Social norms are rules or standards of behavior produced by the group, which often serve as a guide for individuals’ everyday actions. They also provide predictions about how others will act, and thus promote better coordination in social life.

What are social norms for? How do we integrate them?

Overall, social norms enable human beings to coexist harmoniously within the same society. They guide behavior in ambiguous situations, and facilitate interaction between group members, for example through norms of reciprocity, rules of good manners and so on. They also help to protect values or notions that are conducive to community life, such as the norm of wearing clothes in public, the norm of not throwing garbage on the ground, and norms of personal hygiene. Social norms are therefore an adaptive phenomenon that regulate social life and make it more harmonious.

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Of course, norms can vary according to the group to which one belongs, the culture and the generation! For example, the norms concerning marriage are very different for today’s generations than they were for our parents or grandparents, who married young and often for economic reasons. In the same way, the form, codes or meaning attributed to marriage will differ depending on whether you come from Poland, Colombia or Japan, or whether you come from a middle-class or working-class background.

What are the consequences of social norms?

Thus, the social norm can be seen as one of the many social influences on our individual behavior and judgments. Simply being aware of these norms will influence our behavior as much as our attitudes.

A relevant and typical example of the influence of social norms on individuals is what is known as conformism. To conform is to behave in accordance with the accepted norm. We set up behaviors so as not to deviate from these social norms, which tell us what is expected of us in the society in which we live. This phenomenon will be visible in our consumption patterns, in terms of our taste in music or fashion, for example. Depending on the group to which we belong, the norm will be to like this or that type of music, to have this or that style of dress, and so on. At first glance, it’s hard to imagine a young member of the traditionalist Catholic upper middle class listening to reggae. After that, anything is possible. But on the whole, social norms guide us and we will therefore tend to adopt the codes that are normal in our reference groups, to avoid conflict and preserve the group’s approval, to gain acceptance, because we have internalized these norms, and so on.

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