Growing up, every one of us has been introduced to norms without us even noticing it. We are taught how to dress and act “appropriately,” how to address the elderly, how to set the table, and many more. Cultural norms have been dictating almost every aspect of our lives, from fashion choices to education to career paths. It basically shows us what we must and must not do in our society. Ever since man began getting together for security and companionship, these cultural norms have been passed down from generation to generation and have generally stood the test of time even until now.
Cultural norms vary from one country to another. This is why what may be okay with you might be such a taboo among other nations. They play a major role in shaping society and at the same time how its people will think and behave. It influences their actions, perceptions in life, decisions, and other aspects. As an article by the Sociology Discussion said, “A norm is a standard of behavioral expectation shared by group members against which the validity of perceptions is judged and the appropriateness of feeling and behavior is evaluated.”
As much as cultural norms are essential in keeping a community or country united and at peace, these offer disadvantages. And most of the time, cultural norms are difficult to change especially if they have been accepted and practiced for as long as people could remember.
Why Cultural Norms are Important
It's hard to imagine a norm-less society because without it, people's behaviors would be unpredictable. Cultural norm makes up the standards we live by, thus, it's important in maintaining a harmonious society. Human society needs a normative order to make sure we all live in peace and harmony. This is particularly important because the human organism is not sufficiently comprehensive or integrated to give automatic responses.
Humans need cultural norms to maintain a normatively regulated social system. An article by the Simply Psychology stated that these provide order in society. Without norms to guide and direct people's behaviors, understanding and having peace will be a difficult thing to do. These reasons show why most people conform to cultural norms most of the time. However, not all societies give equal importance to cultural norms.
According to an article by the Global Cognition, societies that insist on strong conformity on its people reflect “cultural tightness" while those that tolerate a lot of deviance from the norms are “culturally loose." Michele Gelfand, along with other cross-cultural psychologists, has theorized that tightness and looseness of a society's cultural norm. The study titled “Differences between tight and loose cultures" sheds light on these types of societies.
For instance, societies that have more ecological and historical threats, such as diseases and dense populations, are more likely to tighten their cultural norms. However, these norms will loosen up as the threats diminish. Another is the socio-political institutions. It has been proven that culturally tight countries are more likely to have stronger suppression of dissent, a restricted media, autocratic governments, and more severe punishments for crime.
Additionally, people tend to focus more on avoiding mistakes in tight cultures. They are more cautious in their own behavior and are more likely to monitor themselves and others for norm violations. The cultural tightness-looseness framework created by Gelfand and his team gives people a different perspective or understanding of the cultural norms in society.
Impact of Cultural Norms to Decisions and Behaviors
According to Benjamin Giguère, a professor at the University of Guelph, cultural norms affect almost everything what people do on a daily basis, from buying coffee to doing physical activities to making major life decisions. An individual starts acting and behaving in ways that are seen as appropriate within such cultures. Even how you groom, your fashion sense, the language you use, the belief system and attitudes you abide by are molded by society.
Hence, cultural norms play an integral role in determining how people behave in any given environment. For instance, baring breasts among women are deemed normal in some places while it is forbidden in most others. A lot of countries allow males and females to mingle freely in public places while some others do not. Most of the time, people rely on their cultural norms when deciding. They want to follow the “rules” so as to avoid being labeled as a deviant.
Additionally, cultural norms affect male and female roles as well. Psychologist Sandra Bern introduced the Gender Schema Theory in 1981, which showed that children adjust their behavior to align with the gender norms of their culture. According to an article by the Very Well Family, a child’s cognitive development along with societal influences has a great role in dictating the traits of both male and female.
People who choose to deviate or not to follow cultural norms are often criticized. They often face societal disapproval and pressure to alter their behavior just because a lot of people think that they are doing the wrong thing. Fortunately, the modern era is finally teaching its people that not adhering strictly to cultural norms are a normal behavior as well, as long it does not violate the law.