PSY322-Injunctive Norms

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As a society we tend to conform to changing one’s behavior due to the real or imagined influence of others (Kiesler & Kiesler, 1969). These are social norms, which are rules that we as a society have for acceptable behavior, values, and beliefs, that can help induce people to conform to correct, socially approved behavior. When we think about what other people approve or disapprove of, we are using injunctive norms to motivate behavior by either promising rewards, or punishments, for normative or non-normative behavior. Injunctive norms have been used to properly understand human social behavior (e.g., Berkowitz, 1972; Fishbein & Ajzen,1975; Mckirnan, 1980; Pepitone, 1976). More research on injunctive norms has shown how they are an important component of the theory of planned behavior (Azjen, 1991) and are presumed to combine with attitude and perceived behavioral control to predict behavioral intention and, ultimately, behavior.

Researchers have found that injunctive norms are most influential within close social networks with high group identity (Trafimow & Finlay, 1996). In such settings, social approval is particularly important for maintaining group membership and cohesion, and thus individuals may be strongly motivated to adhere to injunctive norms (Larimer, Turner, Mallett, & Geisner, 2004). A person might think its important to fit in with society, and have the social approval of certain behaviors that they themselves might display in order to maintain themselves within the group they might call “family”. An example of an injunctive norm is how people do not litter in places that are clean, especially when they see someone pick up trash instead of throwing it. People know that littering is a non-approved behavior in some places and you can get fined for it. For example, in a baseball game it is usually acceptable to throw seeds and peanuts on the floor, it is approved by society.

An inclusion of a third type of norm: personal injunctive norm, which can be defined as an “individual’s internalized moral rules” (Parker, Manstead, & Stradling, 1995) and reflect the perception that engaging in a behavior would cause self approval or disapproval and involve an ascription of responsibility to the self to act (Schwartz, 1977). This helps explain how the individual does not engage in a certain behavior for their own self approval or disapproval and for the certain morals and rules they tend to follow or have. More research on injunctive norms has investigated the association between social norms and drinking. Perceived injunctive drinking norms refer to the views of how much others approve of drinking behavior. Social norms overestimate a student’s peer drinking behavior and approval (Carey et al., Lewis & Neighbors, 2004). A student is more likely to drink because they think their peers approve more of their intake of alcohol. Social norms and alcohol consumption research has shown an importance on reference groups towards the relationship between injunctive norms and alcohol consumption (Neighbors, O’connor, Lewis, Chawla, Lee, Fossos, 2008). Research in which perceived injunctive norms have been operationalized as “subjective norms” suggests that the intention to engage in a behavior is in part determined by the perceived approval of important others (Ajzen, 1991; Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).

Example - Research

As an example of injunctive norms research, (Mallett and Geisner, 2004) investigated the role of descriptive and injunctive norms in the prediction of drinking behavior and alcohol-related problems among fraternity and sorority members. The research question was does the influence of injunctive norms give the acceptability of drinking and heavy drinking in fraternity and sorority members and does it predict drinking behavior, alcohol-related to negative consequences, and symptoms of alcohol dependence over a year? The hypothesis was that the contribution of injunctive norms will predict problem drinking behavior, alcohol-related consequences, and symptoms of physical dependence. The method of the research study involved participants from different fraternities and sororities and investigated the effectiveness of alcohol-based intervention programs in Greek letter organizations during a five year period. The operationalization of injunctive norms within the method was to include baseline packet questionnaires that included assessments of the Greek organizations and their drinking rates, perceptions about house-wide acceptance of drinking and drinking consequences. During these five years, participants were asked to fill out a follow up assessment packet about their frequency and quantity of alcohol use, prevalence of alcohol-related consequences, and symptoms of dependence. The results of the research study confirmed that injunctive norms significantly predicted concurrent alcohol-related consequences, and significantly predicted concurrent symptoms of physical dependency (Mallett and Geisner, 2004). For female students, alcohol related consequences were stronger and male students were stronger in concurrent symptoms of physical dependence and perceived pledge class drinking. Limitations for this study were that the data was collected via self-report, which can be subject to bias. In addition, they only assessed perceived injunctive norms rather than perceived and actual injunctive norms. Also the injunctive norms measure the house acceptability questionnaire which included items such as perceived acceptability of missing class because of drinking, which had similarities to negative consequences. The importance of this article adds to the normative perceptions of college drinking, through evaluation on injunctive norms. It evaluates the major influence of injunctive norms on alcohol-related consequences and to drinking behavior and problems in addition to concurrent behavior (Mallett and Geisner, 2004).

Example - Real-life

Public display of affection (pda) can be either approved or disapproved of. A person’s perspective might be different from someone else’s view on pda. For example, my boyfriend and I were at a restaurant kissing and hugging, when he noticed a couple of older ladies sitting behind us giving us disapproving looks. The older ladies did not approve of our pda which resulted in their disapproved stares and whispers about our behavior. As soon as my boyfriend noticed that the older ladies did not appreciate our behavior my boyfriend and I immediately stopped. We knew that our behavior was inappropriate for a family restaurant but we still did it.

As a society we tend to do what we think other people approve of or disapprove of, for example, my boyfriend and I stopped our behavior because it was not approved. Injunctive norms can make a major impact in someone’s behavior and change that certain behavior to create a positive behavioral change. When my boyfriend saw the older ladies disapproved stares we stopped our public display of affection because we knew it was not approved of. We conformed to society by refraining from public displays of affection, because our behavior reminded us that society disapproved of such behavior. As the older ladies made it known that they were not okay with the behavior, it drew our attention to the relevant norm and we were able to think about our inappropriate behavior. Certain public displays of affection are appropriate in some places than others. For example, in a club you are more likely to see people/ couples showing more displays of affection, as oppose to family-style restaurants.


Cialdini, R. B., Kallgren, C. A., & Reno R. R (1990). A focus theory of normative conduct: recycling the concept of norms to reduce littering in public places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(6), 1015-1026.

Chawla, N., Fossos, N., Lee, C. M., Lewis, M. A., O’Connor, R. M., & Neighbors, C. (2008). The relative impact of injunctive norms on college student drinking: the role of reference group. Psychology of Addictive Behavior, 22(4), 576-581.

Geisner, I. M., Larimer, M. E., Mallett, K. A., & Turner, A.P. (2004). Predicting drinking behavior and alcohol-related problems among fraternity and sorority members: examining the role of descriptive and injunctive norms. Psychology of Addictive Behavior, 18(3), 203-212.

Greenslade, J. H., Mckimmie, B. M., Smith, J. R., Terry, D. J., & White, K.M. (2009). Social influence in the theory of planned behavior: the role of descriptive, injunctive, and in-group norms. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48, 135-158.

Lee, C.M., Lewis, M. A., & Rees, M. (2009). Gender-specific normative perceptions of alcohol-related protective behavioral strategies. Psychology of Addictive Behavior, 23(3) 539-545.

Akert, R. M., Aronson, E., & Wilson, T. D. (2007). Social psychology. (pp 258-260). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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