Graded Representations of Norm Strength

AbstractPrevious work across multiple disciplines has shown that norms have a powerful impact on behavior. Little is known, however about how norms are represented in the mind. Here we examine whether people’s norm representations come in reliably identifiable grades of strength. Classical models of norms distinguished between the broad deontic categories of prescriptions, permissions, and prohibitions. Four studies demonstrate that people consistently and consensually distinguish between deontic expressions that denote grades of prohibition (e.g., frowned upon < unacceptable < forbidden) and grades of prescription (e.g., called for < expected < required). Selecting terms that have mean ratings with nonoverlapping confidence intervals form a bipolar scale that allows researchers to measure prescriptions and prohibitions at five levels of norm strength each.

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