Fun with norms

Right from the time you are born, you are governed by rules. As a school going child, you are told to prepare notes. As a college student, you have to attend classes and maintain your attendance. As an employee, you are to be in office for fixed hours.

Now tell me who has told you to eat the food on your plate with a spoon when you go to hotels? Who has told you not to sit next to a stranger in a bus even when there are other empty seats in the bus? Why do you look around before you try to scratch your back in public? Why do you find it odd to yawn with your mouth wide open in an interesting seminar? Have you tried to enter a lift and face your back to the door?

Psychologists have termed these as Social Norms. These are a set of beliefs held by a group of people about how the members should behave in a given social context.

I tried breaking one such norm and tried to record reactions.


I went to a store to buy a few hair clips. He showed me black colored clips. I asked him, “Do you have different colored ones?” He replied, “Of course madam..!” and started bringing out boxes of colored clips. 

I started looking at them and thought out loud(yes, I mean loud in the literal sense). I picked up the pink clip and said, “Hmm, this can go with my pink shirt…” By then, the shopkeeper had an anxious face and was about to keep it aside to pack. Suddenly, I said, “Oh no it has blue patterns with it…also, its a lighter shade of pink.” I dropped this and picked a red one. 

Yeah baby, blood red. This color always suits me and it looks so cute..!” The shopkeeper was happy and moved his hand forward to pick the red one for packing. I stopped him saying, “Wait! I cannot wear it with any other dress. It would be a waste.” His face was as though he had just missed coming very close to winning a trophy.

I continued giving a free peek into my thoughts over colors green, yellow, orange, silver and gold. The shopkeeper’s face was red by now. In the meanwhile, I was feeling very awkward thinking out loud and I was trying to “talk” myself out of it. I was thinking what the shopkeeper might think about me. He might be very wild with me and might think I am a complete dumbo..!!

After a marinated cocktail of feelings within me and a variety of reactions from the shopkeeper, I decided to stay with two black hair clips. The shopkeeper was relieved the free show was over and started packing. Little did he know that this was his unlucky day.

He told me that the total amount payable was fifty rupees. I pulled out a coin purse and poured the coins onto the table. All of them were one and two rupee coins. I started counting them out loud beginning from one. (I felt and looked like a complete idiot. I wanted to stop the counting and apologize to him. I even felt like laughing at how I was trying to make a fool out of myself)

The shopkeeper had entirely different thoughts going on. He just stared at me with an expression that said, “Oh common..!!! Are you serious?? What on earth is wrong with you??”

By the time I reached the count of 30, the shopkeeper was clearly and evidently irritated. He stopped me and said, “Madam, let me count it for you..!” He grouped the coins into five per group and finally made it a half century.

Victorious and relieved, he made the bill and was too glad to send me off.

Try breaking one and see for yourself.


The Silent Spectator

How many of you have witnessed an accident on the road right in front of your eyes and just moved on? How many of you have peeped into your neighbor’s book in class when you don’t catch a dictated word? While travelling in a bus, how many of you sit in your seat & wait for someone else to get up and give a seat to an old woman who is just aboard?

Well, if you have done any of these things above, you are not the only one my friend. The entire human race is just like you. Read on..

Some students were invited to a lab under the pretext that they were taking part in a discussion about personal problems. They were talking to many unknown people (each with 1 to 4 individuals).

Since the nature of the discussion was sensitive, they were told that the discussion will take place over intercom.

During the discussion, one of the members of the group (to which the participant was talking) suddenly appeared to have an epileptic seizure. They started choking for some duration of time and then there was silence at the other end.


The experimenters observed that some participants made no move to intervene. Also, the more the the number of people in the group, the slower the participant reacted to the situation.

So what is this that makes us not care for the other person? Are we so ignorant? Are we so selfish?

 Psychologists call this as Bystander effect.

One of the first steps in anyone’s decision to help another is the recognition that someone is actually in need of help. Many of us may fail to recognize the emergency of the situation. For example, imagine you are at a swimming pool and you see a child struggling in the water. What would you do? You would first look around to see if anyone else also feels the same as you do. If no one is reacting, you may just conclude that the child might just be playing in the water. Psychologists call this pluralistic ignorance

Lets say we are not like them and we do recognize emergencies. Then, what do we do? Most of us just wait for someone else to take some action while we just watch what happens. This is called Diffusion of responsibility.

Its human nature to play safe and ensure that we don’t fall for unnecessary trouble. So is it right on your part to just stand and watch a child drown in the water when you know you can save the child? Is it ok to watch someone bleed to death from an accident in front of you and go into a shock later due to witnessing the event?

Thats for you to decide, now that you know the “someone else” who was supposed to help out the sufferer may never exist.

Signing off….