Social Boundaries: Definition and Examples

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  • 0:01 What are Social Boundaries?
  • 2:03 Benefits of Social Boundaries
  • 2:49 Disadvantages of…
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Johnson

Patricia is a Clinical Health Psychologist with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has taught Life Span Development and worked with clients of all ages.

Social boundaries are found in just about every society and direct the way people function on a daily basis. In this segment, you will learn what social boundaries are, and why for instance, we're required to wear clothing when in public establishments.

What Are Social Boundaries?

Social boundaries are established social rules that are considered typical because most people in society agree that they are reasonable ways to live. For instance, in America, it is rude to belch in front of others. Therefore, it's important for Americans to conceal belching around others because most people in this society agree that belching is unpleasant. However, in other countries, belching is a sign that a person has greatly enjoyed a meal. In fact, it is a compliment to the chef. In these societies, it is acceptable as a tangible sign of gratitude and contentment.

Social boundaries also allow people to quickly assess others. We tend to categorize people into various descriptors, even within the first few seconds of meeting them. Social boundaries make it easier to determine what is similar and different about ourselves in comparison to others that we meet. In some countries, it is rude to look people directly in the eyes while speaking with them. However, in other countries, it is rude not to look at people while talking with them. If we're able to understand that others' social boundaries may be different in some ways, we can learn to understand other cultures and display appreciation for those differences.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone you recently met and thought, 'This person is standing way too close to me?' This is another example of social boundaries. Although, in this case, it may feel like a less obvious difference in social boundaries and instead, just strange behavior. In some societies, however, it is customary to stand very close to another individual while having a conversation. In fact, there is an unspoken approximate distance that is expected of two people while they are interacting.

Social boundaries can dictate various aspects of a persons' behavior, from standing too close or far to a person, what one wears when attending a religious service, or how loudly or softly a person speaks. Social boundaries may even direct how much a person shares about her feelings. In some cultures, openly sharing emotions is strongly discouraged, while in other countries, it is welcomed.

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