Norms are social standards that describe and prescribe behavior. Norms serve as guides for one's own behavior, help establish expectations about how others will act, and therefore promote greater coordination in social interactions. Norms may be descriptive in the sense that they specify the frequency and pervasiveness of some behavior. Norms may be prescriptive in the sense that they specify the behaviors that a person ought or ought not to perform. According to some theorists, the possibility of informal punishments and sanctions for failures to comply with prescriptive norms is a defining characteristic of a norm.

This entry examines the distinctions between norms that are primarily descriptive in nature and those that are more prescriptive. Although norms are often thought of as social standards, individuals may ...

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