Breaking Social Norms
The other day in class we noticed a funny thing: almost all the database annotations were titled “Database Annotation: (Database Title).” It wasn’t in the instructions to title our annotations that way, yet we did it without talking to each other or deciding that was how every group should title their pages. Do you remember the first day of class when we had to introduce ourselves? By the end of the introductions everyone was following the pattern that had come up on how to introduce ourselves.
Why did this happen?
We all know that humans follow certain social norms that allow us to interact “properly” within the society we live in. But do we consciously realize how much they affect us on a daily basis?
One blog post I came across (titled The Cost of Social Norms) described social norms from a behavioral economics perspective. When is is appropriate to give money to people for things they have put effort into? As an example, the author, Dan Ariely, describes how a husband’s offer to give money to his mother-in-law for cooking Thanksgiving dinner is met with gasps, embarrassment, and glares from other family members. With this example he compares how social and market norms interact in separate ways, and how “when social and market norms collide, trouble sets in.”
Another aspect of social norms are trendsetters; who creates the social norms and trends? According to this article a question researchers ask is whether there is always a leader that sets or changes the norm, or whether norm change occurs organically over time, even in the absence of a strong leader. Fashion statements, apps, technology or colloquial language get spread in society enough to become social norms by being recognized by trendsetters and then spread through society by different group leaders who help to spread it.
What do you think of social norms, and how do you think they affect your life? How do you think social norms are created? Can social norms have negative effects on society, positive effects, or both?