27 November 2007 Social Norms Theory is the talk of Scotland Parliament

Professor of Anthropology and Sociology H. Wesley Perkins, who spoke about social norms at an October conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, was also cited in that nations Parliamentary debate about strategies to promote health and well-being.

His keynote address to the conference, sponsored by the Futures Forum, a commission of the Scottish Parliament charged with identifying strategies to promote health and well-being in Scotland, was hosted at the Parliament building in Edinburgh.

After hearing Perkins talk, one of the members of Parliament introduced a bill to formally discuss the social norms approach as something to consider in formulating the Scottish national health agenda. A recent study at the University of Paisley, and detailed in Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, showed exactly the same patterns and findings about alcohol consumption that Perkins and Professor of Chemistry David Craig found in their research on the topic.

The Paisley study draws some comparisons with the results from the United States, in that students tend to overestimate the alcohol consumption of their peers, and suggests that similar interventions could have positive results in Scotland. A report on the wider study is expected in January.

I introduced it in my talk, Perkins said, knowing that the Scots would be most interested in some local evidence. Nonetheless, HWS is represented directly and indirectly in the Parliament debate.

The Parliamentary motion also mentioned bullying research at several primary and secondary schools in the Croydon area of south London, England, based on surveys that the Perkins and Craig are facilitating through their HWS online survey program. During the debate Parliament Minister Bill Wilson specifically described an experimental project conducted at HWS with student-athletes and its successful results reported in professional journals.

In closing the debate, Minister for Public Health Shona Robison specifically acknowledged the Colleges, Professor Perkins, and the work he has promoted along with Professor Craig on the social norms approach.

We are clear that a long-term, strategic approach is required if we are to tackle Scotlands complex relationship with alcohol and to denormalise excessive drinking and the behaviour that goes with it, just as we have sought to denormalise smoking. That fits in with the social norms approach, she said.

Perkins, a member of the HWS faculty since 1978, holds a bachelors degree from Purdue as well as two masters and a doctorate from Yale. He popularized the Social Norms theory with work beginning more than two decades ago, and in collaboration with Craig, has received numerous awards for its applications to preventing alcohol abuse and other risk behaviors.