The psychology of social norms

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Reviews the book “The psychology of social norms” by Muzafer Sherif (1936). This volume, so apparently naive in its exposition, is basically one of the most sophisticated that has appeared in social psychology. It is a successful conceptualization of the most fundamental problem in social psychology, viz., the interaction of the individual and society and should, therefore, be of value both to the beginner in the field and to the most advanced scholar. They are equally in need of a realistic systematic approach based on sound observation and controlled experiment. Constructed from the data of psychology, sociology, and anthropology, the thesis of the book blazes a new trail in social psychology. One of the most important methodological contributions of the author is his use of both the data and interpretations of psychology and social psychology to prove his points. Some readers will criticize the author for failing to elaborate certain strategic points of his argument—such as the way in which norms are “interiorized”, or the implications of his system for the study of personality and individual differences. Others would like to know more exactly how the point of view expressed relates to the contributions of Bentham, McDougall, etc. Some apparently simple sentences are overburdened with meaning. All such criticism is justifiable but in no way destroys the value of this brilliant little volume. The author intends it to be only a sketch of a more complete system. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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