Spring 2022

Social Norms, Social Change

Listed in: Colloquia, as COLQ-338  |  Psychology, as PSYC-339


Catherine A. Sanderson (Section 01)


(Offered as COLQ 338 and PSYC 339) Social norms, the unwritten rules that shape our behavior, influence virtually all aspects of our lives, from the clothes we wear to the car we drive to whether and how we vote.  Although people follow these norms to fit in with their social group, they can also make crucial errors in their perception, which can lead to substantial consequences.  This seminar is designed to help students examine the power of social norms, the factors that lead people to misperceive norms, and the consequences of such misperceptions.  We’ll then turn to examining real-world interventions designed to shift social norms to change various types of behavior, from reducing bullying or binge drinking to increasing energy conservation and voting. Students will also assist with conducting an empirical examination of Project ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement), a program designed to create a police culture in which officers routinely intervene to prevent their colleagues from causing harm and making costly mistakes. 

This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to sophomores and juniors. Limited to 6 students. Spring Semester. Professor Sanderson.

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Students will have to read several chapters and/or journal articles and submit a short writing assignment each week. They will also be asked to design a research study and to conduct statistical analyses on quantitative data. The class will be largely discussion-based, so students will need to regularly contribute to discussion and give an oral presentation on their research proposal. Students with documented disabilities who will require accommodations in this course should be in consultation with Accessibility Services and reach out to the faculty member as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations can be made in a timely manner.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2022