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Cultural Norms: Definition & Values

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Manuela Heberle

Manuela has master's degree in counseling and has taught psychology, social psychology, and a tests and measurements course.

Within a group of people, cultural norms refer to shared beliefs and behavioral expectations that help establish attitudes and patterns of behavior. Explore the role of values in cultural norms, and review the process of conforming to cultural norms, including the advantages and disadvantages of conformity.

What Is a Cultural Norm?

Have you ever wondered why most people who live in a certain country think and behave in similar ways and why people from one country or culture are so different from people of another culture? The difference has to do with cultural norms. The term 'culture' refers to attitudes and patterns of behavior in a given group. 'Norm' refers to attitudes and behaviors that are considered normal, typical or average within that group.

All societies have cultural norms. Even though norms influence every facet of our lives, including what we value, our attitudes, and how we behave, we are often unaware that we are influenced at all.

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  • 0:03 What Is a Cultural Norm?
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How Are Cultural Norms and Values Related?

The culture of a nation is transmitted through its existing systems. Three systems play a key role in the transmission of cultural norms - government, education and family. Typically, government sets forth an ideology or set of beliefs. These beliefs, and the behaviors that support them, are then taught by schools and by families. The beliefs are often referred to as values, and the behaviors that support these values are referred to as norms.

Here's an example of how a cultural norm might be transmitted and how it is related to a value. The United States government promotes a belief that everyone is responsible for their own destiny. If I am educated in the United States, I have likely been taught that America is the land of opportunity and that I am free to choose my destiny. In other words, with hard work, I can do anything.

More than likely, my parents have also communicated a similar value system to me. They may have stressed that if I get an education and work hard, I will have a good life. As a result, I will probably value competition and individualism, and I will have a tendency to judge those who are less successful.

Cultural norms also exist in smaller groups or cultures, not just in larger societies. Hispanic-American and African-American cultures are examples of groups that have their own set of values and norms. Although they usually take on a number of cultural norms from the larger culture (the United States), they have additional values and norms that are passed on through generations. Values and norms for these 'sub-cultures' are transmitted through the family system.

Conforming to Cultural Norms

Norms and values are intertwined, and some degree of conformity is expected. In some cases, there is even pressure to conform. Take a moment to think about a time when you felt pressured to fall in line with others. It is not unusual to behave in ways similar to those around us. In fact, imitation is quite common. Let's take a look at a famous experiment that illustrates the point.

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