The subjective norm is one of three key factors that are said to predict peoples behaviors within the theory of planned behavior (the other two are: personal attitudes and perceived behavioral control).
Subjective norm is a social psychological concept that refers to the perceived social pressure to engage or not engage in a particular behavior.
For instance, if a student decides not to cheat on an exam because they believe that their classmates will disapprove of their cheating (and may even shun them for it!), then we might consider them to have been influenced by the subjective norms of their peers.
The belief that their peers would disapprove of cheating has led the student to adhere to ethical and moral standards (rather than, perhaps, their own intrinsic belief system).
Subjective norms can come from a range of different sources, with some influential ones being friends’ opinions, your family values, the cultural beliefs you were raised with, and the influence of media.
Regardless of their origins, subjective norms play a crucial role in shaping our attitudes and behavior, and (according to the theory of planned behavior) they can help predict people’s future behaviors.
Comprehension Questions: As you read through this article, our editor Chris will pose comprehension and critical thinking questions to help you get the most out of this article. Teachers, if you assign this article for homework, have the students answer these questions at home, then use them as stimuli for in-class discussion.
Definition of Subjective Norm
A subjective norm is a construct within social psychology that refers to an individual’s perceived social pressure or expectation to engage in a particular behavior. It is, essentially, our perception of normative social influence.
It reflects the extent to which an individual thinks other people who are important to them want them to perform the behavior in question and how motivated they feel to comply with this perceived social pressure (Asare, 2015).
As mentioned by Fattahi Ardakani and his colleagues (2020),
“…subjective norms refer to the personal perception of the social pressures which are imposed to adopt a specific behavior” (p. 1522).
Similarly, Peters and Templin (2010) state that:
“…subjective norm is influenced by a person’s normative beliefs combined with the person’s motivation to comply” (p. 174).
Accordingly, subjective norms consist of two key components: the individual’s perception of what others expect of them and their motivation to conform to these expectations.
Neuroimaging studies have also found that perceptions of subjective norms activate brain regions associated with social identity and reward systems, suggesting that adherence to group norms draws on deep-rooted neural mechanisms (Zinchenko & Arsalidou, 2017).
Therefore, subjective norm operates as an important force in shaping human behavior through both psychological and neurological mechanisms.
Comprehension Checkpoint: Based on the above discussion, create your own paraphrased definition of subjective norms. Consider using keywords like “social influence” or “social pressure” within your definition.
Subjective Norm in theTheory of Planned Behavior
The term subjective norm comes from the theory of planned behavior, which proposes three key factors in predicting human behavior. The other two are: personal attitudes, and perceived behavioral control (Peters and Templin, 2010).
The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) was developed by Icek Ajzen in the late 1980s (Bosnjak et al., 2020). It aims to explain how our beliefs, attitudes, intentions, and perceived behavioral control work together to shape a person’s behavior.
The theory proposes that our actions are not solely determined by our attitudes or aims but also influenced by the perceptions of what others think of us in addition to our ability to control those intentions (Peters & Templin, 2020).
According to TPB, human behavior is guided by three factors:
- Personal attitudes –If we want to predict a person’s future behaviors, we need to look at their personal attitudes. For example, if a person has a positive attitude toward exercising, then they’re more likely to go to the gym.
- Subjective norms –If we want to predict a person’s future behavior, we need to look at the social and cultural norms they adhere to. For example, if someone’s culture glorifies and celebrates soccer, then the person may be more likely to play soccer.
- Perceived behavioral control –If we want to predict a person’s future behavior, we need to look at how much they believe they can control their own behavior and whether they can achieve change through effort (see also:locus of control theory).
These factors create a decision-making model where each factor influences an individual’s intention for specific behavior that consequently leads them into action.
Consider a scenario where someone desires to add more plant-based meals to their diet for better health benefits. However, due to low cooking skills, they may feel insufficiently capable of making this change happen.
When faced with external pressures, such as following other people’s choices at meal platters, they may give up on their intentions, ultimately prioritizing the preferences of others over their own goals.
TPB provides valuable insights into both personal motivations and external influences on individuals’ behaviors while being useful for developing interventions promoting behavior change.
