What Are Social Norms? Definition & Examples in Infants, Children & Adults

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  • 0:06 Social Norms
  • 1:51 Deviance
  • 2:39 Social Norms in…
  • 3:44 Social Norms and Adolescents
  • 4:55 Social Norms and Adults
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of social norms and define related terms. You will also examine the effects of social norms in infants, children, adolescents, and adults.

What Are Social Norms?

Maria is a kindergarten teacher. She asks the children to line up for lunch. Two of the children join the line from different sides of the room and arrive at the same time. Rather than simply making room for one another, they each begin to complain that the other person is cutting in line. Why does this occur?

To explain this behavior, we must first understand social norms. A social norm is the accepted behavior that an individual is expected to conform to in a particular group, community, or culture. These norms often serve a useful purpose and create the foundation of correct behaviors. In other words, social norms allow you to expect the events that will occur in a particular setting. This allows you to prepare yourself for a situation and reduces the amount of stress that you would feel leading up to a situation that you felt uncertain of what was expected.

Social norms are most noticeable when they are not followed. They remain stable because most people are taught to follow them and agree to do so willingly. Even if a person doesn't feel like following a social norm, he or she may do it because of the social pressure that's placed on him or her to conform.

For example, in the United States, it's customary to give gifts during the winter holiday season. These gifts may vary from baking cookies for your neighbor to receiving a holiday bonus at work. It is so much a part of the culture that most people do it automatically.

Let's say that you suddenly decide that you don't want to give gifts during the holidays. It may not be easy to change your actions. If you stop giving gifts, others may think that you're selfish. It might also make you feel uncomfortable when someone gives you a gift. You do not want others to think poorly of you, and you do not want to feel uncomfortable, so you don't change your behavior and continue giving gifts during the holidays.


When you do not conform to the social norms that are accepted by your culture or group, it's considered an abnormal behavior. This is called deviance. There are varying degrees of deviance that are accepted by different groups. However, you face being rejected by the group if your disobedience to social norms is too excessive to be tolerated.

Imagine you enter an elevator full of people and, rather than turning to face the door, you continue to face the other people in the elevator. At best, you'll receive some uncomfortable looks from the other people in the elevator. This is because you're showing deviance to the social norm of turning around to face the door in an elevator. Your behavior makes the other members of the group feel uncomfortable. If they feel too uncomfortable, they may avoid getting into an elevator with you in the future.

Social Norms in Infants and Children

Now let's look at how social norms affect us at different stages of our lives. First, think of a time when you were a newborn infant. You did not enter the world with the ability to respond to everything in your environment. The social norms influencing others to take care of you allowed you to survive. This was your first experience with social norms. You began to learn what behavior was expected of you, and what you could expect from others. For example, you learned that if you stopped crying when someone picked you up, they would continue to hold you.

As you grew older, you began to understand the social norms expected by your peer group. At first, these social rules are still imposed upon you by parents, teachers, and other adults you interacted with. For example, when you began school, you learned that you should raise your hand to speak rather than interrupt the teacher. You knew what you should do, what you should not do, and were very insistent that others act in an expected way. If a new student came to your school and continually interrupted the teacher, you would object to the behavior and tell them, 'Things are not done that way; you have to do it like this.'

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