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The 5 types of social norms: how society modulates behaviors

The 5 types of social norms: how society modulates behaviors

August 3, 2022

Social norms are the parameters that tell us how to act according to the time or circumstance in which we are enrolled. They are fundamental processes in our interaction and in how we perceive ourselves within a group, and we can identify several types and a great multiplicity of expressions.

Next we will review what they are, what they are for, and what kinds of social norms are the most common in our societies .

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What are social norms?

Social norms are a set of frames of reference that are shared by the people who make up a group . A frame is something that delimits (that establishes a series of limits) and a reference is something that serves us as a model, that is, that establishes a relationship.


Thus, we can say that social norms are the series of limits that serve as a model, both mental and behavioral, to relate to the world. They are implicit in our relationships and shape much of our expectations. They are implicit because, although they are always present (if not we would not know how to behave or relate to each other), it is not always necessary to express their presence out loud.

So that, we act and even think according to a series of social norms according to the group to which we belong (endogrupo), and also according to the relationships we establish with the other groups (exogrupo). We can even share certain rules with some group, and not with another that seems very different. This happens without necessarily being aware of it.


But social norms are not formed out of nothing, arise from our own action. If they exist and they are maintained, it is because we repeat them constantly, and for the same reason we have some leeway to transgress or modify them .

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What are they for?

Social norms are shared among the members of a group, make people recognize us as part of it; that is why social norms are easily internalized. That is why they are also necessary for socialization, which leads us to consider that social norms are also a type of regulation of power relations, which vary according to the history and conditions of each context.

In short, social norms they are also a psychosocial process , because they are not only visible in observable behavior (individual or group), but also generate expectations of action and ideas about oneself. That is, they connect thought with action, and the individual with groups.


5 types of social norms

The types of social norms are differentiated by the degree of correlation that may exist between normative expectations and normative actions . There is not always an explicit correlation between the two. Sometimes social norms are only translated into actions when it comes to expectations shared by a whole group, be it a group of belonging or a reference group.

The types of norms that we present below take as reference the works of Muzafer Sherif, one of the founders of modern social psychology. We consider them as different types of social norms because they relate expectations of action with possibilities of action according to the interactions that occur within a particular group .

However, there can be many more types and the classification depends largely on the author, because in social and human studies there are different social norms that delimit the information we present.

1. Values

Quality that is conferred to things, to actions, to people. They are a series of ideological or moral principles that are shared by a society and that guide it. For example, honesty, solidarity, punctuality. These values ​​can be shared by some societies or groups, and not by others. Likewise and depending on the life history, they may be more present or more important to some people than to others.

To give a more specific example, there are social groups that have internalized punctuality as an indispensable social norm for coexistence, and in contrast, there are groups for which punctuality may be in the background.

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2. Customs

Customs they are a set of habits , which as such, have been acquired, shared and naturalized by a group or society. They even come to form the distinctive character of that group and the people that compose it.

For example the manners at lunchtime.In some societies it is allowed to eat on the ground or chew with a lot of noise, while doing this in other societies can be read as disrespectful and can affect coexistence. That is, a transgression of the social norm of the group.

3. Fashion

In statistical terms, "fashion" is the value that has the highest frequency within a data set; what could be translated as "what follows the majority". In sociological terms, fashion is a custom that members of a group follow temporarily or temporarily . They can be expressed in different ways and are present in all societies. They suppose a certain validity, with which they momentarily reinforce our sense of belonging to a group, and differentiate us from other groups or from other members of it.

Perhaps the clearest example is the use of certain clothes and the adoption of certain aesthetics and interests according to time and the particular group, which constitutes a social norm because it allows us to establish relationships with the members of the group and identify with them.

4. Stereotypes

Stereotypes are images or models accepted by a majority as patterns or qualities intrinsic to the behavior and personality of some members of the group, or of other groups.

Stereotypes allow us to activate a series of ideas, expectations, predispositions and possibilities for action when we see or think of a person or group of people, even without having lived with them or really knowing them, but simply because we automatically attribute certain qualities to them.

For example, it is very common to see in the Western media, and in much of business advertising, many stereotypes about female beauty, where what is reinforced is the expectation of a slim body, that has a certain height, a certain color , certain aesthetics, etc.

  • Related article: "Stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination: why should we avoid prejudging?"

5. Roles

The word "role" refers to the role played by someone in a particular group, that is, their role and the behaviors that are expected of you.

An example is the traditional gender roles where the family consists of a heterosexual couple, where the man is the one who provides and the woman is the one who takes care of family and domestic care. These roles are social norms because generate expectations, and possibilities for action and relationship that are specific for some people and not for others according to the society in particular.

Bibliographic references:

  • Rodríguez, A. (2009). The social norm on the expression of explicit prejudice towards different social groups. Journal of Social Psychology, 24 (1): 17-27.
  • Sheriff, M. (1936). The psychology of social norms. New York, USA: Harper Bros.
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011). Social Norms Retrieved May 17, 2018. Available at //plato.stanford.edu/entries/social-norms/.

Society Meaning (August 2022).


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