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Facts About Violating Social Norms

Updated: Jun 18, 2022

By Geena Baide

May 28, 2022


Violating social norms and its studies intersect between those topics involving neuroscience as well as social psychology, which means suggesting how differences in how the brain is wired will present itself in forms of violating social norms and therefore displaying symptoms of personality disorders, at times. However this is not the main objective, it is to simply try and explain the behavior of those who violate the norms of society and try and find some links to more serious and visible issues such as criminality, for example.

1. Norm violators signal power

In any social situation, it’s likely that you’ll see a few people acting out of place. Breaking rules regarding personal space, as well as invasion of privacy (within non-criminal means), unusual forms of eye contact, breaking social etiquette norms such as asking someone you don’t know for their seat, cutting in line, you get the idea. At the very least they’re mildly annoying or at the most straight up uncomfortable and sketchy. But they all have one thing in common: they’re going to get what they want. They may raise their voices in places where it’s not necessary to establish what they believe is dominance, but they could be right, since people reluctantly allow them to do as such. They believe they will get as they wish and therefore start “the beginning of a self-enforcing loop in which greater perceived power invites further norm violations,” according to researchers from the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

2. They socially isolate you

When you break unwritten rules regarding social etiquette and other related manners, you’ll get a variety of reactions. Some will give you dirty looks if you cut in line but not say anything, but only a handful, if any, will confront you, or get what I define as [actually violent] ₁ . They’ll receive negative social perceptions, mutual disagreement among complete strangers against the violator, such as negative emotions ranging from confusion, disgust, anger, as well as facial expressions, gossip, and in some cases, punishment. They’ll usually be along the lines of “disorderly conduct” or “disturbing the peace”, for some explicit examples.

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock Images]

3. They can be linked to psychopathy and sociopathy

In popular culture at least, people who are diagnosed as psychopaths or sociopaths harbor at least some form of social unease or mysteriousness regarding them, to a certain degree. “Psychopaths and sociopaths are often able to manage their condition and pass as “normal” citizens, although their capacity for manipulation and cruelty can have devastating consequences for people around them,” according to a Canadian edition on sociology on “Deviance, Crime, and Social Control”. They’re definitely known for their widespread lying and cheating, as well as their propensity for violating norms, usually aware that they’re doing it. But there’s a pattern in which most psychopaths, for example, don’t end up being serial killers. By meticulously observing social language and communication to a particular extent, they can learn to fit in, to some degree. The norm violations could be described as something that highly crosses over with disorders.

In all truthfulness, there hasn’t been enough research or time invested into studies such as unwritten rules and how to fit in with society within social psychology, or how neuroscience and differences in how the brain is wired can impair your social behavior and psychology, therefore isolating you. But this is not all speculation, either. They’re founded based upon interpersonal and social observations that one cannot always point out and name but they’ll definitely acknowledge the existence of abnormal behavior at hand. That’s why it’s important to recognize how they can show up from your perspective and if you see yourself violating social norms, you can choose to evaluate your behavior and learn from it.

[actually violent]¹ : defined as physical assault or abuse used typically in fits of anger or in seek of control and domination, intended to hurt or kill someone, damage something, etc.


Wanders, Florian et al. “How norm violators rise and fall in the eyes of others: The role of sanctions.” PloS one vol. 16,7 e0254574. 29 Jul. 2021, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0254574

Rosenberger LA, Pfabigan DM, Lehner B, Keckeis K, Seidel EM, Eisenegger C, Lamm C. Fairness norm violations in anti-social psychopathic offenders in a repeated trust game. Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Oct 21;9(1):266. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0606-3. PMID: 31636249; PMCID: PMC6803633.

Chapter 7. Deviance, Crime, and Social Control,, Introduction to Sociology 1st Canadian Edition, April 15, 2022, Nov 6, 2014

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