Women Enforce Norms

It seems women are more in the role of enforcing social norms:

While there is ample evidence of a society-wide cooperation norm, it is not as clear who upholds this norm. In the present paper, we investigate whether there are gender differences with respect to norm enforcement. We let 1403 subjects play games of punishment and reward, individually or in groups with varying gender composition. Broadly, the results indicate that there are no clear gender differences: men are about as inclined as women to punish norm-breakers. However, behavior is context-dependent: men acting among other men are less inclined to uphold a cooperation norm than are women, or men in gender-mixed groups. (more)

A self-protective goal increased conformity for both men and women. In contrast, the effects of a romantic goal depended on sex, causing women to conform more to others’ preferences while engendering nonconformity in men. Men motivated to attract a mate were particularly likely to nonconform when (a) nonconformity made them unique (but not merely a member of a small minority) and when (b) the topic was subjective versus objective, meaning that nonconformists could not be revealed to be incorrect. These findings fit with a functional evolutionary model of motivation and behavior, and they indicate that fundamental motives such as self-protection and mate attraction can stimulate specific forms of conformity or nonconformity for strategic self-presentation. (more)

It isn’t clear how innate is this female norm emphasis, but if innate then female nature probably deserves more of the credit for enabling the farming revolution, and also probably more of the blame for hindering the industrial revolution.

Added 16June: One more:

Why do men have more lenient ethical standards than women? … Whereas men’s ethicality judgments were affected by the identification manipulation, women’s judgments were not. … Fixed [achievement] beliefs predicted lower ethical standards, particularly for men. In combination, these findings suggest men are more pragmatic in setting ethical standards than women. (more)

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  • You just have to look at the Icelandic sagas for evidence of the role the women featured play in propagating blood feud…

  • I don’t understand how the Griskevicius et al. study supports a disproportionate role for women in enforcing norms. The fact that men tend to choose unique, nonconformist strategies when mating goals are present suggests, if anything, a role for heterosexual women in promoting NONconformity.

    And the Boschini et al. study just finds that men don’t punish each other for norm violation unless there are girls around – but finds no difference in men v. women punishing norm violation. I’m not sure how you would blame this norm-enforcement-as-showing-off on women, since the women are not themselves enforcing norms differently from men.

  • I think Robin failed to quote the salient finding: “women are much quicker to shun female group mates who act against group norms”.

    So the title should be Women Enforce Norms for Women. It fits with the saying that women dress for other women and undress for men.

  • Better title for this post, given the studies you selected:

    “Men Violate, Conform to, Enforce Norms To Show Off For Women”

  • strega

    I’m a little confused, Sister Y, by your comments. The first study found that men in all-male settings punished less frequently than gender mixed settings. How can one construe this as “showing off for women”? There were no women to show off for. The first study says this: “A tentative conclusion is the following. In all treatments, men are less inclined to punish than women. In a gender-homogenous environment, this difference (which is not significant in a gender-mixed environment) tends to be accentuated: men among men don’t seem to take norm enforcement seriously.” As one might argue, there are a few possible counterarguments (gender differences in reciprocity, etc). The study addresses a few of these arguments yet still finds a significant disinclination to punish in men-among-men contexts. The group decision section of the study is interesting because the all-female, group decision, propensity to punish is now insignificant from the mixed setting (unlike with individual decision experiment). However, the male-among-male disinclination STILL exists. So, mixed and all-female = x, all-male < x. Hence, the title seems appropriate since it is a paraphrasing of this finding in the study.

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  • The first study found that men in all-male settings punished less frequently than gender mixed settings. How can one construe this as “showing off for women”?

    Punishing norm violations only when women are around = showing off for women, no?

    The Boschini paper repeats over and over (despite the “tentative conclusion” you mention) that gender differences in punishment never reach significance; only the gender context influences punishment in a significant way. “Showing off” seems like a more accurate verb to choose to explain that than positing that women are taking an active enforcement role. Women “enforced norms” through punishment no more than men, in either paper, as far as I can tell.

    Perhaps you can explain how I’m misunderstanding?

  • strega

    What I mean is that to use “showing off” in a gender homogenous setting seems nonsensical because there is no one to show off for. It seems you are saying, if I have it correctly, that when men-in-all-male settings choose NOT to punish as frequently, then they are in fact showing off for women… even though there are no women around. I just do not understand that and it seems somewhat sophistical. For example, say I were in a group and felt pressured to buy a purple shirt — even though privately it wasn’t my favorite color — and eventually bought it. Then, I went shopping without the group and bought a pink shirt — my favorite color. It seems from your argument that the pink-shirt-purchase is driven by peer pressure, even though there is no group to provide the pressure — just my personal taste. I suppose that is fine, just a very unfamiliar (to me, at least) way to structure it.

    I’ll go along with you and say it is showing off. Now, however, it seems arbitrary, from what I think you are saying, which gender you put in which position. The title, then, could easily have been “Women Violate, Conform to, Enforce Norms To Show Off For Men”. Hence, your new title for the article would be just as biased/unjustly sexist as you think the original title is. Gender context is important, but you seem to ignore the finding that there was a gender context difference — all-male punished less frequently than all other settings.

    I’m not very good at concision, lol, so I won’t try to make my own title, I just thought you were missing an important finding — that all-male settings do not enforce norms as earnestly as other settings. I think that is important and it is a gender difference.

  • nw

    Hi Robin. Please refer to this:


    He argues women cluster near the middle of the distribution whereas men are evenly distributed between the left tail, middle and right tail.

    In this context I denominate “success” as reproductive success, the number of kids surviving to adulthood. This is slightly flawed as many lower-income men reproduce at higher rates than middle income men, suggesting other ways to measure male attractiveness.

    Female norm enforcement reaches the optimal reproductive result keeping women near the middle.

    A guy has break some norms to move farther right in the distribution, but the rewards are great. A female emperor has 3 or 4 kids; a male emperor like Genghis Khan had thousands of kids.

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