Bodies Obliged and Unbound: Differentiated Response Tendencies for Injunctive and Descriptive Social Norms

  • Jacobson R
  • Mortensen C
  • Cialdini R
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The authors suggest that injunctive and descriptive social norms engage different psychological response tendencies when made selectively salient. On the basis of suggestions derived from the focus theory of normative conduct and from consideration of the norms' functions in social life, the authors hypothesized that the 2 norms would be cognitively associated with different goals, would lead individuals to focus on different aspects of self, and would stimulate different levels of conflict over conformity decisions. Additionally, a unique role for effortful self-regulation was hypothesized for each type of norm-used as a means to resist conformity to descriptive norms but as a means to facilitate conformity for injunctive norms. Four experiments supported these hypotheses. Experiment 1 demonstrated differences in the norms' associations to the goals of making accurate/efficient decisions and gaining/maintaining social approval. Experiment 2 provided evidence that injunctive norms lead to a more interpersonally oriented form of self-awareness and to a greater feeling of conflict about conformity decisions than descriptive norms. In the final 2 experiments, conducted in the lab (Experiment 3) and in a naturalistic environment (Experiment 4), self-regulatory depletion decreased conformity to an injunctive norm (Experiments 3 and 4) and increased conformity to a descriptive norm (Experiment 4)-even though the norms advocated identical behaviors. By illustrating differentiated response tendencies for each type of social norm, this research provides new and converging support for the focus theory of normative conduct.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Conformity
  • Self-regulation
  • Social influence
  • Social norms

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  • Ryan P. Jacobson

  • Chad R. Mortensen

  • Robert B. Cialdini

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