Norm creation

Summary of Week 2 of Social Norms, Social Change II (Coursera – University of Pennsylvania & UNICEF)

New norms can emerge in a variety of situations, such as when a common behaviour, manners or etiquette takes up a different meaning. New norms can also emerge in collective action problems, when it generates a negative externality because there is a conflict between individual and collective interest. A norm is more likely to emerge when there is no individual incentive to resolve a negative externality. For example, reciprocity creates a an environment for social trust to fluorish although individuals do not have financial incentives to reciprocate.

There are typically 5 stages in the creation of new norms:

Step 1. Change factual beliefs and personal normative beliefs. In community-led total sanitation, for example, communities are triggered to create disgust that faeces are being transferred to food. Demostrating the consequences of the collective action vividly and immediately illicits a strong emotional reaction that facilitates a decision to change.

Step 2. A collective decision to change. With awareness of the negative externalities, there becomes shared reasons to change behaviour. The decision and subsequent action must be coordinated by everyone in the community or it would not be effective.

Step 3. Introduction of sanctions for non-compliance. Although the collective decision can be very effective, people will soon realise that they are facing a social dilemma because there is a conflict between individual and collective interest. There is an incentive to free ride. Hence, sanctions  through a collective decision of the community to punish trangressors help to broadcast each individual’s personal normative beliefs.

Step 4. Creation of normative expectations. Sanctions update the normative expectations of everyone involved. For instance, when a descriptive norm moves into a domain of signalling group loyalty, it starts to generate normative expectations.

Step 5. Creation of empirical expectations. Normative expectations must be created first, and empirical expectations will follow.


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