7 junio, 2024

Social behavior: theory, types, norms, examples

The social behavior or social behavior is the set of actions of an individual that are directed towards society as a whole or towards members of the same species. There are different theories about their origin, but in general researchers agree that they have both genetic and social components.

Social behavior has been a topic of interest and relevance since practically the beginning of civilization. Thinkers like Aristotle believed that understanding and improving social behavior was fundamental to being able to live in harmony. For this reason, the first philosophers reflected on aspects such as ethics and politics, which were nothing more than disciplines dedicated to improving people’s behavior and coexistence.

There is no universal definition of what constitutes social conduct. However, in most cases it is considered that any behavior that affects other people or that occurs due to the influence of society could fall into this category.

On the other hand, it is considered that in order to study social behaviors it is necessary to do so in relation to the norms and values ​​of the culture in which they occur. Thus, social behaviors are considered appropriate or inappropriate depending on the context, and there are hardly any universal laws in this regard.


social behavior theory

Throughout history, different theories have been developed about the nature of social behavior and its characteristics. Next we will see some of the most important ones.

– Social influence

The theory of social influence defends the idea that when we live in society, it is inevitable that we influence other people’s behavior and they influence ours. This social influence is created through different phenomena, such as persuasion, obedience, conformity to norms and respect for traditions.

Although social influence can appear in many forms, two of the most common types are informational and normative influence. In the first case, an individual will change his behavior or way of thinking because the arguments of others have convinced him. On the contrary, in the second he will modify his actions only so as not to lose the approval of the group.

– Classical and operant conditioning

Classical conditioning is one of the main forces behind social influence. Our behaviors are modified to a large extent because we unconsciously associate phenomena that are not really related to each other. This can end up changing our way of acting in society in many different ways.

For example, constant exposure to advertisements, series, and movies lead us to associate certain elements (such as sex, money, or social acceptance) with well-being and happiness. This causes us to change our social behavior, to try to achieve the results that we think will make us feel good based on what we have seen.

On the other hand, operant conditioning also plays a fundamental role in shaping our social behavior. The reinforcements and punishments we receive from our peers have a huge influence on our behaviors and our way of thinking.

In fact, it has been proven that punishments such as loss of approval or social rejection are some of the ones that best cause change in people. Thus, to prevent others from rejecting us, we tend to modify our behavior and act according to the norms of the society in which we live.

– Sociocultural learning

One of the first psychologists to be concerned with social behavior was Lev Vygotsky. This author focused on studying the learning carried out by children and adolescents as a consequence of their interaction with the people around them.

According to Vygotsky, children are born practically a «blank slate», without social norms or morality of their own. However, over the years their interactions with other people and the observation of other individuals lead them to internalize the norms of the culture in which they live.

– vicarious learning

Vicarious learning is the process that occurs when a change in behavior or thought occurs in a person when he observes another. It usually occurs by imitating the behaviors of a model, but it can also occur when the individual observes the consequences of another person’s actions.

Vicarious learning can explain many of the social behaviors that we carry out. These would have appeared when observing the way of acting of our main models, such as parents, relatives, teachers or reference figures.

Types of social behaviors

As we have already seen, the concept of conduct or social behavior has been of great importance to a multitude of thinkers throughout history. Because of this, there are many different classifications to categorize all types of social behavior that exist.

One of the best-known classifications is the one that divides behaviors based on their relationship with the norms of the society in which they occur. Next we will see this classification in detail.

– Social or positive behavior

Positive or social behaviors are those that are in favor of the norms of coexistence present within the culture in which they occur. Examples of positive behaviors would be giving up your seat to older people on public transport, or looking on both sides of the street before crossing a road.

– Asocial behavior

Asocial behaviors would be typical of those people who would avoid contact with other individuals and who would not follow the norms of their culture, but would not interfere in any way with the lives of others. Generally, it would occur in cases in which the individual is isolated and avoids participating in social encounters.

For example, a person who decided to live in an isolated house in the country and grow their own food would be carrying out mainly asocial behaviors.

– Parasocial or deviant behavior

Parasocial behaviors would be those that reject the values ​​and customs present in a given culture, but that do not cause harm to the rest of its members. These behaviors would generate reactions such as rejection or discomfort towards the people who carry them out.

For example, in a very traditional society, homosexuality would be a type of parasocial behavior.

– Antisocial or offensive behavior

The last type of behavior would be that which directly attacks the values ​​and traditions of the society in which it appears. Behaviors of this type would go against the well-being of the rest of the inhabitants of society, for which reason they would tend to be penalized very harshly.

Generally, most crimes are examples of antisocial behavior. Stealing or assaulting another person goes against the customs and values ​​of most advanced societies, so these behaviors would be strongly rejected.

Norms of social behavior

One of the most important aspects of understanding social behavior is understanding the norms that govern it in different contexts. Each culture has a series of universal norms, and others that are only valid for a specific environment. Next we will see some examples to clarify this concept.

social norms at home

Most families are governed by a series of implicit and explicit rules that regulate the behavior of its members. Although some may vary depending on each case, many of them are universal within the same culture.

For example, in oriental societies children owe great respect to their parents, and in general they put the opinion of their elders above their own. This is something that does not happen with such intensity in the western world.

Social norms at work

The work environment is one of the scenarios in which more social norms exist. Within the business world, there are a multitude of expectations that need to be met in order to get the approval of the people around us.

For example, in most work environments there is a very clear hierarchy, with the individuals who are lower in it having to abide by the opinions, ideas and orders of their superiors. In addition, there are usually very strict codes of conduct that regulate aspects such as clothing or the hours at which it is necessary to work, rest or eat.

Public places

Behaviors that are considered acceptable in public places vary greatly between cultures. For example, in countries like Spain or Colombia showing affection in public is completely normal; but in other places like Eastern Europe or Asia, something as common as two people kissing in public is considered a cause for scandal.

The same is true of many other aspects of social behavior in public places. Thus, each country and culture have different rules about what is appropriate to do in front of other people.

Examples of Social Behavior in Humans

Many of our behaviors are completely determined by the norms that govern the society in which we find ourselves. Some common examples are as follows:

– Accept the opinions of our group of friends to avoid losing their approval if we disagree with them.

– Avoid leaving a job that we do not like because it gives us a lot of status in the eyes of others.

– Study a career because it is what they have told us to do.

– Respect older people and help them in situations where this is possible.

– After the coronavirus pandemic, it is expected that a behavior is to maintain the distance between people of 1-2 meters.


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«Definition of social behavior» in: Definition ABC. Retrieved on: June 14, 2020 from ABC Definition: definicionabc.com.
«Social behavior» in: Wikipedia. Retrieved on: June 14, 2020 from Wikipedia: es.wikipedia.org.

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