Comprehension Checkpoint: Reflect upon your own recent behaviors and consider how personal attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control have affected them. Sometimes it is good to identify a behavior you’re not super proud of, to see how it was influenced by one or more of these three factors.
Types of Subjective Norms (Injunctive vs. Descriptive)
Injunctive norms and descriptive norms are two types of subjective norms that describe how people behave in social situations. The main difference between the two is the kind of information they provide about what people should do.
Let’s have a closer look:
1. Injunctive Norms
Injunctive norms refer to what others deem acceptable or desirable in a particular situation; these norms dictate what ought or ought not to be done (Wong, 2019).
They represent an individual’s perceptions of others’ beliefs about what one should do under specific circumstances.
For example, if someone asks you to turn off your phone during a movie screening, you are likely being influenced by injunctive norms—because it is deemed unacceptable to have and use mobile phones there.
2. Descriptive Norms
Descriptive norms describe how people typically act or think in specific contexts based on empirical evidence.
Descriptive norms are valuable for predicting behavior patterns because they reflect real-life observations instead of a general public acceptance guideline (Wong, 2019).
For instance, witnessing other children taking toys can lead children to believe this behavior is normal. Therefore, descriptive norms may have positive or negative implications depending on the behavior such modeling reinforces.
So, injunctive influences describe expectations into a given set of scenarios, often through regulatory frameworks like laws and formal procedures.
In contrast, descriptive models create patterns of compliance that regulate social cues outside formal rules. They modulate individuals’ conformity with group norms, shaping behavior through non-formalized methods.
Comprehension Checkpoint: To test your comprehension, write down three examples of injunctive norms and three examples of descriptive norms.
Examples of Subjective Norms
- Eating Habits: A person may feel pressure from their friends who have different eating habits, and this might motivate them to alter their diet.
- Fitness Goals: If an individual is surrounded by friends who attend fitness classes regularly, they may feel encouraged to exercise more often.
- Environmental Practices: People often adopt environmentally friendly practices like recycling or reducing plastic use because they perceive it as a societal expectation.
- Neatness and Cleanliness: An employee may dress up properly at work, keep their workspace clean, and act professionally because they believe that their co-workers would approve of such behaviors.
- Politics and Social Justice Issues: People may take part in social justice campaigns or support political causes if they know that others around them are similarly involved or would approve of such actions.
- Religious Customs: Individuals are more likely to follow religious traditions like fasting if there is a social expectation to do so within their community.
- Professional Etiquettes: Employees may dress up properly at work, act politely with customers and colleagues, and use formal language while communicating on professional media platforms because social expectations dictate to follow these codes of conduct
- Academic Honesty: Students tend not to cheat at university when social norms suggest it is unacceptable behavior among peers and teachers alike.
Comprehension Checkpoint: What are some subjective norms that are highly influential in your own life and belief systems?
Significance of the Study of Subjective Norms
Subjective norms are important for understanding human behavior because they reflect the social pressures, influences, and expectations that affect behavior.
Here are some reasons why subjective norms are significant:
1. Social Influence
Subjective norms are a reflection of the collective believes of the people around you, which will subtly guide individuals’ behaviors.
Adapting one’s behavior to meet the expectations of those around them is common among individuals. This means that the group dynamics of your peers has a huge influence on the acceptable norms that you’ll likely adhere to.
Consequently, exploring the normative beliefs upheld by certain communities can help shed light on human action, what’s in and outside of the overton window of acceptability, and provide us with insights worth considering.
2. Predicting Behavior
As social creatures, people are constantly looking for cues from those around us about how they should behave in different situations.
But what happens when those cues become so strong that they start shaping our actions without us even realizing it?
That’s the power of subjective norms – the belief that others expect us to act in certain ways can deeply influence our attitudes and intentions towards specific behaviors.
By studying these perceptions, researchers can gain insight into who is more likely to engage in various activities under similar circumstances.
3. Changing Behavior
Subjective norms can help design interventions to modify health behaviors such as medication compliance, fitness programs, etc.
