What Shapes Attitudes?

What Shapes Attitudes?

Of course, people’s attitudes don’t come out of the blue. The main factors that have been identified to shape them are:

  • Social norms
  • Moral norms
  • Beliefs
  • Assumptions
  • Stereotypes
  • Personal experience
  • Values

Going through the list will no doubt leave you puzzled, if not depressed (only for now, of course…!) as most of these factors seem out of reach.

Social norms are the rules that glue societies together and reflect the expectations that a society has (or seems to have) on individuals and groups. Not something you can change with a magic wand…

Moral norms are arguably even more embedded as they don’t even respond to social pressure. For example a devout Christian will continue to act according to the Bible even in settings where this is not a social requisite.

Personal experience is obviously beyond anyone’s capacity to transform

Assumptions are often unconscious and often derive from social norms. Again, not easy for campaigners to even clearly identify, let alone change them.

Beliefs and stereotypes are certainly the elements  that are the easiest to target and indeed most campaigns will focus on “busting the myths”, “telling the truth” and producing alternative images and stories that will counter existing stereotypes.

Sadly, campaign experience has shown repeatedly that information alone does not change attitudes. In our world of over-information, each piece of information has its exact counterpart somewhere. Battling with pieces of information is a never-ending lost battle.

So is there good news ????

YES ! Years of campaigning has shown that one of the most over-looked, yet one of the most successful element to focus on to change attitudes, are VALUES.

Follow us on the next part of this lesson to see how this works.

But first, let’s do a quick and easy quizz to see if you’re all set.

And the keen ones can have a little deep dive into social norms before moving on!

[dt-space height=”40″][ultimate_modal icon_type=”custom” icon_img=”id^6580|url^https://derechoshumanosydiversidad.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/brojo.png|caption^null|alt^null|title^brojo|description^null” modal_title=”Deep Dive: Expanding Understanding on Social Norms ” btn_bg_color=”#ffffff” btn_bg_hover_color=”#f2f2f2″ btn_text=”Deep Dive: Expanding Understanding on Social Norms ” modal_size=”medium” modal_style=”overlay-fade” overlay_bg_opacity=”80″ img_size=”80″ btn_txt_color=”#dd3333″ button_text_font_style=”font-style:italic;,font-weight:bold;” button_text_font_size=”desktop:18px;” button_text_line_height=”desktop:18px;”]There are many definitions of social norms from a range of theoretical perspectives and academic disciplines and different terminologies are used. However, most approaches agree that social norms have three important components:

  1. Social norms are shared beliefs about others. This includes a) beliefs about what others in a group actually do (i.e. what is typical behaviour) and b) what others in a group think others ought to do (i.e. what is appropriate behaviour). These beliefs shape the ’social expectations’ within a group of people.
  1. Because social norms are shared beliefs about others, these beliefs can sometimes be incorrect. Firstly, people may mistakenly think behaviours are more typical than they are. Secondly, a majority of a group may privately reject a behaviour, but adhere because they incorrectly assume everybody else thinks it is appropriate.
  2. Social norms exist within reference groups. A ‘reference group’ or ‘reference network’ is the group of people important to an individual when he or she is making a particular decision. It is important to note that the reference group may be dispersed and distant, rather than concentrated and located in physical proximity to the individual making the decision. For example, those committing ‘honour killings’ in European diaspora communities are not necessarily concerned about the expectations of local neighbours when killing ‘dishonoured’ daughters, but of wider networks of relatives and family.


Social norms are maintained in part by approval and disapproval within the reference group. Those who violate norms within a reference group are likely to be sanctioned or punished by the group, whereas those who comply may be rewarded. Sanctions can range from direct punishment to loss of opportunities via ostracism. The desire to conform to social expectations of a reference group, and the implicit or explicit threat of sanctions, means social norms can be more persuasive and salient in some situations than other factors such as the threat of more formal punishment by the state. It also means that norms to comply with certain expected behaviours can override legal prohibitions. For example IPV is still common in many countries where the practice is illegal. [/ultimate_modal][dt-space height=”20″]