The Social Norm


Hi, I’m “Social Norm”, but you can just
call me Norm, and I’m here to talk about normal social behavior, or social norms. What is a social norm? A social norm is the accepted, expected behavior of people within a social group. You’ll first need to know what a social group is. Social groups are groups of people who interact with each other. Some examples of social groups are: People in a family. People at school – in a classroom – or on a playground. People at an assembly. People at a sporting event. People in a doctor’s
office. People at a hospital. People at a concert. People at a movie. People at a store. People in a restaurant. Any group of people interacting with each other is a social group. Why are there social norms? Social norms help us to understand and predict what other people will do. What does the word “norm” mean? “Norm” is short for normal. In social groups, a “norm” is an expected or normal behavior. An unexpected behavior isn’t a “norm,” or normal behavior. Human beings and other social animals need norms to guide them and direct their behavior. Norms provide order and predictability in social interactions and relationships. Norms help people to make sense of, and understand each other’s actions. Let’s talk about what happens when people do behave according to the social norm, in an expected way. When a person behaves in an expected way, the people around them are comfortable because everything is normal. There is not a problem, and there
is nothing to worry about. Now, let’s see what happens when people
don’t behave according to the social norm, but instead, behave in an unexpected way… (Teacher) “Who can tell me the answer for number 4?” (Student) “It’s too hard! I don’t like it! I’m not doing it! When a person behaves in an unexpected
way, the people around them are uncomfortable because something is unpredictable and not normal, which signals that there may be a problem. When a person acts unexpectedly, people worry. There is usually a negative consequence
for the person who is acting in an unexpected way. People might have negative thoughts about them. People might think the person is acting out on purpose, for attention, or to cause problems, or doesn’t know how to behave
normally. People might avoid them in the future. (Teacher) “I don’t understand your behavior.” “You are disrupting the class.” “Go take a break outside, then go to the office.” “I am going to have to write a note to your parents.” How do you know what a social norm is? You learn about social norms by observing the behavior of people in
social groups, and the reactions of other people. If people have a positive reaction, or no reaction at all, then the behavior is probably expected. If people have a negative reaction, the behavior is probably unexpected. Your parents and teachers will teach you about social norms, and what is expected behavior. A few examples are… When to say “Please” and, “Thank you.” And when to greet someone and when not to. When it’s okay to talk and when it’s not. Over time, you will learn
what behaviors are expected and the social norm for various social groups. Do social norms always stay the same or do they change? Social norms change depending on various factors. Here are some of the reasons social norms might change: The role you play in a social group is one factor that guides your social behavior. For example, the normal social behavior for a server in a restaurant, is different than the social norm for a customer, who is eating in a restaurant. (Customer) “Excuse me, would you please bring the check? We are in a hurry tonight.” (Server) “Please pay your check. I’m in a hurry tonight.” It is okay for a customer to ask a server to bring their check, or bill any time, so that they can pay. It isn’t the social norm for a server to bring a check, or bill before the meal is
over, and ask the customer to pay. That is considered rude, and poor customer service. So, as you can see, the role you play within a social group is important. What is expected behavior for one person in a social group, might not be expected behavior for another. Another example of when the social norm
would change, is when the setting or place changes. Something that is okay in
one setting, might not be okay in another setting. In the next example, you will see
how important it can be to consider the setting, when choosing socially expected
behavior. Remember that behavior isn’t just what
you do with your body, what you say is just as important. (Movie patron) “This movie is a real
bomb – B O M B bomb.” (Airport Patron) ” Why is this taking so long? It’s not like I have a bomb in my
pocket.” (TSA Agent) ” Did he say he has a bomb in his pocket?” (TSA agent) Don’t you know not to say “bomb” at an airport?” (Female Airport Patron) “I thought everybody knew that!” In this example, saying the word bomb
when describing a failure, such as a bad movie, is expected behavior. But saying the word “bomb” at an airport is unexpected behavior, and not the socialnorm, because it could alarm people and have negative consequences. So, the social norm in one place can be different than the social norm in another place. Another example, is that it’s the norm to yell at a baseball game, but it’s not the norm to yell in a classroom. Just like some words can be used in some settings, and not in others. Some behaviors that are okay in some settings aren’t okay in others. Another reason the social norm changes, is when popular language changes. Such as when current slang language changes. (Man in park) “This park is really groovy, man.” (Old man in park) This park is still really groovy.” (Old woman in park) “People don’t say “groovy” anymore dear.” One slang word that was used in the past to describe something positive, is the word “groovy.” But it was only popular for a few years, and is no longer part of the social norm. Another slang word used to describe something good, or positive, is the word
“cool.” The word cool has remained popular for decades and is still part of the social norm. As in, “That is a cool car.” You may have heard the more recent slang word, “Sick,” also used for something good, like the word “cool.” Sometimes, slang words like “cool” and “sick” can be confusing. Because “cool” can also refer to the
temperature of something, and “sick” can also mean an illness. (Man in park) “The seasons are changing and it’s getting cool.” (Woman in park) “Cool.” (Man in Halloween costume) “Wow, your costumes are really cool.” (Woman in Halloween costume) “So cool!” (Boy on bicycle) “Mom and Dad! Look, that car is so sick.” (Woman in hospital) “My poor, sweet boy doesn’t want to eat, because he’s sick.” Social norms also change, as societal
opinions change. As society advances, common opinions change. For example, it used to be the social norm for people to smoke cigarettes. Even medical doctors and athletes smoked. It was considered “cool.” But when people learned that
cigarettes and other tobacco products are unhealthy and harmful, and that
nicotine is highly addictive, it was no longer the norm for people to smoke cigarettes. Today, people who smoke, use tobacco, or other addictive nicotine products, are behaving outside of the social norm. If you aren’t sure whether something is part of the social norm in a social group, you can ask your parents or your teacher. Today, we talked about what a social norm is, why social norms are important, and some of the factors that can affect normal social behavior within social groups. Congratulations, you now know what a “social norm” is, and recognizing the social norms in different social groups, will help you to
become more socially aware. Social awareness is important for people to feel confident that they know how to behave expectedly in social groups. My name is Social Norm, but you can just call me Norm. I enjoyed our time together today, and I hope you did too. I look forward to seeing you
again. Goodbye for now.

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