I’ve written before about different types of domestic abuse. New research shows that when people subscribe to traditional social norms about gender and romance, they may be more vulnerable to such abuse.
How traditional gender norms can promote domestic abuse
Gender norms highlight the expected or typical behaviour of a person based on their gender.
Traditional gender norms hold men as strong, dominant protectors and women as kind, nurturing caregivers. Gender norms don’t consider gender diversity or fluidity. Although such norms seem positive—emphasising chivalry towards women, for example—these ideals are restrictive of both men and women. Women’s perceived competence may be lowered, and men may be less able to express their emotions and vulnerability.
Many people who hold traditional views of gender have loving, equal relationships.
For others, gender norms can promote a power imbalance that may manifest as abuse within relationships.
Research has shown that women who endorse traditional gender norms are more likely to experience intimate partner violence in their romantic relationships. The same is true for people who believe in traditional romantic beliefs and norms.
Why subscribing to romantic norms makes some women vulnerable to abuse
Traditional romantic norms emphasise the importance of being in a relationship and promote the ideals of love at first sight, one true love, and love conquers all.
These ideals are ever present in Western cultures. Even in early childhood, Disney movies and fairy tales promote love at first sight and the power of love to triumph over all obstacles to an unrealistic degree. Similar messages persist through teen and adult romance novels and films.
Contrary to intuition, women who accept such romantic norms are actually more likely to experience abuse within their romantic relationships.
When internalised, romantic norms may encourage women, in particular, to view their romantic relationship’s success or failure as a reflection of their own self-worth. That’s when such norms can become dangerous.
Accepting romantic norms may motivate people to ignore or romanticise the warning signs of an abusive relationship.
Possessiveness and jealousy can be easily reframed as romantic rather than controlling.
Popular media Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, for example, both strongly romanticise controlling behaviours as a sign of passion and commitment. Characters in both series express the desire to restrict the behaviour of their love interest for reasons motivated by jealousy and possessiveness.
But acting on jealousy in this way by controlling who your partner spends time with and when, is a form of abuse.
Where do we go from here?
Differences and complementarity can lead to mutual respect and care. Vulnerability can be a part of intimacy. In contrast, abuse in romantic relationships is typically about control. Traditional gender norms, and idealised romantic norms provide a framework that can be used to justify or romanticise control and power imbalances. As we move forward we need to challenge our understanding of romance and gender. We need to focus on trust and equality as the foundations of healthy romantic relationships.
- Kiara Minto
Why do people do things that harm others?
Socially harmful behaviours, like discrimination and hate speech, are still common in modern society. But where do these behaviours come from?
According to self-determination theory, pro-social behaviours (like tolerance and fairness) come from within, because we have a personal desire to engage in them. In contrast, harmful acts are normally motivated by an external source, such as social pressure to conform.
For example, school bullying may be encouraged by those classmates that intimidate other students. In order to avoid being bullied, and also to become close to the popular children in school, some kids may also start bullying others.
To summarise, helping other people gives us real pleasure and enjoyment, while harming others only brings recognition from others and helps achieve our goals.
Even though discrimination is not truly motivated by our own values and beliefs, from this perspective, is it possible that harmful behaviour can become a part of our identity and represent who we really are?
Discrimination can be a consequence of social norms
One cause of discrimination are the social norms associated with the groups we belong to.
In an attempt to fit into society, we follow the norms of our own groups. These norms, however, are not always oriented to benefitting the interests of people in other groups.
For example, an organisation with racist norms that dictate choosing job candidates that belong to the Caucasian ethnic group rather than choosing based on qualifications, will motivate the recruiter to follow these norms and to discriminate against certain ethnic groups.
We may follow discriminatory norms in order to feel we fit in with our group, or that doing so promotes our group’s values or goals.
When a behaviour is considered normal in groups we belong to, but is actually inconsistent with what we personally believe in, this creates a sense of conflict within our identity.
Compartmentalisation helps us deal with inner conflict
This feeling of contradiction between our values and our situation reflects an underlying resistance to engage in harmful actions.
For example, a recruiter who personally believes that job candidates should be hired based on their merit will feel an internal conflict when following the firm’s discriminatory norm.
In response to inner conflict, we tend to separate the harmful (e.g., discriminatory) behaviour from other life situations and contexts. This is called compartmentalisation.
Going back to the example where Caucasian candidates are preferred when hiring, this would mean that the conflicted recruiter would restrict ethnic discrimination behaviour only to work situations and would not generalise it to other life contexts.
By using this compartmentalisation strategy, the harmful social behaviour is restricted to a particular life context and does not become representative of the entire person. From the self-determination perspective, compartmentalisation also protects one’s identity from negative evaluation.
