Examples Of Social Norms & Societal Standards: Including Cultural Norms

Norms are implicit (unwritten) social rules which define what is expected of individuals in certain situations. They are measures of what is seen as normal in society, and govern the acceptable behavior in society (societal standards).

Norms operate at several levels, from regulations concerning etiquette at the table to moral norms relating to the prior discharging of duties (see values).

Social norms vary from culture to culture, and can be specific to a particular group or situation. Some social norms are explicit, such as laws or religious teachings, while others are more implicit, such as etiquette.

Violating social norms can result in negative consequences, such as being ostracized from a community or, though only in exceptional circumstances, punished by law (Bicchieri, 2011).

Everyday social convention Norms

The following are some common social norms that people in the US and UK follow daily (Hechter & Opp, 2001):

  • Shaking hands when greeting someone

  • Saying “please” and “thank you”

  • Apologizing when one makes a mistake

  • Standing up when someone enters the room

  • Making eye contact during a conversation

  • Listening when someone is speaking

  • Offering help when someone is struggling

  • Respecting personal space

  • Accepting others” opinions even if we don”t agree with them

  • Being on time

  • Dressing appropriately for the occasion-

  • Thanking someone for a gift

  • Paying attention to personal hygiene

  • Speaking quietly in public and formal places

  • Clearing one”s dishes from the table after a meal at one”s own home, or at one of a friend or stranger

  • Not interrupting when someone else is speaking

  • Asking before borrowing something that belongs to someone else

  • Walking on the right side of a hallway or sidewalk

  • Saying “bless you” or “gesundheit” after someone sneezes

  • -Standing in line and not cutting in front of others

  • Yielding to pedestrians when driving

  • Hanging up one”s coat when entering someone else”s home

  • Taking off one”s shoes when entering someone else”s home (if this is the custom)

  • Not talking with food in one”s mouth

  • Chewing with one”s mouth closed

  • Not staring at others

Cultural Norms

Social norms vary widely across cultures and contexts (Reno et al., 1993).

For example, in Japan, some social norms that are typically followed include:

  • Bowing instead of shaking hands when greeting someone
  • Removing shoes before entering a home or certain public places
  • Eating quietly and with small bites
  • Using chopsticks correctly
  • Not blowing your nose in public
  • Speaking softly
  • Not making direct eye contact with others

Some social norms that are specific to meeting new people include:

  • Dressing neatly and conservatively
  • Exchanging business cards formally
  • Presenting and receiving gifts with two hands

In South America, in contrast, people are expected to (Young, 2007):

  • Greet others with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, even if one does not know them well
  • Stand close to someone when talking to them
  • Talk loudly for emphasis
  • Make eye contact
  • Use a lot of gestures when talking
  • Dress more casually than in Japan or the UK
  • It is common for men to whistle at women they find attractive
  • In some cultures, it is considered rude to refuse a drink when offered one by someone else
  • It is also considered rude to turn down food when offered some
  • Table manners are not as formal as in Japan or the UK, and it is common to see people eating with their hands
  • Burping and belching are also considered normal and not rude
  • In some cultures, it is considered good luck to spit on someone or something
  • Yawning is also considered normal and not rude

Social Norms For Students

School teaches children respect for authority, structure, and tolerance. The social norms expected of students follow suit (Hechter & Opp, 2001):

  • Being respectful to teachers

  • Listening in class

  • Handing in homework on time

  • Not talking when others are talking

  • Taking turns

  • Include everyone in activities

  • Playing fairly

  • Encouraging others

  • Trying one”s best

  • Respecting property and equipment

  • Being a good listener

  • Accepting differences among people

  • Avoiding put-downs and hurtful teasing

Some social norms that are generally followed while taking exams include:

  • Not cheating
  • Arriving on time
  • Not talking during the exam
  • Listening to and following the instructions given by the person administering the exam
  • Not leaving the room until the exam is over
  • Not bringing in any outside materials that are not allowed
  • Not looking at other people”s papers

Gender Social Norms

Some social norms that are associated with being a woman include (Moi, 2001):

  • Wearing makeup
  • Dressing in feminine clothing
  • Speaking softly
  • Being polite and well mannered
  • Keeping one”s legs and arms covered
  • Not swearing
  • Avoiding physical labor
  • Letting men take the lead

Some social norms that are associated with being a man include (Moi, 2001):

  • Wearing masculine clothing
  • Having short hair
  • Taking up space
  • Talking loudly
  • Being assertive and confident
  • Engaging in physical labor
  • Protecting and providing for others
  • leading and being in charge

Some social norms that are associated with being transgender or gender non-conforming include:

  • Dressing in a way that does not conform to traditional gender norms
  • Using pronouns that do not correspond to the sex assigned at birth
  • Going by a different name than the one given at birth
  • Requesting that others use the pronoun corresponding to their preferred gender
  • Taking hormones or undergoing surgery to transition to the desired gender

