Penn Social Norms Group Research and Resources

The understanding of the dynamics of social mobilization and change has moved beyond public health and legal approaches. There is now greater appreciation of the role of social norms in promoting or hindering development and the protection of human rights. Moreover, there is evidence that gender inequality – which is one of the main root causes of many of the negative realities that women and children face – persists because of the presence of a set of social norms. There is also a clearer conceptualization and evidence on the dynamics required for changing harmful social norms and strengthening positive ones. In the light of these advances, the Penn Social Norms Group offers training and consulting on understanding, measuring and changing social norms.

For the full accounts of Prof. Bicchieri's theory of social norms, see: Norms in the Wild, Oxford University Press, 2016 and The Grammar of Society, Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Also consider taking the Social Norms Coursera. For a sense of the Coursera's widespread impact, see Story 4 in UNICEF's Agora Annual Report 2016

For our recent collaboration with Chatham House, please read: Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria: A Social Norms Approach to Connecting Society and Institutions


Penn + Gates Project: The Social Determinants of Open Defecation in India


Working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we are in the midst of a three-year study analyzing social networks and social norms related to open defecation in two Indian states: Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Developing culturally appropriate social measures and survey questions, we are in the process of unpacking the core social motivators for a host of OD-related behaviors.

As part of the first phase of this project, we have produced a report detailing ways in which social networks influence latrine ownership, demographic predictors of ownership and use, and how our findings differ from existing literature. To request access to the report and related materials, please complete this form. Once you complete it, we will share a folder with you containing the materials within a few days.




