to his intense belief in independence, it is possible that this person will comply more difficult because of external motivation instead of internal. On the other hand, this means that if a person has an internal compliance only to smile to people who knows and not to anybody else due to his belief, this will affect the way that he conforms to the social norm of smiling to people in general in order to be kind.
This shows how social norms can affect conformity and consequently compliance and the other way around, respectively. Furthermore, people have a tendency to create and maintain meaningful relationships with other people because they need socializing as human beings, which is called as affiliation. Affiliation is a good example of internal compliance. This motivation makes the compliance to socializing and dedicating energy and time on building relationships, an internal acceptance for personal growth (Franzoi, 2009; Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004).
Nevertheless, there is the issue of how and when external compliance to social norms such as stereotyping occurs. In particular, Bargh and Chartrand (1999) did a study on automaticity of behaviour and found that when people are unconsciously pre-occupied with e. g. stereotyping words, even if they believe that stereotyping is wrong, they are likely to stereotype because they unconsciously externally comply with the given stimuli. Stereotyping is a form of social norm. People may stereotype in order to protect themselves; for example, filthy aggressive people on the street may be perceived as thieves or criminals.
So there are two outcomes on this example. One person may believe that the appearance cannot indicate anything about personal characteristics but in the end he conforms to the social norm and try to avoid him as the other people around him do (external compliance). On the other hand, one may truly believe that these kinds of people are definitely criminals because he might have a bad experience in the past so he avoids him due to his belief (internal compliance to the social norm of avoiding this kind of people) (Franzoi, 2009; Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004; Bargh & Chartrand, 1999).
Rimal and Real (2005) did a study on how perceived norms affect human behaviour with college students in order to investigate intentions to alcohol consumption. They proposed the theory of normative social behaviour that includes three mechanisms: injunctive norms (such as social approval), outcome expectations (such as personal benefits) and group identity (such as similarity). Their hypothesis was that these three mechanisms are able to moderate the influence of social norms on the human behaviour. Indeed, their results showed that these normative mechanisms could predict the intention of alcohol consumption to college students.
Consequently, this study is a clear answer to the question whether social norms affect human behaviour. In addition, Rivis and Sheeran (2003) did a study on Theory of planned behaviour in order to find out whether added descriptive norms can be good predictors of human behaviour in the particular model. Their results showed that younger participants and health risk behaviours are greatly related to stronger correlation between intentions of behaviour and descriptive norms; confirming that behaviour is affected by norms.
As a conclusion, the general point of view in all these theories and facts is that social norms affect human behaviour through the state of conformity and compliance. Substantially, the intentions of behaviour can be affected either implicitly or explicitly. People conform to the society in order to be accepted and comply with various social norms that conformity requires through implicit/internal or explicit/external way. Even if personal and situational factors may influence the level of compliance and conformity, people constantly comply with various requests either due to personal beliefs or due to accepting other’s personal beliefs.
Word count: 1. 440 References Asch, S. E. (1955). Opinions and social pressure. Scientific American, 31-35. Bargh, J. A. , & Chartrand, T. L. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American Psychologist, 54, 462-479. Christensen, P. N. , & Rothberger, H. , & Wood, W. , & Maltz, D. C. (2004). Social norms and identity relevance: A motivational approach to normative behaviour. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1295-1309. Cialdini, R. B. , & Goldstein, N. J. (2004).
Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591-621. Franzoi, S. L. (2009). Social psychology (5th ed. ). New York: McGraw-Hill. Rimal, R. N. , & Real, K. (2005). How behaviours are influenced by perceived norms: A test of the theory of normative social behaviour. Communication Research, 32, 389-414. Rivis, A. , & Sheeran, P. (2003). Descriptive norms as an additional predictor in the theory of planned behaviour: A meta-analysis. Current psychology, 22, 218-233.
on Essay on Human Behaviour and Social Norms
As a conclusion, the general point of view in all these theories and facts is that social norms affect human behaviour through the state of conformity and compliance. Substantially, the intentions of behaviour can be affected either implicitly or explicitly.
Sherrif (1936) described norms as “jointly negotiated rules for social behaviour, the customs, traditions, standards, rules, values and fashions which are standardised as a consequence of the contact of individuals”.
Human behaviour is the response to given stimuli, which are socially and environmentally affected. This response is something that can easily be influenced and shaped through many personal, situational, social, biological, mental factors.
They proposed the theory of normative social behaviour that includes three mechanisms: injunctive norms (such as social approval), outcome expectations (such as personal benefits) and group identity (such as similarity). Their hypothesis was that these three mechanisms are able to moderate the influence of social norms on the human behaviour.
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