Humans follow social norms to forge cooperation among peers, even though these unspoken rules of society sometimes force them to make personal sacrifices, scientists say.
Social norms – unspoken rules about how we dress, talk, eat, and even allow ourselves to feel – are often internalized to such a degree that we probably don’t even notice them. Meeting the standards, however, can sometimes be costly for people if the standards require sacrifices for the good of the group.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee in the United States wanted to understand why humans evolved to follow such standards in the first place.
The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that humans’ ability to internalize social norms is expected to evolve under a wide range of conditions, helping to forge a kind of cooperation that becomes instinctive.
The researchers used computer simulations to model individual behavior in group actions and the underlying genetic machinery controlling such behavior.
They assumed that adherence to norms is socially strengthened by the approval and rewards of the individuals who follow them and by the punishment of violators.
In the model, individuals make choices about participating in collective actions that require cooperation, and individuals who do not cooperate, or âfree ridersâ, may experience the consequences. The model shows that encouraging peer punishment of free riders is much more effective in promoting cooperation in collective actions than promoting participation itself.
The study predicts significant genetic variation in the ability of humans to internalize standards.
Under certain conditions, populations should have a relatively low frequency of “over-socialized” individuals who are willing to make extreme sacrifices for their groups.
Examples in today’s society could be suicide bombers and other manifestations of extreme self-sacrificing behavior for the perceived good of the group, the researchers said. Likewise, there are also “under-socialized” individuals – psychopaths – who are completely immune to any social norm.
“Every day, human beings make choices among several options to respond to various social situations. These choices are affected by many interacting factors, including social norms and values,” said Sergey Gavrilets, professor at the University of the Tennessee.
âUnderstanding the effects of social norms could help us better understand human decision-making and better predict human actions in response to certain events or policies,â Gavrilets said. Gavrilets also said the models could be useful in shaping social and economic policies.
“The generalization of our models can lead to the development of better tools to predict the consequences of the introduction of certain policies and social institutions and to identify the most effective strategies to change or optimize group behavior”, he said. declared.