Diana Kim is a PhD-candidate at Leiden University. The title of her research project is: The interpersonal transmission of social norms. She investigates cognitive mechanisms underlying the interpersonal transmission of social norms.
Considerable portions of human behavior reflect the existence of social norms: Europeans commonly shake hands when they meet, take turns when communicating, and stand in line at the grocery store for reasons that are not entirely dictated by the aim to maximize one’s personal benefit. Researchers differ with respect to whether they consider social norms as prescriptive (and, thus as directly causing the behavior the given norm refers to) or descriptive (only expressing some underlying behavioral regularities) but it is clear that people often conform to, and adopt the behavioral regularities of their peers and other important reference groups to the effect that they are more likely to exhibit the same regularities in their own behavior.
Substantial research has been devoted to the question when (i.e., under which circumstances) and why (i.e., to the satisfaction of which goals or motives) people take over social norms from others but how they do so remains more or less a mystery. Given that failure in the transmission of social norms is being held responsible for various societal problems, ranging from alcohol and tobacco abuse to violence and social justice issues, this is particularly unfortunate and calls for a better understanding of the processes underlying this transmission. To tackle that issue, we propose to investigate the process of norm transmission from one or several individuals (to whom we generically refer to as model) to another (the observer) and to identify the functional and neural mechanisms underlying this process. In particular, we intend to study how the observation of some (experimentally manipulated and, thus, objectively arbitrary) behavior of another individual or group (the model) induces not only an immediate tendency in the observer to show the same behavior (a process that would qualify as mimicry or imitation) but also induces a stable, more enduring tendency to exhibit this behavior more likely and/or more easily or efficiently (than otherwise comparable behavioral alternatives) on future occasions— which we will consider our minimal criterion for the successful transmission of a social norm.
Prof. Bernhard Hommel