Normative social influence

Normative social influence

Normative social influence is one form of conformity. It is "the influence of other people that leads us to conform in order to be liked and accepted by them."[1] This often leads to public compliance—but not necessarily private acceptance—of the group's social norms. When people tend to conform to normative social influence is explained in Bibb Latané's social impact theory. Social impact theory[2] states that the more important the group is, the closer the physical distance is between the group and oneself, and the number of people in the group all affect the likelihood that one will conform to the group's social norms.



Solomon Asch conducted his classic conformity experiments in an attempt to discover if people would still conform when the right answer was obvious. Using confederates, he created the illusion that an entire group of participants believed something that was obviously false. When in this situation, participants conformed about a third of the time on trials where the confederates gave obviously false answers. When asked to make the judgements in private, participants gave the right answer more than 98% of the time. Obviously, normative social influence played a role in the participants' decision making.[citation needed] Schultz (1999)found that households that received more normative messages in which described the frequency and amount of weekly recycling, began to have a direct impact on both the households frequency and amount of curbside recycling. The sudden change was due to the fact that "the other neighbors" recycling habits had a direct normative effect on the household to change theirs. Similar results were apparent in hotels where towel usage increased by 28% through normative messages.[3]

While the above experiments clearly indicate that witnessing directly how others act can influence behavior, latter day research suggests that direct personal experience is not a necessity for normative tendency. Research shows that written communication instructing how people should behave or describing how most people act in a given situation can generate the same normative behavior in people.[4] Also compare ‘informational social influence’ or social proof wherein people look to others to determine what the best course of action for a certain situation may be.


There are two types of social norms that exert influence. While the result, conformity, is the same for both types of influence, the motivation behind conformity is different in each case. Injunctive norms encourage conformity by implying that a certain attitude or behaviour is approved of or disapproved of by a social group. Descriptive norms imply that an attitude or behaviour is common among members of a group, regardless of approval.[5]


In many cases, normative social influence serves to promote social cohesion. When a majority of group members conform to social norms, the group generally becomes more stable. This stability translates into social cohesion, which allows group members to work together toward a common understanding, or "good".[6]

Everyday life

Normative social influence is found in our everyday lives, from fashion trends to workplace habits. One of the most frequent forms of normative social influence involves conforming to cultural definitions of the "ideal body type." In Western culture, particularly American fashion, attractive women are expected to be extremely thin. This explains women's attempts to conform by extreme dieting, creating eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Males are also subject to this phenomenon. Studies have shown that the "ideal body" for males has slowly changed over the years, becoming more muscular. This has created an epidemic of steroid and ephedrine use to achieve a more muscular physique.


The mass media exerts normative social influence by publicising deviations from the social norms of a group or society. When an action is labeled deviant, it both reinforces the social norm about that action and requires the deviant individual to either conform "regardless of his private predilections" or publicly reject the norm.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D., & Akert, A.M. (2005). Social Psychology (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  2. ^ Latané, B. (1981). The psychology of social impact. American Psychologist, 36, 343–365.
  3. ^ Nolan, J., Schultz, P., Cialdini, R., Goldstein, N., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). Normative social influence is underdetected. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(7), 913-923.
  4. ^ Parks, C. D., Sanna, L. J., & Berel, S. R. (2001). Actions of similar others as inducements to cooperate in social dilemmas. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 345-354.
  5. ^ Cialdini, Robert. (2003). Crafting Normative Messages to Protect the Environment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 105–109.
  6. ^ Heuser, L., Brian. (2005). Social Cohesion and Voluntary Associations. Peabody Journal of Education, 80, 16–29.
  7. ^ Lazerfield, F., Paul, & Merton, K., Merton. (1948). Notable Selections in Mass Media, 11–21.

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