breaking a social norm experiment

Andrew Griffith , Writer

                                              Breaking the norms

                                               By Andrew Griffith


        Social norms are behaviors normally occurring in a society. Social norms develop from the personal morals of a society. They tend to maintain stability within the culture they reside. Social norms act as a glue for societal balance. When a norm is broken it can be seen as offensive or even be enforced by the society’s government. The reason people normally care so much about norms is because it’s like a tradition. The norms were taught to the individual so people find it offensive because it’s all they’ve ever known. Therefore, it’s very interesting when a societal norm is broken. The reaction people have to it is a very interesting thing to study. In the following experiment I broke one social norm. The social norm I decided to break was wearing a hat inside a church. 


Many people still believe that it’s a social norm to take off hats inside buildings, especially places of worship. As of recently in church history, several churches are now letting people wear hats inside.I broke this norm a few weeks ago at a church in Henning, Tennessee. My best friend’s Dad is a pastor and was a guest speaker at the church. It was my first time ever going to this church. The Church is also going through a divide due to the split of the Methodist Church. I did the experiment only once because I was too intimidated to do it a second time. The data I collected was from verbal and visual observations. In the past I’ve worn hats inside churches and the reaction has been different several times. At my old non-denominational church, I used to wear a hat all the time and would never be asked to take it off. However, when I was  

in 6th grade I was looking around an old Orthodox Church and one of the workers there specifically called me out and told me to take off my hat! I have always been a hat guy all my life, especially since my hairline is now receding. Hats are part of my daily wardrobe.


 When I started the experiment I was still very intimidated by it. Even before walking into the church in Henning, my mom recommended I take it off and was very serious about it. I declined because I knew that breaking a social norm would be uncomfortable. When I walked in no one necessarily paid attention to me. I was greeted kindly and no one complained about me. I feel like maybe a few of the older members of the church took a few long looks at me, however, nothing out of the ordinary happened at the beginning. During the sermon my mom kept on getting anxious because I had my hat on. She kept on looking at me worriedly and 8 minutes into the sermon she leaned over and asked me to take my hat off. Since my mother was uncomfortable I obliged to her wishes. This made me really wonder why it was such a big deal to her. Has she been taught that it’s super rude? I always question how wearing a hat indoors is rude. She was socialized into believing that wearing hats indoors was rude. It’s a fundamental part of her belief system because it’s a social norm for her. The elders that were staring at me didn’t bother me too much but I wondered why. Perhaps they were also socialized into that social norm as well


How people react to different social norms being broken depends on how much they uphold them. For example, my mom is a very devout Christian, however, she isn’t super opinionated. The only reason she was worried was because the church we were in was an old southern church. Because of this she generalized the church as being a group that wouldn’t appreciate me wearing a hat. Afterwards I asked my mom why it was “bad” to wear one inside a church. She said that she honestly didn’t see anything morally wrong with it. She did say that there is a verse somewhere about how it’s a shame for a man to cover his head while praying. I believe that is where the original social norm surrounding not wearing hats in church started. I believe this norm will eventually die out due to the different morals between the generations. It seems like the hat is less of an issue now then it used to be. I predict that it will die out almost entirely in the next 20 years. The start of the social norm stems from the theory of social control. The Bible has a rule set that is socially accepted by the Christian religion. Generally all of the denominations and sub-cultures of Christianity tend to have similar set of ideals give or take a few different ones. The commandments and the Bible are meant to help guide and socially control and lead Christians on the right path. The concept of not wearing a hat in church used to be culturally universal. However, it seems like it may no longer be as important 


From conducting this experiment I learned that social norms come and go with time. The world is constantly changing and adapting. Culture is liquid, that’s what makes it so unique. The roots of cultures stay the same but it can take many forms. It really can show how people react when they disagree with something or were taught differently. Mild modifications and changes can make someone uncomfortable. Humans like to have a routine and a normality to life. If someone does something out of the ordinary and poses a threat to their beliefs, they tend to be on the offensive. It’s very interesting to see how people respond to these scenarios. I find it intriguing and fascinating.