A Healthy Dose of Reality: The Social Norms Approach to Reducing Substance Abuse and Promoting Positive School

H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., Dept. of Anthropology/Sociology, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
E-mail: perkins@hws.edu


The "Social Norms Model" for preventing alcohol and other drug abuse and for enhancing positive social behavior has been implemented in many institutions of higher education with great success. This model has now caught the attention of professionals working in middle schools and high schools as one of the most innovative and promising strategies in these contexts as well. This approach has emerged from the theoretical and empirical research of Dr. Perkins and colleagues over the last decade. Dr. Perkins will discuss the evolution of thinking in the prevention field leading to the social norms approach and describe how misperceived peer norms are so pervasive. His presentation will then explain the psychological and social causes of these misperceptions and, when left unchecked, the negative consequences as they contribute to increases in actual substance abuse and other problems. Dr. Perkins will conclude with the implications of challenging these misperceptions and harnessing the positive power of peers through the promotion of accurate social norms.

Objectives of Keynote Address

1) Promote awareness about the pervasiveness of erroneous perceptions of peer norms in secondary schools.

2) provide an explanation of why these misperceptions occur among youth and why they are so destructive.

3) explain how social norms campaigns promoting accurate perceptions can empower students to act more in accordance with already existing healthy norms.