What's in a norm? Sources and processes of norm change

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Mar;96(3):594-600. doi: 10.1037/a0014688.


This reply to the commentary by E. Staub and L. A. Pearlman (2009) revisits the field experimental results of E. L. Paluck (2009). It introduces further evidence and theoretical elaboration supporting Paluck's conclusion that exposure to a reconciliation-themed radio soap opera changed perceptions of social norms and behaviors, not beliefs. Experimental and longitudinal survey evidence reinforces the finding that the radio program affected socially shared perceptions of typical or prescribed behavior-that is, social norms. Specifically, measurements of perceptions of social norms called into question by Staub and Pearlman are shown to correlate with perceptions of public opinion and public, not private, behaviors. Although measurement issues and the mechanisms of the radio program's influence merit further testing, theory and evidence point to social interactions and emotional engagement, not individual education, as the likely mechanisms of change. The present exchange makes salient what is at stake in this debate: a model of change based on learning and personal beliefs versus a model based on group influence and social norms. These theoretical models recommend very different strategies for prejudice and conflict reduction. Future field experiments should attempt to adjudicate between these models by testing relevant policies in real-world settings.

Publication types

  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological / physiology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Communication
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Drama
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Group Processes*
  • Homicide / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Perception / physiology
  • Prejudice*
  • Radio*
  • Reference Values
  • Rwanda
  • Social Behavior*
  • Stress, Psychological / prevention & control
  • Violence / prevention & control
  • Young Adult