The Effect of a Supreme Court Decision Regarding Gay Marriage on Social Norms and Personal Attitudes

Published in: Psychological Science, Volume 28, Issue 9 (September 2017), pages 1334-1344. doi: 10.1177/0956797617709594

Posted on RAND.org on January 31, 2018

by Margaret Tankard, Elizabeth Levy Paluck

Read More

Access further information on this document at Psychological Science

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

We propose that institutions such as the U.S. Supreme Court can lead individuals to update their perceptions of social norms, in contrast to the mixed evidence on whether institutions shape individuals' personal opinions. We studied reactions to the June 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. In a controlled experimental setting, we found that a favorable ruling, when presented as likely, shifted perceived norms and personal attitudes toward increased support for gay marriage and gay people. Next, a five-wave longitudinal time-series study using a sample of 1,063 people found an increase in perceived social norms supporting gay marriage after the ruling but no change in personal attitudes. This pattern was replicated in a separate between-subjects data set. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that an institutional decision can change perceptions of social norms, which have been shown to guide behavior, even when individual opinions are unchanged.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit www.rand.org/about/principles.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.