Social Norms and Deviant Behavior

Topic: Social Psychology
Words: 2126 Pages: 7
Table of Contents

Social norms create expectations for individuals in society as they guide or constrain social behaviors, keeping good morals that help prevent deviant behaviors. They act as a baseline where individuals refer before acting to determine what is right and wrong. According to Telzer et al. (2018), a social norm can be defined as a way of feeling or thinking expected by people because they believe that it is correct and probably the best thing to do. The norms are communicated daily in people’s words and actions. Any person who deviates from doing the opposite of what is expected is regarded as ‘violating the norm.’ Although social norms are important to ensure lower rates of crime, this paper will argue that breaking certain norms (through committing deviant acts), can lead to the achievement of another.

Actions that are contrary to the norm are considered unacceptable, and the person who committed them will be judged. Deviating from the norm can also influence exclusion and loss of status (Tezler et al., 2018). In certain situations, some norms, when broken, may be considered illegal. In such cases, the rule-breakers are detained and charged for their action. Therefore, certain norms bear consequences that are enforced in society to maintain order. The norms have a profound effect on people’s attitudes, and behavior in that individuals can act in a certain way without realizing that they are acting based on the norms.

Several studies were conducted to test this notion, and the findings revealed that individuals typically share the same views. One of the studies asked random individuals whether they were comfortable drinking compared to the undergraduates who found it pleasant to drink (Tezler et al., 2018). The findings revealed that the majority of the participants were less comfortable, but the undergraduates were more comfortable. This illustrates that people believe in certain norms and live by them without knowing that they are embedded in their perceptions.

When certain norms are broken, they can cause legal concerns. In every society, there exist specific laws put in place to ensure people are constrained from committing crimes and getting involved in criminal activities. This helps reduce deviant behaviors and maintains a stable society. However, some individuals in society feel the urge to break specific laws. It could be in an attempt to achieve a norm but at the cost of breaking the law. For instance, a person selling drugs with the hope of getting more money to achieve a sustainable life is breaking the law, but they are also achieving the norm of getting money. Therefore, although the laws exist together with the punishment for those who break legal, social norms, it does not stop people in the community from breaking them.


The method used in this essay will be a case study analysis of a YouTube video to analyze the behaviors of individuals during an interaction with each other. In the video, the act is conducted in a hotel, and the characters involved are the customer and waitpersons. The scenes display a couple of non-social norms that cannot be accepted. The first unexpected behavior is observed when a customer displays rude behavior towards the waiter for the offered service. The customer seems to have come a lot to the hotel and receives poor services. However, the waiter was polite to all the insults, but the customer kept talking (iJunaid, 2016). Usually, the expectation is that individuals should avoid putting down others. The customer should have complained about the hotel’s service in this scene but not insulted the waiter. As such, she should have been rational and avoided the argument.

In another scenario, the waiters decide to take revenge on the customer by contaminating her food. They start to behave unethically by spitting on the food and doing other unethical behaviors that prove to be socially unacceptable (iJunaid, 2016). The expected social norm, in this case, would be to serve the customer as per her request. This is because, apart from being insulted, they are running a business, and they need to protect their brand. Therefore, complying with a customer’s request will not cost the waiters but improve the customer’s perception of the hotel. Also, violence in any form has proved to have adverse effects and avoiding it will prevent legal issues.


Watching the video, I felt remorseful when the customer was rude to the waiter. My thoughts were that she could have politely made her statement and let the waiter work to give her the best service possible. Talking and acting politely to the waiters could give the employees a desire to provide their best service to the customer and treat her with respect. However, the customer’s reaction made me feel that certain individuals like quarrelling and causing trouble where this behavior is uncalled for and can be avoided. As the video progressed, I started feeling disgusted due to the employees’ actions in an attempt to punish the customer for her rude behavior. It puzzles me that people could go to such extreme levels to get revenge on another person. After the video was over, I felt that I should never argue with a waiter when eating out in a hotel. This is because the waiter is responsible for dealing with the food I order, and they have the ability to contaminate it if they are provoked. This also makes me more cautious about the food I consume in hotels.

Additionally, the video also sparked mixed reactions from my friends. I noticed their faces begin to change as they watched the video, especially when the customer was talking to the waiter. They seemed angry and sympathetic to the waiter. They all wanted to confront the lady and give her their views. Later on, after the waiters ganged up to destroy the food, my friends’ reactions changed to laughter, expressions of disbelief, and disgust. They all hated the behavior as the thought of it happening to them was unbearable. I could tell even after the video that they were not pleased and would probably not eat during the day.


Behaviors that are considered deviant are those that do not conform to the norms of society. These behaviors are determined by the society since it labels, define, and reacts to whoever commits them (Goode, 2019). Therefore, members of society identify what can be considered deviant and determine its consequence (such as stigmatization). Deviant behaviors do not just happen as they are triggered by something. Theorists noted this and developed concepts that can help people understand the causes of specific actions. Among the theories that will be discussed include social strain theory, structural functionalism, and conflict theory. Therefore, using the theory, the discussion will attempt to analyze the observed behaviors and elaborate on why the individuals behaved the way they did.

