Social norms may be enforced by individuals informally punishing each other for norm transgressions. In a preliminary study in 8 countries we found evidence of cultural variation in meta-norms, defined as social perceptions of norm-breakers and norm-enforcers. Here we develop novel hypotheses that relate this variation in meta-norms to variation in individualism and societal threat, and propose how it might influence norm compliance, acculturation of immigrants, and the speed of norm change in societies. These hypotheses are tested by means of a large cross-cultural survey, a survey to immigrants in Sweden, and laboratory studies that combine methods from cultural, social and cognitive psychology and behavioral economics.

Over the period of three years, the project will make several significant contributions: (1) It will provide robust country-measures of social perceptions of peer punishers and norm-breakers for a large selection (~30) of countries around the world. (2) It will demonstrate how culture influences meta-norms. (3) It will empirically answer how change of social norms in a society, and immigrant acculturation to the social norms in a new society, depend on meta-norms. These are timely topics in a world that gets smaller and smaller and that pays increasing attention to cultural differences.

The project is conducted by an international team involving several world-leading researchers.

Funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

Project leader: Kimmo Eriksson