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The cascade effect

We follow arbitrary norms that offer no rational reason for us to conform to them. The norms can snowball when we are influenced by people's earlier decisions.

For instance, if we see a packed restaurant next to an empty one, we assume the packed restaurant must be better. It is possible that an initial arbitrary decision by some early restaurant-goers cascaded into one restaurant being popular and the other one not.

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Common reasons for conforming

  • One common explanation: we that if everyone else is choosing to do one thing, it is probably a good thing to do.
  • Another common explanation: we fear that failing to follow a norm may have negative social consequences.

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The self-categorization theory

The idea of the self-categorization theory is that people conform to the norms of certain social groups whenever they have a personal desire to feel like they belong.

It is irrelevant whether a norm reflects people's preference, as long as the behavior is associated with the group.

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Social norms

People tend to conform to behaviors that are common among other people, even when they know that those people did not make their choices freely, and when the decision does not mirror their own desires.Β 

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Conforming to good behavior

Increasingly, social norms are being used to encourage pro-social behavior. They have been successfully used to encourage:

  • Healthy eating
  • Increase attendance at doctor appointments
  • To reduce tax evasion
  • To increase towel reuse at hotels

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