This can be achieved by identifying the influencers of an individual’s behavior changes within their community.
Developing strategies that positively encourage expected behavior based on subjective normative beliefs helps facilitate better progress.
4. Social Identity
Our group memberships shape our sense of personal identity, informing our perception of those ‘norms’ associated with such groups.
Being part of any social circle or subgroup understood through subjective norms can lead to better interaction, an increased sense of belonging, and a shared purpose with others sharing similar objectives.
However, it may also have some serious drawbacks such as groupthink, which refers to instances where your opinions are shaped by the group rather than your own morality (see also: deindividuation, where people lose their individually and simply follow the group norm).
Understanding the concept of subjective norms is crucial in shaping human behavior. This construct represents an individual’s perception and expectation of social pressures or influences from others toward particular behavior in a given context.
The subjective norm is essential in predicting, explaining, and changing behavior patterns.
Furthermore, subjective norms also contribute to social identity formation by creating a sense of belonging and collective purpose among group members.
Understanding the concept can help develop effective interventions to modify health-related behaviors such as medication compliance, smoking cessation, and fitness routines.
It can also inform public policy and education programs to better prepare individuals for the future.
Asare, M. (2015). Using the theory of planned behavior to determine the condom use behavior among college students.American Journal of Health Studies,30(1), 43–50. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4621079/
Bosnjak, M., Ajzen, I., & Schmidt, P. (2020). The theory of planned behavior: Selected recent advances and applications.Europe’s Journal of Psychology,16(3), 352–356. https://doi.org/10.5964/ejop.v16i3.3107
Fattahi Ardakani, M., Salehi-Abargouei, A., Sotoudeh, A., Esmaeildokht, S., & Bahrevar, V. (2020). Do subjective norms predict the screening of cancer patients’ first-degree relatives? A systematic review and meta-analysis.Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention,21(6), 1521–1530. https://doi.org/10.31557/apjcp.2020.21.6.1521
Peters, R. M., & Templin, T. N. (2010). Theory of planned behavior, self-care motivation, and blood pressure self-care.Research and Theory for Nursing Practice,24(3), 172–186. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3728772/
Wong, N. (2019). Injunctive and descriptive norms and theory of planned behavior: Influencing intentions to use sunscreen.Womens Health Complications,2(1), 1. https://www.sciaeon.org/articles/Injunctive-and-Descriptive-Norms-and-Theory-of-Planned-Behavior-Influencing-Intentions-to-Use-Sunscreen.pdf
Zinchenko, O., & Arsalidou, M. (2017). Brain responses to social norms: Meta‐analyses of f MRI studies.Human Brain Mapping,39(2), 955–970. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.23895
Viktoriya Sus (MA)
Viktoriya Sus is an academic writer specializing mainly in economics and business from Ukraine. She holds a Master’s degree in International Business from Lviv National University and has more than 6 years of experience writing for different clients. Viktoriya is passionate about researching the latest trends in economics and business. However, she also loves to explore different topics such as psychology, philosophy, and more.
Chris Drew (PhD)
This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.
