Every society has expectations about how its members should and should not behave. A norm is a guideline or an expectation for behavior. Each society makes up its own rules for behavior and decides when those rules have been violated and what to do about it. Norms change constantly.Norms are the established standards of behavior maintained by a society. For a norm to become significant, it must be widely shared and understood. For example, in movie theaters in the United States, we typically expect that people will be quiet while the film is shown. Of course, the application of this norm can vary, depending on the particular film and type of audience. People who are viewing a serious artistic film will be more likely to insist on the norm of silence than those who are watching a slapstick comedy or horror movie.
Types of Norms
Sociologists speak of at least four types of norms: folkways, mores, taboos, and laws. Folkways, sometimes known as “conventions” or “customs,” are standards of behavior that are socially approved but not morally significant. For example, belching loudly after eating dinner at someone else's home breaks an American folkway. Mores are norms of morality. Breaking mores, like attending church in the nude, will offend most people of a culture. Certain behaviors are considered taboo, meaning a culture absolutely forbids them, like incest in U.S. culture. Finally, laws are a formal body of rules enacted by the state and backed by the power of the state. Virtually all taboos, like child abuse, are enacted into law, although not all mores are. For example, wearing a bikini to church may be offensive, but it is not against the law.
Values are the ideas which define what is good, right or fair. They are held by individuals and groups and are a product of the culture they find themselves within. A person's values may be tied to their religious or political beliefs, influenced by their family, heritage and upbringing, or by their social environment. Specific to an individual, they differ from person to person. An example of which could be the level of altruism or selfishness they show to others.
A group's values are determined by the values of it's members. They define what is important to the group and can be demonstrated in those individuals a group chooses to praise or condemn. The brave fire fighter, the compassionate hospice nurse, the evil drug dealer or soulless murderer all show traits and behaviours regarded by the society as inherently good or evil.
Norms and values are closely linked, with norms outlining acceptable behaviour in a situation while values determine what should be considered good or bad.