sociology social experiment

Rachael Gorringe
Sociology 1010
Breaking the Norm
Breaking a social norm is difficult, embarrassing, and something that takes a lot of guts
to do. For my social experiment, I ate my lunch at the school food court, only sitting next to a
stranger. I got this idea for breaking a norm by observing a man in the food court choose a spot
next to a girl sitting by herself. The man obviously did not know the girl since she looked caught
off guard when she acknowledged him, followed by an uncomfortable introduction. I wanted
to see if the same thing would happen to me.
I ate directly across from a girl sitting at an empty table of about with about five vacant
chairs. I smiled and said hello when I sat down, and she answered help back apprehensively. I
could tell that she was uncomfortable, and truth be told, I was too. After about five minutes,
the girl got up and left the table, and I saw her sit back down outside on the patio, leaving me
inside by myself, which according to social norms, was nothing out of the ordinary.
In the text Essentials of Sociology, a norm is defined as “rules of conduct that specify
appropriate behavior in a given range of social situations.” They are widely agreed upon rules
made by society that members are expected to follow, and they represent the “dos and don’ts
of social life” (pg. 41) developed throughout time within a society. A culture or society has a
concept of what is normal, acceptable, and what is not. There are two different types of norms;
mores and folkways. A more is a strong rule of society that usually tends to have a
consequence if not followed. Examples of mores are laws, and avoiding taboos, such as
cannibalism and incest. A folkway is a norm that is less severe, with little to no punishment if
not followed. For example, how to answer a phone or whispering when you enter a quiet room
are folkways. They are basic rules that are followed to avoid breaking social norms. My
experiment is an example of a folkway because I broke out of the norm in a mild way by sitting
next to someone I didn’t know. There was no severe punishment, only silent disapproval.
Personal space, especially in the Western culture, is eminent. People from Western
cultures tend to feel the most comfortable having a large space, about an arms distance, from
another individual, sometimes even a greater distance from people they are not familiar with.
When a Westerner has little, they tend to feel uncomfortable. Sitting close to a stranger is not
a contented situation for people from Western cultures, because they feel like their personal
space is violated. The social norm for this culture is to stay at a respectable distance (by
western standards) from a person one is not familiar with in order to maintain comfort.
This activity has resulted in me gaining the insight that social norms tend to be
engrained in members of a culture. Social norms are not an act that is processed; it is
subconsciously encoded into behavior. After learning about social norms and performing this
experiment, I have come to realize all of the norms that I follow, that I didn’t even realize were
social rules. For example, always saying “thank you” when a door is held open for me, and
evidently keeping a respectable distance by Western standards from other individuals I am not
familiar with, in order to maintain not only the other person’s comfort, but also my own. There
are infinite social rules that one will follow to avoid disapproval from other members of society.