Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Breaking a Social Norm Experiment



Most corporate environments have an expected style of dress that everyone adheres to. Even on casual Friday’s we all know what’s acceptable and what’s not. The corporate environment is one where most people do not want to veer too far from the norm in fear of sticking out.

Social norms are expected shared ideas of what is acceptable behavior within society given a specific context. Breaking a social norm at your place of employment might come with disciplinary actions, but what would happen if you broke a social norm in public. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I set out to do my chores, while wearing a mint green facial mud mask.

My first stop was Ocean State Job Lot and while I got a few double takes, most people tried not to stare at me, so I'll jump ahead to my Walgreens experience cause I damn near cussed a woman out for acting as if I'm stupid. Here's what went down.

As soon as I entered Walgreens, a middle aged woman and her two young kids checking out at the cash register immediately noticed me and started to laugh. She didn't say anything to me so I continued walking over to the makeup section as they walked out of the store. What I did not expect was for her to come back into the store, follow me, and try to film me as if I couldn't see what she was doing. I overheard her oldest child say, “Send it to me”, as they continued to laugh. My reaction actually surprised me.

I did not expect a grown woman with two young girls in tow to condone this type of behavior. I thought, "Is this how bullies are made? And does this woman think I'm stupid?" I decided to confront her, after all, she was following me.

I told her that I knew what she was doing but she denied it. She had a difficult time looking directly at me, as I further explained my Sociology experiment. I explained that I would be documenting this exchange and as I went to pull out my camera she quickly left the store before I was able to get the camera started. Punk ass!

My next stop was Stop & Shop. After roaming the store for a while without anything extraordinary occurring, I decided to check out. The cashier did not show any reaction to my mud mask that was now cracked and peeling.

As I placed my groceries onto the belt, an older lady in an electronic wheelchair got on line after me. I smiled at her and spoke about how horribly narrow the aisle was. She smiled back and said “I’m a pro at this by now”. About 30 seconds later, she interrupted me and asked “I’m sure you've had this question a million times today, what’s on your face?” As I explained my assignment to her, everyone within ear shot started to smile, others laughed out loud, including my cashier. She was the only stranger to address me directly asking about the mud mask.

It is different because I'm acting as a "Photojournalist"?

The lady at Walgreens clearly got under my skin. While I understand that I looked awkward, I thought her behavior was unacceptable especially because she was damn near teaching minors to be disrespectful which I have very little tolerance for. But then I thought about the various excursions I take with my Nikon "documenting" homeless people or whatever else I deem as interesting. I've never asked permission to snap a photo when I'm out in public. Legally, I don't have to. Is what she did much different that what I do? What are your thoughts?

Final Observations
  • When people were by themselves, they were able to subdue their facial reactions more frequently.
  • Men did a better job at controlling their reactions than women. Most men avoided eye contact with me even if I looked directly at them. 
  • When people were with someone else or in groups, they felt more liberated to react or point me out to their friends.

5 comments :

  1. I think that was a fun experiment and that rude punk lady that tried to tape you as if you were blind was really the stupid one, I think she set a bad example for her kids and any other young people around her. I think its funny that she ran away once she saw you were educated and got your camera out for her.

    As for the reactions of everyone else I think I would of done the same and ignored it, people in groups do tind to act more confident because thats what bullys and bitchy high school girls do all the time and it's petty.

    I think people have the right to take pictures, I see all kinds of crazy stuff posted on FB and Tumblr of people out in public seeing girls with too short shorts on or little kids going crazy etc.

    But I don't think the rude woman had the right to try and record you, I think its more okay when it's like street photography or candid shots. Maybe even funny stuff to post on the internet but you were being followed around by here and she was laughing acting like a bully so I don't think it was okay. She could of handled it better and asked for a picture or something.

    BTW you should switch your comment box to http://disqus.com/

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    1. The funny thing about the lady at Walgreens is, if simply asked me about why I was wearing a mud mask, I would not have been upset, it would have been totally fine. Based on her flighty reaction after I approached her, she knows that what she was doing was rude and insensitive. More importantly, I hope her kids learn a lesson as well.

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  2. Its ironic how similar your results were to racism and genocide. Racists and people involved in death camps were more likely to go along with negative behaviors when in groups. But alone they generally were subdued and less likely to act out. COWARDS !

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  3. You have balls Ann! I'm trying to imagine what I would've done. I probably would have stared for a second and then gone back to my life. lol.

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    Replies
    1. Being from NYC, I would have looked once and kept it pushin' but I really didn't like the example she was setting for her kids. That really got on my nerve.

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