The social responsibility norm states that a person should help others when they are in need. This act of helping does not contain an expectation of reward or reciprocity.
The act of helping is due to a sense of obligation that is often rooted in morality or religious orientation.
People in positions of power or authority sometimes feel obligated to help others because their status can make their efforts effective. For example, celebrities or people with great wealth sometimes feel a sense of social responsibility. Their public voice or vast financial resources can exert change in the lives of others.
Although the social responsibility norm operates in a context of helping others, there are other conceptualizations.
For example, sometimes the term social responsibility refers to a broader notion of addressing social issues such as gender and racial equality.
The term corporate social responsibility (CSR) can take on many forms involving philanthropy, funding community programs, or offering pro bono professional services.
Social Responsibility Norm Examples
- Donating Clothes: Every year children grow out of their clothes, particularly during growth spurts. A lot of families like to donate those clothes to charities such as the The Salvation Army or Goodwill. The clothes are usually still wearable for many years. So, no reason for them to take-up space in a landfill when they can be put to good use.
- Volunteering at an Animal Shelter: Working at a local animal shelter is not only a good cause, but it is also good experience if you want to become a veterinarian one day. For parents that want to instill a sense of social responsibility in their children, volunteer work is a great option.
- Helping a Friend Move: Moving is never pleasant. It involves days and days of packing-up everything in the house and then loading heavy furniture onto a truck. Then, driving to the next house and doing it all over again in reverse. Helping a friend move is a great way to fulfill one’s sense of social responsibility.
- Paying it Forward: When a person does something good for another individual, instead of reciprocating and doing something good for them in return, the good deed can be passed-on to someone else. In the words of Gray et al. (2014) “Paying kindness forward— or “generalized reciprocity”— operates according to a simple maxim: “Help anyone, if helped by someone.”
- Community Gardening: Many neighborhoods have a community garden that often produces a surplus. So, the residents have an opportunity to donate the extra food to a nearby homeless shelter or food bank.
- Educating Others on Social Issues: Raising awareness about pressing social issues and encouraging others to take action is a vital aspect of social responsibility. By engaging in conversations and sharing information, individuals can inspire change within their communities and beyond.
- Volunteering at Homeless Shelters and Food Banks: Donating time and resources to assist vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing homelessness or hunger, is a compassionate way to show social responsibility. These actions not only provide immediate assistance to those in need but also foster a sense of empathy and understanding within the community.
- Christian Evangelism: Evangelical Christians perceive evangelizing about their religion to be their social responsibility. For example, some types of Christians feel it’s their responsibility to spend a year doing a mission after they finish high school
- Planting Trees to Combat Deforestation: Deforestation is a serious matter about to reach its tipping point. Being environmentally conscious can make a person feel good about themselves because they are being socially responsible. What’s good for the environment is good for people on many levels; physically and psychologically.
- Instilling the Social Responsibility Norm in Children: Parents can do a lot of things to help their children understand the value of helping others. Volunteer work, pointing to examples in the news, and serving as a role model. Great books that tell great stories about helping is another. Or, if videos are preferred, Aesop’s fable about The Lion and the Mouse is a heartwarming tale of helping others in need.
- Pro Bono Professional Services: The Latin term “pro bono publico” means to do “for the public good.” Law firms are well-known for offering some services for free for those that lack financial resources. It is a way for the firm to demonstrate their commitment to social responsibility and give lawyers an opportunity to feel a sense of pride in an often-maligned profession.
- A Shoulder to Cry on: Sometimes one of the best ways to be socially responsible is to just be there for a friend in their time of need. At some point in life, everyone will encounter challenges that can seem overwhelming. Even if a solution can’t be offered, just the gentle act of providing a shoulder to cry on can be exactly what is needed in that moment.
- Blood Donation: Donating blood is a simple yet vital act that can save lives. Many hospitals and blood banks host regular blood drives to collect blood from volunteers. By donating blood, individuals are directly contributing to their community’s health and well-being.
- Neighborhood Cleanup: Organizing or participating in neighborhood cleanups helps maintain a clean, healthy, and aesthetically pleasing environment. These events can be held regularly or as needed, and they bring neighbors together to address local environmental issues, fostering a sense of unity and pride in their community.
- Mentoring and Tutoring: Volunteering time and skills to mentor or tutor young people, especially those in underprivileged areas, can have a lasting impact on their lives. By sharing knowledge and providing guidance, mentors and tutors contribute to the personal and academic growth of their mentees, promoting social responsibility across generations.
- Supporting Local Businesses: By consciously choosing to support local businesses, individuals contribute to their community’s economic growth and sustainability. This practice keeps money within the community and promotes the creation of local jobs.
- Fundraising for Charitable Causes: Participating in or organizing fundraisers for charitable organizations is another way to show social responsibility. By raising funds and awareness for various causes, individuals can contribute to positive change on a local or global scale.
- Reducing Environmental Footprint: Adopting sustainable practices, such as recycling, conserving energy, and reducing waste, demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility. These actions contribute to the overall health of the planet and ensure a better future for generations to come.
Case Studies and Research Basis
1. The Norm Activation Model (NAM)
The NAM (Schwartz, 1977) was devised to explain when a person will engage in prosocial behavior. It proposes that these actions stem from the activation of personal norms regarding a sense of moral obligation.
Three variables affect the likelihood of prosocial behavior.
