Social Norms National Research & Resources
    Case Studies
  Other Topics
  Recent Articles
Research - Misperception Correlates with Behavior

Given that a large and growing body of research has documented the misperception of peer norms in a variety of populations and for a variety of behaviors, the question arises: Do these misperceptions positively correlate with behavior? If so, social norms theory suggests that by correcting such misperceptions (i.e., by reducing overestimations of the prevalence of a particular behavior), problematic and/or dangerous behavior will decline.

One recent study (Perkins et al., 2005), based on a sample of more than 76,000 students attending 130 colleges and universities across the nation, found not only that—regardless of the actual campus drinking norm (i.e., be it low, moderate, or high)—a consistently large percentage of students nationwide overestimated the quantity of alcohol consumed by their peers, and that students' perception of their campus drinking norm was the strongest predictor of the amount of alcohol personally consumed in comparison with the influence of all demographic variables. Furthermore, perception of the norm was also a much stronger predictor when compared to the actual campus drinking norm.

Below are some of the other studies in which misperceptions have been found to correlate with drinking behavior or to predict individual drinking levels. One of these studies (Larimer and neighbors, 2003) documents similar findings for gambling.


Almeida, A., Correia, I., & Marinho, S. Moral Disengagement, normative beliefs of peer group, and attitudes regarding roles in bullying. Journal of School Violence, 9:23-26, 2010.

Beck, K.H. and Treiman, K.A. The relationship of social context drinking, perceived social norms, and parental influence to various drinking patterns of adolescents. Addictive Behaviors, 21(5):633-644.

Botvin, G.J. et al. Preventing binge drinking during early adolescence: One- and two-year follow-up of a school based preventive intervention. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 15:360-365, 2001.

Clapp, J.D., and McDonnell, A.L. The relationship of perceptions of alcohol promotion and peer drinking norms to alcohol problems reported by college students. Journal of College Student Development. 41(1):20-26, 2000.

D'Amico, E.J. et al. Progression into and out of binge drinking among high school students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 15:341-349, 2001.

Franca, L. R., Dautzenberg, B., Falissard, B., & Reynaud, M. Are social norms associated with smoking in French university students? A survey report on smoking correlates. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 4:4, 2009

Hansen, W. B. School-based alcohol prevention programs. Alcohol Health and Research World, 17(1):54-60, 1993.

Hughes, C., Julian, R., Richman, M., Mason, R., & Long, G. Harnessing the power of perception. Youth Studies Australia, 27(2):26-35, 2008.

Kilmer, J.R., Walker, D.D., Lee, C.M., Palmer, R.S., Mallett, K.A., Fabiano, P., and Larimer, M.E. Misperceptions of College Student Marijuana Use: Implications for Prevention. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2006, 67(2): 277-281.

Korcuska, J.S. and Thombs, D.L. Gender role conflicts and sex-specific drinking norms:relationship to alcohol use in undergraduate women and men. Journal of College Student Development, 44(2):204-215, 2003.

Larimer, M.E. and Neighbors, C. Normative misperceptions and the impact of descriptive and injunctive norms on college student gambling. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 17(3):225-243, 2003.

Lewis, M., Lee, C., Patrick, M., & Fossos, N. Gender-specific normative misperceptions of risky sexual behavior and alcohol-related risky sexual-behavior. Sex Roles, 57: 81-90, 2007.

Marks, G., Graham, J.W., and Hansen, W.B. Social projection and social conformity in adolescent alcohol use: a longitudinal analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18(1):96-101, 1992.

Martens, M., Page, J., Mowrey, E., Damann, K., Taylor, K., & Cimini, M.D. Differences between actual and perceived student norms: An examination of alcohol use, drug use, and sexual behavior. Journal of American College Health, 54(5), 295-300, 2006.

McAlaney, J., & McMahon, J. Normative beliefs, misperceptions, and heavy episodic drinking in a British student sample. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68(3):385-392, 2007.

Neighbors, C., Lee, C., Lewis, M., Fossos, N., & Larimer, M. Are social norms the best predictor of outcomes among heavy-drinking college students? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68(4):556-565, 2007.

Neighbors, C., Walker, D., Mbilinyi, L., O'Rourke, A., Edleson, J., Zegree, J., et al. Normative misperceptions of abuse among perpetrators of intimate partner violence. Violence Agaist Women, 16(4), 370-386, 2010.

Page, R. M., Ihasz, F., Hantiu, J., Simonek, J., & Klarova, R. Social normative perceptions of alochol use and episodic heavy drinking among central and eastern European adolescents. Substance Use and Misuse, 43:361-373, 2008.

Page, R. M., Ihasz, F., Simonek, J., Klarova, R., & Hantiu, I. Cigarette smoking, friendship factors, and social norm perceptions among central and eastern European high school students. Journal of Drug Education, 36(3):213-231, 2006.

Page, R.M., Scanlan, A. and Gilbert, L. Relationship of the estimation of binge-drinking among college students and personal participation in binge-drinking: implications for health education promotion. Health Education, 30:98-103, 1999.

Perkins, H.W. Religious traditions, parents, and peers as determinants of alcohol and drug use among college students. Review of Religious Research. 27(1):15-31, 1985.

Perkins, H. W., Haines, M. P., and Rice, R. Misperceiving the College Drinking Norm and Related Problems: A Nationwide Study of Exposure to Prevention Information, Perceived Norms and Student Alcohol Misuse. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2005, 66(4):470-478.

Perkins, H.W. and Weschler, H. Variation in perceived college drinking norms and its impact on alcohol abuse: a nationwide study. Journal of Drug Issues, 26(4):961-974, 1996.

Perkins, Jessica M., H. Wesley Perkins, and David W. Craig Misperceptions of Peer Norms as a Risk Factor for Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption among Secondary School Students. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2010a, 110(12):1916-1921.

Perkins, H. Wesley, David W. Craig, and Jessica M. Perkins Using Social Norms to Reduce Bullying: A Research Intervention in Five Middle Schools. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations, 2011, 14(5):703-722.

Prentice, D. A. and Miller, D.T. Pluralistic ignorance and alcohol use on campus: some consequences of misperceiving the social norm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(2):243-256, 1993.

Scher, K., Bartholow, B.D., and Nanda, S. Short and long-term effects of fraternity and sorority membership on heavy drinking: a social norms perspective. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 15:42-51, 2001.

Steffian, G. Correction of normative misperception: an alcohol abuse prevention program. Journal of Drug Education, 29(2):115-138, 1999.

Thombs, D.L. Alcohol and motor vehicle use: profiles of drivers and passengers. American Journal of Health and Behavior, 23:13-24, 1999.

Thombs, D.L. et al. Social context, perceived norms and drinking behavior in young people. Journal of Substance Abuse, 9:257-267, 1997.

Trockel, M., Williams, S., and Reis, J. Considerations for more effective social norms based alcohol education on campus: an analysis of different theoretical conceptualizations in predicting drinking among fraternity men. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 64:550-59, 2003.