Summary of Week 1 of Social Norms, Social Change I (Coursera – University of Pennsylvania & UNICEF)
Interdependent and independent behaviour
When people engage in a collective behaviour, it is important to understand whether the action is interdependent. This is because interdependent actions are influenced by what a person’s reference network – the set of individuals who matter to me when I have to make a particular decision – does or think we should do.
In contrast to an interdependent action, a custom is a pattern of behaviour that individuals prefer to conform to because it meets their needs. For example, people open defecate because it requires the least amount of work – it is not conditional on how others defecate or what other people think of you when you open defecate.
Changing customs can be difficult because the alternative behaviour may require collective action that entails introducing interdependencies. Thus, understanding the interdependence of a collective behaviour helps us decide what type of intervention offers the best chance of success.
Empirical expectations refer to situations when the expectations of what other people do guide my actions. They can be:
- Unilateral (when others don’t have expectations of me)
- When we want to imitate someone
- When what others do is informative (social proof)
- Multilateral (when others also have expectations of me)
- To coordinate with others
Empirical expectations are important to the lecturer’s (Bicchieri) definition of descriptive norms, which she describes as a pattern of behaviour that we prefer to engage in because we believe that others follow it. (This differs from the definition from social psychology.)