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Potentials for externalities and internalities explain overall appropriateness ratings of everyday behavior

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posted on 2023-03-02, 11:07 authored by Kimmo ErikssonKimmo Eriksson, Pontus StrimlingPontus Strimling, Irina Vartanova

 A key aspect of social norms is which behavior is considered appropriate. Here we examine appropriateness ratings in the domain of everyday behavior. Our aim is to explain why certain behaviors are overall less appropriate. Drawing on theories of moral preferences, we hypothesize that this is due to behaviors having different potentials for producing externalities and internalities. In a preregistered study, American participants rated 37 different everyday behaviors on their potential for negative externalities (being loud, being aggressive, taking up space) and positive internalities (pleasurability). The behaviors were also rated on their appropriateness in a range of common situations. As hypothesized, differences between behaviors in these potentials accounted very well for their differences in overall appropriateness, and also for differences in changes in overall appropriateness since a similar study 50 years ago. This study contributes to theories of the emergence of, and variation in, social norms. 


Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation [grant number 2017.0257]


Corresponding author email

Lead author country

  • Sweden

Lead author job role

  • Higher Education Faculty 4-yr College

Lead author institution

Mälardalen University

Human Participants

  • Yes

Ethics statement

Data were collected using an online questionnaire. The purpose of the study was clearly described to participants and informed consent was obtained. Participants were completely anonymous and the study did not seek to influence them in any way. Studies fulfilling these criteria are exempt from ethics review according to regulations in Sweden (the country from which the study is conducted).

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