July 20-22, 2008

2008 National Conference on the Social Norms Approach

Hyatt Regency, San Francisco Airport

Ten-Years of Risk Behavior Results from an Online Survey Assessing Secondary School Norms and Miserceptions: The Pervasive “Reign of Error” Among U.S. 6 -12th Graders

H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology and Sociology

David W. Craig, Ph.D., Dept. of Chemistry

Hobart & William Smith Colleges


Over 50,000 secondary students from more than 70 secondary schools in eleven regionally diverse states have been surveyed using an online instrument measuring actual and perceived norms between 1999-2008. Measures of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drug use, ATOD access in schools, parental alcohol policies, riding with a drinking driver, willingness to report weapons seen at school, and seat belt use all demonstrate a wide discrepancy between actual school norms and students’ perceptions of the norms in all instances. This pattern of massive misperceptions is found across time, regions, and school settings (rural, urban, suburban) and schools of varying size/demographic composition. These misperceptions are confirmed as the strongest predictor of personal risk and protective behavior and more influential than actual norms in the local school setting.