Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Norms are standards of behaviour or expectations of performance.

explanatory context

As applied to group behaviour, norms are standards of behaviour acceptable within the group (or community) to which they apply.

Norms and psychological tests

As applied to psychological tests, norms are summary descriptions of a large group of people on the test. Frequently they consist of the mean and standard deviation of the group's scores. For some tests (particularly intelligence tests) tables of norms are provided, enabling conversion of a raw score onto a scale with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Norms furnish a baseline against which to measure the performance of any individual, or group of individuals, undergoing that test (norm-referenced test).


Norms in sport

A norm in some sporting setting is the standard of performance expected. For example, a par score on a golf course, a qualification time for an athlete are examples of norms.



The state of normlessness is close to what Durkheim meant by anomie. Normlessness usually refers to the state in which individuals or groups are in a situation in which they are unable to find, or to relate to, prescriptions for every-day behaviour.

analytical review

Marini (undated) explained:

a norm is an evaluative belief. Whereas a value is a belief about the desirability of behavior, a norm is a belief about the acceptability of behavior (Gibbs 1965; Marini 1984). A norm indicates the degree to which a behavior is regarded as right versus wrong, allowable versus unallowable. It is an evaluative criterion that specifies a rule of behavior, indicating what a behavior ought to be or ought not to be. A prescriptive norm indicates what should be done, and a proscriptive norm indicates what should not be done. Because a norm is a behavioral rule, it produces a feeling of obligation. A value, in contrast, produces a feeling of desirability, of attraction or repulsion.

A norm also differs from a value in its degree of specificity. A norm is less general than a value because it indicates what should or should not be done in particular behavioral contexts. Whereas a value is a general evaluative criterion that transcends particular types of action and situations, a norm is linked directly to particular types of action and situations. For example, there may be a norm proscribing the killing of other human beings that is generally applicable except in situations such as war, self-defense, capital punishment, and euthanasia. Situational variability of this type sometimes is referred to as the conditionality of a norm. A norm, like a value, is generally applicable to the types of action and situations on which it focuses, but it is less general than a value because it is less likely to transcend particular types of action and situations.

Because norms often derive from values, they have their basis in conceptions of morality, aesthetics, and achievement and often in a combination of those conceptions. The basis of a norm tends to affect its strength, or the importance attached to it. For example, a norm based in morality that differentiates right from wrong is likely to be considered more important than a norm based in aesthetics that differentiates the appropriate from the inappropriate, for example, in matters of dress or etiquette. A norm, however, differs from a custom in much the same way that a value differs from a preference. A norm involves an evaluation of what an actor should do, whereas a custom involves an expectation of what an actor will do. It may be expected, for example, that people will drink coffee, but it is usually a matter of indifference whether they do. Drinking coffee is therefore a custom, not a norm; it is not based on a belief about what people ought to do.


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines norms as:

Rules and expectations of conduct which either prescribes a given type of behavior, or forbids it.


Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) defines norm thus:

A norm is a rather specific rule of the group that the members share and that serves to guide their conduct along grooves deemed desirable by them. Norms are standards of behavior, rules for conduct, what the group expects its members to do.


The Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) also defines normlessness as:

A condition in which there is an absence of any organized system of social norms or values that would allow an individual to choose the most appropriate action in a given social situation. See anomie


Richard Schaefer (2017):

Norms: Established standards of behavior maintained by a society.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016.

Marini, M.M., undated, 'Values and norms' in Borgatta, W.F. and Montgomery, R.J.V, (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Sociology, Second edition, article available at, accessed 16 March 2013, available 24 December 2016, no longer available 11 June 2019.

Raynet Sociology Glossary, undated, available at, no longer available 20 December 2016.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, not found 1 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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