Injunctive and Descriptive Group Norms: Definitions, Differences & Examples

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  • 0:06 Group Norm Types
  • 0:38 What Is a Norm?
  • 1:52 What Is a Descriptive Norm?
  • 2:58 What Is an Injunctive Norm?
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ron Fritz
What is normal? Some people consider it normal to do the same thing everyone else is doing. Others may consider it normal to do what is proper, or expected. Discover why each is an example of using either an injunctive or a descriptive norm.

Injunctive and Distinctive Group Norms

You're watching a concert and as the musicians stop playing, everyone else stands up and starts clapping. You most likely will stand up and begin clapping too. Why? Because that's what everyone else is doing: It's the descriptive norm.

You leave the concert and walk into a library. You automatically lower your voice to a whisper as you ask the librarian for directions to a particular section. Why? Because that's what you're supposed to do in a library: It's the injunctive norm.

Clapping along with others at a concert is a descriptive norm.
Descriptive Norm Audience

What Is a Norm?

A norm is something that is considered normal (duh!). Think of a norm as an unwritten rule or guideline. Someone reaches out to shake your hand and you reach your hand out in return - completely normal. In a restaurant, you pay more than the price of your ticket because you are leaving the server a tip; no one asked you to do it, you did it because it's the normal thing to do.

Who gets to say what's normal and what isn't? Social norms are different from group to group; a community in Beverly Hills, California, is likely to have different norms than wheat farmers in Kansas. The group defines the norm.

In some countries, looking someone in the eyes while you speak to them is considered normal, whereas in other countries, it is considered rude. When working for some companies, wearing a tie is considered normal, whereas in other companies, it might be considered odd or strange.

The norm of any particular group is defined by the group itself. Because everyone belongs to many different groups, such as culture, work or church, people are familiar with many different social norms. Norms are the accepted standards of behavior for any given group.

What Is a Descriptive Norm?

A descriptive norm is based on what people actually do; or in simpler terms, a descriptive norm is based on your perception of the behavior of the people around you. When your mother used to ask, 'If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge, too?' she was challenging your belief in a descriptive norm. Mom was saying that just because everyone else does something doesn't make it right. Descriptive norms are sometimes contrary to injunctive norms. Mom was pretty smart.

Albert Bandura's social learning theory states that behavior is learned by observing and imitating the actions of others. If you place someone with antisocial traits in a group of prosocial peers, the antisocial individual will begin to imitate the prosocial group.

Prosocial individuals placed in an antisocial group will develop antisocial traits.
Antisocial Social Learning

Likewise, if you place a prosocial individual in a group of antisocial people, the prosocial individual will begin to adopt the characteristics of the antisocial group. Social learning theory relies on the concept of descriptive norms. A descriptive norm is typically in the present because it states what 'is.'

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