Conditional preferences and social norms

Summary of Week 3 of Social Norms, Social Change I (Coursera – University of Pennsylvania & UNICEF)

Conditional preferences

Preference is a disposition to act in a certain way. It is different to liking or endorsing something.

Conditional preferences means that a choice is dependent on empirical expectations (descriptive norms) or both empirical and normative expectations i.e. if different expectations lead to different behaviour, then people have conditional expectations. It is important to note that consistency between social expectations and behaviour does not mean that the behaviour is influenced by expectation.

Whether people have conditional preferences influences the intervention that is designed. If people have conditional preferences, the intervention should focus on changing social expectations.

Social norms

A social norm is a rule of behaviour such that people prefer to conform to the norm conditional on empirical and normative expectations. Under social norms, there are usually informal social sanctions that motivate compliance. Hence the presence of sanctions indicate that there are normative expectations. However, some people might comply without sanctions if they believe that other people’s normative expectations are legitimate.

(If empirical expectations were sufficient to motivate compliance, this would be a descriptive norm. )

Motivations for behaviour differ from community to community. Bicchieri provides a useful visual summary for diagnosing whether a behaviour is a custom/rule, descriptive norm or social norm.

 

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Source: Bicchieri in Social Norms, Social Change I

 

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