Social Norms With Family

Young (2007) outlined numerous social norms pertaining to family, such as:

  • Saying “please” and “thank you”
  • Listening to elders
  • Treating siblings and cousins with love and respect
  • Doing chores without being asked
  • Children not talking back to parents
  • Paying attention during family gatherings
  • Showing affection in appropriate ways
  • Respecting others” privacy
  • Keeping family secrets
  • Being grateful for what you have
  • Appreciating the sacrifices made by your parents or guardians
  • Celebrating birthdays and other special occasions together
  • Sharing in family traditions

Social Norms At Work

Social norms at work are similar to those enforced at school (Hechter & Opp, 2001):

  • Coming to work on time

  • Dressing appropriately for the job

  • Putting in a full day”s work

  • Not calling in sick unnecessarily

  • Not taking extended lunches or coffee breaks

  • Not spending excessive time chatting with co-workers – Completing assigned tasks

  • Following company policies and procedures

  • Being a team player

  • Respecting others” opinions

  • Listening to and considering others” suggestions

  • Being an active participant in meetings

  • Completing assigned tasks on time

  • Respecting the decisions of the group even if you don’t agree with them

Social Norms While Dining Out

Some social norms that are typically followed while dining out include (Hechter & Opp, 2001):

  • Dressing neatly and appropriately for the occasion
  • Arriving on time for reservations
  • Refraining from talking loudly
  • Putting phones away and not using them at the table
  • Not ordering food that is too smelly
  • Ordering an appropriate amount of food
  • Not leaving a mess behind
  • Tipping the server generously (in American cultures)
  • Saying “please” and “thank you” to the staff
  • In many cultures, it is also considered rude to:
  • Critique the food or drink
  • Send food back
  • Make a scene
  • Interrupt others while they are talking
  • Leave without saying goodbye

Social Norms While Using Your Phone

Social norms surrounding using phones include (Carter et al., 2014):

  • Putting one”s phone away when one is with other people
  • In many formal situations, only using one”s phone in designated areas
  • Silencing one”s phone when in class, at a meeting, or in any other situation where it would be disruptive to have one”s phone make noise
  • Asking permission before using someone else”s phone
  • Returning a missed call or voicemail within a reasonable amount of time
  • Not texting or talking on the phone while walking if it means one”s not paying attention to where they are going and could bump into someone or something

Social Norms While Driving

Although often broken, there are expectations surrounding one”s behavior on the road (Carter et al., 2014), such as:

  • Obeying the speed limit
  • Yielding to pedestrians
  • Coming to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights
  • Using turn signals when changing lanes or making turns
  • Yielding to other drivers who have the right of way
  • Not driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Not using a cell phone while driving
  • Paying attention to the road and not being distracted by passengers, music, or other things going on inside or outside of the car

Social Norms When Meeting A New Person

In general, some social norms that are typically followed when interacting with others include (Hechter & Opp, 2001):

  • Making eye contact
  • Standing up straight
  • Offering a handshake
  • Introducing oneself
  • Speaking clearly
  • Listening attentively
  • Asking questions
  • Smiling
  • Some social norms that are specific to meeting new people include:
  • Dressing neatly and conservatively
  • Not interrupting others while they are talking
  • Refraining from talking too much about oneself
  • Being polite and well mannered
  • Not making any offensive jokes or comments

Social Norms With Friends

In general, close confidants follow a more relaxed set of social norms than acquaintances and strangers. Nonetheless, there are still expectations as to what constitutes a friend in many Western cultures, including (Young, 2007):

  • Giving each other honest feedback, though often without a harsh start-up
  • Accepting each other”s differences
  • forgiving each other
  • celebrating each other”s successes
  • comforting each other during tough times
  • laughing together and in response to each other”s jokes
  • sharing common interests
  • spending time together
  • making sacrifices for each other

What is the difference between mores, norms and values?

Mores are the regulator of social life while norms are the very specific rules and expectations that govern the behavior of individuals in a community. Mores are a subset of norms, representing the morality and character of a group or community.

Generally, they are considered to be absolutely right. On the other hand, norms can involve customs and expected behaviors that are more flexible and can change over time.

They usually deal with day-to-day behavior and are not as deeply ingrained as mores. While the violation of a norm may be uncomfortable, the violation of a more is usually socially unacceptable.

Values are beliefs that we have about what is important, both to us and to society as a
whole. A value, therefore, is a belief (right or wrong) about the way something should be.

While norms are specific rules dictating how people should act in a particular
situation, values are general ideas that support the norm”.

In short, the values we hold are general behavioural guidelines. They tell us what we believe is right or wrong, for example, but that do not tell us how we should behave appropriately in any given social situation. This is the part played by norms in the overall structure of our social behavior.


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