Health & Safety



The social norms approach to preventing problem behavior and promoting and reinforcing positive behavior, put simply, is to dispel the myths about the problem being the norm among peers. It starts with gathering credible data from a population and identifying the actual norms regarding the attitudes and behavior of concern. Then a social norms intervention intensively communicates the truth through media campaigns, interactive programs, and other educational venues. Evidence has shown youth responding to these initiatives with more realistic perceptions of peers, problem behavior decreasing, and the norm of positive behavior growing stronger in the population.

Upcoming and Previous Presentations

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Project Directors:

H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D.
Dept. of Anthropology/Sociology

David W. Craig, Ph.D.

Dept. of Chemistry

Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, NY 14456

Jessica M. Perkins, PhD.

Research Fellow, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Cambridge, MA 02138

Students perceive that many more of their peers engage in alcohol and drug misuse than is actually the case. Their misperceptions are an important contributor leading to increased substance abuse.

Bullying behaviors
are not the norm...but most perceive that some form of bullying is normative among their peers. This misperception contributes to greater bullying behavior.

Youth misperceive peer
weight norms
and that misperception alters how they see themselves. These misperceptions can lead to poor self image, unhealthy eating, and even contribute to eating disorders.

Gathering credible data, using good research
techniques, and using an
assessment instrument that gathers both personal information and perceptions of peers is a crucial element of the social norms approach.