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What is normal? Exploring folkways, mores, and taboos

Video transcript
Voiceover: Psychologists and sociologists study human behavior. As they study behavior, they're often asked, what is normal? Who decides what behavior is normal? How do we determine if a person's behavior is strange, or even criminal? The individuals who seek to understand those questions and define their answers actually studies norms. Now basically speaking, norms are standards for what kinds of behavior are acceptable and what kinds aren't. There are unwritten rules that dictate how a person should behave in a given situation around a given group of people. Those rules are defined by that group of people, and are usually guided by some sort of moral standard or ethical value that is easily understood and internalized by all the individuals in the group. So norms provide structure within groups and set specific standards for how people can behave. And they're heavily dependent on context, the physical location, and can even change over time, as we’ll see. So let’s go through a very simple example. Imagine you’re at a baseball game and your favorite player hits a home run, so you stand up and you yell very loudly. Now in this context, in this group of individuals, this behavior’s very normal. Yelling is considered acceptable, and it's even encouraged, among other people attending the game with you because when you yell in this context, you're supporting the player and the team. Now, imagine you're in a meeting at work, and while your boss is talking, you stand up and yell very loudly. In this context, within this group of individuals your behavior is not normal or acceptable. Again, in the same way that norms vary based on context or situation, they also vary significantly from culture to culture or from country to country. As a example, individuals from America often greet each other with a simple hello, or a handshake. Whereas in European countries, it is customary to greet someone with a kiss on the cheek. And lastly, norms can change over time, as individuals' attitudes shift, or circumstances change, that allow different types of behavior to become valued. So let's use baseball as an example again. When Americans first began playing baseball it was only considered normal for men to play. So women were not included in professional baseball. However, when many of the nation's men were drafted to fight in World War II, women began playing the sport to keep Americans entertained. And the circumstances at the time caused a shift in the valued behavior. So by the time the war ended and men returned to baseball, it was normal for both women and men to professionally play baseball. To review, norms are standards for behavior that are set within groups of individuals and are dependent on specific situations, locations, and historical circumstances. In addition to those characteristics, norms also can be classified into four distinct groups. You have folkways, mores, taboos and laws. And these groups basically dictate how important the norm is and consequences from deviating from the norm. So first up are folkways. Folkways are the most mild type of norm. They're basically just common rules or manners that we're supposed to follow on a day-to-day basis. Folkways are typically traditions that individuals have followed for a long time, and are very basic, everyday courtesies. Thinks like opening a door for someone or helping a person who's dropped an item in the grocery store or just saying thank you. If you don't engage in a folkway, the consequences are usually not severe or consistent. There's no actual punishment or strong issue with refusing to help a person whose dropped an item in a grocery store. It just might be seen as rude, so those are folkways. Now, let's talk about mores. I know it looks like mores, but it's actually pronounced mores. And mores are norms that are based on some moral value or belief. And because mores are dependent on the group's understanding of right and wrong they generally produce strong feelings. And there's usually a reaction if the mores is violated, so a simple example of a mores is truthfulness. Most people feel pretty strongly that individuals should tell the truth because that's the right thing to do. So when public figures are not truthful, there's usually outrage and a sense that the individual has done something morally wrong. However, mores do not always have serious consequences. Now laws, laws are norms that are still based on the understanding of right and wrong. But they have more formal and consistent consequences. So using our more example, imagine that a public figure lies but they happen to lie while under oath. No in this situation they've done something morally wrong which is lying that also happens to violate the laws of the court. So in this case, lying under oath, they would have a specific punishment that fits the crime. And that said violation of laws like jay walking or very severe like murder. And there isn't always outrage when a law is violated depends on the type of law that was broken. Now taboos are behaviors that are completely forbidden in any circumstance. They're based in a deep understanding of right and wrong and the violation of a taboo results in consequences that are far more extreme than more. Now, it is a norm to not engage in taboos, and if a taboo is committed, it is considered very immoral behavior. Taboos are often punishable by law and taboos also usually result in severe disgust by members of the community. In two common examples of taboo are incest or sexual relations among family members. And cannibalism, eating human flesh. So now that we've gone over these types of norms, let's review it with an example. So imagine you're back at that baseball game and you look over and see your friend and you notice that their zipper on their pants has come undone. So their fly is open. Now example of a folkway would be to tell your friend that their zipper is down. Now that's just common courtesy. But if you don't tell your friend then there's no specific consequence other than your friend maybe being embarrassed. So that's, that would be a folkway. Now imagine that you see another friend who's taken of their shirt and painted their teams logo on their chest. Now let's see if you're pretty strongly about modesty so you think it's wrong that your friend has taken off his shirt and is exposing so much skin. See this would be example for more. So you feel it's wrong for you friend to show this much skin. There is no serious consequence for his behavior other than your disapproval. So that would be a more. Now imagine that same friend has now removed all of his clothes and decides to go streaking across the field. In this situation he has now broken a law and will receive some kind of punishment. However, within this context there probably isn't much outrage or disgust. In fact, the crowd is probably laughing or maybe cheering as your naked friend is chased around the baseball field. Now I won't give an example of a taboo that could occur here, being that baseball games are usually a family event. But just know that if a taboo were to occur, it would be met with overwhelming disgust and would have serious legal consequences. So on that note, I'd like to conclude this discussion on norms.