Norms: The Background
There are two different but
related kinds of norms.
One type, behavioral norms
(also known as descriptive norms), refers to the most common actions
or behaviors actually exhibited in a social group. Thus, the behavioral
norm is what most individuals of a social group actually do.
The other type, attitudinal
norms (also know as injunctive norms), refers to the most widely shared
beliefs or expectations in a social group about how people in general
or members of the group ought to behave in various circumstances.
The study of the powerful
impact that norms have on both thought and behavior is a well established
area of research in the social sciences, most especially in the fields
of sociology and social psychology.
The specific application
of social norms theory to college drinking was first suggested by
H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D. and Alan Berkowitz, Ph.D. in 1986.
The findings from
their college-based study1 revealed a consistent pattern of misperceptions
held by students regarding the norms of alcohol use among their peers.
Specifically, students typically thought that the norms for both the
frequency and the amount of drinking among their peers were higher than
they actually were, and they generally believed that their peers were
more permissive in their personal attitudes about substance use than
was in fact the case. Correcting such misperceptions, these researchers
suggested, might reduce heavy drinking and related harm.
These findings, along with
concurrent research in the field of Wellness identifying resilience
and protective factors and behaviors, revolutionized the field of health
promotion and spearheaded the development of the approach now widely
known as Social Norms. For many years, prevention efforts had focused
almost exclusively on the problems and deficits of particular populations.
The work emerging from those employing the social norms approach, however,
began to demonstrate the effectiveness of promoting the attitudinal
and behavioral solutions and assets that are the actual norms in a given
1 H. Wesley Perkins and Alan Berkowitz. "Perceiving the community
norms of alcohol use among students: Some research implications for campus
alcohol education programming." International Journal of the Addictions,