For my social science experiment with breaking a social norm I went to a park, but instead of walking around in a forward motion like people normally do, I decided to see what kind of social reactions I would get if I were to walk backwards. I started walking backwards as soon as I got out of the car. There was no one in the parking lot, but I wasn’t sure if anyone could see me from a distance. It wasn’t a nice day out, but it also wasn’t raining. I was still hoping I would encounter a fair amount of people. I back peddled my way to the trail and saw three girls in the distance, they were standing around taking in the scenery.
One girl saw me almost instantly, and then I had all three girls looking at me with perplexed looks. As I began to walk closer they all seemed to get wrapped up in themselves, and they didn’t look at me or say anything as I walked by. So I kept walking and got one last quick glance before I rounded a corner. I walked past a jogger on the trail that just didn’t seem to notice or care. I took a seat on a bench to rest my legs. Its harder to walk up and down hills when you are walking backwards. I saw a couple coming down the trail, so I stood up and started walking backwards about 10 feet in front of them.
The female didn’t look at me, but the male looked and didn’t seem to care if I noticed him eyeing the situation. He even had a half smile on his face when he was trying to figure things out. I walked for a few minutes like this until I got to an area before a bridge crossing, so I pulled off the trail to the side to let the couple pass me. Neither greeted nor even looked at me. Also on my way back up the trail, I encountered two men holding hands on a bench, both greeted me as I walked by and one asked “Are you having fun? “, to which I replied “Yes, thank you. “.
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Those were the only people I saw during my hour trek around the park. I took careful account of the reactions I got from the different people I encountered. Each group of people that I met placed some type of informal social sanctions upon me. The females that I saw seemed to be closed off, ignoring me like I wasn’t there. The runner just didn’t seem to care or notice what I was doing. The couple noticed me, but it seemed the male and female reacted differently. Like the previous females I had encountered, the girl seemed to be closed off wanting nothing to do with me.
But the guy seemed amused and thought the situation was a little humorous. I think because it was slightly dangerous and stupid what I was doing (walking down a slick trail in the park backwards), but it definitely made me feel like the odd one out. None of these people wanted to be associated with me just because I was walking backwards. The two males (who I assume to be homosexual) seemed more comfortable and accepting with me violating a norm. Perhaps being gay and falling outside the social norm allows them to be more secure when encountering other norm violations.
When I walked past people at the park it was kind of funny. On the inside I was thinking how stupid this must look, and how it wasn’t even practical to walk like this. My inner cop was telling me that it wasn’t rational and slightly dangerous. If I were to slip or fall into anyone else while I was doing it, it would be my fault. I wouldn’t say it was uncomfortable not conforming to a social norm. But the norm violation itself was uncomfortable. Walking backwards is harder to do then walking forwards, and it hurts your neck having to look over your shoulder for the whole walk.
The experience was definitely an interesting look at how it must feel to be an outsider. This experiment helped to prove that social norms are significant in society. I wasn’t sure how people would react, but it seemed evident that conformity has a strong impact on people. I got to see how people’s personalities change when someone is breaking a simple everyday social norm. Walking backwards instead of walking forwards sets you apart from people and it makes you the odd one out. This was a very simple experiment, but also happened to end up being a lot of fun.
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