Darcy Geddes

Martha Gomez

Rachel Stern

 

Wenegrat, Brant, Lisa Abrams, Eleanor Castillo-Yee, and I. Jo Romine (1996).  Social

Norm Compliance as a Signaling System.  I. Studies of Fitness-Related

Attributions Consequent on Everyday Norm Violations.  Ethology and

Sociobiology 17, 403-416 

 

This article examines phenomena that are usually considered the domain of social psychology, but the authors use an evolutionary perspective to gain greater understanding of certain human behaviors.

Social psychologists often study how humans, like many social animals, pay attention certain cues that convey information about other members of the group.  They have also found that people generally try to follow the social rules and feel distress if they cannot or do not comply.  Social norms can be explicitly stated or understood.  For example, we are explicitly trained that it is polite and sanitary to cover your mouth when you sneeze, but we have an implicit understanding that we should all face the doors of an elevator, rather than facing our fellow riders.  Social norms are sometimes concerning important behaviors like caring for children, but sometimes they are about seemingly trivial matters, like the elevator example.   Some social norms are tied up in group-membership or group beliefs, in groups as disparate as Hassidic Jews to gangs to social cliques.  Social psychologists have discussed the importance of such cues in terms of group dynamics, Cognitive psychologists have explored the mechanisms for our attentiveness and understanding of such cues, Behaviorists talk about how the cues are learned and now Wenegrat et. al. proposes an evolutionary hypothesis and experiment for these social norms and cues.

The authors hypothesize adherence to social norms functions as a signaling system to other individuals, and that in order for this system to evolve, the cues that indicate adherence must have indirectly increased the fitness of the individual projecting them.  In other words, people who adhere to outward behavioral social norms were more likely to reproduce.

In order to test this hypothesis, the authors planned three experiments to test whether violating social norms would decrease three measures of indirect fitness: attractiveness as a mate, likelihood of reciprocity, and membership in a group.  The hypothesis is that each of these three measures would affect the reproductive rate of the individual, and so if those measures can be varied when the individual exhibits a violation of a social norm, then the authors will have shown a relationship between adherence to social rules and fitness.

 

Experiment One

 

Fifty female and forty-eight male subjects, from ages 16 to 38, were recruited by word of mouth and on the Stanford campus to participate in a study on “social judgment.”  They were paid for their participation. 

            The subjects viewed videotapes less than one minute long.  These tapes had four actors, each posing as a different position.  These included a junior executive in a start-up company, a law student, a computer science graduate student, and a professional sculpture.  There were two versions of each tape made, and only one showed a violation of social norm.  The violations included scratching a foot while speaking, wearing an obnoxious and inappropriate shirt to a law hearing, sniffing during a presentation and picking ears.

            For the testing procedure, up to 15 subjects were tested at any given time.  They were shown videotapes of each of the four subjects, two out of the four containing “social norm violations.”  After watching each video the subjects filled out an anonymous questionnaire.

            The questionnaires dealt with what had just been seen.  The female participants were asked to rate the characters on attractiveness for short-term and long-term romantic relationships on how competent and trustworthy the character was.  Females were also asked to rate how similar the characters were to themselves and their friends.  These questions were chosen to sample attributions relevant to female mate choice.  They were also to sample attributions relevant to reciprocity relationships.  The last question asked how the females would change the characters seen.  This was to sample attribution relevant to group membership.  Males were asked the same questions but they were worded differently.  They were asked to rate how attractive they thought the characters would be for women interested in short or long-term romantic relationships.

            The rotation of the videos shown to each group was selected randomly and later set to even out the numbers of male and female subjects seeing normative and non-normative versions of each tape. 

            For data analysis, responses to each video segment were set to preliminary factor analyses.  The results were used to create composite dependent variables that were applicable to cross models.  The composite dependent variables were subjected to 2 x 2 analyses of variance.  Correlations and analyses of variance on the composite variables were used to test for effects of age and antecedent norm violations. 

 

Experiment Two

 

            Forty-nine female and forty six-male subjects from 18 to 25 years of age were recruited by word of mouth and on the Stanford campus.  They were paid for their participation in a “social impressions” study.

            Four actresses were videotaped giving fictitious information about themselves.  The women posed as an actress, a biochemist, an executive with a software company and a university graduate working for a non-profit corporation.  The tapes were all under a minute long.

            Two versions were made of each video with one showing a violation of a social norm.  The norms were trivial.  The lawyer scratched her head while speaking.  The biochemist coughed without covering her mouth.  The executive wore clashing clothing.  The university graduate picked her teeth with her fingers.  Each violation lasted for less than five seconds.

            The same testing method, order of presentation and data analysis was used as in Experiment one.

            The questionnaires were also the same as in Experiment one except that the male subjects were asked how attractive the characters were for short-term and long-term romantic relationships.  Female subjects were asked how attractive they thought the characters would be for men seeking relationships.

 

Experiment Three

 

            Thirty female and twenty-six male subjects were paid to participate in a “social judgment” experiment.  They ranged in age from 18 to 35 years and were recruited by word of mouth and posters on the Stanford campus. 

