Cultural and social norms are highly influential in shaping individual behaviour, including the use of violence. Norms can protect against violence, but they can also support and encourage the use of it. For instance, cultural acceptance of violence, either as a normal method of resolving conflict or as a usual part of rearing a child, is a risk factor for
all types of interpersonal violence (1). It may also help explain why countries experiencing high levels of one type of violence also experience increased levels of other types (2). Social tolerance of violent behaviour is likely learned in childhood, through the use of corporal punishment (2) or witnessing violence in the family (3,4), in the media (5) or in
Interventions that challenge cultural and social prevent violent behaviour. Although widely used, they have rarely been evaluated. Given the current weak evidence base, it is premature to review their effectiveness. The aim of this briefing, therefore, is to encourage increased efforts to implement and evaluate well-designed interventions that challenge cultural and social norms which support violence.
Accordingly, this briefing:
– Defines cultural and social norms and illustrates how they support violence;
– Provides examples of interventions that seek to alter these norms; and
– Identifies the main challenges faced by evaluations of the effectiveness of such interventions.
Cultural and social norms can encourage violence.
Rules or expectations of behaviour – norms – within a cultural or social group can
encourage violence. Interventions that challenge cultural and social norms supportive of
violence can prevent acts of violence and have been widely used. This briefing describes
how cultural and social norms can support violence, gives examples of interventions that
Interventions often target intimate partner and youth violence.
Some aim to reduce dating violence and sexual abuse among teenagers and young adults
by challenging attitudes and norms related to gender that, for instance, allow men control
over women. Many work with male peer groups, acknowledging the strong influence that
young adults can have on each others’ behaviour. A common approach aims to correct
misperceptions that people may have of the attitudes and behaviour of others. Mass
media campaigns, including education through entertainment (edutainment), have also
been used to challenge norms supportive of violence.
Laws and policies can assist in altering norms linked to violence.
Laws and policies that make violent behaviour an offence send a message to society that
it is not acceptable. While nearly all governments around the world have laws against
most forms of homicide, recently more governments have begun to enact and implement
laws against non-lethal intimate partner violence.
More rigorous evaluations of interventions that address social norms are needed.
Studies that evaluate the effectiveness of interventions that challenge norms supportive
of violence are rare. Rigorous evaluations of such interventions are feasible, but they
face a number of challenges, including clearly isolating the effects of the interventions
from possible confounding factors and poor understanding of the mechanisms underlying
changes in cultural and social norms.