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Perkins' Stance on Social Norms Receives Much Media Coverage

Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2003

A press release stating Professor of Sociology Wes Perkins' views is available.

A new report has been released by the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study saying that attempts to curb binge drinking on campuses through social norms programming have failed. Henry Wechsler, the director of the Harvard study, said he surveyed drinking patterns on 98 campuses, 37 of which have used social norms programs for one year, and found no improvement in lessening student drinking.

Perkins disputes the findings. "Wechsler ignores other research that shows a reduction of high-risk drinking on campuses that use campaigns to dispel misperceptions about drinking, said Perkins in the Hartford Courant story "Study Disputes Drinking Theory" (July 24).

Perkins, who has thoroughly reviewed the report, said that one significant flaw in the collection of the information also led to what he deems erroneous conclusions. "The survey asked college administrators if they used the social norms approach to alcohol abuse reduction, but did not specify how they used it or how much they invested in that model—or in fact if they really even understood what social norms programming was," said Perkins. "So schools who didn't understand the model at all, or ones that hang a few posters, reported using the model and sometimes reported little or no results. Those schools were not really embracing social norms—so the results are skewed."

Perkins refers to studies in his new book, "The Social Norms Approach to Preventing School and College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators, Counselors, and Clinicians". The book offers case studies relating the success of the model at various institutions and posits further applications and challenges for the social norms model in promoting health and well-being. He and Professor of Chemistry David Craig co-direct the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Alcohol and Other Drug Education Project and the two are frequent guests at schools and universities across the country. The two also co-wrote two chapters of the book.

Perkins was also quoted in the story "Study: Campaign Has No Effect on Drinking" by staff at the Associated Press. "The case studies we've seen are finding a 20 percent reduction in the high-risk college drinking rate." The AP story ran in Newsday, New York, N.Y.; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta, Ga.; ABC News; CBS News; The Guardian, London, UK; Raleigh News, Raleigh, N.C.; Tuscaloosa News, Tuscaloosa, Ala.; News Observer, Raleigh, N.C.; and the Sacramento Bee, Sacramento, Calif. USA Today ran a story, titled "'Official' peer pressure yields mixed results," as did the Easton, Pa., Express-Times, titled "Anti-drinking campaign labeled failure on campus" and the Daily Pennsylvanian.

 


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