Elihu Katz Colloquium Lecture by Betsy Levy Paluck, Ph.D., Princeton University

Elihu Katz Colloquium Series
19 Feb 2016 - 12:00pm
The Annenberg School for Communicaiton, Room 500
ASC Only

Title of talk. Changing Social Norms and Behavior: Communications from Peers, Media, and Institutions

Abstract. How can we change social norms, the standards describing typical or desirable behavior? Because individuals’ perceptions of norms guide their personal behavior, influencing these perceptions is one way to create social change. And yet individuals do not form perceptions of typical or desirable behavior in an unbiased manner. Individuals attend to select sources of normative information, and their resulting perceptions rarely match actual rates of behavior in their environment. Thus, changing social norms requires an understanding of how individuals perceive norms in the first place. Following Tankard & Paluck (2015), I describe three sources of information that people use to understand norms—individual behavior, summary information about a group, and institutional signals. Social change interventions (including media programs, peer influence interventions, and official institutional communications) have used each source to influence perceived norms and behaviors, including energy usage, post-conflict reconciliation, and school bullying and violence. I discuss conditions under which influence over perceived norms is likely to be stronger, based on the source of the normative information and individuals’ relationship to the source. Finally, I point to future research and suggest when it is most appropriate to use a norm change strategy in the interest of behavior and social change.

About Betsy Levy Paluck

Betsy Levy Paluck is an Associate Professor at the Woodrow Wilson School's Department of Psychology & Public Affairs, Princeton University. She is also a faculty associate in the Department of Politics. She has a B.S. and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Yale University.

Two basic ideas motivate her research, as she describes on her website:

"The first idea is that social psychological theory offers potentially useful tools for changing society in constructive ways. The second idea is that studying attempts to change society is one of the most fruitful ways to develop and assess social psychological theory. Much of my work has focused on prejudice and conflict reduction, using large-scale field experiments to test theoretically driven interventions."

"Through field experiments in Central and Horn of Africa and in the United States, I have examined the impact of the mass media and interpersonal communication on tolerant and cooperative behaviors. I find support for a behavioral change model based on social norms and group influence. To change behavior, I suggest, it may be more fruitful to target citizens’ perceptions of typical or desirable behaviors (i.e. social norms) than their knowledge or beliefs. How do social norms and behaviors shift in real world settings? Some initial suggestions from this research include peer or role model endorsement, narrative communication, and group discussion. My work in post-conflict countries has led to related research on political cultural change and on the use of social networks for studying peer influence. I am also interested in social scientific methodology—particularly causal inference and behavioral measurement."

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