Public Health Policy and Proscriptive Norms
Alcohol consumption, as mentioned before, is influenced differently by proscriptive and prescriptive norms. The way policy makers frame health advice may elicit different behavioural responses. Since humans have a negativity bias and proscriptive norms are harsher, it may be possible that using proscriptive norms is more effective in lowering alcohol consumption.9 However, according to the reactance theory, people may feel that certain rules impede on their freedom, thereby indulging in the negative behaviour more.9
In 2018, Pavey, Sparks and Churchill conducted a study to determine whether proscriptive or prescriptive messaging is more successful in eliciting a desired behaviour. Participants were exposed to two conditions, each representing one of the norm conditions. In the prescriptive condition, they were told: “Imagine you went to the doctor, who said you should drink within government recommended safe limits for alcohol consumption. The doctor gives you no further information.”9 In the proscriptive condition, they were told: “Imagine you went to the doctor, who said you should not drink in excess of government recommended safe limits for alcohol consumption. The doctor gives you no further information.”9 The results showed that proscriptive norms were more effective in eliciting moral norms of alcohol consumption, especially for females and those who had always consumed within limits. Using proscriptive messaging reminded them of their moral obligations, and they believed that not drinking in excess aligned with their own morals and ethics.9
Another key finding was that male participants who already drank more than the recommended limits consumed more alcohol after being told about the proscriptive norm.9 Although there was no conclusive reason, it was hypothesized that this resistance was caused by reactance theory. Because the message targeted behaviours these participants usually indulged in, they may have felt that it was threatening their freedom. As a result, this intervention may have caused the opposite reaction than intended.9
Managerial Decision Making and Proscriptive Norms
Business managers are expected to perform two main tasks: contribute to society and avoid harming society.10 Noval and Stahl analyzed how managers’ moods can influence their proscriptive and prescriptive morality while making decisions.
Based on previous studies related to ethical decision making, mood research, and contextual influences, the researchers came up with four mood-related propositions:
- Positive moods lead to underestimating negative outcomes. Managers in positive moods may make harmful decisions. They engage in proscriptive immorality.
- At the same time, positive moods also influence managers to make more socially responsible decisions because they overestimate positive outcomes of an act. They engage in prescriptive morality.
- Negative moods may influence individuals to overestimate the negative effects of an act. Managers in negative moods tend to inhibit harmful acts. They engage in proscriptive morality.
- At the same time, negative moods may result in underestimating a decision’s positive effects. Managers may inhibit prosocial acts, thus engaging in prescriptive immorality.10
Put together, these propositions suggest that managers’ moods can have a large and asymmetrical influence on their decision-making, especially in ambiguous situations where decision paths are unclear.10 Positive moods may lead to engagement in prescriptive norms, but simultaneously may increase propensity to engage in proscriptive norms, thereby causing managers to perform acts they should not. Contrarily, negative moods may inhibit proscriptive morality, but also inhibit prescriptive morality.10
Ideally, this research can help managers foster a heightened awareness of their own decision-making processes, allowing them to make better decisions and respect the important do’s and don’ts set forth by society.