Social norms refer to values, beliefs, attitudes, and/or behaviors shared by a group of people. They are often based on what people believe to be normal, typical, or appropriate. Social norms can function as unspoken rules or guidelines for how people behave, and for how people are expected to behave. People generally follow social norms because they want to fit in with the people around them.
Social norms can result in positive or negative outcomes. Sometimes social norms help people behave in ways that keep themselves - and others - safe and healthy.
Other times, social norms can have the opposite effect, and can lead people to behave in harmful ways.
Social Norms and Violence
Social norms can affect nearly any aspect of our lives. They contribute to our clothing choices, how we speak, our music preferences, and our beliefs about certain social issues. They can also affect our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to violence.
The way we react to violence may be based on what we see other people do, or how we think other people would act. In other words, our reactions are based on what we believe is normal or appropriate.
People often misperceive (or misunderstand) social norms and overestimate the number of people who behave in unhealthy ways or who accept unhealthy behavior. Researchers have studied college students' misperceptions of social norms related to alcohol use. They've found that most college students do not enjoy heavy drinking. However, they tend to think that heavy drinking is the norm among their peers and overdrink to fit in.
Misperceptions can be harmful when a person alters their own beliefs and behaviors based on a false assumption about other people's beliefs and behaviors.
Narratives vs. Social Norms
People sometimes confuse social norms with narratives. Narratives are stories that groups tell to understand how the world works, why problems occur, and who's responsible for solving them. This differs from social norms, which are often unspoken and shape what people believe to be "normal."
Using the Social Norms Approach to Prevent Violence
The social norms approach, when used in the field of public health, motivates individuals and groups to adopt social norms that result in positive health and wellbeing.
This can be done by:
correcting misperceptions about social norms that lead to harmful attitudes, beliefs, and/or behaviors,
changing or modifying negative or harmful social norms, and
promoting positive social norms.
The social norms approach draws heavily on social marketing and health communications techniques. Some people refer to social norms work as social norms marketing. People and organizations create social norms campaigns to deliver messages designed to correct misperceptions, change social norms, or promote social norms.
When using a social norms approach, instead of telling people what to do, make sure to provide accurate information about attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that will allow them to adopt new, healthier social norms.
To develop a social norms campaign, follow the steps below.
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