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 - 6 of 6
  • Publication
    Norms of Cooperation
    (1990-07-01) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina
  • 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
    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.
  • Publication
    Why Are There Descriptive Norms? Because We Looked for Them
    (2014-07-31) Muldoon, Ryan; Lisciandra, Chiara; Hartmann, Stephan
    In this work, we present a mathematical model for the emergence of descriptive norms, where the individual decision problem is formalized with the standard Bayesian belief revision machinery. Previous work on the emergence of descriptive norms has relied on heuristic modeling. In this paper we show that with a Bayesian model we can provide a more general picture of the emergence of norms, which helps to motivate the assumptions made in heuristic models. In our model, the priors formalize the belief that a certain behavior is a regularity. The evidence is provided by other group members’ behavior and the likelihood by their reliability. We implement the model in a series of computer simulations and examine the group-level outcomes. We claim that domain-general belief revision helps explain why we look for regularities in social life in the first place. We argue that it is the disposition to look for regularities and react to them that generates descriptive norms. In our search for rules, we create them.
  • Publication
    Do the Right Thing: But Only if Others do so
    (2008-02-10) Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina; Xiao, Erte
    Social norms play an important role in individual decision making. Bicchieri (2006) argues that two different expectations influence our choice to obey a norm: what we expect others to do (empirical expectations) and what we believe others think we ought to do (normative expectations). Little is known about the relative importance of these two types of expectation in individuals’ decisions, an issue that is particularly important when normative and empirical expectations are in conflict (e.g., systemic corruption, high crime cities). In this paper, we report data from Dictator game experiments where we exogenously manipulate dictators’ expectations in the direction of either selfishness or fairness. When normative and empirical expectations are in conflict, we find that empirical expectations about other dictators’ choices significantly predict a dictator’s own choice. However, dictators’ expectations regarding what other dictators think ought to be done do not have a significant impact on their decisions after controlling for empirical expectations. Our findings about the crucial influence of empirical expectations are important for designing institutions or policies aimed at discouraging undesirable behavior.
  • Publication
    Can Trust Facilitate Bribery? Experimental Evidence From China, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands
    (2015-10-01) Jiang, Ting; Bicchieri, Cristina; Bicchieri, Cristina
    This article investigates the impact of trust on bribery. We measure trust with a survey question from the World Values Survey on whether respondents think others would take advantage of them if given the chance, and we observe bribery behavior in an experimental bribery game. The research was conducted in China and Italy, which have relatively high perceived-corruption levels, as well as in Japan and the Netherlands, which have relatively low perceived-corruption levels. In the bribery game, participants have the opportunity to bribe another participant to cheat to their advantage. We hypothesized that honoring bribing agreements depends on trust, the endorsement of such agreements is independent of trust. We find evidence that trust enables bribery in the two low-corruption countries, but no evidence that trust enables bribery in the two high-corruption countries. More specifically, trust predicts bribers' trustworthiness in honoring the bribery agreement once they enter into one. The results reveal a dark side of trust: It supports socially detrimental cooperation when a deal is unenforceable.