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

Margaret E. Tankard, Elizabeth Levy Paluck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

216 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1334-1344
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • attitudes
  • intergroup dynamics
  • open data
  • open materials
  • prejudice
  • preregistered
  • social influences
  • social perception


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