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Social Theory and Practice


published on January 8, 2020

Lina Eriksson

Social Norms as Signals

According to the signaling theory of social norms, people comply with social norms in order to signal that they have a low discount rate for future costs and benefits and thereby that they are reliable cooperation partners. But the theory does not take into sufficient account the fact that the signaling value of social norm compliance depends on how many other people that comply, and that the signaling value at high compliance levels (which is typical for social norms) is rather low. Therefore, although signaling can explain some compliance with social norms, it is unlikely to be the main explanation.

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