Range of Tolerance: Definition & Factors

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson, you will learn the definition of range of tolerance in the sociological perspective and will briefly review what it is in biology. You will be given examples and a brief quiz to test your knowledge.

What Is Range of Tolerance in Sociology?

Every society is different, but in mainstream America, there are some common taboos: exposed tattoos (although tolerance appears to be increasing for this one), unusual piercings, unwashed or untamed hair (dreadlocks come to my mind) or really short skirts. There is a different level of tolerance of each of these things depending on where you are in the world or who you are around.

The range of tolerance from a sociological perspective is a scope of behaviors that are considered acceptable. This scope of acceptable behaviors in a society are called conformity-oriented behaviors. Most people in a society try to practice conformity-oriented behaviors because they want to be accepted and not negatively judged by others. There are some people, though, that don't seem to care about raising a few eyebrows and even appear to crave the attention!

Range of tolerance of behavior presented in a bell curve.
Range of Tolerance represented in a bell curve.

Let's apply the bell curve above to an example of a wedding with a cocktail attire dress code. The range of tolerance, or conformity-oriented behavior, would be to dress within the dress code - cocktail dresses and suits with ties for men.

  • A little under the norm: A woman wearing a simple day dress.
  • A little over the norm: A woman wearing a long, dressy ball gown.
  • Way under the norm/deviant: Someone wearing jeans.
  • Way over the norm/deviant: A man wearing a tuxedo when he is not a family member or part of the wedding.

What Affects Range of Tolerance?

There are four factors that define range of tolerance: time, place, situation and culture.


When speaking of time, we are mostly speaking of a time period. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the surrounding events promoting equality for African Americans, interracial marriages between a black person and a white person were considered taboo and outside the range of tolerance. Nowadays, in the United States, interracial marriages are within the range of tolerance in most urban areas.

Time could also mean time of day. For example, it may be within the range of tolerance for women to wear bright red lipstick and glitter eye-shadow at night but maybe not during the day.


The range of tolerance changes depending on the place. It may be within the range of tolerance for girls to wear a short skirt when going to a dance club with friends. In church, on the other hand, a short skirt may cause heads to turn and eyes may avert in disapproval and disgust.


The range of tolerance definitely depends on the situation, as well. Laughing in public when a friend cracks a joke is seen within the range of tolerance. Laughing at a funeral, on the other hand, is not.

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