Social Norms

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Social Norms

People prefer options that are clear and certain

Berkowitz, A. (2003) An Overview of the Social Norms Approach.


The backstory


Social norms drive the rules of our behaviour. We infer them from the people around us. If someone in our immediate environment or wider social group does something or holds a belief, so do we.

Social norms can be learnt. For startups launching new products and new features, the behaviour of early adopters shape the norms of how people use your technology.

Before Airbnb, Lyft and Rover, even the thought of inviting strangers into our homes, our cars and to our pets would put shivers down our spine. Yet, they have changed how people trust each other. Kick-starting the sharing economy and a whole host of boundless sharing with strangers.

The golden rule of social norms, don’t tell people when they are doing something good, but it is against the social norm. It causes a boomerang effect. People change their behaviour, in favour of the norm and towards the unwanted behaviour.

Nearly half of all American colleges and universities have used social norms in their anti-drinking campaigns1. Highlighting the percentage of consumption on campus. It only served to tell students how much they can drink before reaching the excessive drinkers of their social group. Increasing the amount drank by students who previously drank a little2.


Start using Social Norms


Ask yourself:

What if you learn more about the social norms of the different people who use your product or service?
What if you use a social norm from another similar group of people?
What if you craft the behaviour of early adopters to create a new norm?
What if you safeguarded against causing any unwanted social norms?

Learn more


Read paper: Sugden, R., Zheng, J., Zizzo, D. Not all anchors are created equal

Watch: The Anchoring Effect - Why Review Scores Matter




1. Wilson, T., Houston, C., Etling, K., & Brekke, N. (1996). A new look at anchoring effects: Basic anchoring and its antecedents. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 125(4), 387-402.

2. Simmons, J., Lebœuf, R., Nelson, L. (2010). The effect of accuracy motivation on anchoring and adjustment: Do people adjust from provided anchors?

3. Ariely, D., Loewenstein, G., & Prelec, D. (2006). Tom Sawyer and the Construction of Value. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. Vol. 60: 1-10.

4. Strack, Martin, and Schwarz (1988). Strack, Fritz, L. L. Martin, and Norbert Schwarz. Priming and Communication: The Social Determinants of Information Use in Judgments of Life-Satisfaction.