The environment has been particularized as an influential force on behaviour. For this, various contextual interventions are devised. One such is the community context – where the power of social norms is harnessed to make people behave better.
Advances in social psychology have introduced us to various ways of influencing behaviour. Perhaps the most critical is the presence of the social language – the normative influence. Cristina Bicchieri of the Centre for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania addresses social norms as “the grammar of society” as they implicitly define how a society operates, defining the underpinnings as the grammar of any language would do.
Social norms are unwritten, unspoken assumptions and beliefs about what is acceptable behaviour in a specific community. Social norms exercise a fair amount of hold on individual behaviour as it provides the likelihood of sanctions or rewards for following or contravening them. The most common examples of norms influencing behaviour in everyday life can be drinking and smoking behaviour. Alcohol norms in an educational setting may be different than the norms in a more informal setting, including friends.
A critical norm-based behavioural intervention helped reduce sexual harassment on college campuses. The normative change was induced by ‘creating new norms that harassment is unacceptable. This shows that changing what individuals view as an acceptable act around them may define how they act.
Establishing a new norm can involve varied dynamics. In the case of a larger community context, to initiate a norm and dismantle particular behaviour, people can hold each other accountable for the impact of their actions. In doing so, the individual who initiates a norm is also critical. If they are considered role models by a sufficient number of the community members, enacting norms to change individual behaviour may become more accessible. For example, healthy behaviour like getting regular health check-ups can be initiated by a respected member of the community to make it the most apparent behaviour in others.
From what we have for breakfast to what clothes we wear fuse together to be a result of certain norms. And the future of any norm in any community is dependent on the number of its followers. If members of the community stop complying, the norm may die an immediate death.
Literature from psychology shows that community context in behaviour change can be surprisingly influential. Transitioning the social settings and changes in local norms can be significant in influencing both short-term and long-term behaviours. The social and psychological outcomes can be considerably benefitted by creating norms for a better society.