The Reign of Error on Campus: Drinking and the Misperception of Peer Norms

H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., Dept. of Anthropology/Sociology, Hobart & William Smith Colleges


Students think most of their peers do far more drinking and support more alcohol use than is actually the case. This belief in a false norm has its own negative impact on the community as it becomes a partially self-fulfilling prophecy in campus cultures. Peers in reality are more moderate in both use and attitudes than most students think. This pattern has been found in research on campuses nationwide. While drinking does create pervasive and devastating problems on most campuses, misperceptions far exceed the prevalence and severity. These misperceptions then end up fueling actual drinking problems as students follow an illusion or distorted image of their peers. This lecture provides an overview of work on students' misperceptions and what can be done to address the problem.