Social strain theory explains that individuals commit certain crimes due to stress or feeling strained. The theory acknowledges individual traits and considers situational and predisposing variables while explaining deviant behaviors (Agnew, 2020). Therefore, the theory applies all factors that might trigger stress to an individual to explain their behavior. In the video, the hotel employees collaborate to violate the norm as a reaction towards how the customer talked. The cause of the issue began when the customer insulted the waiter and ended with the waiters acting on the customer’s behavior (iJunaid, 2016). When applying the strain theory, deviant behaviors in the video could have been caused by the customer’s insult. Therefore, the variable points out what went wrong and why such behaviors were committed.

Additionally, social strain theory demonstrates two sides that lead to deviant behaviors. The first side shows that deviant behavior can occur when individuals refuse to accept certain social norms. However, the other side demonstrates how individuals realize the existing social norms but manoeuvre their way to break one so as to achieve the other (Boundless, n.d.). In the movie context, the waiters knew that they were doing wrong. The realization is seen when they discuss whether or not the client was rude and deserved to be punished hence conducting a vote (iJunaid, 2016). Having realized their action shows that the waiters knew they were breaking a norm, but the main goal was to achieve another, which is respect. Everyone in society does not like to be oppressed, but they love it when someone respects them. Therefore, breaking a norm to achieve the other proves that the behavior is linked to the social strain theory.

The other theory that can best explain the behaviors witnessed in the video is structural functionalism. This theory explains that deviant behaviors can create social stability. There are two ways identified, the first being the systems of punishing deviant behaviors (Amir, 2021). These systems create norms and ensure that members of the society know how to behave by giving them patterns of behaviors that are acceptable. Thus, enabling people to understand that certain actions are not acceptable.

The other method that structural functionalism uses to create stability is social parameters. The parameters create boundaries among the people and foster the notion of ‘Us-versus-them’ amongst different groups (Boundless, n.d.). The theory allows society to agree on an expected norm, and those who do not conform to it will be marked as deviant. Marking people as deviant creates boundaries as the members conforming to the norm form groups of their own and discriminate against those that do not join (Amir, 2021). Therefore, in the video, the theory can be used to explain the behaviors of the waiters. The waiters reacted to the insult to teach the customer that it is not okay to insult people. This is a form of correction that the theory explains to bring about a stable society. Moreover, the theory explains that individuals in the society form a norm that they will abide by and create boundaries for those that will not adhere to the norms. The video demonstrates this when the waiters assemble to deem the customer’s behavior as socially unacceptable (iJunaid, 2016). Thus, the customer is excluded from society and is being punished due to not acting right.

According to conflict theory, deviant behavior occurs due to material inequality between different sociopolitical groups. The groups could be drawn along the lines of race, religion, class, or gender, among others (Turk, 2018). In this case, every socio-political group tends to perceive its interests in fulfilment with others. This means that the individuals of different groups will always perceive rights, among other social privileges, as a situation where whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other (Turk, 2018). Therefore, gains for outsiders will mean that one’s group has lost.

As a result, individuals who find themselves in such unequal social positions will be prone to deviant behavior. All this is done to substitute those circumstances, as well as the structures that contributed to creating them. According to Martin Luther King, a riot is defined as the speech of those who are unheard (Turk, 2018). As such, conflict theory explains from this perspective that individuals often display deviant behavior as they act in a manner that defies social norms in order to express their grievances.

Applying this theory to the experiment, it is visible that the two groups were in conflict due to the difference in social class. The customer was rude to the waitress since she felt entitled and above the class of the waiters. Although the waiters tried to talk nicely, the customer would not come down and talk to them humbly. Therefore, feeling the need to defend their position and express their grievance, the waiters decided to spit on the customer’s food, among other socially unacceptable behaviors. Afterwards, the waiters took the food to the client to eat it.

The above theories assist in understanding the root cause of deviant behaviors. Through this, they emphasize that people need to first understand what causes others to behave in a deviant way in order to be able to reduce these behaviours in the society. In addition to this, the theories discussed highlight the importance of social norms in achieving a balanced society where criminal activities are reduced.

I can now understand that my reactions and those of my friends are influenced by the social norms we grew up knowing. Society has taught us to be ethical and mindful of others regardless of their status or race. Conforming to the norms helps reduce disagreements and maintains peace in society. However, individuals can commit deviant behaviour through their reactions to a given situation so as to achieve specific results. Therefore, behavior considered deviant can be committed with the purpose of achieving an acceptable norm. Before judging a person’s act, individuals should understand what led to those actions and the aim of that act.


Agnew, R. (2020). The contribution of social-psychological strain theory to the explanation of crime and delinquency. In F. Alder, S. W. Laufer & K. R. Merton (Eds.), The legacy of anomie theory (1st ed., pp. 113-137). Routledge.

Amir, M. (2021). A critical analysis on functional perspective on deviance. Web.

Boundless. (n.d.). Boundless sociology. Lumen. Web.

Goode, E. (2019). Deviant behavior (12th ed.). Routledge.

iJunaid. (2016). Waiting… (2005) | “Cardinal Rule of Food” [Video file]. YouTube. Web.

Telzer, E. H., Van Hoorn, J., Rogers, C. R., & Do, K. T. (2018). Social influence on positive youth development: A developmental neuroscience perspective. Advances in Child Development and Behavior, 54, 215-258. Web.

Turk, A. T. (2018). Criminology and conflict theory. In S. Henry & M. M. Lanier (Eds.), The essential criminology reader (pp. 185-190). Routledge.

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