Note:  You only need to complete ONE of the two lab choices for Chapter 13 on Social Psychology.  If you don't feel comfortable doing the Social Norm Violation lab described below, opt to complete the alternative Stanford Prison Study lab also listed on the course content page.

Lab-8: Social Norm Violation Lab (21 points)

Two of the topics discussed in the Social Psychology chapter (Chapter 13) in the text are obedience and conformity to social norms.  Obedience and conformity differ in that obedience involves an authority figure directly demanding you to change your behavior, whereas conformity involves often unspoken social pressure from a group to fit in and not be different in order to avoid being rejected by the group. 

Whether you know it or not, you are subtly, yet powerfully pressured by your peers to conform and behave in certain ways and not others every single day of your life.  If you violate a norm, the consequences are seemingly small.  For instance, if you tell the person behind you in the grocery checkout line "I have diarrhea today," you won't go to jail for it.  Or if you walk up to a total stranger in a mall and ask for $20 and offer no reason other than "I just need $20,"  you will not be given a costly fine.  Of if you sit down at the same table, or in the seat right next to a total stranger in an otherwise uncrowded Taco Bell restaurant, it won't cost you your home or car.  And yet, most of us are terrified to do such seemingly simple things (like sitting closely to a stranger) for fear of social rejection.


The Difference Between Violating a Social Norm and Doing 'Crazy' Behavior

In past semesters, many students who have undertaken this activity have performed crazy and sometimes outrageous acts in public.  While these antic may be funny and elicit interesting reactions from others, in most cases, they do not involve true violations of social norms.  They're just examples of crazy behavior for which there are no common, shared social norms that most people follow.

Examples of 'crazy' behavior that students have done for this activity:

  • Rollerblading in grocery store parking lot wearing nothing other than boxer briefs and sunglasses
  • Jumping into and splashing around in the fountain in the Spring Creek Campus atrium
  • Taking a giant 5 ft. tall stuffed banana to the mall and carrying it from store to store

While these behaviors were funny and entertaining, they do not violate actual commonly observed social norms.  For example, that there is no commonly shared norm noting 'don't carry a giant banana to the mall.'

What are some examples of commonly shared social norms?  Consider these general social norms:

  • Stand an appropriate distance from strangers (don't stand too closely to strangers)
  • Wait your turn in lines (don't cut)
  • Speak at an appropriate volume for the setting (don't yell in a library or whisper at a noisy event)
  • Use appropriate eye contact with strangers (don't stare)
  • Converse appropriately with strangers (don't interrupt people / don't intrude upon a private conversation between strangers)
  • Keep personal information to your self (don't tell strangers very private information about yourself)
  • Chew food with your mouth closed / don't talk while chewing food

For this project, choose only these kinds of true commonly shared norms to violate.  Do not simply engage in 'crazy' behavior.  However, keep in mind that you are not limited to the examples listed above.  Come up with as many of your own commonly shared social norms to add to this list. 

The purpose of this lab activity is to engage the student in observations and activities which heighten awareness of conformity to social norms.

Step 1:

Create a list of at least ten (10) simple social rules or norms.  You may use some of the norms listed above, but try to come up with at least 5 of your own for your list of at least 10.   Pick at least three of the listed norms to actually violate in a public setting.  Then just do it!  

This is not an easy activity for most to do.  I am trusting on the honor of your word that you did, in fact, complete this activity. 

Essential Ground Rules:

  • Violate your three norms in a public setting, in the clear presence of others.
  • Your audience should be made up of strangers, not friends and relatives.
  • DO NOT do anything illegal, dangerous, unethical or anything that might get you arrested or injured like stalking someone in a store or while driving, shoplifting, or running out into moving traffic.
  • DO NOT do anything that may make others feel so fearful or angry they may retaliate with violence.
  • DO NOT do anything that may cause someone excessive anxiety or embarrassment like staring, stalking, or asking offensive personal questions.
  • DO choose relatively harmless, inoffensive norms to violate.  For your list of 10 social norms, you may list any kind of common norms.  But for the ones you actually go out and violate in public, please violate norms that are fairly harmless.
  • Avoid simply doing crazy 'behavior' like rolling around on the floor at the grocery store.  Rather, choose behaviors that are not just crazy, but violate social rules like cutting to the front of a line in a fast-food restaurant or sharing personal (but inoffensive) details of your life with a stranger.
  • Unless you really get in a bind, try to avoid rationalizing the violation after doing it.  That is, unless you really need it to get out of trouble, avoid saying "This is just a project I'm doing for my psychology class."  Instead, once you've violated the norm, just turn and walk away.


Step 2:

After performing your selected norm violations, answer the discussion questions below and submit them using the Blackboard assignment submission form for this assignment by the specified due date.  

  1. List the 10 social norms you outlined before completing the activity.

  2. List the three norms you actually violated in a public setting.

  3. Briefly explain what happened in each of the three norm violations.  How did you do it and what reaction did others seemed to have?

  4. Overall, how did you feel before, during and after violating the social norms? 

  5. Which of the three was the hardest for you to violate, which was the easiest?  Explain why.

  6. Did you feel yourself wanting to explain or rationalize your behavior to your audience?

  7. Explain what you learned from completing this activity.

  8. Additional comments?