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Social Norms: Why do we follow unspoken group rules?

Elevate Your Potential Magazine

Elevate Your Potential Magazine

Social Norms: Why do we follow unspoken group rules?

Social Norms: A new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis explores this question, shedding light on the origins of human cooperation. | Image: WavebreakMediaMicro / Fotolia

Following Social Norms: Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the ability of humans to internalize social norms is expected to evolve under a wide range of conditions, helping to forge a kind of cooperation that becomes instinctive.

How you dress, talk, eat and even what you allow yourself to feel — these often unspoken rules of a group are social norms, and many are internalized to such a degree that you probably don’t even notice them. Following norms, however, can sometimes be costly for individuals if norms require sacrifice for the good of the group. How and why did humans evolve to follow such norms in the first place?

Social Norms Research – Human Behavior

The researchers used computer simulations to model both individual behavior in joint group actions and underlying genetic machinery controlling behavior. The researchers worked from the premise that adherence to norms is socially reinforced by the approval of, and rewards to, individuals who follow them and by punishment of norm violators.

The researchers’ goal was to see whether certain norms get internalized, meaning that acting according to a norm becomes an end in itself, rather than a tool to get something or to avoid social sanctions.  In the model, individuals make choices about participating in collective actions that require cooperation, and individuals who don’t cooperate, or “free riders,” can face consequences.  See the full story here… sciencedaily.com


TEDx Talks: Defying Social Norms for Social Change (Linh Do)

(TEDx Talks – 2010) In this talk, Linh Do asks some important questions: What is normal? And how abnormal do we have to be to effect social change?

Linh Do:  “So I guess university is one of the few normal things that I really ever do. And every time that I’m at University which is quite rare, I meant to be in class right now as a matter of fact. My friends and my peers constantly remind me of how I’m actually not that normal. And I seem to be living in this little bubble of mine this little bubble where I think that everything I do is normal.

But evidently not so many of you would probably remember when you were a teenager, when your child or maybe even now.  We always seem to be striving towards normality not because we want to be like everyone else and we want to be boring and dull, but because we want to fit in so being normal is absolutely fine. And the reason why I said I feel like I’m normal is when I was speaking to my friends about speaking at TEDx.

I was talking to them about defying social norms and that was what I thought I was going to be speaking about etc., etc., and all of the things that they thought that they were defying in terms of social norms. So caring about politics was something that came up quite often.  Wanting to make a difference in the world, they kept suggesting all these things and I was like these are things that I’m doing true, so doesn’t that make us normal?

Because you know it’s both of us that want this thing, but then as I  spoke to people on the streets at bus stops and places of random where you don’t expect to be approached by some crazy girl asking you what do you think you’re doing differently in your life.  I started to realize that that it wasn’t actually too normal and I really was living in this bubble.

I’m going to be speaking to you a bit about why defying social norms is quite an important thing if we want to  create social change, to solve some of the big problems that we’re facing. So whether that be climate change, global poverty, stereotypes that currently exist.  Now I didn’t want to be that girl that was known for coming to a TEDx event and trying to define exactly what social norms were, and making this definitive list of what I thought everyone was actually like.

I won’t lie. I did do some research. Someone recently brought me stuff white people liked, so I was reading through it and I was like yeah, yeah… I see some of this like I’m maybe that, maybe not that.  And you’ll all be happy to know that you are normal in some way or at least white…”


About Linh Do

Linh Do is a social change advocate and has been working on environmental issues since 2006. She has a background in community organising, campaigning, journalism and strategy development. Linh has worked with a wide array of individuals from high school students to UNEP and the Reuters Foundation. Linh co-founded OurSay, a technology service and is currently the editor-in-chief at The Verb, an environmental newswire service.

Linh obtained a Bachelor of Arts (Political Science and Environmental Studies) from the University of Melbourne. She has completed a fellowship at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership and further professional studies at the Harvard Kennedy School.

In 2013 was named the Australian Geographic Young Conservationist of the Year and one of Junior Chamber International Outstanding Young Persons of the World. She is signed with Claxton Speakers and can be found on Twitter as @lmdo. Linh is based in Melbourne with extensive overseas experience.


Linh Do - Social Change Advocate

Linh Do – Social Change Advocate | Image: Linh Do/Twitter


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Cee Harmon is founder of Elevate Christian Network and Elevate Your Potential Magazine. He enjoys helping people improve the quality of their lives - spirit, soul, and body.
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