, Volume 191, Issue 18, pp 4409–4429 | Cite as

Why are there descriptive norms? Because we looked for them

  • Ryan Muldoon
  • Chiara Lisciandra
  • Stephan Hartmann


In this work, we present a mathematical model for the emergence of descriptive norms, where the individual decision problem is formalized with the standard Bayesian belief revision machinery. Previous work on the emergence of descriptive norms has relied on heuristic modeling. In this paper we show that with a Bayesian model we can provide a more general picture of the emergence of norms, which helps to motivate the assumptions made in heuristic models. In our model, the priors formalize the belief that a certain behavior is a regularity. The evidence is provided by other group members’ behavior and the likelihood by their reliability. We implement the model in a series of computer simulations and examine the group-level outcomes. We claim that domain-general belief revision helps explain why we look for regularities in social life in the first place. We argue that it is the disposition to look for regularities and react to them that generates descriptive norms. In our search for rules, we create them.


Descriptive norms Norm emergence Explanation Social epistemology Agent-based modeling 



The authors would like to thank Jason McKenzie Alexander, Jan Sprenger, Kevin Zollman, and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ryan Muldoon
    • 1
  • Chiara Lisciandra
    • 2
  • Stephan Hartmann
    • 3
  1. 1.Philosophy, Politics and Economics ProgramUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political and Economic Studies, Finnish Centre of Excellence in the Philosophy of the Social SciencesUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  3. 3.Munich Center for Mathematical PhilosophyLudwig Maximilians UniversityMunichGermany

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