- Personal Norms: This refers to the extent to which the individual has internalized a moral obligation to help or refrain from damaging actions.
- Awareness of Consequences: This refers to whether the individual is aware of the negative consequences if one does not act prosocially.
- Ascription of Responsibility: The degree of feeling responsible for the negative consequences if not helping.
According to De Groot and (2009),
“The NAM has been successfully applied in predicting a diversity of prosocial intentions and behaviors, such as donating bone marrow, donating blood, volunteering, and helping in emergency situations” (p. 426).
The model has also been applied to environmental behavior such as recycling and energy conservation.
2. Social Responsibility Norm in Parent-Child Relations
Maybe one of the oldest social responsibility norms has to do with parental obligation to their offspring. Parents are responsible for ensuring that their children have food and shelter, and raised in an environment that will prepare them for adulthood.
There is no firm expectation that the children will reciprocate in their parents’ later years.
Silverstein et al. (2002) investigated how parental investment in child-rearing was reciprocated when their offspring were adults.
Data from a longitudinal study at the University of Southern California involving over 2,000 participants and spanning three generations were analyzed.
The main question examined was if children reciprocated the help they received from their parents when the parents were older.
The results revealed:
- “…the return gained by parents is proportional to their initial investment…” (p. S10).
- “when the early parent–child relationship was emotionally distant, had no time commitment, and involved no financial support—the amount of support provided to parents increases as they age” (p. S10).
So, it seems that children followed a social responsibility norm even when their parents were uninvolved and distant.
3. Fostering Social Responsibility Through Service-Learning
Service learning refers to an experiential learning activity that helps instill a sense of social responsibility in students. Students work on group projects that address a community need.
It is more than simple volunteering because it requires students to see the connection between the academic concepts learned about in class and their community project.
“…service-learning applies equal focus to both learning and the service goals. It requires an academic context and is designed so that that the service and learning goals are mutually reinforcing” (Starting Point, n.d.).
4. Social Responsibility Norm In Children
Can toddlers engage in prosocial behavior? Although parents and teachers can testify to witnessing acts that appear truly prosocial in nature, this conclusion can be debated.
To investigate helping in very young children,Paulus (2020) created a variety of different scenarios that involved a person needing or not needing help.
Very young children under the age of 4 years old were carefully observed when placed in these scenarios.
“…confirmed that the older children were more helpful towards the needy other than the non-needy other… that the older children were more likely to help the needy other than the younger children, whereas there was no difference for the non-needy other. This shows a developmental increase in young children’s likelihood to help
a needy other, but not a non-needy other.” (pp. 1444-1445).
This pattern of results suggest that the social responsibility norm follows a developmental trajectory that becomes an other-oriented and need-based behavior in the first years of life.
5. Dairy Queen Drive-Thru
Paying it forward can sometimes take on a life all its own. CNN’s Alisha Ebrahimji reported a story about a Dairy Queen drive-thru in Brainerd, Minnesota. When one customer offered to pay for the meal of the car behind him, it started a chain of kindness that lasted for nearly three days and 900 cars.
Heidi Bruse, one of the many customers involved, told CNN that
“During times like these it kind of restores your faith in humanity a little. The way the world is now you see a lot of anger, tension, and selfish behavior. What we witnessed was pure kindness and it was a breath of fresh air really.”
The social responsibility norm can be particularly strong during stressful times in society. It offers people a glimmer of hope and a restored sense of faith in mankind.
The social responsibility norm is an unwritten code of conduct. It states that individuals should help others in need. Of course, it takes on slightly different definitions in different cultures, and evolves over time within a given culture as well.
For example, although initially the notion of helping others was mostly about heling individuals and society, it has expanded over the last few decades to include environmental causes.
Research has found that when parents invest in their children, those efforts will be reciprocated later in life. Corporations conform to the social responsibility norm by offering pro bono services or coordinating activities to help coworkers.
Research in developmental psychology indicates that even in children as young as 3 and 4 years old, the sense of social responsibility is emergin.
In education, some schools ascribe to a service-learning model that instills a sense of social responsibility in their students.
Projects are incorporated into the curriculum that give students an opportunity to engage in work that benefits the community. At the same time, it helps them see the connection between academic concepts and practical issues.
Aziz, M., & Abid, M. (2018). Social responsibility: as a predictor of altruistic personality among adults. Psychology and Behavioral Science International Journal, 8(5), 555-746.
De Groot, J. I., & Steg, L. (2009). Morality and prosocial behavior: The role of awareness, responsibility, and norms in the norm activation model. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149(4), 425-449.
Ebrahimji, A. (2020, December). Over 900 cars paid for each other’s meals at a Dairy Queen drive-thru in Minnesota. [Online; posted 09-December-2020]
Gray, K., Ward, A. F., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Paying it forward: Generalized reciprocity and the limits of generosity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(1), 247.
Paulus, M. (2020). Is young children’s helping affected by helpees’ need? Preschoolers, but not infants selectively help needy others. Psychological Research, 84(4), 1440-1450. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01148-8
Schwartz, S. H. (1977). Normative influences on altruism. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, (Vol. 10). New York: Academic Press.
Silverstein, M., Conroy, S. J., Wang, H., Giarrusso, R., & Bengtson, V. L. (2002). Reciprocity in parent–child relations over the adult life course. The Journals of Gerontology, 57, 3–13.
Starting Point. (n.d.). What is service learning? Retrieved November 2, 2022, from https://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/service/what.html