What is subjective norms examples? ›
Subjective norms the individual attaches to society or the general culture include thoughts such as, "Everyone is against smoking" or "We just assume everyone is a nonsmoker."What is a subjective norm? ›
Subjective norms - This refers to the belief about whether most people approve or disapprove of the behavior. It relates to a person's beliefs about whether peers and people of importance to the person think he or she should engage in the behavior.What are subjective norm beliefs? ›
Subjective norm is a predictor of intention to behave which, in turn, is a predictor of actual behavior. Thus, normative beliefs have two general uses. In the first place, normative beliefs aid in the prediction of other variables (subjective norm, intention, and behavior).How do you use subjective norm in a sentence? ›
High self-monitors tend to weigh subjective norms more heavily than low self-monitors.Which is an example of a subjective norm quizlet? ›
Subjective Norm: The social pressure to engage or not engage in a behavior. Example: A person may leave a tip when being serviced because it's considered common courtesy in our society.What are specific examples of norms? ›
Social norms are unwritten rules of behavior shared by members of a given group or society. Examples from western culture include: forming a line at store counters, saying 'bless you' when someone sneezes, or holding the door to someone entering a building right after you.What is the use of subjective norms? ›
Subjective norms refer to the belief that an important person or group of people will approve and support a particular behaviour. Subjective norms are determined by the perceived social pressure from others for an individual to behave in a certain manner and their motivation to comply with those people's views.What are subjective norms of morality? ›
Conscience is the subjective norm of morality in which we trace the moral authority inside the individual. It is not something that directs from outside. Conscience is an 'inner voice' as described by Mahatma Gandhi which directs one by telling what to do or what not to do.What are subjective norms influence by? ›
subjective norm is influenced by a person's normative beliefs combined with the person's motivation to comply” (p. 174). Accordingly, subjective norms consist of two key components: the individual's perception of what others expect of them and their motivation to conform to these expectations.What is an attitude vs subjective norm? ›
Social attitudes are determined by a person's belief about social aspects of behavioral outcomes and likelihood of the outcomes, while subjective norms are a function of a person's perception about other people's approval of his/her engagement in the behavior and willingness to comply with those persons.
What is the construct of subjective norms? ›
Subjective norm is the third construct which is a social pressure to perform or not to perform a given behavior. Combination of normative beliefs and motivation to comply constitute subjective norm.Is subjective norm the same as social influence? ›
The only norm variable contained in the original TPB, the subjective norm (also referred to as the social norm in some studies), represents the social influence, i.e., the social pressure perceived by a person to exercise or not to exercise a certain behavior (Ajzen, 1991;Ajzen and Fishbein, 2005).How do you change subjective norms? ›
To change attitude, subjective norm, or perceived behavioral control, it is possible to attack either the strength of some of the relevant beliefs, or to attack their scale values.What does it mean to be subjective? ›
Subjective most commonly means based on the personal perspective or preferences of a person—the subject who's observing something. In contrast, objective most commonly means not influenced by or based on a personal viewpoint—based on the analysis of an object of observation only.What is subjective norm and motivation to comply? ›
Subjective norm is a person's perception of the social expectations to adopt a particular behavior. Subjective norm is influenced by a person's normative beliefs combined with the person's motivation to comply.What is an example of a subjective norm in theory of reasoned action? ›
These beliefs shape one's perception of the behavior and determine one's intention to perform or not perform the behavior. For example, if one believes that recreational drug use (the behavior) is acceptable within one's social group, one will more likely be willing to engage in the activity.
Examples of subjective assessments include essays, portfolios, capstone projects, and oral presentations. These assessments are typically graded based on the quality of the student's work, rather than on specific correct answers.Which of the following is an example of subjective data? ›
Subjective data is anecdotal information that comes from opinions, perceptions or experiences. Examples of subjective data in health care include a patient's pain level and their descriptions of symptoms.What are the 4 types of norms and examples? ›
The four types of social norms are: folkways, mores, taboos, and laws. Folkways are standard behaviours which people follow in their everyday life, while interacting with the society. They may or not be aligned with morals. Example, standing in queue at the cash counter of a store.What are norms give two examples? ›
Some examples of general class norms are: “be a good neighbor,” “respect others and yourself,” and “be kind.” Norms written at a specific level identify distinct behaviors, such as “raise hand before talking,” or “walk in the hallways,” and are usually only applicable in particular situations.
