Pluralistic ignorance and measuring norms

Summary of Week 4 of Social Norms, Social Change I (Coursera – University of Pennsylvania & UNICEF)

Pluralistic ignorance

Pluralistic ignorance occurs when many people privately condemn a behaviour but wrongly believe that their peers endorse it. This can occur because the behaviour or its consequences are visible but people do not voice their disagreement, leading to a lack of transparent communication. In such cases, updating normative expectations can help to change behaviour.

A different but related situation is when people misperceive the frequency of a behaviour (e.g. prevalance of corruption or drinking). Correcting misperceptions can change descriptive norms but not social norms.

Measuring norms

To measure norms, you must check empirical expectations, normative expectations and whether there is a conditional preference.

Behaviour can be measured through monitors or self-reports. Personal normative beliefs can be measured through surveys, and it is important to distinguish between prudential and non-prudential beliefs.

If empirical and normative expectations are mutually consistent, it is PROBABLE that there is a norm, but it could also signal a moral rule. Therefore it is necessary to check whether preferences are conditional. This is done by varying empirical and normative expectations and checking whether behaviour changes, through direct hypotheticals or vignettes.

You can also measure how stable a norm is by assessing which expectation has more weight. For example, when empirical and normative expectations diverge, empirical expectations usually dominate.

 

Thus, through systematic measure, you can diagnose whether a behaviour is a custom, moral rule or true social norm, and whether the social norm has causal relevance.

 

 

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