Social Behavior: Theory, Types, Norms, Examples

The  social behavior  or social behavior is the set of actions of an individual that are aimed at society as a whole or to members of their own species. There are different theories about their origin, but researchers generally agree that they have both genetic and social components.

Social behavior has been a topic of interest and relevance since practically the beginning of civilization. Thinkers like Aristotle believed that understanding and improving social behavior was fundamental to being able to live in harmony. For this reason, the first philosophers reflected on aspects such as ethics and politics, which were nothing more than disciplines dedicated to improving the behavior and coexistence of people.

There is no universal definition of what social behavior entails. However, in most cases it is considered that any behavior that affects other people or that occurs due to the influence of society could fall into this category.

On the other hand, it is considered that to study social behaviors it is necessary to do so in relation to the norms and values ​​of the culture in which they occur. Thus, social behaviors are considered appropriate or inappropriate depending on the context, with hardly any universal laws in this sense.

Theory of social behavior

Throughout history, different theories have been developed about the nature of social behavior and its characteristics. Here we will see some of the most important.

– Social influence

The theory of social influence defends the idea that when we coexist in society, it is inevitable that we influence the behavior of other people and they do so on ours. This social influence is created through different phenomena, such as persuasion, obedience, conformity to norms, and respect for traditions.

Although social influence can appear in many forms, two of the most common types are informational and normative influence. In the first case, an individual will change her behavior or way of thinking because the arguments of others have convinced her. On the contrary, in the second she will modify her actions only so as not to lose the approval of the group.

– Classical and operant conditioning

The classical conditioning is one of the main forces behind social influence. Our behaviors are greatly modified because we unconsciously associate phenomena that are not really related to each other. This can end up changing the way we act in society in many different ways.

For example, constant exposure to advertisements, series and movies lead us to associate certain elements (such as sex, money or social acceptance) with well-being and happiness. This causes us to change our social behavior, to try to achieve the results that we believe will make us feel good based on what we have seen.

On the other hand, operant conditioning also plays a fundamental role in the formation of our social behavior. The reinforcements and punishments we receive from our peers have a huge influence on our behavior and our way of thinking.

In fact, it has been proven that punishments such as loss of approval or social rejection are some of those that best cause change in people. Thus, to avoid being rejected by others, we tend to modify our behavior and act according to the norms of the society in which we live.

– Sociocultural learning

One of the first psychologists to be concerned with social behavior was Lev Vygotsky. This author focused on studying the learning carried out by children and adolescents as a result of their interaction with the people around them.

According to Vygotsky, children are born practically a “blank slate”, without social norms or morals of their own. However, over the years their interactions with other people and the observation of other individuals lead them to internalize the norms of the culture in which they live.

– Vicarious learning

Vicarious learning is the process that occurs when there is a change in behavior or thinking in a person when he or she observes another. It usually occurs by imitating the behaviors of a model, but it can also occur when the individual observes the consequences of the actions of another person.

Vicarious learning can explain many of the social behaviors that we engage in. These would have appeared when observing the way of acting of our main models, such as parents, family members, teachers or reference figures.

Types of social behaviors

As we have already seen, the concept of conduct or social behavior has had great importance for many thinkers throughout history. Because of this, there are many different classifications to categorize all the types of social behavior that exist.

One of the best known classifications is the one that divides behaviors according to their relationship with the norms of the society in which they occur. Next we will see this classification in detail.

– Social or positive behavior

Positive or social behaviors are those that favor the norms of coexistence present within the culture in which they occur. Examples of positive behaviors would be yielding your seat to older people in public transportation, or looking both ways before crossing a road.

– Asocial behavior

Asocial behaviors would be typical of those people who would avoid contact with other individuals and who would not follow the norms of their culture, but would not interfere in any way with the lives of others. Generally, it would occur in cases in which the individual is isolated and avoids participating in social encounters.

For example, a person who decides to live in an isolated house in the country and grow his own food would be mainly engaging in asocial behaviors.

– Deviant or parasocial behavior

The parasocial behaviors would be those that reject the values ​​and customs present in a certain culture, but that do not cause harm to the rest of its members. These behaviors would generate reactions such as rejection or discomfort towards the people who carry them out.

For example, in a very traditional society homosexuality would be a type of parasocial behavior.

– Antisocial or offensive behavior

The last type of behavior would be one that directly attacks the values ​​and traditions of the society in which it appears. Behaviors of this type would go against the well-being of the rest of the inhabitants of society, for which reason they would tend to be punished with great harshness.

Generally, most crimes are examples of antisocial behavior. Stealing or assaulting another person goes against the customs and values ​​of most advanced societies, so these behaviors would receive strong rejection.

Norms of social behavior

One of the most important aspects of understanding social behavior is understanding the norms that govern it in different contexts. Each culture has a series of universal norms, and others that are only valid for a specific environment. Below we will see some examples to clarify this concept.

Social norms at home

Most families are governed by a series of implicit and explicit norms that regulate the behavior of their members. Although some may vary depending on each case, many of them are universal within the same culture.

For example, in Eastern societies children owe great respect to their parents, and generally put the opinion of their elders above their own. This is something that does not happen with such intensity in the western world.

Social norms at work

The work environment is one of the settings in which there are more social norms. Within the business world, there are a multitude of expectations that must be met in order to gain the approval of the people around us.

For example, in most work environments there is a very clear hierarchy, with individuals who are lower in it having to abide by the opinions, ideas and orders of their superiors. In addition, there are usually very strict codes of conduct that regulate aspects such as clothing or the hours at which it is necessary to work, rest or eat.

Public places

The behaviors that are considered acceptable in public places vary greatly between cultures. For example, in countries like Spain or Colombia showing affection in public is completely normal; But in other places like Eastern Europe or Asia something as common as two people kissing in public is considered a cause for scandal.

The same is true of many other aspects of social behavior in public places. Thus, each country and culture has different rules about what is appropriate to do in front of other people.

Examples of social behavior in humans

Many of our behaviors are completely determined by the norms that govern the society in which we find ourselves. Some common examples are as follows:

– Accept the opinions of our group of friends to avoid losing their approval if we oppose them.

– Avoid leaving a job that we do not like because it gives us a lot of status in the eyes of others.

– Study a career because it is what they have told us to do.

– Respect the elderly and help them in situations where this is possible.

– After the coronavirus pandemic, it is expected that a behavior is to maintain the distance between people of 1-2 meters.


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