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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Some Well-Aged Wines for the "New Norms" Bottles: Implications of Social Psychology for Law and Economics


In the last decade, the study of social norms has become a major focus of theory and research in law and economics. Surprisingly, this "new norms" literature has almost completely ignored decades of systematic theory, experimentation, and field research on normative processes by social psychologists. We demonstrate that there are multiple mechanisms by which normative influence operates, each with its own principles and consequences. We also identify a host of situational and dispositional (individual-difference) moderators that either attenuate or amplify the effects of normative influence sources. Finally, we show that the internalization process is much less mysterious than some have suggested; it can occur through any of several well-studied processes. By taking these theoretical distinctions and moderators into account, the new norms literature will necessarily become more complex, but not necessarily chaotic or incoherent. Because these complexities are facts of social life, acknowledging them will allow the new norms theorist to improve their predictions and hence their norm-management implications.

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