Four Avenues of Normative Influence: A Research Agenda for Health Promotion in Low and Mid-Income Countries

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Abstract

Health promotion interventions in low and midincome countries (LMIC) are increasingly integrating strategies to change local social norms that sustain harmful practices. However, the literature on social norms and health in LMIC is still scarce. A well-known application of social norm theory in LMIC involves abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) in West Africa. We argue that FGC is a special case because of its unique relationship between the norm and the practice; health promotion interventions would benefit from a wider understanding of how social norms can influence different types of health-related behaviors. We hypothesize that four factors shape the strength of a norm over a practice: (1) whether the practice is dependent or interdependent; (2) whether it is more or less detectable; (3) whether it is under the influence of distal or proximal norms; and (4) whether noncompliance is likely to result in sanctions. We look at each of these four factors in detail, and suggest that different relations between norms and a practice might require different programmatic solutions. Future findings that will confirm or contradict our hypothesis will be critical for effective health promotion interventions that aim to change harmful social norms in LMIC.

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