            The videotapes, norm violations, order of presentation and questionnaires were the same as Experiment two.

            The same testing procedure was used as in Experiment two except for one difference.  A large marker board was placed at the front of the room next to the monitor that showed the videotapes.  The marker board had written on it, “11-12 AM Skills Class,” instructions, dated the day of the testing session, not to erase the board, and two columns, labeled “Good” and “Bad.”  Under the first heading were listed headings such as "good manners,” “politeness,” “appropriate clothing,” “normal mannerisms,” and “good hygiene.”  Under the second heading were the listings, “bad manners,” “impoliteness,” inappropriate clothes,” “odd mannerisms,” and “bad hygiene.”  The words “bad” and “odd” and the prefixes “im-” and “in-” in the column were underlined.  The presumption was to be made that the board had been there from a class earlier in the day.  After the session subjects were asked if they thought they had been tricked or manipulated in any way, and no subjects mentioned the board.  The same scores were used as in Experiment two.

For the results, the authors used two factors generated from the initial questions: Romantic Attractiveness Similarity (RA-S)-and Competence-Trustworthiness (C-T).  In Experiment 1, with male videotapes, there was a significant effect of violations on the  RA-S variable.  The experimenters also looked to see if the gender of the subjects affected their RA-S rating, but except in one case it did not.  There were fewer differences in the C-T variable, with only the actor who sniffed during his interview scoring significantly lower than the normative version.

In Experiment 2, with female models, the results were not nearly so clear.  There was no effect on RA-S or C-T from the scratching head or the picking teeth videos. The only significant decrease in scores was for the clashing clothes video.  And, strangely, the video of the woman coughing without covering her mouth was actually rated higher on the C-T scale.

In Experiment 3, when a marker board was placed in the video to increase the salience of social norms, the results became much more clear. Head scratching, coughing and clashing clothes all had significant decreases in both RA-S and C-T.

The Results of the study do generally support the hypothesis that compliance with social norms are a part of a set of cues which serve as a way of communicating with others and indirectly increase fitness.  If we understand emotions to be mechanisms or meta-programs that help guide us to behavior that will increase our fitness, then such findings clarify why people feel distress when violating social norms.

For the results, the authors used two factors generated from the initial questions: Romantic Attractiveness-Similarity and Competence-Trustworthiness.  In Experiment 1, with male videotapes, there was a significant effect of violations on the  RA-S variable.  The experimenters also looked to see if the gender of the subjects affected their RA-S rating, but except in one case it did not.  There were fewer differences in the C-T variable, with only the actor who sniffed during his interview scoring significantly lower than the normative version.

In Experiment 2, with female models, the results were not nearly so clear.  There was no effect on RA-S or C-T from the scratching head or the picking teeth videos. The only significant decrease in scores was for the clashing clothes video.  And, strangely, the video of the woman coughing without covering her mouth was actually rated higher on the C-T scale.

In Experiment 3, when a marker board was placed in the video to increase the salience of social norms, the results became much more clear. Head scratching, coughing and clashing clothes all had significant decreases in both RA-S and C-T.

The Results of the study do generally support the hypothesis that compliance with social norms are a part of a set of cues which serve as a way of communicating with others and indirectly increase fitness.  If we understand emotions to be mechanisms or meta-programs that help guide us to behavior that will increase our fitness, then such findings clarify why people feel distress when violating social norms.

 

Outline

 

I.                    Social Norm Compliance as a Signaling System.

 

a.       This article examines phenomena that are usually considered the domain of social psychology, but the authors use an evolutionary perspective to gain greater understanding of certain human behaviors.

b.      that people generally try to follow the social rules and feel distress if they cannot or do not comply.

                                                               i.      They can be explicit or implicit

                                                             ii.      They can also be trivial

1.      looking toward door while in elevator

                                                            iii.      Influenced by group membership or group beliefs

1.      gangs

2.      Hassidic Jews

3.      Social cliques

c.       The authors hypothesize adherence to social norms functions as a signaling system to other individuals, and that in order for this system to evolve, the cues that indicate adherence must have indirectly increased the fitness of the individual projecting them. 

d.      Testing methods

                                                               i.      Three experiments to test whether violating social norms would decrease 3 measures of indirect fitness: 

1.      attractiveness as a mate,

2.      likelihood of reciprocity,

3.      and membership in a group

e.       The hypothesis is that each of these three measures would affect the reproductive rate of the individual, and so if those measures can be varied when the individual exhibits a violation of a social norm, then the authors will have shown a relationship between adherence to social rules and fitness.

 

II.                 Experiment One

a.       N=50 females, 48 males

b.      Paid participant and told it was a study on “social judgment.”

c.       Methods

                                                               i.      Each viewed 4 videotapes, 2 containing violations of social norms

1.      scratching a foot while speaking,

2.      wearing an obnoxious and inappropriate shirt to a law hearing,

3.      sniffing during a presentation

4.      and picking ears.

