Dora A. Gellen
Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge

Received July 29, 2022
Revision received August 22, 2022
Published November 8, 2022

Associate Editor: Seer Li
Reviewers: Cristina Costea & Tom Metherell
Copyeditor: Frederick Morley

Citation: Gellen, D. A. (2022, November 8). Social norms: What functions do they serve?. Cambridge Journal of Human Behaviour.

Commentary: “Addiction as care? An account of personhood and norms in social anthropology”
Madeleine Anderson, Clare College, University of Cambridge.

Social norms: What functions do they serve?

ABSTRACT: Norms convey meaningful, culturally relative information about appropriate and inappropriate conduct and act as a community’s behavioural guidelines. Norms may be positive or negative, and they have the power to create social change. Social norms have diverse functions that range from promoting law and order to establishing consensus. The primary aim of this article is to discuss the various functions of social norms and emphasise their social influence and importance in social change. Additionally, this article will identify and evaluate the key strengths and limitations of psychological research in the field of social norms. The following strengths and limitations are discussed in more detail: sample size, demand characteristics, and sample bias. The overall data suggest that social norms have several key functions: establishing consensus, inducing social harmony, a source as social heuristics, and as drivers of social change. However, it is necessary to carefully evaluate each piece of research before concluding the significance of psychological findings.
KEYWORDS: social norms, function, behaviour, conformity, change


Addiction as care? An account of personhood and norms in social anthropology

Madeleine Anderson
Clare College, University of Cambridge


Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: I. A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied70(9), 1–70. https://doi,org/10.1037/h0093718

Bergquist, M., Blumenschein, P., Karinti, P., Köhler, J., Ramos, É. M. S., Rödström, J., & Ejelöv, E. (2021). Replicating the focus theory of normative conduct as tested by Cialdini et al. (1990). Journal of Environmental Psychology, 74, 101573.

Bicchieri, C. (2005). The grammar of society: The nature and dynamics of social norms. Cambridge University Press.

Blanchard, F. A., Lilly, T., & Vaughn, L. A. (1991). Reducing the expression of racial prejudice. Psychological Science, 2(2), 101–105. 

Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (1994). The Evolution of Norms: An Anthropological View. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE) / Zeitschrift Für Die Gesamte Staatswissenschaft, 150(1), 72–87.

Cialdini, R. B., Kallgren, C. A., & Reno, R. R. (1991). A focus theory of normative conduct: A theoretical refinement and re-evaluation of the role of norms in human behavior. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 24, 201–234. 

Cialdini, R. B., & Trost, M. R. (1998). Social influence: Social norms, conformity and compliance. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology (pp. 151–192). McGraw-Hill. ISBN: 978-0-19-521376-8 

Conradt, L., & Roper, T. J. (2005). Consensus decision-making in animals. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 20(8), 449–456.

Driessen, A. (2018). Pleasure and dementia: on becoming an appreciating subject. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, 36(1), 1–17.

Durkheim, É., & Halls, W. D. (1982). The rules of sociological method (First American). Free Press. ISBN: 9780029079409

Garcia, A. (2014). Regeneration: Love, drugs and the remaking of Hispano inheritance. Social Anthropology, 22(2), 200–212.

Garcia, A. (2015). Serenity: Violence, inequality, and recovery on the edge of Mexico City. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 5(29), 1–13.

Gerber, A. S., Green, D. P., & Larimer, C. W. (2008). Social pressure and voter turnout: Evidence from a large-scale field experiment. American Political Science Review, 102(1), 33–-48. 

Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(3), 472–482. 

Grim, J. A. (2004). Native American Religions, Bioethics in. In S. G. Post (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Bioethics (3rd ed., Vol. 4, pp. 1880–1886). Macmillan Reference USA.

Hoebel, E. A. (1954). The law of primitive man. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN: 9780674023628

Kallgren, C. A., Reno, R. R., & Cialdini, R. B. (2000). A focus theory of normative conduct: When norms do and do not affect behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(8), 1002–1012. 

Kelman, H. C. (1958). Compliance, identification, and internalization three processes of attitude change. Journal of Conflict Resolution2(1), 51–60. 

Lewis, D. (1973).  Anthropology and colonialism. Current Anthropology, 14(5), 581–583.

Meares, T. L., & Kahan, D. M. (1998). Law and (norms of) order in the inner city. Law & Society Review32(4), 805–38. 

Minkov, M., Blagoev, V., & Hofstede, G. (2012). The boundaries of culture: Do questions about societal norms reveal cultural differences?. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology44(7), 1094–1106. 

Paluck, E. L., Shepherd, H., & Aronow, P. M. (2016). Changing climates of conflict: A social network experiment in 56 schools. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(3), 566–571. 

Popenoe, D. (1983). Sociology (5th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN: 0138207534

Rakoczy, H., & Schmidt, M. F. (2012). The early ontogeny of social norms. Child Development Perspectives7(1), 17–21.

Raybeck, D. (1988). Anthropology and labelling theory: A constructive critique. Ethos, 16(4), 371–397.

%d bloggers like this: