The Limits of Social Norms

Chicago-Kent Law Review, Vol. 75, No. 4, 2000

Posted: 4 Nov 2000


Legal scholars have expressed a growing interest in the power of social norms. Legal scholars now frequently argue that people obey the law even in the absence of legal sanctions and order their lives effectively without the assistance of courts, legislatures, and administrative agencies. This work promises to provide social reformers with inexpensive and effective ways of controlling anti-social behavior. Social psychologists, however, have conducted decades of research on social norms indicating that it is difficult to manipulate behavior by manipulating social norms in a reliable manner. Although social norms are important determinants of behavior, their influence can also be quite ephemeral. This Article presents social psychological research demonstrating that social norms are both more powerful and less powerful than legal scholars have heretofore recognized.

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Rachlinski, Jeffrey John, The Limits of Social Norms. Chicago-Kent Law Review, Vol. 75, No. 4, 2000, Available at SSRN:

Jeffrey John Rachlinski (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-5878 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

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