Alex King SOC-10 10/13/12 Breaking Social Norms In our society we have a number of norms that we abide by. For example, there is an unwritten rule of how one should behave in an elevator. It is “proper” to face front, stand away from strangers, and not to look at others. When a social norm is broken people may respond with alarm, humour, fear, irritation, or an array of other emotions. When you think of a norm, you are probably thinking about simply being normal. But in psychology terms, norm means a standard or representative value for a group.
A social norm is some sort of an expectation that our society has that is deemed normal by that society; they tell us which behaviors, thoughts, or feelings are appropriate within a given group within a given context. Over the passed week I was required to conduct a social experiment where I had to perform social deviance, or break socially established norms, then observe my society to see how they reacted to my “misconduct. ” The experiment that I conducted was an example of informal deviance, where no one punished me and there was no risk of any punishment.
It involved me riding a walled elevator (not one of those elevators that have all-glass walls) at The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks multiple times, but riding it backwards, or, backwards as our current society would have it deemed. I had a friend with me that helped me monitor the reactions of eight different experiment groups and got various reactions where people confronted me about my lack of normality. This contradicted my hypothesis and proved it wrong, which was, “Even if I stand the wrong way in the elevator and go against the social norm, people will go about their business and not react outwardly. The experiment proved a lot about social norms and breaking them. It showed the significance of social norms, how much social norms play a role in society, and how people, as individuals, act when these norms are broken. Me standing the wrong way changed the way some people felt in the elevator; they started to feel uncomfortable and distressed because my actions went against the normal acts of society. The gesture was small and confined to a very small space, yet it proved to generate great and powerfully negative reactions. As stated earlier, this experiment completely proved my hypothesis wrong.
Many of the people that rode the elevator with me stared at me as though there were something wrong with me. Most were uncomfortable and fidgety and kept looking over their shoulder at me as they rode forward, and me, backwards. More than a few asked if I was alright and even asked my friend, who was acting as if he did not know me, knew what was was wrong. I even conducted a few controlled experiments where I rode the elevator forward to see if people would react to me then, but not a single person outside of the experiment even acknowledged my existence. I would have thought that in a place like L. A.
County, people would be too busy to notice others, or people would have been raised to mind their own business and keep to themselves, but apparently abiding my social standards and making sure that others do as well is a higher priority. I suppose one can use conformity as a reasoning for these results. Society as a whole has learned to conform to social standards and change their behavior to fit in so they aren’t so different from others, so as not to be the odd one out and when they see others behaving differently than themselves, or as the society that they’re in, they’re labeled as “weird” or “strange. Behaviorists might say that people have been “shaped” a certain way to make them socially acceptable, which is the reason that people reacted the way they did to my awkward and “outrageous” norm-breaking. At one point during the experiment, a few very young boys came into the elevator and saw me standing with my face to the wall. One of them suggested to the others that it would be funny if they joined me, seeing as it was only me and my “coworker in disguise” in the elevator at the time. All but one agreed, and the one that didn’t really want to do it, ended up doing it with them anyways.
After the experiment was over, I happened to run into the group of boys once more while walking through the mall, so I decided to ask them politely if I could ask them a few questions about what they saw and why they did what they did. When I explained that I was doing it as a project for school, they agreed to sit down with me for a minute. I asked the boy that suggested that they join me WHY he suggested it, and he told me that they had heard small talk around the mall of “some weird guy in an elevator,” so they wanted to check it out for themselves and wanted to join in just to be funny.
I then asked the one reluctant boy why he didn’t want to join with his friends, and why he eventually did. He replied with, “You’re a stranger. My parents always told me never to mess with or talk to strangers, so I didn’t really want to be near you, or even in a closed off space with you. I even feel a little odd talking to you right now, but we’re in a public place with a bunch of people watching, so I guess it’s OK. ” He answered my second question honestly, in front of his friends, with, “To be honest, I just wanted to fit in. I knew that if I didn’t join them, they’d make fun of me later for not being ‘one of them’ or something.
No one wants to be made fun of alone, you know? ” This 14-year old boy felt pressured by his peers to do something that he was uncomfortable with. I found this extremely interesting, seeing as I was conducting an experiment about conforming to society, or in this case, our peers, or the lack of conformity. Although I’ve been breaking norms my whole life, and even performed social deviance as an experiment before, this experiment has taught me a lot more about social norms and society than before; I suppose I just understand everything more and have a better grasp on why people do what they do.
I got to see first hand how social norms work and how much they play a role in everyone’s daily lives, I learned how people react toward others who don’t follow the social norms, and I got to see how behaviors and personalities completely changed when I compared the control group to the experimental. If this experiment was conducted in another city, or even another state, I’m not too sure that the results would be different because the society lays these social norms down and turning around in an elevator when you step inside is most likely an extremely common thing in the U.
S. Every environment is different, though; what might be acceptable in one place might not be so acceptable in another. But this is America, where it seems conformity and acceptance based on social norms are extremely popular and impacts our society on such a grand scale. I’m sure that very few people actually like being the “weird one”, or the “odd man out”, but once in a while it’s nice to see someone take their own path and do their own thing, regardless of what society deems worthy or normal.