Conform to the social norm: why people follow what other people do



File 20181123 149332 rgzoch.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Some people just follow the social norm, whether it’s right or not.
Shutterstock/LENAIKA

Campbell Pryor, University of Melbourne and Piers Howe, University of Melbourne

Why do people tend to do what others do, prefer what others prefer, and choose what others choose?

Our study, published today in Nature Human Behaviour, shows that people tend to copy other people’s choices, even when they know that those people did not make their choices freely, and when the decision does not reflect their own actual preferences.

It is well established that people tend to conform to behaviours that are common among other people. These are known as social norms.

Yet our finding that people conform to other’s choices that they know are completely arbitrary cannot be explained by most theories of this social norm effect. As such, it sheds new light on why people conform to social norms.




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Would you do as others do?

Imagine you have witnessed a man rob a bank but then he gives the stolen money to an orphanage. Do you call the police or leave the robber be, so the orphanage can keep the money?

We posed this moral dilemma to 150 participants recruited online in our first experiment. Before they made their choice, we also presented information about how similar participants in a previous experiment had imagined acting during this dilemma.

Half of our participants were told that most other people had imagined reporting the robber. The remaining half were told that most other people had imagined not calling the police.

Crucially, however, we made it clear to our participants that these norms did not reflect people’s preferences. Instead, the norm was said to have occurred due to some faulty code in the experiment that randomly allocated the previous participants to imagining reporting or not reporting the robber.

This made it clear that the norms were arbitrary and did not actually reflect anybody’s preferred choice.

Whom did they follow?

We found that participants followed the social norms of the previous people, even though they knew they were entirely arbitrary and did not reflect anyone’s actual choices.

Simply telling people that many other people had been randomly allocated to imagine reporting the robber increased their tendency to favour reporting the robber.

A series of subsequent experiments, involving 631 new participants recruited online, showed that this result was robust. It held over different participants and different moral dilemmas. It was not caused by our participants not understanding that the norm was entirely arbitrary.

Why would people behave in such a seemingly irrational manner? Our participants knew that the norms were arbitrary, so why would they conform to them?

Is it the right thing to do?

One common explanation for norm conformity is that, if everyone else is choosing to do one thing, it is probably a good thing to do.

The other common explanation is that failing to follow a norm may elicit negative social sanctions, and so we conform to norms in an effort to avoid these negative responses.

Neither of these can explain our finding that people conform to arbitrary norms. Such norms offer no useful information about the value of different options or potential social sanctions.

Instead, our results support an alternative theory, termed self-categorisation theory. The basic idea is that people conform to the norms of certain social groups whenever they have a personal desire to feel like they belong to that group.

Importantly, for self-categorisation theory it does not matter whether a norm reflects people’s preference, as long as the behaviour is simply associated with the group. Thus, our results suggest that self-categorisation may play a role in norm adherence.

The cascade effect

But are we ever really presented with arbitrary norms that offer no rational reason for us to conform to them? If you see a packed restaurant next to an empty one, the packed restaurant must be better, right?

It’s a busy restaurant so it must be good, right?
Shutterstock/EmmepiPhoto

Well, if everyone before you followed the same thought process, it is perfectly possible that an initial arbitrary decision by some early restaurant-goers cascaded into one restaurant being popular and the other remaining empty.

Termed information cascade, this phenomenon emphasises how norms can snowball from potentially irrelevant starting conditions whenever we are influenced by people’s earlier decisions.

Defaults may also lead to social norms that do not reflect people’s preferences but instead are driven by our tendency towards inaction.

For example, registered organ donors remain a minority in Australia, despite most Australians supporting organ donation. This is frequently attributed to our use of an opt-in registration system.

In fact, defaults may lead to norms occurring for reasons that run counter to the decision-maker’s interests, such as a company choosing the cheapest healthcare plan as a default. Our results suggest that people will still tend to follow such norms.

Conform to good behaviour

Increasingly, social norms are being used to encourage pro-social behaviour.

They have been successfully used to encourage healthy eating, increase attendance at doctor appointments, reduce tax evasion, increase towel reuse at hotels, decrease long-term energy use, and increase organ donor registrations.




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The better we can understand why people conform to social norms, the able we will be to design behavioural change interventions to address the problems facing our society.

The fact that the social norm effect works even for arbitrary norms opens up new and exciting avenues to facilitate behavioural change that were not previously possible.The Conversation

Campbell Pryor, PhD Student in Psychology, University of Melbourne and Piers Howe, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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LUTHERANS MIGHT ALLOW PASTORS TO BE IN HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America released proposals Thursday, Feb. 19, that seek to change Christian teaching on homosexuality and would permit pastors to be in same-sex sexual relationships, reports LifeSiteNews.com.

In response, leaders of Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Reform) announced Thursday that they will work to defeat the proposals that ask the ELCA to depart from biblical teaching on sexuality.

