Sociology Norms Theory Analysis essay


The norm theory relates to the above case scenario in many ways. First and foremost, this situation brings out the idea that social norms are rules that a group of individuals uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. For instance, it is the belief by many that cheating on a girlfriend or boyfriend is wrong, hence Mike and Elsa’s behavior was contrary to what is considered to be the norm. In essence, this was the genesis of the conflict between Danny and me. One of the sanctions that follow the violation of this norm is breaking up relationships, and in fact, this is seen in the case scenario when after discovering what happened, Danny and Elsa break up. Similarly, Danny and Mikes’s relationship definitely changes for the worst (Hechter & Opp, 2001).

Similarly, it is a widespread social norm that friends should be honest with each other in every circumstance. They should be confidants of each other and maintain a trust relationship. The violation of this social norm leads to consequences such as breaking of relationships. In this case scenario, my failure to disclose my encounter with Danny’s girlfriend and Mike put my relationship with Danny at stake. During a telephone conversation, Danny blames me equally for the turnout of events. He further states that if I had not kept this information from him, the conflict would have been resolved amicably.

It is also clear that although the conflict between Mike and me does not come out clearly from this scenario, it is evident that our relationship will never be the same. In fact, my thought of the fact that Mike had the audacity to cheat on Danny with Elsa made me sad and attracted bad feelings towards Mike.

The conflict that arises between Danny and me, as a result of the above violation of the social norm, also brings out the states of the control theory. This commences with a situation of control before the occurrence of the event. At this preliminary stage, two or more actors are featured. Possibly, the four personalities featured in this case scenario are Danny, Elsa, Mike and me. The personalities, at this stage, may or may not have assigned stable personality characteristics to one another. For instance, it had never occurred to Danny that Elsa or Mike would do such a thing in his absence, especially because he trusted them. In the same way, Danny and I were close friends and within the wildest of his ideas, he never would have thought of me as a dishonest person. Danny, therefore, expressed his disappointment in me for violating this trust. At this stage, personalities share a set of norms, both general and local, as well as definitions of the situation and all are in consensus. At this stage, they interact normally (Hechter & Opp, 2001).

Immediately after this stage, an activating event follows

An unacceptable event occurs, and the first impulse is ignored. When I found out of the betrayal, my first reaction was to assume it and so did Mike since later on we acted normal towards each other. However, since it was a major violation of Danny’s expectations, it initiated the control process when Danny found out.

The first state is the basic control state. As stated earlier, this is whereby one person acts as the norm carrier and the other as the norm violator. In this case, with the unfolding of events, Danny acts as the norm carrier and I as the norm violator. This is portrayed in his reaction during our confrontation over the phone, where he equally blames me for having hidden information from him about what happened. He gives me a lecture on friendship and further stresses that it was my duty as a friend to disclose the information. In Danny’s opinion, the result of my dishonesty was a destroyed and failed friendship. On the other hand, after the confrontation, I believed that Danny was right about me, and I took up the role of the norm violator since I was unable to give a convincing justification. This stage is not resolved at the end of the phone conversation, and it grows into the conflict state (Krueger & Funder, 2004).

At this stage, both parties act as norm carriers. They both invoke a norm and recount violations by the other. For instance, Danny is of the opinion that failing to tell him of Elsa and Mike’s misconduct was a violation of a norm. The norm is that friends should be honest to each other failing, which such friendships would go down the drain. In my opinion, however, putting Mike and Elsa in trouble would have been wrong, and I had to think of a better way of making things right without raising alarm. While Danny was angry with me for dishonesty, I was angry with him for the harsh conclusions he made and each of us defended our actions as being right and reasonable. Since the conflict is not resolved at this stage, it moves into the third stage (Forsyth, 2009).

At the deferring state, both parties become norm violators. They both invoke a norm and recount violations by themselves, then claim responsibility. Similarly, upon considering my situation, Danny realizes that being in my situation is difficult. Therefore, he decides to have a lunch with me and apologize for having insulted me. I also apologize for violating the norm of honesty between friends, and we both promise each other never to do the same in the future. Consequently, we resolve our issue and remain friends (Krueger & Funder, 2004).


Intervening in an argument between a man and woman in a relationship is quite difficult. In one experiment, it was established that most people are reluctant to intervene in such situations because of fear that this may result in reprisals from either or both parties (Dutton, 2011). Unlike in cases of physical abuse, it was established that outsiders should mind their own business and let the couple resolve their own issues.

