Supremacy of Social Influence

Investigative Workshop on Social Norms

Thanks to DySoC/NIMBioS, this workshop brought together 40 active scholars interested in various aspect of social norms in an attempt to stimulate new synergies, insights, and collaborations. We envision this meeting as a truly transdisciplinary gathering of researchers from diverse disciplines including sociology, anthropology, psychology, economics, evolutionary biology, cultural evolution, neurobiology, political science, history, and experts on extremism, marketing, communications, as well as policy scholars and practitioners.

As described by the workshop organizers, human social behavior is controlled by many interacting factors including material cost-benefit considerations, genetically-informed social instincts, personality, and culturally transmitted norms, values, and institutions. A social norm is a behavior that one is expected to follow and expects others to follow in a given social situation. Humans learn norms from parents, through educational and religious practices, and from friends and acquaintances, books, and media. The adherence to norms is socially reinforced by the approval of, and rewards to, individuals who follow them and punishment of norm violators. Certain norms are internalized, that is, acting according to a norm becomes an end in itself rather than merely a tool in achieving certain goals or avoiding social sanctions. For individuals who have strongly internalized a norm, violating it is psychologically painful even if the direct material benefits for the violation are positive. Many individuals and groups are willing to pay extremely high costs to enact, defend, or promulgate norms that they consider important. At the same time, virtually all norms can be violated by individuals under some conditions (e.g. if the costs of compliance are too high). A society's values are transmitted through the internalization of norms, with some societies being more successful than others due to their norms and institutions. Society's norms are affected by historical and environmental factors. Some norms are very stable while others can change rapidly. Understanding the emergence, persistence, and effects of social norms is crucial for developing better policies affecting the life of the society as a whole and of its individual members.

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