Children Have High Expectations When It Comes To Social Norms
July 27, 2012

Children Have High Expectations When It Comes To Social Norms

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Give attention to people who are talking. Wait in line to show courtesy to the person in front. These are just a few of the social norms that are observed on a daily basis. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology recently set out to better understand how social norms are acquired.

Social norms are based off of experiences with other people; an individual will mimic the way other people do things and this idea of practicing social norms is generally expected in society.

The research by Marco Schmidt and Michael Tomasello was recently published in the August 2012 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal affiliated with the Association for Psychological Science. The study focuses on the importance of this “social glue” and does that by looking at research on the enforcement of social norms among children.

“Social norms are crucial for understanding human social interactions, social arrangements, and human cooperation more generally. But we can only fully grasp the existence of social norms in humans if we look into the cradle,” commented Schmidt in the statement.

The two investigators delved into constitutive norms, which is a type of norm utilized by children. Constitutive norms can lead to new social realities, which differentiates from other norms. For example, police receive power from the public. With this “consent of the governed,” police can do a number of things that an “average citizen” wouldn´t be able to do.

Schmidt and Tomasello describe how constitutive norms can be found in a variety of areas and how they are important in rule games like chess. These rules make up the core of these games and, if you break the rule, you violate a norm and end up not playing the game correctly. The studies by the scientists examined how children utilize constitutive norms and when they determined the rule to be a mutual social agreement rather than a rule dictated by older people.

One study found that puppets who performed an action in a different manner to what was expected received objections from the children. The children would say things like “It doesn´t work like that. You have to do it like this.” It showed that they objected to the rule violation.

Another study found that children would enforce game norms on individuals who are part of the same cultural in-group. As a result, they understand that “our group” is included in the general vicinity of the norm and respect it. The findings of the study also demonstrate that children learn by watching adults work in a certain way to understand a norm.

Overall, the studies show how children take in social norms during early adolescent development and how they relate the norms to their own social group and social context.

“Every parent recognizes this kind of behavior — young children insisting that people follow the rules — but what is surprising is how sophisticated children are in calibrating their behavior to fit the circumstances,” explained Tomasello in the statement.

The researchers conclude that children practice the social norms so that they can better understand why and how their community does something. They believe that enforcing social norms is an important part of being part of a cultural group. In the future, the researchers plan to conduct more research in the area and believe that social norms are necessary to understanding the human species.