Norwegians give each other little room for manoeuvre

7 June 2011 08:06

(updated: 25 January 2017 08:10)

Norwegians give each other little room for manoeuvre

For the first time, researchers have studied how strong the social norms are in different countries. An international study shows that Norwegians make very strict requirements of personal conduct and that they sanction unwanted behaviour. 'A surprising result,' says Associate Professor Vidar Schei at NHH.

As many as 33 countries participated in the comprehensive study that has just been published in the prestigious Science journal. With the help of 6,800 respondents, historical data and analyses of social conditions, the researchers classified social norms in the different countries on a tightness-looseness scale.

Norway strictest

The countries have been placed in four groups. Norway is among the countries with the strictest social norms, along with Pakistan, India, Malaysia and South Korea.

"Norway scores very high on the scale. This means that there are very clear expectations of how we should act in different situations. Norwegians therefore find it easier to sanction deviating behaviour than, for example, people from the Netherlands, Brazil or the USA," says Vidar Schei.

Associate Professor Schei is employed by the Department of Strategy and Management at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH). He is responsible for the Norwegian part of the international research project, which includes 45 researchers.

It is the first time that such a comprehensive project has been carried out to map and explain cultural differences in social norms. The participants were asked to indicate how much they agreed with general statements about social norms in their own country. The responses were then seen in conjunction with historical, natural, social and cultural conditions in their respective countries. The participants were also asked to assess different behaviour in various situations in terms of appropriateness.


Some of the characteristics of tight countries like Norway are low crime rates, a high degree of order and system, conformity pressure and a strict attitude towards behaviour such as not paying for a ticket on the tram, buying stolen goods or tax evasion.

The researchers cannot find a simple explanation of why the social norms in Norway are so strong.

"In general, the development and maintenance of cultural tightness can be explained by historical and natural conditions. Cultures that have experienced resource shortage, natural disasters or territorial threats have had to develop strong social norms to be able to coordinate activities and handle the challenges as best they can," says Associate Professor Schei.

Low food production compared with other countries is one example of a factor that may explain why Norway is a tight country. At the same time, there are many historical and natural conditions indicating that our culture should be less tight.

"It is therefore surprising that the social norms are so strong in Norway. Compared with cultures with looser norms, we give each other very little room for manoeuvre."

Source: Michele J. Gelfand et al: Differences Between Tight and Loose Cultures: A 33-Nation Study, published in Science on 27 May 2011.

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