Corporal punishment
Educational methods in 1935. German Federal Archive [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped version.

We study how social norms change and are maintained, in particular metanorms, that is, norms about norms. A common idea among evolutionary economists is that the reason for norms to be maintained is that deviating behaviour is punished and that those who punish thereby get a better reputation. On the contrary, however, we have found that punishers often get a bad reputation, and also that metanorms are different between cultures (Eriksson et al. 20162017).

Our research is also about norm change within particular domains. We suggest a new theory for the important question within sociology on why norms of hygiene and violence seem to have a direction towards a stricter hygiene and less violence (Strimling et al. 2018). Our theory builds on the fact that, within these domains, there is a basic asymmetri in how threatening different behaviours are, which leads to a differentiation between how much various behaviours are punished. In turn, this leads to directed norm change.

In a similar project, we suggest a new theory for why moral norms (on abortion, gay marriage, etc.) tend to change in a liberal direction, and why this change varies in speed for different issues (Strimling et al. 2017). The theory builds on an asymmetri between liberal and conservative moral psychology in what kind of arguments are considered valid.