Behavioral Research

Table of Contents
1 Description & Theoretical Background
2 Using Normative Beliefs in Behavior Change Paradigms
3 Measurement and Methodological Issues
4 Factors that Increase the Importance of Normative Beliefs

Related Concepts

6 References
7 Measures Appendix: A
8 Measures Appendix: B
9 Published Examples

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Other Constructs



Dispositional Optimism




Illness Representations

  Implementation Intentions
  Intention, Expectation, and Willingness
  Normative Beliefs
  Optimistic Bias
  Perceived Benefits
  Perceived Control
  Perceived Severity
  Perceived Vulnerability
  Self-Reported Behavior
  Social Influence
  Social Support

Normative Beliefs
David Trafimow

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Related Concepts

There are several concepts that are similar to those presented earlier, but they are not exactly the same. Four that will be discussed here are descriptive norms, pluralistic ignorance, moral norms, and confidence in normative perceptions.

Descriptive Norms
Descriptive norms are people's perceptions of what other people actually do in a given situation, regardless of what is socially sanctioned. Descriptive norms are different from subjective norms (or normative beliefs) in at least two ways. First, descriptive norms are concerned with other people, but not necessarily with those others who are particularly important to oneself. Secondly, descriptive norms focus on perceptions of actual behavior of others rather than on perceptions of the opinions of important others about what the perceiver should or should not do. Cialdini, Kallgren, & Reno (1991) have provided a theory of normative conduct that includes this variable and have also reviewed a variety of research paradigms showing the importance of this construct in influencing people's behaviors. Interventions in marketing and school settings are often based on the idea of descriptive norms (e.g., "other people are buying Brand X so you should to" and "your classmates are participating in after school clubs so you should also take advantage of this opportunity").

Pluralistic Ignorance
Pluralistic ignorance refers to the idea that most people in a group or society may privately reject a belief or practice and nevertheless believe that most others in the group accept it. Like descriptive norms, pluralistic ignorance differs from subjective norms (and normative beliefs) because pluralistic ignorance focuses on other people in general rather than those others who are important to oneself in the performance of the behavior in question. Although the term was first coined by Allport (1933), Prentice and Miller (1996) provided a review indicating that the idea is again coming into prominence. In particular, these researchers have demonstrated the usefulness of the idea in the context of alcohol abuse. For example, Prentice and Miller (1993) demonstrated that Princeton undergraduates overestimate the level of comfort that their fellow undergraduates have with respect to alcohol drinking habits. Prentice and Miller (1996) provided evidence that this overestimation actually was a case of pluralistic ignorance and that undergraduates infer the private views of others from their public presentations. Finally, these researchers reviewed evidence that dispelling pluralistic ignorance decreases actual drinking behavior and that this decrease is due to a reduction in the perceived support (or pressure) for drinking.

Moral Norms
Moral norms are people's perceptions of what important others think would be moral or immoral for them to do (as opposed to what they should or should not do). This difference between moral norms and subjective norms (or normative beliefs) is subtle. To see the difference, consider two examples. First, you might believe that an important other thinks it would be immoral for you to perform a particular behavior, yet nevertheless thinks you should perform it. Second, you might believe that an important other thinks it would be moral for you to perform a particular behavior, yet nevertheless thinks you should not perform it. Although moral norms and subjective norms usually go together, these two examples demonstrate that they do not have to do so, and that they are different concepts. Manstead (2000) has reviewed several studies indicating that moral norms can sometimes account for unique variance in behavioral intentions above and beyond that accounted for by attitudes and subjective norms. Interventions sometimes include a moral component. Some examples might be religious based interventions (e.g., "it is immoral to be alcoholic") and marketing of insurance products (e.g., "the moral thing to do is provide for your family in the event of your untimely death").

Confidence in Normative Perceptions
Confidence can be thought of as a variable that moderates relations between subjective norms (or normative beliefs) and behavioral intentions. Subjective norms are perceptions about what important others believe but measures of subjective norms leave open the issue of how confident people are that these perceptions are actually correct. If people are not confident that their normative perceptions are correct, then there is no reason for them to base their behavioral intentions on those perceptions. In contrast, to the degree that people are confident in the accuracy of their normative perceptions, they should be more likely to use them to form behavioral intentions. Trafimow (1994; also see Trafimow, 2001) introduced the idea of confidence in normative perceptions and provided a particularly dramatic example in the domain of condom use. For participants who were not confident in the correctness of their normative perceptions, the correlation between subjective norms and behavioral intentions was not discernibly different from 0. But for participants who were extremely confident, this correlation was .88.

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