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The DOs and DON'Ts in Social Norms: A descriptive Don't-norm increases conformity

Journal article
Authors Magnus Bergquist
Andreas Nilsson
Published in Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology
Volume 3
Issue 3
Pages 158-166
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 158-166
Language en
Links https://doi.org/10.1002/jts5.43
Subject categories Environmental psychology, Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology), Applied Psychology

Abstract

Descriptive norms guide social behavior by informing what other people do. In a conceptual proposition, we suggest that descriptive norms also could signal what other people don’t do. Building on the evolutionary predisposition to more urgently attend to negative than positive information, we hypothesize that people are more strongly influenced by choices that other people avoid, than by choices that other people choose. Descriptive data in three experiments consistently demonstrated that more participants conformed to information about what other people don’t do (i.e., the don’t‐norm) than information about what other people do (i.e., the do‐norm). We found that don’t‐norms more strongly influenced pro‐environmental choices related to both energy efficiency (Experiment 1) and sustainable food consumption (Experiments 2 and 3). The increased influence of the don’t‐norm were supported in two cultures (Sweden and USA), in two decision contexts (accepting and rejecting), and when using two wordings (want vs. avoid and preferred vs. unpreferred). These results suggest that descriptive do‐ and don’t‐norms are conceptually distinct and that don’t‐norms exert stronger influential power.

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