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How Types of Group Norms Influence Individual Behavior

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  • 0:06 Group Norms
  • 1:23 Types of Norms
  • 2:30 Influence on Behavior
  • 4:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn
Groups, though made up of individuals, have their own sets of norms. These sets develop as the group grows and interacts and can change a person's behavior that might be new to the group. Here we review types of norms present in groups and their potential impact on an individual's behavior.

Group Norms Influence Us

In the movie Wizard of Oz (one of my favorites, by the way), the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion learn about themselves as individuals, but they also learn about how they act in a group once they're faced with a task that requires all of them to contribute. Individually, they have their own separate traits, but once they have to work in a group, they exhibit different behaviors based on the group norms. For example, on his own, the Cowardly Lion is a self-proclaimed coward. But, when these three characters go to rescue Dorothy from the Wicked Witch, the Cowardly Lion overcomes his fears and (as we will talk about in a few minutes) learns to work within the performance norms present in the group.

So why do I make this point? You see, when individuals are in groups there are forces at work that shape how they behave while in that group. These forces - very much like how our characters in the movie found a heart, courage and a brain - influence how we act as individuals when we are in a group without us knowing if there are 'things going on behind the curtain' that consciously or subconsciously impact how we act.

Those things, if you will, are norms, and there are several types that do impact how we behave in a group. Thus, let us take a look at some of the norms that are present so we can understand how they impact our actions and behavior when in a group.

Types of Norms

As one could expect there are several different types of generally understood norms. They are:

Performance norms: Performance norms are centered on how hard a person should work in a given group. They are informal cues, if you will, that tells a person or helps a person understand how hard they should work and what type of output they should have.

Appearance norms: This type of norm informs or guides us as to how we should look or what our physical appearance should be - what fashion we should wear or how we should style our hair or any number of areas related to how we should look.

Social arrangement norms: When we talk about this type of norm we generally do not equate it to a business setting. This norm is centered on how we should act in social settings. Once again, there are cues we need to pick up on when we are out with friends or at social events that help us fit in and get a closer connection to the group.

Resource allocation norms: For this type of norm we're focusing on the allocation of resources in a business environment. This can include raw materials as well as overtime or any other resource found or needed within an organization.

Group Norm Influence on Behavior

To understand how these sets of norms influence how we act, we must first understand what is meant by a reference group. A reference group is a group that individuals use as a comparison when looking at other groups. Think of a major league baseball team and a minor league one. If you used the major league team as your reference group, that would impact how you view, accept or understand the minor league team. You could compare and contrast the players, their accomplishments and how they function as an organization.

Taking this a step further, if we have a reference group and become part of a different group, having that reference group will impact how we act. We could be open to the reference group's design, or we could look down upon it as an inferior one. Again, we are comparing and contrasting, in our minds, the group we are in to our reference group.

In order to fit in to different groups, we will go through some process of conformity, which is compliance with standards and rules (whether they are formal or informal). This process of conformity could take a short amount of time and not be too drastic, or it could take a great deal of time and truly never come to fruition. To help you understand this, let's look at some norms and conformity:

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