What Is Social Norm in Psychology?


Jane Flores

Social norms are an integral part of human society. They are the unwritten rules that dictate how we behave in public and interact with others.

In psychology, social norms are defined as the shared expectations and beliefs about appropriate behavior within a given group or culture. These norms can be explicit or implicit, and they play a significant role in shaping our behavior.

The Importance of Social Norms

Social norms serve several important functions. They help to establish order and predictability in society by providing a framework for appropriate behavior. They also promote social cohesion by creating a sense of shared identity and values among members of a group or culture.

Moreover, social norms can influence individual behavior by shaping our attitudes and beliefs about what is acceptable or unacceptable. For example, if we believe that it is wrong to cheat on exams, we are less likely to engage in such behavior.

Types of Social Norms

There are two main types of social norms: descriptive norms and injunctive norms.

Descriptive norms refer to the ways people commonly behave in a given situation. For example, if most people in a particular community recycle their waste, recycling becomes a descriptive norm for that community.

Injunctive norms, on the other hand, refer to the behaviors that are viewed as socially acceptable or unacceptable within a given group or culture. For example, it is an injunctive norm to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze in public places.


Conformity refers to the tendency for individuals to adjust their behavior to align with the social norms of their group or culture. This can be driven by several factors such as the desire for acceptance, fear of rejection, or belief in the validity of the norm itself.

Conformity can have positive effects on society by promoting cooperation and coordination among individuals. However, it can also have negative effects when it leads individuals to comply with harmful or unethical norms.

Breaking Social Norms

Breaking social norms can be a powerful tool for understanding the role of social norms in shaping our behavior. By intentionally violating a norm, we can gain insight into the reactions of others and the extent to which social norms influence our behavior.

However, breaking social norms can also have negative consequences. It can lead to feelings of discomfort or ostracization from the group, and it may even result in legal sanctions in some cases.


In conclusion, social norms are an essential aspect of human society, shaping our behavior and promoting social order and cohesion. Understanding how social norms function can help us navigate complex social situations and promote positive change within our communities.