10 August 2022 HWS Social Norms Experts in the News

Recent articles on bullying and university alcohol policies feature Professor of Sociology H. Wesley Perkins, whose social norms research with Professor of Chemistry David W. Craig P’05 has provided a national model of intervention and education.

Professor of Sociology H. Wesley Perkins, a leading expert in social norms research, was featured this summer in articles by the Louisiana Illuminator and the NPR/PBS affiliate Virginia Public Media.

In the former, which addresses Louisiana State University’s arrest-only approach to alcohol and drug violations, Perkins notes the potential counterproductive implications of such policies.

“[Resident advisors] know that they’re really going to get their peers or their students in a lot of trouble, and it’s going to get parents involved in ways that may be unpleasant,” Perkins said, noting that violations might be reported less, but wouldn’t necessarily cease.

Read the full article.

Perkins and Professor of Chemistry David Craig P’05 have developed an influential body of data and research around secondary school and college students’ perceptions and behaviors regarding alcohol and drug use. Over the past two decades, the social norms intervention model developed by the HWS Alcohol Education Project has been applied in a variety of settings and across various social circumstances, earning multiple awards from the U.S. Department of Education. Perkins and Craig also launched the intervention program among student-athletes at HWS, eventually expanding the project to other NCAA Division III programs, schools abroad and the U.S. Air Force.

Their social norms research encompasses other peer-influenced behaviors, including adolescent bullying.

The VPM article focused on a Virginia school that, as Perkins explains, “was installing private single access bathrooms, in part to accommodate transgender and gender diverse students, but also with the idea that this would significantly reduce bullying in general which is commonly thought to occur most frequently in bathrooms.” 

But Perkins, Craig and Jessica M. Perkins, Assistant Professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University, found in their 2014 study that more frequently “bullying was being experienced in the hallways, classrooms and in the lunchroom,” as Perkins told VPM.

The trio’s 2011 study demonstrated the efficacy of the social norms approach in reducing bullying by aligning students’ perceptions of an issue like bullying with its actual rate of occurrence. Quoting that study, the VPM article reported that talking to children about how most students are not bullies, can deliver “significant reductions in problematic misperceptions of the prevalence of bullying and of peer support for bullying and simultaneous reductions in personal bullying behaviors and experiences of victimization.”

Read the full article.