Friday, April 8, 2011

Role of Social Norms in Shaping Conduct

One of the roles of law is to control or "shape" conduct. Social norms and mores also contribute to controlling or shaping conduct. I ask students to take note that none of them seem to be wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes. Part of the reason for that is the social ostracization that would result from doing so. As the Dilbert cartoons below indicates, there are social "rules" that govern our conduct.

What happens when social norms in particular groups or areas or cultures encourage (shape) conduct that is inconsistent with law? Some  students may be familiar with the "Stop Snitching" syndrome. In inner city neighborhoods, witnesses to crimes are threatened with violence if they cooperate with police.

In Baltimore, a "Stop Snitching" DVD was sold on the street. Customers could buy the DVD to learn that they would be harmed if they cooperated with police. "Stop Snitching 2" is now also available.  Here is the trailer:

Here at UConn, we recently suffered the tragic death of a student football player who was stabbed following a university event. When police made a public appeal for students to come forward with cell phone pictures and videos, another student posted a facebook message that students should "Stop Snitching." Social norms in rogue groups can be a powerful force in shaping conduct - just not in ways that are consistent with the law.

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