Trendsetters and social change

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

A person’s choice to abandon a norm depends on their sensitivity to the norm, their risk sensitivity, their risk perception and how many others are following the norm.

One of the requirements of successful norm change is first-movers willing to spark the change. What makes a person a first mover? First movers are people with very low thresholds who are willing to defy the established norm. They: have low sensitivity to the norm (i.e. does not care about the norm); are autonomous in their decision making, and; have a low perception of the risk.

There exists a network of social relations, and the structure of these networks may determine whether deviant behaviour will or will not produce a social change. With increasing abandonment, increasingly more people are likely to abandon the norm. This is because the perception of the risk involved decreases. This continues until a tipping point is reached. However, if there is a big gap between the trendsetter threshold and other peoples’ thresholds, failed diffusion will occur and the new behaviour dies out.

Coordination mechanisms for empirical expectations to induce behaviour change include the media, trusted government mandate and a public commitment.


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