Professor of Sociology H. Wesley Perkins and Professor of Chemistry David Craig P'05 have worked in partnership for more than three decades developing, implementing and growing the Social Norms Approach, a nationally-recognized, award-winning, interdisciplinary strategy for reducing risk-taking behaviors. The Social Norms Approach promotes health and prevents problem behaviors by combining research methods and theories from sociology and chemistry with biochemical science and computer modeling.
Over the years, Perkins and Craig have established that most people misperceive healthy norms, assuming that it is typical for their peers to engage in risk-taking behaviors. Those misperceptions actually cause much of the problem: people believe their peers are risk-takers, so they feel justified in participating in risk-taking behavior as well.
To combat these misperceptions, Social Norms researchers begin by gathering credible data about behaviors such as drinking, tobacco use and other drug use. Then, they intensively communicate the actual healthy norms through media campaigns, interactive programs and other educational venues.
At Hobart and William Smith, Perkins and Craig's research methodologies and prevention-related work range from large scale population surveys of student drinking attitudes and practices to the delivery of information through computer program software and to late night anonymous breathalyzer testing of blood alcohol concentrations documenting actual patterns and problems of drinking.
The pair also collaborates on the Alcohol Education Project at Hobart and William Smith, which provides research, educational resources, and strategies to reduce alcohol and other drug abuse throughout the U.S. and internationally. In 1999 and again in 2005, the Project received a national award from the U.S. Department of Education as a Model Prevention Program in Higher Education.
As a result of their interventions on the Hobart and William Smith campus, evidence shows HWS students demonstrating more realistic perceptions of peer behavior, decreased problem behavior, and growth in positive behavior. In addition to implementing the Social Norms Approach at other colleges, Perkins and Craig have conducted research and helped implement social norms programs in diverse middle and high schools throughout the U.S. When they later set out to develop a social norms program specifically aimed at student-athletes, the NCAA saw enough potential in the program to sponsor a nine-school pilot, based on the HWS model.
Though their initial focus was on alcohol- and drug-prevention programs, Perkins and Craig have recently started exploring the application of the Social Norms Approach to other socio-cultural issues, like bullying, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, and underweight and obesity issues.
Perkins and Craig have participated in hundreds of conferences throughout the U.S. and internationally, and their research has made it into numerous academic journals in the social sciences and public health. The two have also been featured in news outlets like the New York Times, CNN, Newsweek, L.A. Times, "20/20," Shape, Men's Health, Delta Sky Magazine, and Marie Claire, among many others in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.
Social Norms at HWS
Hobart and William Smith Colleges are fortunate to house one of the most progressive and successful alcohol and drug prevention programs in the nation. Through a rigorous communications program that challenges students to rethink their perceptions of normal behavior, HWS students demonstrate more realistic perceptions of peer behavior, decreased problem behavior, and growth in positive behavior.
More information can be found at the Alcohol Education Project
Media examples from the current social norms "Just Facts" campaign can be seen by clicking here.