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A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Places

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 58, p.1015- (1990)



Past research has generated mixed support among social scientists for the utility of social norms in accounting for human behavior. We argue that norms do have a substantial impact on human action; however, the impact can only be properly recognized when researchers (a) separate 2 types of norms that at times act antagonistically in a situation--injunctive norms (what most others approve or disapprove) and descriptive norms (what most others do)--and (b) focus Ss' attention principally on the type of norm being studied. In 5 natural settings, focusing Ss on either the descriptive norms or the injunctive norms regarding littering caused the Ss' littering decisions to change only in accord with the dictates of the then more salient type of norm.