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Social Norms

  • By: Shelly Campo
  • In: Encyclopedia of Health Communication
  • Edited by: Teresa L. Thompson
  • Subject:Public Health Education & Health Promotion, Health Psychology, Health Communication

Social norms are defined as shared rules and standards that guide social behavior. Sociologists and social psychologists have long considered norms as a key component influencing behavior, but the study and influence of norms are also central to communication. Norms are learned, enacted, and shared through verbal and nonverbal communication. Perceptions of social norms may or may not reflect the true norm (e.g., what most people in a comparison group do or think).

Pluralistic ignorance and optimistic bias both suggest that individuals' perceptions of social norms are not 100 percent accurate and that those perceptions may be more misaligned with true norms. This misalignment is often magnified when the behavior is private (e.g., condom use) and must therefore be disclosed rather than observed. In addition, private ...

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