What are 5 examples of norms and values? ›
Covering your mouth and nose when sneezing, shaking hands when you meet someone, saying 'sorry' when you bump into someone, not talking with your mouth full, etc. are some examples of norms whereas honesty, integrity, courage, kindness, fairness, and generosity are examples of values.What are subjective and injunctive norms? ›
Typically, subjective norms reflect one's perceptions of what important others want him/her to do. However, it has been argued that normative pressures are derived from two sources of normative pressure [7,13,14]. Injunctive norms specify what behaviors important others want one to perform.Are social norms objective or subjective? ›
A society's norms exist in objective aspects of the social structure—regularities, patterns of sanctioning, and institutions—and also exist in its members' subjective representations—descriptive expectations, injunctive expectations, and personal norms.What are subjective norms in business? ›
Subjective norm is the belief the individual to comply with the direction or suggestion of people around to participate in entrepreneurial activity (Cruz et al., 2015). Behavior control is specified in the form of self-efficacy is a condition where people believe that a behavior is easy or difficult to do, Cruz et al.What is an example of subjective moral value? ›
The concept that value is subjective suggests that it cannot be consistently measured. For example, let's say you have one wool coat and the weather is extremely cold outside. You will want to wear that coat to keep you from freezing. At that moment, the wool coat might be worth more to you than a diamond necklace.What are subjective values in ethics? ›
The concept of subjective value is that each individual has their own preferences for objects or actions. This concept is applied by economists to understand behavior and operates “behind the scenes” of observed behavior.What is subjective ethics? ›
Ethical subjectivism is a form of moral anti-realism that denies the "metaphysical thesis" of moral realism, (the claim that moral truths are ordinary facts about the world). Instead ethical subjectivism claims that moral truths are based on the mental states of individuals or groups of people.What is the difference between subjective and objective norms? ›
Key Differences Between Objective and Subjective
Objective means making an unbiased, balanced observation based on facts which can be verified. Subjective means making assumptions, making interpretations based on personal opinions without any verifiable facts.
Subjective attitude is emotional, non-objective or prelogical, and. fin alistic.Is bad attitude subjective? ›
A “bad attitude” is pretty vague. It can also be subjective. If you're having problems with an employee, note specific behaviors that are causing problems. For example, if the problem is laziness, document particular examples of when you caught the employee slacking off or when the employee failed to get work done.
How do you measure subjective norms? ›
Ajzen (2002) discussed that subjective norms can be measured directly or indirectly. Direct measures involve asking participants to report perceived social pressures to engage in PA (i.e., rating statements such as 'most important people to me think I should engage in regular PA').What is the relationship between subjective norms and intention? ›
According to the theory of planned behavior (TPB) of Ajzen (1991), the three antecedents of behavioral intention are attitude toward behavior, subjective norms and perceived behavior control. Subjective norms are seen as an important antecedent to predicting intention in the TPB model of Ajzen (1991).What are the components of subjective? ›
Subjective well-being has three components: life satisfaction (LS), positive affect (PA), and negative affect (NA) (Andrews & Withey, 1976).What is the subjective norm of sustainability? ›
With regards to sustainable consumption, the subjective norm is intertwined with culture, such that a consumer's likelihood to engage in sustainable behaviors will depend on what others think of those behaviors and the importance of the public opinion within the culture.What are the 3 models of behavior change? ›
The Health Belief Model (HBM) • The Transtheoretical Model/Stages of Change (TTM) • Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) • The Social Ecological Model.What are subjective norms best described as according to the theory of planned behavior? ›
subjective norm. an individual's perception about the particular behavior, which is influenced by the judgment of significant others.When and how are subjective norms important in determining attitude behavior consistency? ›
Subjective norms refer to people's beliefs about how other people who are important to them view the relevant behavior. If your family and close friends believe that recycling glass is good, and you are motivated to comply with their expectations, you should have a positive intention to carry out this behavior.What are subjective norms in social norms? ›
Subjective norms refer to the belief that an important person or group of people will approve and support a particular behaviour. Subjective norms are determined by the perceived social pressure from others for an individual to behave in a certain manner and their motivation to comply with those people's views.What are subjective norms and objective norms? ›
In the subjective norm of morality, the moral authority dwells within the individual. Objective norm is the standard for an objective evaluation of the human acts. The moral criterion presupposes the existence of an objective moral 'standard' or norm with which the particular act can be compared.What is a subjective norm in consumer behavior? ›
Subjective norms are based on the perception of an individual about what should or should not be done in accordance with the reward or punishment that may be obtained from carrying out such behavior.
What is subjective norm in theory of reasoned action? ›
In a similar way, subjective norm is a function of the person's beliefs that specific individuals or groups think he or she should, or should not, perform the behavior. A person who believes that most significant referents think he or she should perform the behavior will perceive social pressure to do so.