Norms are the rules and expectations that govern a society. While such rules and expectations vary by culture, compliance with established norms is expected of every individual in society. Every norm can be placed in one of two categories -- proscriptive or prescriptive. While the names share similarity, proscriptive and prescriptive norms are vastly different.
Proscriptive norms provide guidance on what is unacceptable behaviour. Law enforcement and school rules are examples of such norms. As laws instruct civilians not to exceed 65mph on the highway, school rules inform children that tardiness is unacceptable. Proscriptive norms focus on what people cannot do in a society.
Contrary to proscriptive rules, prescriptive norms inform individuals of what they should do in a society. When preventing crime in the area, residents should secure all windows and doors. Individuals should also be watched and report suspicious activity. These are both examples of prescriptive norms, where people are advised but not required to take action. Prescriptive norms are designed to influence individuals to voluntarily engage in productive behaviour.
Proscriptive and prescriptive norms typically come in pairs. If a prescriptive norm advises individuals to obtain permission from the owner before operating an automobile, a proscriptive norm will prohibit unauthorised use of a motor vehicle. Proscriptive norms essentially enforce prescriptive norms by demanding compliance with rules and regulations from individuals.
Apart from One Another
When analysed as separate entities, proscriptive and prescriptive norms bring about different effects. While prescriptive rules foster positive outcomes, proscriptive norms have negative effects. Individuals with prescriptive moralities are more conscious of the consequences of their actions and aspire to exhibit good behaviour as a result. Those influenced with proscriptive morality follow the rules, but tend to suffer more guilt when rules are broken. Such guilt is not experienced by those of prescriptive morality, who sometimes fall short of normal behaviour.