A Framework for the Psychology of Norms

In Peter Carruthers, Stephen Laurence & Stephen P. Stich (eds.), The Innate Mind, Volume 2: Culture and Cognition. Oxford University Press (2006)
Humans are unique in the animal world in the extent to which their day-to-day behavior is governed by a complex set of rules and principles commonly called norms. Norms delimit the bounds of proper behavior in a host of domains, providing an invisible web of normative structure embracing virtually all aspects of social life. People also find many norms to be deeply meaningful. Norms give rise to powerful subjective feelings that, in the view of many, are an important part of what it is to be a human agent. Despite the vital role of norms in human lives and human behavior, and the central role they play in explanations in the social sciences, there has been very little systematic attention devoted to norms in cognitive science. Much existing research is partial and piecemeal, making it difficult to know how individual findings cohere into a comprehensive picture. Our goal in this essay is to offer an account of the psychological mechanisms and processes underlying norms that integrates what is known and can serve as a framework for future research.
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