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
In his review of the conceptual and empirical studies
on the role of social norms in college student alcohol use and prevention
strategies to counter misuse, Perkins has noted (Perkins, 2002) the
classic statements in sociology regarding how fundamental norms are
to the understanding of the social order as well as to variation in
human behavior (Campbell, 1964; Durkheim, 1951). In addition, he notes
that social psychologists have "long argued that people tend
to adopt group attitudes and act in accordance with group expectations
and bevaviors based on affiliation needs and social comparison processes
(Festinger, 1954), social pressure toward group conformity (Asch,
1951, 1952), and the formation and acquisition of reference group
norms (Newcomb, 1943; Newcomb and Wilson, 1966; Sherif, 1936, 1972)."
The specific application of what has come to be called
social norms theory was first suggested by Perkins and Berkowitz in
1986. Perkins has reviewed the state of social norms theory (Perkins, 2003; Perkins, 2014).
The findings from their college-based study 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 quantity
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, they suggested, might reduce
heavy drinking and related harm (Perkins and Berkowitz, 1986).
The theoretical implications of these finding were
further elaborated by these researchers (Berkowitz and Perkins, 1987;
Perkins, 1997) in subsequent articles.
Asch, S.E. Effects of group pressure
on the modification and distortion of judgements. In: Guetzkow, H.
(Ed.) Groups, Leadership and Men: Research in Human Relations. Pittsburgh,
PA: Carnegie Press, 1951.
Asch, S.E. Social Psychology. Upper
Saddle River, HJ: Prentice Hall, 1952.
Berkowitz, A.D. and Perkins, H.W.
Current issues in effective alcohol education programming. In: Sherwood,
J.S. (Ed.) Alcohol Policies and Practices on College and University
Campuses. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Student Personnel
Campbell, E.Q. The internalization
of norms. Sociometry 27:391-412, 1964.
Durkheim, E. Suicide: A Study in
Sociology. New York: Free Press, 1951.
Festinger, L. A theory of social
comparison processes. Human Relations, 7:117-140, 1954.
Newcomb, T.M. Personality and Social
Change: Attitude Formation in a Student Community. New York: Dryden
Newcomb, T.M. and Wilson, E.K. College
Peer Groups: Problems and Prospects for Research. Chicago, IL: Aldine,
Perkins, H.W. Misperception
is Reality: The "Reign of Error" About Peer Risk Behaviour Norms Among Youth and Young Adults.
In Xenitidou, M. and B. Edmonds. (Eds.) The Complexity of Social Norms, Computational Social Sciences.
Switzerland: Springer International Publishing, pp. 11-36, 2014.
Perkins, H.W. (Editor). The Social Norms
Approach to Preventing School and College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators,
Counselors, and Clinicians. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2003.
Perkins, H.W. Social norms and the
prevention of alcohol misuse in collegiate contexts.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol/Supplement No. 14, 2002.
Perkins, H. W. College student misperceptions
of alcohol and other drug norms among peers: Exploring causes, consequences
and implications for prevention programs. Designing Alcohol and Other
Drug Prevention Programs in Higher Education: Bringing Theory Into
Practice. Boston, MA: The Higher Education Center for Alcohol and
Other Drug Prevention, U.S. Department of Education, 177-206, 1997.
Perkins, H.W. and Berkowitz, A.D.
Perceiving the community norms of alcohol use among students: Some
research implications for campus alcohol education programming. International
Journal of the Addictions, 21:961-976, 1986.
Sherif, M. The Psychology of Social
Norms. New York: Harper Collins, 1936.
Sherif, M. Experiments on norm formation.
In: Hollander, E.P. and Hunt, R.G. (Eds.) Classic Contributions to
Sicial Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.