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“Independence and conformity in subsistence-level societies”

Types of Norms

Descriptive and injunctive norms function at the group level of analysis, whereas subjective and personal norms operate at the individual level of analysis.

Descriptive norms are concerned with what individuals actually do and develop from watching the actions of other group members in certain situations. The more that target group members behave similarly in a given situation, the more the observer will tend to view their behavior as appropriate. When individual group members believe that the group supports a certain behavior, they are more likely to exhibit this behavior themselves.

Injunctive norms refer to attitudes toward certain behavior or what individuals feel is “right” based on morals or beliefs. They are specific guidelines about behavior in certain situations (i.e., reciprocity norms) and develop through normative influence or when group members conform to receive social approval. Rather than describing appropriate and inappropriate behavior, injunctive norms prescribe it.

Subjective norms are group members’ perceptions about what important and influential individuals (e.g., leaders) think about a certain behavior. Thus, they are subjective in the sense that there are variations between individuals as to who is considered important. The theory of reasoned action suggests that the main influence on individual intentions is subjective norms. This may be one reason it is common practice for people to consult others before making decisions.

Rather than treating norms as a defining workplace characteristic (i.e., a shared moral understanding among members of the organization), personal norms allow the recognition that individuals in the same workplace may vary in their expectations. Personal norms are located within the self. For example, someone may have a long-held belief that it is important to help others, and thus his or her behavior reflects a personal norm to behave altruistically. Personal norms are generally less affected by social context, although some have argued that they may be influenced by group norms.