Norms, Conformity & Social Learning Approach

Norms, Conformity & Social Learning Approach

Write a comprehensive note on the following:                         

       i)     Norms          ii)    Conformity     iii)   Social Learning Approach


i)             Norms

Wrightman has proposed that conscience operates, when each individual is working on his or her own, but when the person functions in “organizational mode” one’s individual conscience is no longer relevant. Such persons are operating in an agential state, or a condition in which the person sees himself or herself as an agent for carrying out another person’s wishes, in contrast to a state of autonomy, or acting on one’s own.

According to social-psychological research, the presence of others, “whether in immediate sense or in the actor’s psychological definition of the situation” (Warner and DeFleur, 1969), exerts influence on the individual to act in a manner that is consistent with what those others are perceived to feel is appropriate and desirable conduct. According to this research it was noted that behaviour in group tends to differ from behaviour that occurs in private settings.

The idea of social influence or of conforming to the expectations of the group implies the existence of some standard around which our attitudes and behaviour cluster. That standard is most often socially defined and so can be referred to as a social norm. Social norms constitute “ought to” definition; they define for us the behaviours and attitudes that are appropriate for given situations; they tell us what we ought to do and, conversely, what we ought not to do. From a sociological perspective, norms constitute one of the essential ingredients that hold the fabric of society together. Alongwith attending sanctions, they account largely for the existence of social order. Without some degree of adherence to normative prescriptions, social life would be characterized by general disorganization and chaos. From a social psychological perspective adherence of social norms helps to account for the regularities in individual behaviour. As the individuals ^row to maturity, they are taught to socialization process that certain types of behaviour are appropriate and others are inappropriate and unacceptable. Sanctions, in the form of approval, praise, scorn, or punishment, are used to enforce the norms. Behaviour that is consistent with social norms brings approval from others, and this increases the portability of such behaviour occurring again. Behaviour contrary to norms, on the other hand, usually elicits disapproval or some other form of negative sanction, decreasing the probability that similar behaviour will be repeated.

The Origin of Social Norms:

Summer proposed that much of our daily action is governed by folkways or relatively informal traditions and customs that are passed from one generation to the next. The best explanation of norms lies in the observation that norms emerge to provide meaning and structure in what would otherwise be an ambiguous situation. New norms emerge to fill the gaps left by the ambiguity or the inapplicability of existing norms. Some degree of consensus on the new norms is necessary; otherwise, the outcome is likely to be anarchy and destruction. The emergence of new norms in response to ambiguity is illustrated by the research conducted by Muzafer Sharif who employed autokinetic effect in studying the process of norms formation. In one of his experiments, Sharif brought a group of subjects into a dark room to observe a totally stationary light, and asked them to estimate how far the light moved. Sharif was very successful in creating a situation totally ambiguous in a physical sense because there were no criteria available for the subjects to use in estimating movement of the light. After a series of trials, Sharif began to observe a most interesting social-psychological phenomenon: the range of estimate by his respondents began to converge toward the mean. For example, after the first trial, the . range of estimated movement varied from two or three inches to several times that amount. After additional trials, the more extreme estimate tended to become less extreme, therefore moving toward the mean. Eventually the group came of establish a “norm” or a generally agreed-upon estimate of light movement. In other words, a social norm developed to provide meaning to an ambiguous situation. There are two sources of information to determine the validity of our opinions and actions— physical reality and social reality (Second and Backman, 1974). We obtain information from the physical environment and our opinion and behaviour are determined on the basis of this physical reality. Social reality is the evaluation and judgement of others and is an important source of information. People define and interpret our world for us and we look to the response of others before taking actions ourselves. The key seems to be that the more ambiguous the physical stimuli, the more likely we are to rely on social definition of reality. The most interesting example in this regard is the science fiction tale of the invasion of the Eastern United States by the aliens from outer space. The radio drama was presented in the format of on-the-scene descriptions. Thousands of listeners switched on the radio after the programme had begun. They defined the events as real and panicked. Police phone lines were clogged with incoming calls and intersections were jammed by people fleeing their homes. However, social definitions of the situation, apparently filled the gap provided by physical ambiguity. Listeners interpreted their inability to get a call a result of alien destruction of communication line. In the heat of panic, the same definition could apparently be applied to different conditions. For example, some people rushed to the window and saw a great deal of traffic, which they defined as a result of large number of people fleeing before their attackers. Some others defined no traffic that all people have been killed by the invaders.

ii)           Conformity:

Conformity is to be defined as yielding to group expectations or definitions of the situation. It implies some degree of conflict between what the group demands of the individual and what the individual would otherwise do. There are different types of conformity.

  1. Individuals living in traditional-directed societies rely primarily on standards handed down from the past. These individuals rely on elder-imposed sanctions.

2.   Inner-directed societies are characterized by individuals who rely on a set of internalized norms to govern their behaviour. These societies rely on self-imposed sanctions.

3.       The third type of conformity is the other-directed in which person continually looks to others for directives concerning appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. This is the person who goes along with the crowd in order to be popular and feel accepted. Even this behaviour is contrary to his or her own personal norms and values. In this case, behaviour fluctuates as the situation and the evidence change. Although we all conform, and conformity to a degree is necessary in order to avoid caos, the other directed person carries it too far.

iii)    Social Learning Approach

Social learning approach is a perspective that states that people learn within a social context. It is facilitated through concepts such as modeling and observational learning.

According to this approach sex-typed behaviour is seen as a consequence of the rewards and punishments that a child experiences as he or she engages in various behaviours. This approach assumes that a male child will be rewarded for engaging in behaviour characteristics of male children and punishment for doing what girls do and vice versa in the case of girls. Boys are given gun, motorcycle, and car etc, to play with, and girls are given dolls and pottery. Gradually, the child learns to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and then generalizes it. The social-learning model also esplains a second process of observational learning. It is generally acknowledged that a child learns many things by merely observing the role model (parents or peers) engaging in behaviour. The child need not be rewarded or punished but through observational learning he or she comes to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate sex-typed behaviour. A daughter learns the requisite feminine behaviour by observing her mother in the kitchen. Thus, when the child plays at making bread, her this behaviour is associated with her mother’s feminine behaviour of making bread.

An important factor of Bandura’s social learning theory is the emphasis on reciprocal determinism. This notion states that an individual’s behaviour is influenced by the environment and characteristics of the person. In other words, a person’s behaviour, environment, and personal qualities all reciprocally influence each other.[3] Bandura proposed that the modeling process involves several steps:[3]

1.       Attention – in order for an individual to learn something, they must pay attention to the features of the modeled behaviour.

2.       Retention – humans need to be able to remember details of the behaviour in order to learn and later reproduce the behaviour.

3.       Reproduction – in reproducing a behavior, an individual must organize his or her responses in accordance with the model behavior. This ability can improve with practice.

4.       Motivation – there must be an incentive or motivation driving the individual’s reproduction of the behaviour. Even if all of the above factors are present, the person will not engage in the behaviour without motivation.

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