Social Norms

Although the social norm concept has its origins in early twentieth century anthropology and sociology (Hechter and Opp 2001) and was explicitly incorporated into the TRA and TPB (as the subjective norm), recognition of the role of the social context and pressures on people's attitude and behavior toward environmental actions and species protection is more recent (Cialdini et al. 1990; Cialdini 2003; Mascia et al. 2003; Schultz et al. 2007; Goldstein et al. 2008; St John et al. 2013; McDonald et al. 2014).

Social norms are the accepted or implied rules about how members of a social group should, and do, behave (Sherif 1936). Individuals breaking these rules may be sanctioned formally, if the norm is written into law for example, or informally through social disapproval. The more motivated an individual is to identify with a particular social group, the more likely they are to recognize and conform to the group's norms (Deaux 1996; Manfredo 2008), particularly if the norm is central to group identification (Christensen et al. 2004). Social norms are dynamic, and they depend on the person and situation (Ajzen 1971). There are several norm constructs, beginning with the subjective norm of Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) which focuses on beliefs about what important others expect one to do in a given situation. A more operational approach identifies the descriptive norm, which is based on perceptions about what others actually do, and the injunctive norm, perceptions about what others approve of (more akin to the original subjective norm) (Cialdini and Trost 1998). This division is important because appeals in which these conflict can fail to change behavioral intention (Cialdini 2003, McDonald et al. 2014). So if a persuasive appeal is intending to convey disapproval of an action (injunctive norm), but at the same time suggests that many people perform this behavior (descriptive norm), the message is normatively muddled. For example, if a message was to indicate that people should not kill bats (perhaps by hunting, or excluding them from homes) (injunctive norm) but that many people are doing so (descriptive norm), the persuasive appeal is conflicted. If there are high levels of a socially disapproved behavior, it is better to focus on the injunctive norm. Conversely, a descriptive norm approach would be effective in promoting a new behavior, for example building bat houses. In sum, descriptive and injunctive normative messages need to align and whenever possible be used together (Cialdini 2003; Kinzig et al. 2013).

Sociology identifies four basic types of norms: folkways or “customs”; mores—norms of morality including religious doctrines; taboos—behaviors forbidden by culture (which may be enacted into law); and laws—norms that are written down and enforced. The potential of taboos, and the informal institutions that proscribe them, to advance conservation agendas is of growing interest (Colding and Folke 2001), particularly in situations where the influence of external formal institutions is constrained (Jones et al. 2008). Taboos prohibit eating of bats (Pteropus) by the Mahafaly and Antandroy people of Madagascar (MacKinnon et al. 2003), while sacred forests provide protection in other parts of the country (Rahaingodrahety et al. 2008). Similarly, sacred groves protect colonies of Pteropus giganteus in Tamil Nadu, India (Marimuthu 1988; Tangavelou et al. 2013), and West Kalimantan, Indonesia (Wadley and Colfer 2004). Colonies of Pteropus throughout much of Indochina are associated with gardens attached to Buddhist monasteries (pers. obs.), while sacred caves protected by Buddhists provide refuge for diverse insectivorous bat species (e.g., Robinson and Smith 1997). Sacred caves and rocks provide similar protection elsewhere with known examples from Ghana (Hens 2006) and Kenya (Metcalfe et al. 2009).

People do not always adhere to taboos or mores, or practice their nominal religion, especially if there is conflict with utilitarian or cultural use of the animal. For example, although all the Abrahamic religions explicitly prohibit consumption of bats, sales and consumption of flying foxes in North Sulawesi peak around Christian celebrations (Sheherazade and Tsang 2015). Similarly, taboos may not be respected if wildlife resources are scare (Bobo et al. 2015). In addition, bats may be seen as the exception to broader social norms. For example, India's Wildlife Protection Act (1972) schedules bats as vermin, excluding them from

Fig. 18.4 Portrait of Eidolon helvum, typical of bat biologists' collections (Photo T. Kingston) (left) and the author smiling with the same bat (right) conveying positive affect that can shape social norms and attitudes toward bats (Photo P. Webala)

protection. Nonetheless, appealing to neglected prior norms and taboos may be a point of leverage, but should be done with guidance from local religious/spiritual leaders.

Norms are internalized by three transmission routes (Gintis 2003), vertically from parent to child, obliquely through social institutions (e.g., religion, government, school, media), and horizontally through interactions with peers. Conveyance methods (Cialdini and Trost 1998) include active instruction (stories, myths), passive observation (nonverbal imitation), and inference from behavior around us. Bat researchers can contribute to the oblique transmission route of positive social norms about bats by publicizing their work in the popular scientific press, social media, visiting schools, etc. To be effective, we should be sure to emphasize the wonder of bats, not just our science, and not be afraid to appeal to emotion and anthropomorphic tendencies (Sect. 18.4.2.2). As biologists, when photographing bats we tend to concentrate our efforts on portraiture (head shots), to capture the diversity of bat morphology and diagnostic taxonomic features, or “researchers in action,” conveying only a scientific behavioral norm toward bats which often involves trapping of some description. These have their place, but from an outreach perspective intending to lever norms, images of a researcher holding a bat smiling conveys that bats are not a source of fear but happiness (positive affect) and that many people do, and one should, behave positively toward them (Fig. 18.4).

 
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