September 23, 2019

The Hidden Force Shaping All Your Decisions

“All groups have social norms, or unwritten standards that guide behavior. As children, for example, we learn to not grab things out of other people’s hands; to walk on the right side of the sidewalk (or the left, depending on where you live); to put on clothes each day. These social norms are the glue that keep us together, they give us our identity and help humans to cooperate at such a remarkable degree.

In our study across 33 societies published in Science, we found that cultures vary in the strength of their social norms, with profound consequences for our worldviews, our environments, and our brains. Some cultures are tight, with little tolerance for deviance, while loose cultures have weak norms and are highly permissive.

But this distinctions isn’t just relevant for nations. The U.S. 50 states can be classified in terms of their levels of tightness, as can organizations. Our recent research also shows that the working class is tighter than the upper class. Even our own households vary in terms of how strict or permissive we are. It’s a remarkable to see how similar this pattern is across different scales.”

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