Background Influence

Prosocial norms, informal social control

Parent construct: Social cohesion

Laws and law-enforcement are helpful to neighborhoods, but informal social norms are even more important for maintaining neighborhood viability 1—even for such issues as public consumption of illegal drugs.2 When neighbors are mindful of each others’ children, for example, boys tend to do better in school.3 In a similar way, such mindfulness of each other’s children and discussion of rules reduces binge drinking and drug use among adolescents.4

Informal policies such as public reinforcement for prosocial behavior in schools can reduce vandalism in and around the schools.5 Communities can use a similar reinforcement strategy for doing the right thing for adults not selling alcohol or tobacco to minors, with remarkable results.6 Students can write written notes to each other for peaceful behavior resulting in less violence in schools and more social competence associated with school achievement.7,8 Students can also learn NOT to laugh or make fun of each other for being disruptive in their classrooms in primary grades, which then increases high-school graduation and college entry years later.9

The Promise Neighborhood Research Consortium has identified policies, practices, programs and evidence-based kernels that neighbors, families, teachers, businesses and others can do to amplify pro-social norms and informal controls.

Related Interventions




  1. Cialdini RB. Descriptive social norms as underappreciated sources of social control. Psychometrika 2007;72(2):263-68.  

  2. Johnson BD, Ream GL, Dunlap E, Sifaneck SJ. Civic norms and etiquettes regarding marijuana use in public settings in New York City. Subst Use Misuse 2008;43(7):895-918.  

  3. Drukker M, Feron FJM, Mengelers R, Van Os J. Neighborhood socioeconomic and social factors and school achievement in boys and girls. The Journal of Early Adolescence 2009;29(2):285-306.  

  4. Fulkerson JA, Pasch KE, Perry CL, Komro K. Relationships between alcohol-related informal social control, parental monitoring and adolescent problem behaviors among racially diverse urban youth. Journal of Community Health: The Publication for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention 2008;33(6):425-33.  

  5. Mayer GR, Butterworth T, Nafpaktitis M, Sulzer-Azaroff B. Preventing school vandalism and improving discipline: A three-year study. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 1983;16(4):355.  

  6. Embry DD, Biglan A. Reward and Reminder: An Environmental Strategy for Population-Level Prevention. National Registry of Effective Programsn and Practices. October, 2009 ed: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, 2009.  

  7. Embry DD, Flannery DJ, Vazsonyi AT, Powell KE, Atha H. PeaceBuilders: A theoretically driven, school-based model for early violence prevention. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 1996;12(5, Suppl):91.  

  8. Flannery DJ, Vazsonyi AT, Liau AK, Guo S, Powell KE, Atha H, et al. Initial behavior outcomes for the PeaceBuilders universal school-based violence prevention program. Developmental Psychology 2003;39(2):292-308.  

  9. Bradshaw CP, Zmuda JH, Kellam S, Ialongo N. Longitudinal Impact of Two Universal Preventive Interventions in First Grade on Educational Outcomes in High School. Journal of Educational Psychology 2009;101(4):926-37.