What is Social Norms?


We generally do what we see or think others are doing, but an important twist is that our estimate of what other people are doing is often distorted.

Social norms refer to what we perceive or believe to be normal and accepted behaviours.

Research has shown that tperceptions are often inaccurate, for example we tend to overestimate the number of people making unhealthy choices. A social norms approach aims to correct misperceptions through the promotion of information relating to what the norms actually are in a given population. A Social Norms approach involves five key stages: preparation, initial data collection, strategy development, implementation, and evaluation.

Studies suggest that people are deeply influenced by the behaviour of others and what they believe the majority of people do.


The Social Norms Approach:

o   does not use ‘hard hitting scare tactics’

o   uses only positive images and science based statistics

o   focuses on healthy behaviours and attitudes

o   does not use of images of negative behaviour (i.e. cigarettes or smoking)

o   involves the local community in designing & collating local data and exposing misperception

o   is not draconian or directive, but presents the information on actual behaviour to the community


If you are considering running a social norms project but are not sure if it is right for you, then visit our toolkit for more information


If you are interested in finding out more about social norms or commissioning a social norms project email SONIC@leeds.ac.uk