Social norms, including those for privacy and social standing, are at the heart of many social practices and have been central to a host of changes across the world.
A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, sheds light on how social norms can shape the world we live in and influence our actions.
The researchers used data from the 2016 World Health Organization (WHO) Global Burden of Disease Study to examine how social and demographic factors influence health outcomes.
They found that the presence of social norms and a sense of belonging play a critical role in promoting a positive social experience.
“Our findings indicate that the impact of social norm violations on health and wellbeing is not limited to the health-care system, as we found that violations of social and community norms have an impact on other dimensions of health,” said Jie Liu, lead author of the study and a professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Psychology and co-director of the UCS Berkeley Department for Health Sciences.
“The findings suggest that social norms may be a fundamental factor in the development of health.”
To conduct the study, Liu and her colleagues analyzed data from more than 4,000 people, aged 18 and older, who participated in a variety of health care settings across the United States.
They then examined whether the participants had been harmed by social norms or had been exposed to negative social norms in the past, and whether the consequences of these violations could be sustained over time.
“We found that social norm violation negatively impacts health outcomes and may have negative long-term consequences for social groups,” Liu said.
“For example, when social norms are violated, individuals may become less engaged in social interactions and may become more likely to have social problems such as depression or anxiety.
Additionally, we found evidence that the violations of health norms may negatively affect the quality of health outcomes, and therefore may lead to greater health disparities.”
In addition, social norms could affect how people perceive others.
For example, a person may perceive that other people are less likely to support them and that they are more likely not to have a positive health experience, Liu said, “These negative health consequences of social-norm violations may lead people to become more negative about others and be less likely, for example, to report to health care providers or engage in public health activities.”
While the study shows that social-law violations are a critical factor for developing and maintaining a positive sense of social belonging, the researchers also found that other social norms that have been shown to have health benefits also have social costs.
For instance, a sense that others are not accepting of one’s status can lead to less trust in one’s self and in others, and this could lead to a higher risk of substance abuse and mental health problems.
In addition to Liu, the authors of the paper include Jie Wang, Mimi Hwang, and Ming Xu, all UC Berkeley graduate students in the Department of Social Psychology and lead authors.
The work was funded by the National Science Foundation.
For more news, visit the UCS Center for Health, Aging and Health Policy.