Breaking Social Norms Assignment

Sociology 101: Introduction to Sociology Professor: Dr. Tracy Scott Department: Sociology SOC 101: Breaking Norms Writing Assignment (5-7 Pages) Breaking Social Norms: Personal Space In American society, personal space is valued and is seen as a right that is expected to be given to everyone. The physical closeness allowed between individuals is determined by the degree of their relationship. In a public environment such as restaurants and other eating establishments, people sitting together in a table often are familiar and comfortable enough with each other to allow themselves to be near in proximity to other people. Those people sitting together may be family members, friends, or acquaintances willing to get to know one another. Because of this norm that we carry in the United States, rarely do we in real life see someone voluntarily sitting with a total stranger in randomness without the other finding the person to be strange or irregular. This was always intriguing to me, so I chose to do an experiment on the significance of personal space in public. As part of my research, I decided to break this social norm of personal space in a public eating area at Emory. I experimented with this three times when I was at the Dobbs University Commons, more commonly known as the DUC cafeteria where many Emory students would eat throughout the day. The social norm in this environment was much like any other eating establishment: people sat with others that they knew close enough to open their personal space to them. If they did not see anyone that they recognized, then they tended to sit by themselves. I broke this social norm by sitting with three different types of people that I did not know, two of those strangers that I voluntarily sat with as part of my experiment and the third as an accidental occurrence where I was the victim that had

To explore the power of social norms, you are invited to complete this participant-observation assignment. Successful completion of the assignment will add 10 points to your cumulative point total for the semester.


As mentioned in the textbook, norms are prescriptions for accepted or expected behaviors. Your assignment is to violate one of the five norms listed below:

  1. Sing loudly on a public bus, subway, or train.
  2. Position yourself six inches from an acquaintance's nose during a conversation.
  3. Stand on your chair in a restaurant and recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.
  4. Continuously jump up and down while waiting in a check-out line at a grocery store.
  5. Get into an elevator that is crowded with strangers, and after the doors close, introduce yourself to the group.

PLEASE READ BEFORE STARTING: You may also violate any other norm you choose, as long as you don't risk harming yourself or others, and as long as your behavior doesn't reflect badly on the University or this class (if you're not sure, please consult with Professor Plous). For example, you should not do anything that breaks a law, disrupts a class or public event, involves sexual behavior or sexually explicit speech, hurts or threatens others, or includes taking or damaging other people's property -- such norm violations will result in a score of zero.



Turn in a description of the norm you violated, the way you felt, and the reactions people had to you. For example, you might describe whether the experience was uncomfortable, fun, liberating, scary, or something else. Or you might discuss the social psychology of other people's reactions to you. Later in the semester, Professor Plous will share a few of these accounts with the class. If you prefer that your account not be shared publicly, simply type "Do not share" on your assignment.

To receive credit, you must submit via Moodle a one-page, double-spaced PDF document that has your name and uses 1" margins and 12-point font. Other formats (e.g., Word, Pages, txt) will not be accepted.



This assignment is intended to be engaging and informative, but you can opt out of it if you prefer. As stated in the course syllabus: "If at any point you prefer not to complete an assignment (or if your attempt to complete it is unsuccessful), you can still receive full credit by turning in a one-page report discussing the psychological factors that prevented you from carrying out the assignment."

Also, you're welcome to discuss norm violation ideas with Professor Plous, the TAs, or fellow students, and to email Professor Plous photos or videos that friends take of you violating a norm, but as with all assignments in this class, you should execute and write up all work individually.

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