Lutheran CORE is a coalition of pastors, lay people, congregations and reforming groups that seeks to preserve the authority of the Bible in the ELCA.

“These recommendations mark a significant departure from the church’s commitment to Scripture as the source and norm of its faith and life,” said the Rev. Paull Spring of State College, Pa., chair of the Lutheran CORE Steering Committee.

“The proposal for change in standards for clergy departs from the clear teaching of Scripture,” said Spring, the retired bishop of the Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod.

Responses to a 2004 study on homosexuality showed that a significant majority of ELCA members (57 percent) opposed change to accepted Christian teaching on homosexual behavior. Only 22 percent of ELCA members favored change in church teaching to allow for the blessing of same-sex unions or the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

TURKEY: MUSLIM SENTENCED FOR STABBING PRIEST IN IZMIR


Assailant influenced by TV series defaming Christian missionaries.

ISTANBUL, January 12 (Compass Direct News) – A judge in Turkey sentenced a 19-year-old Muslim to four-and-a-half years in prison on Jan. 5 for stabbing a Catholic priest in the coastal city of Izmir in December 2007.

Ramazan Bay, then 17, had met with Father Adriano Franchini, a 65-year-old Italian and long-term resident of Turkey, after expressing an interest in Christianity following mass at St. Anthony church. During their conversation, Bay became irritated and pulled out a knife, stabbing the priest in the stomach.

Fr. Franchini was hospitalized but released the next day as his wounds were not critical.

Bay, originally from Balikesir 90 miles north of Izmir, reportedly said he was influenced by an episode of the TV serial drama “Kurtlar Vadisi” (“Valley of the Wolves”). The series caricatures Christian missionaries as political “infiltrators” who pay poor families to convert to Christianity.

“Valley of the Wolves” also played a role in a foiled attack on another Christian leader in December 2007. Murat Tabuk reportedly admitted under police interrogation that the popular ultra-nationalist show had inspired him to plan the murder of Antalya pastor Ramazan Arkan. The plan was thwarted, with the pastor receiving armed police protection and Antalya’s anti-terrorism police bureau ordering plainclothes guards to accompany him.

Together with 20 other Protestant church leaders, Arkan on Dec. 3, 2007 filed a formal complaint with the Istanbul State Prosecutor’s office protesting “Valley of the Wolves” for “presenting them as a terrorist group and broadcasting scenes making them an open target.”

The series has portrayed Christians as selling body parts, being involved in mafia activities and prostitution and working as enemies of society in order to spread the Christian faith.

“The result has been innumerable, direct threats, attacks against places of worship and eventually, the live slaughter of three innocent Christians in Malatya,” the complaint stated.

The Protestant leaders demanded that Show TV and the producers of “Valley of the Wolves” be prosecuted under sections 115, 214, 215, 216 and 288 of the Turkish penal code for spreading false information and inciting violence against Christians.

The past three years saw six separate attacks on priests working across the country, the most serious of which resulted in the death of Father Andreas Santoro in Trabzon. As with Fr. Franchini, many of the attacks were coupled with accusations of subversion and “proselytizing.”

Although a secular republic, Turkey has a strong nationalistic identity of which Islam is an integral part.

Television shows such as “Valley of the Wolves” may not be the norm, but the recent publication of a state high school textbook in which “missionary activity” is also characterized as destructive and dangerous has raised questions about Turkey’s commitment to addressing prejudice and discrimination.

“While there is a general attitude [of antipathy], I think that the state feeds into it and propagates it,” said a spokesperson for the Alliance of Protestant Churches of Turkey (TEK). “If the State took a more accepting and more tolerant attitude I think the general attitude would change too.”

At the end of 2007 TEK issued a summery of the human rights violations that their members had suffered that year. As part of a concluding appeal they urged the state to stop an “indoctrination campaign” aimed at vilifying the Christian community.

TEK will soon release its rights violations summery for 2008, and it is likely that a similar plea will be made.

“There is police protection, and they have caught some people,” the TEK spokesperson said. “There is an active part of the state trying to prevent things, but the way it is done very much depends on the situation and how at that moment the government is feeling as far as putting across a diplomatic and political statement. There is hypocrisy in it.”

A survey carried out in 2005 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project also suggested a distinctly negative attitude towards Christians among Turks, with 63 percent describing their view of Christians as “unfavorable,” the highest rate among countries surveyed.

Niyazi Oktem, professor of law at Bilgi University and president of a prominent inter-faith organization in Turkey called the Intercultural Dialogue Platform, said that while the government could do more to secure religious freedom, he would not characterize Turkish sentiment towards Christians as negative.

“I can say that general Turkish feeling towards the Christian religion is not hostile,” said Oktem. “There could be, of course, some exceptions, but this is also the case in Christian countries towards Islam.”

Report from Compass Direct News