How Norms Emerge
in Small Groups
K. L. Burns
University of Oregon
[People] cannot help producing rules, customs, values and other sorts of norms whenever they come together in any situation that lasts for any considerable time.
—Sherif (1936, p. 3)
Thinking scientifically about culture and psychology is fraught with difficulties. It requires us to think about bidirectional influence between the macro level of large populations and the micro level of individual psychology. Culture clearly shapes human behavior, yet mapping out the process by which the cultural context affects the specific thoughts and actions of individuals is a daunting task. Individual thoughts and actions, of course, must influence culture in turn, for how else can we account for changes in culture over time, or the creation of culture in the first place? In large-scale modern societies, however, tracing the impact of individuals on culture is like tracing the impact of a small stream on the ocean, unless we focus on people who wield a degree of power that makes them quite atypical.
Scientists often tackle the sticky problem of bidirectional influence by picking one direction and leaving the other for a different group of scholars to study. A top-down approach investigates how culture affects individual behavior. A bottom-up approach stresses the impact of psychological mechanisms on the generation of culture. In a earlier draft of this chapter, we assigned these two approaches to various traditions (bolstered by quotes from prominent proponents), scolded them for emphasizing one type of influence over another, and then presented our integrated ap-