People do not enjoy discriminating against others
Many people want to believe that human nature is inherently good, and that no one would willingly harm others and feel good about themselves. The results of our studies confirm that people who discriminate do not necessarily enjoy their actions harming others. Rather, they are more likely to feel an internal conflict when discriminating.
On this positive note, we conclude that harmful behaviors are somewhat more difficult to accept as a part of who we are. Although specific life situations may sometimes dictate discriminatory actions, they generally bring less pleasure and enjoyment. Instead, causing harm to others evokes feelings of internal conflict and dissociation, which the majority of us will try to minimise.
- Guest post by Ksenia Sukhanova and Catherine Amiot, Université du Québec à Montréal
Read full article:
Amiot, C. E., Louis, W. R., Bourdeau, S., & Maalouf, O. (2017). Can harmful intergroup behaviors truly represent the self?: The impact of harmful and prosocial normative behaviors on intra-individual conflict and compartmentalization. Self and Identity, 1-29.
Climate change is real, so why the controversy and debate? Often the way science and ideas are communicated affects the response they motivate.
In this interview, I argue climate science communication should be informed by the psychology of persuasion and communication in conflict. I talk through concrete examples of effective and ineffective messaging and the key factors to consider. The ideas I present here are relevant for anyone working in science communication or social change.
Key points include:
Watch the full interview below:
I'd love to hear your feedback. Please leave a comment or a question below and I'll get back to you.
- Winnifred Louis
Eat your five serves of fruit and vegetables! Get your 30 minutes of exercise! Drink responsibly!
There’s no shortage of messages telling us how to be healthy. But do we action them?
Health habits solidify during young adulthood and have knock-on effects for later life. University students may be particularly vulnerable to forming bad habits. Young people are responsible for their diets for the first time, but also under time pressure and economic strain. University students also experience other pressures, such as peer pressure to drink excessively or to engage in other risky behaviours.
So are young people building healthy habits at University?
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Students’ engagement in health behaviours actually declines over the course of their studies. The link between students and excessive drinking is also well-known.
If students are so smart, why do they do so many dumb (unhealthy) things?
When students identify with the student group, they may act in line with the norms of that group. Because student norms tend to favour unhealthy behaviours, students end up engaging in unhealthy behaviours.
In a recent book chapter, we distilled key lessons from social psychology and discussed how these insights could be used to change behaviour.
People engage in behaviours seen to be central or defining of their group
Health behaviours are not simply personal choices but rather reflect habits that are part and parcel of belonging to particular groups. These behaviours can have negative or positive consequences depending on which behaviours have become tied up with group membership. As an example, consider how the central role in the national psyche of the full English breakfast or the meat-laden Australian BBQ determines day-to-day food choices and compare this to the classic Mediterranean diet or the abundance of fresh fish and vegetables in Japan.
Students often describe behaviours with negative implications for health – such as excess alcohol consumption – as ‘normal’ within the university context. Many have expectations about these norms even before they step foot on campus. So, when students are thinking about themselves as a student, being healthy is not at the forefront of their minds – in fact, the opposite is clearly the case.
Efforts to change student behaviour that make student identity salient may backfire because student identity does not promote health behaviour.
Those who want to change student behaviour need to encourage students to see themselves in terms of another identity for which healthy behaviour is expected – such as athletic identities – or make health behaviour more central to what it means to be a student.
Changing group norms is no easy task
If unhealthy behaviours are seen as central to what it means to be a group member – such as students and drinking – group members may be very resistant to attempts to change their behaviour, even if such change would improve their health.
Norms themselves are quite complex. They have both a descriptive element (what is commonly done) and a prescriptive element (what should be done). And these two elements don’t always align. For example, students might approve of more responsible drinking but still go out and binge drink anyway!
When these descriptive and prescriptive elements are in conflict, people tend to go along with what their group actually does, rather than what their group thinks should be done. So, if people try to change one element without paying attention to the other, these efforts may be ineffective or even counterproductive.
If you want to encourage health behaviours, you need to communicate that the group both approves of healthy behaviour and actually engages in that behaviour.
Change agents should try to frame identities and norms in ways that communicate that being a student means being healthy. And work with students on health messages to ensure that these are credible and acceptable.
We believe that bringing a stronger understanding of how social factors shape students’ choices about their health allows us to unlock the full potential of groups so that these become a positive – rather than a negative – force for students’ health behaviours. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress!
- Joanne Smith (Guest blogger and Social Change Lab collaborator)
Read the full article:
Smith, J. R., Louis, W. R., & Tarrant, M. (2017). University students’ social identity and health behaviours. In K. Mavor, M. J. Platow, & B. Bizumic (Eds.), Self and social identity in educational contexts (pp. 159-174). London: Routledge.
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.