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An attributional perspective on the communication of norms Conway, Lucian Gideon, III.

Abstract

Why do some shared beliefs and behaviors spread across a given population and persist over time, whereas other beliefs and behaviors do not? Different perspectives that help provide an answer to this question are critically reviewed. These perspectives fall under two broad headings: those that focus on the degree that norms correspond to some kind of objective reality, and others that focus on the degree that norms correspond to some kind of subjective reality. An attributional perspective is introduced that suggests that whether a norm will likely be communicated in a given context or not is partially determined by the degree that it is perceived to be objectively tied to reality. The present four studies focus on two psychological cues that tend to influence these attributional processes. Across all studies, participants read stories about a normative behavior and then answered questions about those stories. Studies 1 and 2 focused on an "impression management" cue. Study 1 provides evidence that the presence of a member of a positively stereotyped group reduces the intention to communicate a positive impression of that group later on. Study 2 provides weaker evidence that this same process occurs for a negatively stereotyped group. Studies 3 and 4 focus on an authority figure's command cue, both providing evidence that the explicit command of an authority figure can, under some circumstances, decrease the likelihood that persons will endorse a normative behavior. Study 3 suggests that this effect is moderated by the level of control the authority figure has over the participant. Study 4 suggests that this effect is moderated by the expertise of the authority figure in the area of knowledge relevant to the norm. Theoretical and practical implications of the attributional perspective are discussed.

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