                                                             ii.      Fill out anonymous questionnaires

1.      Females

a.       The female participants were asked to rate the characters on attractiveness for short-term and long-term romantic relationships on how competent and trustworthy the character was. 

b.      Females were also asked to rate how similar the characters were to themselves and their friends.  These questions were chosen to sample attributions relevant to female mate choice.

c.       They were also to sample attributions relevant to reciprocity relationships.  The last question asked how the females would change the characters seen.  This was to sample attribution relevant to group membership. 

2.      Males

a.       Males were asked the same questions but they were worded differently.  They were asked to rate how attractive they thought the characters would be for women interested in short or long-term romantic relationships.

d.      Rotation was first random, then counterbalance

e.       Statistics: For data analysis, responses to each video segment were set to preliminary factor analyses.  The results were used to create composite dependent variables that were applicable to cross models.  The composite dependent variables were subjected to 2 x 2 analyses of variance.  Correlations and analyses of variance on the composite variables were used to test for effects of age and antecedent norm violations

 

III.               Experiment 2

a.       N=49 females and 46 males

b.      Participants were paid and told it was a study on “social impressions.”

c.       Methods were the same as in experiment 1, but with different social norms.

                                                               i.      Head scratching

                                                             ii.      Coughing without covering mouth

                                                            iii.      Clashing clothes

                                                           iv.      And picking teeth with fingers

d.      Questionnaires were the same except male subjects were asked how attractive the characters were for short-term and long-term romantic relationships.  Female subjects were asked how attractive they thought the characters would be for men seeking relationships.

IV.              Experiment 3

a.       N=30 females, and 26 males

b.      Participants were paid and told it was a study on “social judgment.”

c.       Methods: everything was the same as in experiment 2, except:

                                                               i.      A large marker board was placed at the front of the room.  It

1.      had written on it, “11-12 AM Skills Class,” instructions, dated the day of the testing session, not to erase the board, and two columns, labeled “Good” and “Bad.” 

2.      Under the first heading were listed headings such as "good manners,” “politeness,” “appropriate clothing,” “normal mannerisms,” and “good hygiene.”

3.       Under the second heading were the listings, “bad manners,” “impoliteness,” inappropriate clothes,” “odd mannerisms,” and “bad hygiene.” 

a.       The words “bad” and “odd” and the prefixes “im-” and “in-” in the column were underlined. 

4.      The presumption was to be made that the board had been there from a class earlier in the day. 

5.      After the session subjects were asked if they thought they had been tricked or manipulated in any way, and no subjects mentioned the board. 

 

V.                 Results

 

A.     Factor analysis used to come up with 2 factors of indirect fitness.

a.       Romantic Attractiveness- Similarity (RA-S)

b.      Competency-Trustworthiness (CA-T)

B.     Experiment 1

a.       RA-S rating was lower for all violators

b.      C-T rating was significantly lower for the man who sniffed inappropriately

C.     Experiment 2

a.       no effect on RA-S or C-T for scratching head or picking teeth

b.      significant decrease in both ratings for the woman with clashing clothes

c.       surprising increase in C-T rating for woman who coughed without covering her mouth

D.     Experiment 3

a.       RA-S and C-T ratings were significantly lower for head scratching, coughing and clashing clothes.

E.  Results generally support the hypothesis that compliance with social norms increases fitness.

 

 

Critical review

 

a) Identify up to three points made by the author that the panel found especially interesting or informative

 

1)      is interesting to see the even the slightest deviation from social norms, such as scratching a foot while speaking, could affect the attractivity of the individual.

2)      The marker board in Exp. 3 is interesting because it showed that people were more aware of violations when social norms were mentioned. 

3)      It is interesting that the results were significant even when the social or economic status of the individuals were varied. 

 

b) Identify up to three arguments made by the author that the panel either disagreed with and/or for which you think the author made a weak case.  Why?

 

1)      The experiments pretty elegantly show a relationship between violations and attractiveness and acceptance, but those two are still only indirectly addressing actual reproductive success.  This can be threatening to the construct validity of the experiment. 

2)      The videos of norm violators were different for men and women (men scratched their foot while speaking, women scratched their heads, etc).  The researchers then found a difference in how men and women responded to those violations.  We can interpret that, but because of lack of similarity, any inferences we make are uncertain, and therefore could be of due to the confounds of different violations.

3)      Although experiments are nice because they are neat and give us easily interpretable statistics, they are very artificial.  Actual reproductive rates and choices are much more complex then what can be recreated in the lab.

4)      The authors don’t address the much smaller difference found in C-T scores overall.  Is this because the questions are not a valid measure of C-T, or because C-T is measuring traits not as directly important to fitness?

 

c) Identify up to three concepts that, even after reading the material, the panel still had questions about, or that the panel would have lived the author to have explained further.

 

1)      For Exp. 3, further studies should be done to see if the norms were simply on their minds more or if the marker boards had some other more complex effect, perhaps making the Ss more aware of being watched for their reaction to violations.

2)      They should go into further detail as to why such trivial norm breaking should affect people’s opinions of others, especially when these individuals are portrayed as professions who have characteristics that outweigh trivial norm breaking.  For example, why is the selection for a successful, handsome husband not allowing women to overlook the norm breaking? 

3)      The experimenter did not take cultural influences into consideration; therefore it is difficult to suggest that their findings are universal.