Daily Archives: 30/06/2014

Alcohol and social norms

Alcohol Research UK recently shared the introduction to a research and development grant looking into ‘alcohol related social norm perceptions in university students: a review of effective interventions’ for change (dated August 2010).  The introduction had some interesting research quoted that supports my anecdotal experience of ‘social norms theory’.

‘Social norms theory’ was first proposed by Perkins and Berkowitz in 1986, after their investigation into student drinking behaviour appeared to demonstrate a ‘pluralistic ignorance effect’ (where everyone assesses a situation by observing what other people do, and which is a major influence on normative social behaviour) in relation to misperceptions of behavioural drinking norms. Studies conducted on American college campuses consistently demonstrate that students overestimate both the alcohol use and approval of drinking of others, thus producing elevated norms, which make excessive alcohol consumption seem common and acceptable (e.g. Borsari and Carey, 2001). The approach suggests that changing these mis-perceptions through normative feedback should lead individual students to reduce their personal levels of drinking, and social normative approaches have been increasingly applied to interventions to attempt to change undergraduate drinking behaviour. This trend developed in the United States and appears to be increasing in popularity in the United Kingdom.

Borsari, B. & Carey, K.B. (2001) Peer influences in college drinking: a review of the research. Journal of Substance Abuse, 13, 391-424

The Home Office have funded a pilot ‘Alcohol Impact’ scheme across seven Universities in England and Wales in a bid to “create a social norm of responsible alcohol consumption by students.”

If the findings are robust it would be interesting to compare the findings to other social groups and to see if the theory applies more widely within British culture.  I’m sure that it isn’t just students who overestimate both the alcohol use and approval of drinking of others!  What do you think?

83 days to go