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Study Notes

4.1.2.3 Biases in Decision Making - Social Norms (AQA)

Level:
A-Level
Board:
AQA

Last updated 10 Sept 2023

Social norms are unwritten rules or standards that guide behavior in social groups. These norms can have a powerful influence on decision-making, because people often want to conform to what is expected of them by their social group. For example, if someone is deciding whether to buy an electric car, they may be influenced by the social norm of environmentalism in their community. They might choose to buy the electric car in order to conform to the social norm and avoid being judged negatively by their peers. In this way, social norms can play a big role in shaping people's decisions.

This study note explores the impact of social norms on decision-making and provides insights into common biases associated with them.

1. Conformity Bias:

  • Definition: Conformity bias refers to the tendency of individuals to align their thoughts, beliefs, and actions with those of a larger group or society, even if it contradicts their own judgments or preferences.
  • Example: A student chooses to study a particular subject in college simply because it's the norm within their family, despite having a different passion.

2. Social Proof Bias:

  • Definition: Social proof bias occurs when individuals look to others' actions or behavior as a cue for their own decisions. They assume that if many people are doing something, it must be the right or best choice.
  • Example: A person joins a long queue outside a restaurant because they assume it must serve excellent food due to the crowd.

3. Pluralistic Ignorance:

  • Definition: Pluralistic ignorance happens when individuals privately disagree with a social norm but assume that others accept it. As a result, they conform to the norm even though it doesn't reflect their true beliefs.
  • Example: Students in a class may privately dislike a teacher's teaching style but remain silent, assuming that everyone else finds it acceptable.

4. Obedience to Authority:

  • Definition: Obedience to authority is a bias where individuals comply with orders or instructions from authoritative figures, even if those orders go against their moral or ethical beliefs.
  • Example: During an experiment, participants may administer what they believe to be painful electric shocks to others simply because they were told to do so by an authority figure.

5. Reactance Bias:

  • Definition: Reactance bias occurs when individuals rebel against perceived restrictions or attempts to control their behavior, leading them to do the opposite of what is expected.
  • Example: A teenager might engage in risky behaviors as a reaction to overly strict parental rules, even if they know these behaviors are dangerous.

Impact on Decision Making:

  • Social norms can influence choices in various areas, including career paths, consumption patterns, political affiliations, and lifestyle decisions.
  • Individuals may prioritize social acceptance and conformity over personal preferences and rational decision-making.

Mitigating the Influence of Social Norms:

  • Encourage critical thinking and independent decision-making.
  • Promote open dialogue to challenge norms constructively.
  • Recognize that conformity isn't always rational or in one's best interest.

Question 1: What is conformity bias?

  • A) A tendency to conform to authority figures.
  • B) The tendency to align behavior with societal norms.
  • C) The preference for individual decision-making.
  • D) A resistance to social influence.

Question 2: When individuals look to others' actions as a cue for their own decisions, it is known as:

  • A) Conformity bias.
  • B) Social proof bias.
  • C) Pluralistic ignorance.
  • D) Reactance bias.

Question 3: Pluralistic ignorance occurs when individuals:

  • A) Privately agree with a social norm.
  • B) Openly challenge societal expectations.
  • C) Privately disagree with a social norm.
  • D) Follow social norms without question.

Question 4: Obedience to authority involves:

  • A) Rebelling against authority figures.
  • B) Complying with orders from authoritative figures.
  • C) Challenging the established norms.
  • D) Ignoring authority figures.

Question 5: Reactance bias is characterized by:

  • A) Conforming to societal norms.
  • B) Rebelling against perceived restrictions.
  • C) Complying with authority figures.
  • D) Following social proof.

Answers:

Question 1: What is conformity bias?
Answer: B) The tendency to align behavior with societal norms.

Question 2: When individuals look to others' actions as a cue for their own decisions, it is known as:
Answer: B) Social proof bias.

Question 3: Pluralistic ignorance occurs when individuals:
Answer: C) Privately disagree with a social norm.

Question 4: Obedience to authority involves:
Answer: B) Complying with orders from authoritative figures.

Question 5: Reactance bias is characterized by:
Answer: B) Rebelling against perceived restrictions.

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