AAMC MCAT Outline: Folkways, Mores, and Taboos

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MP 172: AAMC MCAT Outline: Folkways, Mores, and Taboos

Session 172

In content category seven B of the AAMC Outline, we’ll be looking at types of societal norms. Can you tease apart the subtle differences?

We have Phil from Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep) to help us break down these concepts so you can hopefully do better on the MCAT and get the score that you want!

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[03:05] An Overview of Section 7B

One of the most confusing things in section 7B is all about norms –what’s normal and what isn’t. Society has some idea of what is normal and what you should and shouldn’t be doing. And those are called norms.

Some norms are different than others. Folkways, Mores, and Taboos. Some of these vary in severity. So it’s really important to know the difference between these.

The MCAT is not going to give you the obvious question. For instance, they’re going to give you all three or four of these terms related to this topic. And folkways, mores, and taboos are all very related. Hence, you want to make sure you’re able to tell the difference.

'Try to anticipate what the MCAT writers are actually going to be asking you.'Click To Tweet

[04:15] Different Levels of Severity

'Folkway is the less severe, more is the more severe, and taboo is the last category in the things that you can't talk about at all.'Click To Tweet

Folkway is like what normal people should do. If somebody always shook hands with their left hand, it would be weird. It wouldn’t be immoral. It’s just odd and not normal.

A possible good strategy to remember here is when you say “folkway”, it’s like driveways or parkways and people use them all the time. It’s a norm in society to use those things. So a folkway is something that’s normal.

Mores are a little bit more severe. It’s something based on morals.

Taboos are like a whole other level. It’s really serious. These are things you can’t even talk about or things you’re not supposed to touch on. Racism can be more of a more.

Taboo can be things like cannibalism, incest, or necrophilia. These are things you can’t really talk about without not having people judging you for talking about them. It’s a whole other class of scenarios there.

'Taboos are way more extreme to the point you don't even talk about them.'Click To Tweet

[07:40] Things Can Change Over Time

Interestingly, these things can change over time as societies change and society views things differently. 

For instance, in the 50’s, getting cheated on or when you’re divorced, you don’t talk about that. It’s like a taboo topic. But now, if someone’s divorce, that doesn’t even probably fit into the “more.” Divorce is even the norm now.

[08:28] Possible Question on the MCAT

'You may consider it a folkway but the way the question is phrased makes it something different.'Click To Tweet

A possible question on the MCAT is that certain people with certain religions find it improper and immoral to talk about putting pumpkins up for Halloween. For those people, it would be considered more although we would probably consider it as a folkway.

The MCAT could crank up the difficulty one notch. They would give something you would define it one way but the way the question is worded can be switched around to make it more complex. So you have to play it in the perspective of who they’re talking about.

[09:40] Breaking the Norms: Anomie and Deviance

There are two new terms when you break up the norms – anomie and deviance. Anomie is when the norms break down. All of a sudden, the rules start to become less rigid, with some shades of gray.

For example, during WWII, there were norms that women had to stay at home while men work. Then when war broke, women started to work at a factory because we needed more people out there while men were fighting in the war. The rules of society start to break down based upon what is going on.

'Anomie is the breakdown of norms.'Click To Tweet

A possible question that could appear on the MCAT is what’s going on with a certain society or sub-culture as things change in that culture? Another example is a homogenous society vs. a heterogeneous society.

Phil lived on a very small farm in the middle of Missouri where everyone was white and everyone drove pickups. Everything had the same set of rules because everyone was the same. All the stores were closed on Sundays.

If all of a sudden there was a big influx of immigrants, and the society becomes a third Jewish, a third Muslim, and a third white Christian. The rules are going to change because the days of rest and holidays are going to be different. Some stores are open for different days than others. And the rules start to fall apart.

This is when the problem of nationalism comes in because people have grown up with these rules their entire life. As the rules start to break down because society starts to become less homogenous, they feel like their rules are being taken away.

And all of sudden, they don’t understand how a society is supposed to be working. This makes them unhappy because they had these rules and everything was fine before it. Now, the rules are being taken away and everyone’s not following the rules. This becomes a cause for a lot of discomfort within some of the people that really hold onto those rules.

[13:07] Deviance

Deviance is breaking the rules. It’s when you decide to break the rules. For instance, you started shaking hands with your left hand and you’re breaking the folkway there, you’re a deviant.

'Anyone who breaks folkway, a more, or a taboo is a deviant.'Click To Tweet

Unlike anomie where the rules overall are breaking down, it’s just you breaking the rules. 

From the root word itself, it means deviating from the societal norms. Once you start looking at the roots of words, things start making sense.

There are different perspectives as to what causes deviance: differential association, labeling theory, and strain theory.

Differential Association

If you start to associate with a different crowd, what’s normal within that group is going to start to be normal for you.

For instance, if you were to spend all your time with gang members, all of the things that seem normal to them are going to start to seem normal to you. Then you’re going to start to deviate from overall society’s views because you’re going to do what your friends are doing.

Labeling Theory

This is the idea that people get labeled and that changes how people act in general. One example is racism where people are labeled as criminals because of your race. and everyone views them as a criminal. And so if everybody is going to label you like that anyway then you might as well do it.

Strain Theory 

It’s the idea that sometimes you have a hard time fitting into what the society says you should have.

For example, society says you should have a wife in your 30s with three children and a white picket fence, etc. That’s what society says we should do. There are some people out there where that’s not an option. Not because they’re not trying, but they can’t a job that’s paying enough. And so they start to deviate by breaking the rules like stealing because they’re not getting what they’re supposed to.

[20:20] Final Thoughts

'Think about how questions are going to be worded and how you're going to be able to tell the differences between things.'Click To Tweet

For folkways, mores, and taboos, you need to be able to pull those apart. Know how you’re able to tell the difference between one and the other. As well as the terms differential association, labeling theory, and strain theory – you need to be able to pull those apart.

There are going to be things that may be tricky and hard to pull apart. But be sure to focus on those things because that’s how the MCAT is going to structure their questions.

The MCAT wants people who can see things from other people’s perspectives. It’s not just testing whether you understand the topics but also testing to see if you can understand things from other people’s perspectives. And this is a key part of being a good physician.

[22:05] Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep)

If you’re looking for some more MCAT prep, check out Blueprint MCAT (formerly Next Step Test Prep). Buy up to 10 full-length exams and save 10% on those exams by using the promo code MCATPOD.


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Content category seven B of the AAMC Outline