Although humans are social creatures, most people have a personal space that they dont like violated. Normally, when you meet a person, you shake their hands for a brief period and then continue with the conversation. For most people, this is usually done with the right hand. There are also other norms associated with handshakes that I decided to test.
Therefore, in testing the social norms, I decided to greet people with my left hand and hold the handshake until the conversation was completed. I experimented on both friends and strangers. At first, the experience was uncomfortable as I tried to come up with conversational topics while trying to note both my behavior and the other persons. Sticking out your left hand rather than the expected right hand creates a sense of discomfort that is almost impossible to get over even during the ensuing conversation.
On peoples reactions, most would look around to check whether other people noticed the prolonged hand contact. This is a direct reference to sociological teachings as sometimes, people will look to those around them for information whether for social learning, conformity or help in a perceived emergency. In some cases, people forcibly pulled their hands away highlighting the difficulty in breaking a social norm. Additionally, all of the people involved had difficulty in concentrating on the conversation. All these factors worked to discourage the breaking of a universally accepted social norm. While it might have been fun for me and informative to test class theories in the real world, the experience may leave one feeling disheartened especially after several negative reactions. Additionally, I usually found that it was easier to shake and hold hands for longer periods with friends and family as compared to strangers which I attributed to a lack of conversational topics. When greeting strangers, I would steel myself emotionally for the possible negative reactions that some people may have towards breaking a social norm.
The significance of using my left hand is that it demonstrated how difficult it might be to form social relations if one does not have the expected social norms in different contexts. However, while individuals may resist changes to social norms, in group situations, people usually seek conformity by doing what others in the same situation are doing. At the beginning of the experiment, I would find it hard to look at others around us eye to eye and relied on my peripheral vision as I found it embarrassing due to the established social interpretations of prolonged hand contact with another individual. Often the people around us would stare at the interaction and I could not help but wonder at their interpretations of the situation since in todays society, prolonged hand contact is associated with romantic relationships. For those individuals that I greeted, I found that their response depended on whether we were in a relatively crowded or serene environment. In crowded environments, the subjects would react negatively such as forcefully pulling their hand away or increased awkwardness in the conversation which was usually after scanning the social context in which they were. However, in un crowded environments, people were more willing to break a social norm and go along with the moment. The experience taught me that as much as I pride myself on being open-minded I still have some social norms embedded firmly.
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