Search results

Now showing 1 - 10 of 17
  • Publication
    Norms of Cooperation
    (1990-07-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina
  • Publication
    The Rules We Live By
    (2006-01-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina
    In The Grammar of Society, first published in 2006, Cristina Bicchieri examines social norms, such as fairness, cooperation, and reciprocity, in an effort to understand their nature and dynamics, the expectations that they generate, and how they evolve and change. Drawing on several intellectual traditions and methods, including those of social psychology, experimental economics and evolutionary game theory, Bicchieri provides an integrated account of how social norms emerge, why and when we follow them, and the situations where we are most likely to focus on relevant norms. Examining the existence and survival of inefficient norms, she demonstrates how norms evolve in ways that depend upon the psychological dispositions of the individual and how such dispositions may impair social efficiency. By contrast, she also shows how certain psychological propensities may naturally lead individuals to evolve fairness norms that closely resemble those we follow in most modern societies.
  • Publication
    Applying Social Norms Theory in CATS Programming
    (2017-12-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Noah, Thomas; Bicchieri, Cristina; Noah, Thomas
  • Publication
    Sector Sustainability Check: Rural Open Defecation Free (ODF) & Rural (Drinking) Water Supply Schemes (RWSS) Punjab & Sindh Provinces
    (2016-12-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina; Thulin, Erik; Marini, Annalisa; Haider, Nadeem; Gill, Asmat; Usmani, Aziz; Shahzad, Faisal; Dastageer, Ghulam; Kamal, Reema; Badr-un-Nisa,; Gillani, Noor; Jalal, Sher; Abbas, Faisal; Khan, Sher; Khan, Saud; Khanzada, Noman
    This study focused on the behavioral sustainability of latrine use and continued functionality of rural water supply systems in ODF certified villages in the Sindh and Punjab provinces of Pakistan. Our chief role was to develop, integrate and analyze social norms measures as part of the larger sustainability check. This report presents those methods, measures and findings. PennSONG served as an associate partner in the report, working with lead partner AAN Associates ( and associate partner Institute of Environmental Sciences and Engineering ( The study was substantially supported by the Ministry of Climate Change (MOCC), the Government of Pakistan, and UNICEF Pakistan.
  • Publication
    A Structured Approach to a Diagnostic of Collective Practices
    (2014-12-05) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina; Lindemans, Jan W; Jiang, Ting
    “How social norms change” is not only a theoretical question but also an empirical one. Many organizations have implemented programs to abandon harmful social norms. These programs are standardly monitored and evaluated with a set of empirical tools. While monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of changes in objective outcomes and behaviors is well developed, we will argue that M&E of changes in the wide range of beliefs and preferences important to social norms is still problematic. In this paper, we first present a theoretical framework and then show how it should guide social norms measurement. As a case study, we focus on the harmful practice of child marriage. We show how an operational theory of social norms can guide the design of surveys, experiments, and vignettes. We use examples from existing research to illustrate how to study social norms change.
  • Publication
    Diagnosing Norms
    (2016-01-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina
    This short book explores how social norms work, and how changing them--changing preferences, beliefs, and especially social expectations--can potentially improve lives all around the world.
  • Publication
    I Cannot Cheat On You After We Talk
    (2015-01-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina; Sontuoso, Alessandro
    The experimental literature on social dilemmas has long documented the positive effect of communication on cooperation. Sally (1995), in a meta-analysis spanning thirty-five years of Prisoner's Dilemma experiments, shows that the possibility of communicating significantly increases cooperation. Social psychologists have explained such a finding by hypothesizing that the act of communicating contributes to promoting trust by creating empathy among participants (see Loomis (1959), Desforges et al. (1991), Davis and Perkowitz (1979)). Bicchieri (2002, 2006), in a different perspective, puts forward a focusing function of communication hypothesis, according to which communication can focus agents on shared rules of behavior and - when it does focus them on pro-social ones - generates a normative environment which is conducive to cooperation. More specifically, when individuals face an unfamiliar situation, they need cues to under-stand how best to act and, for this reason, they check whether some behavioral rule they are aware of applies to the specific interaction. The effect of communication is to make a behavioral rule situational/y salient, that is, communication causes a shift in an individual's focus towards the strategies dictated by the now-salient rule. In doing so, communication also coordinates players' mutual expectations about which strategies will be chosen by the parties. In other words, (under some conditions) communication elicits social norms.
  • Publication
    Phase 2 Project Report. Social Networks and Norms: Sanitation in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, India
    (2018-01-01) BICCHIERI, Cristina; Ashraf, Sania; Das, Upasak; Delea, Maryann; Kohler, Hans-Peter; Kuang, Jinyi; McNally, Peter; Shpenev, Alexey; Thulin, Erik; BICCHIERI, Cristina; Ashraf, Sania; Das, Upasak; Delea, Maryann; Kohler, Hans-Peter; Kuang, Jinyi; McNally, Peter; Shpenev, Alexey; Thulin, Erik
  • Publication
    Why Do People Do What They Do? A Social Norms Manual for Viet Nam, Indonesia and the Philippines
    (2016-01-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina
    The content for this manual was developed thanks to Cristina Bicchieri, Thomas Noah and Ryan Muldoon for a training course on social norms and as part of the Multi Country Study on the Drivers of Violence. The ideas and concepts providing the foundation of the course teachings are from Cristina Bicchieri's Norms in the Wild: how to diagnose, measure and change social norms, Oxford University Press, 2016 and her Penn-UNICEF Lectures on Norms and Social Change, 2010-2015. The manual is available on UNICEF's website here:
  • Publication
    Is Participation Contagious? Evidence From a Household Vector Control Campaign in Urban Peru
    (2013-09-23) Buttenheim, Alison; Paz-Soldan, Valerie; Barbu, Corentin M; Skovira, Christine; Small, Dylan; Bicchieri, Cristina; Oswaldo Cornejo, Juan; Levy, Michael Z; Bicchieri, Cristina; Naquira, Cesar; Levy, Michael Z
    Objective: High rates of household participation are critical to the success of door-to-door vector control campaigns. We used the Health Belief Model to assess determinants of participation, including neighbour participation as a cue to action, in a Chagas disease vector control campaign in Peru. Methods: We evaluated clustering of participation among neighbours; estimated participation as a function of household infestation status, neighbourhood type and number of participating neighbours; and described the reported reasons for refusal to participate in a district of 2911 households. Results: We observed significant clustering of participation along city blocks (p<0.0001). Participation was significantly higher for households in new versus established neighbourhoods, for infested households, and for households with more participating neighbours. The effect of neighbour participation was greater in new neighbourhoods. Conclusions: Results support a ‘contagion’ model of participation, highlighting the possibility that one or two participating households can tip a block towards full participation. Future campaigns can leverage these findings by making participation more visible, by addressing stigma associated with spraying, and by employing group incentives to spray.