Definining Social Norms and Related Concepts
Social norms are the perceived informal, mostly unwritten, rules that define acceptable and appropriate actions within a given group or community, thus guiding human behaviour. They consist of what we do, what we believe others do, and what we believe others approve of and expect us to do. Social norms are therefore situated at the interplay between behaviour, beliefs and expectations.
Social norms are learned and accepted from an early age, often in infancy, and held in place by social sanctions (‘punishments’) for non-adherence to the norm and social benefits (‘rewards’) for adherence. If people conform to the norm, they expect to be socially accepted or rewarded; if they do not conform, they expect to be socially punished or excluded.
A social norm exists when individuals practise a behaviour because they believe that others like them or in their community practise the behaviour (descriptive norms), or because they believe that those who matter to them approve of them practising the behaviour (injunctive norm).