The Effects of Social Norms on Society

Dr. Kenneth Hoffman Sociology 200-302 2 January 2013 The Effects of Social Norms on Society In a world where routine is dominant and change is difficult to adhere by, social norms have become major assets for a smoothly functioning day. With the experiment of breaking normative behavior I wanted to do something subtle yet startling. Sometimes the smallest changes in behavior receive the toughest adjustments. First impressions have a strong influence on a person’s relationship with someone else. With that being said, I decided to change the way I went about greeting people.
The opening greeting of shaking hands and smiling has become so common it has lost value and become routine. The subtle change I made to my greeting was that I decided to only say my name in a monotone voice and shake hands with the wrong hand, leading to responses of surprise, unease, and sometimes anger. With most people being right handed, I have made the assumption that this could be why the common greeting is to shake with one’s right hand. The “normal” greeting is to smile, say hello, and shake with your right hand. People have taken what use to be excitement to seeing each other to going through common motions repeated multiple times.
This greeting is a sign that one may have come from a proper upbringing and family, possibly middle to upper class. It is also taken as a common sign of acceptance to strangers meeting for the first time. My sample size of people ranged from people of all ages and relationships to me. I decided I would greet with a plain face and state my name and reach out with my left hand with all introductions. People who did not know me well believed I was unpleasant and felt awkward. My new greeting was taken with surprise, as people who know me well believed I was in a bad mood or having a bad day.

If I don’t do the norm I’m considered upset and negative. From the experiment I learned that people commonly receive me as joyful and energetic. In a way my own personal norm has evolved into me being upbeat whether my day has been good or bad. All people react to different stimuli in their own way. With that being said, I was surprised to find that out of the 20+ people I greeted against the norm, only one gave my greeting a “normal” response without interruption. The lone person was a 12 year old boy I see regularly and he just continued what he was doing without a hint of awkwardness.
The older people would teach and try to correct what they took as my “ignorance” toward a common greeting. A few of these older experimentees actually refused to shake my hand unless it was a right handed shake. People around the same age as me were awkward with a sarcastic manner, laughed, or just went ahead and shook my left hand after a moment of hesitation. With all the immediate responses having large variance, the most correlated response was that people thought there was something wrong with my well-being and tried to cheer me up.
The overall response to the experiment ended up being quite humorous. It also opened my eyes to how much the people in my life care about me. While I expected the awkward moments, I expected more people to just go along with it and not be startled. Even the slightest changes in one’s actions can affect the response and mood of how people interact with one another. In this case, it was subtle yet changed the entire complexion of the exchanges between the people I intercepted. With responses ranging from laughter to confusion, the smallest changes in normative behavior can have most astonishing results.

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