In my opinion, social norms offer an idea of how a person is expected to conduct oneself within a particular group and provides a comprehension of the overall social influence and  conformity. These groups may be friendships or work groups as well as nation states. Conforming to social roles is a requirement in society, and there is some sense of pressure on every individual to do this.

The social norm theory is connected to other theories as well. For example, the social exchange theory which assumes that all life aspects can be viewed as an exchange of rewards or resources between persons or groups of people. Just like with principles of utilitarianism, people have the urge to maximize pleasure in the pursuit of utility. Likewise, the principle of behaviorism, which states that punishment and reward determine people’s behavior, is closely related to this theory (Ajzen, 2011).

This theory is also similar to the theory of planned behavior that suggests a model capable of measuring how the actions of human beings are guided. According to this theory, the provided action is intentional, and it predetermines the happening of certain behavior. This theory puts forward three variables which predict the intention to behave in a particular way. These include attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control (Ajzen, 2011).

Attitude involves a person’s overall evaluation of the behavior. This has two components that are beliefs about consequences and the respective positive, as well as negative judgments about these features of the behavior. Subjective norms are an individual’s own estimate of pressure from the society to comply with the behavioral expectations. Last but not least, perceived behavioral control is the degree to which one feels able to comply with the behavior. It has two aspects, namely how much one has control over the behavior and how confident he or she is.

However, this theory has faced some criticisms

One of the criticisms is that exclusively focusing on the violation of norms discourages cumulative research and development of the theory. Errors and misconducts are viewed in isolation, yet they contribute less to theories of the whole range of behavior. If behavioral, social psychology becomes the study of misbehavior and cognitive psychology, the study of judgmental shortcomings, the field is diminished to a list of things people do wrongly. In this case, explanations as generated for misbehavior but these explanations are rarely integrated or drawn from broader theories of behavior or cognition. This isolation leads to contradictions and facilitates a profusion of overlapping labels (Berkowitz, 2003).

There is an issue of incompleteness since the finding of errors is seen as falling short of explanations. Rationality is considered to be assumed, and the theoretical explanations of the error do not seek to explain the entire range of occurrence. They mainly concentrate on the person who gets it wrong, and not on the one who gets it right. This can be overcome by examining the relationship between bias and accuracy (Berkowitz, 2003).

This theory fails to account for other factors that affect an individual's behavior such as behavioral intention and motivation, for instance, fear, threat, mood and experience. In such instances, one is left with no opportunity to justify behavior even when one’s excuses are valid. To be more specific, behavior related to health situations are not featured in this theory. Such individual’s behavior is largely dependent on their personal emotion which is impossible to predict (Hechter & Opp, 2001).

Another limitation is its assumption that decisions made before embarking on a certain behavior is linear and fails to put into consideration that this may change with time. Instances such as persuasion to think in a different way by friends or work mates should be considered.

Critiques argued that the presumption that the individual had equal opportunity and resources to successfully perform the expected behavior regardless of the intention was unrealistic. It is for a reason that it is not always the case that one will have the opportunity to behave as expected. Instead, each circumstance differs from the other in terms of opportunity and resources. Some circumstances like dilemma present situations when making decisions to behave in a particular expected way is impossible.

This theory also poses the risk of confusing between attitude and norms. This is because often, attitudes are reframed as norms and norms as attitudes. More often than not, these differ from one group or community to another, hence creating conflict as a result of diverse beliefs.

In conclusion, it is evident from previous reports that this theory has proved to be useful in many sectors. It has over one thousand two hundred bibliographies in the academic sector. Moreover, it has been used as a strategy in predicting health-related behavioral intention such as the use of contraceptive field, leisure diet and exercise. It has also been used in the field of environmental psychology whereby in general, and environmentally friendly behavior is considered a highly positive social norm.


  1. Ajzen, I. (2011). Theory of planned behavior. Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology,1.
  2. Berkowitz, A. D. (2003). Applications of social norms theory to other health and social justice issues. The social norms approach to preventing school and college age substance abuse: A handbook for educators, counselors, and clinicians.
  3. Dutton, D.G. (2011). The domestic assault of women: Psychological and criminal justice perspectives. UBC Press.
  4. Forsyth, D. (2009). Group dynamics. Cengage Learning.
  5. Hechter, M. & Opp, K. D. (2001). Social norms. Russell Sage Foundation.
  6. Krueger, J. I. & Funder, D. C. (2004). Towards a balanced social psychology: Causes,
  7. consequences, and cures for the problem-seeking approach to social behavior and cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27(3).

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