Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist with MeritCare in Fargo, N.D., featured Professor of Sociology H. Wesley Perkins and Professor of Chemistry David H. Craig in his column in the Sept. 21 Pilot-Independent (Walker, Minn.). His article, titled “Reduce high risk behavior by using social norms,” explained the premise of the social norms program and described the work done by Craig and Perkins.
In an effort to give students accurate information from which to make choices, the Colleges initiated a comprehensive campaign developed by their Alcohol Education Program in 1997. Research begun in 1982 by Perkins and some of his colleagues demonstrated a pervasive and continuing pattern of misperceptions about alcohol and other drug norms among peer students. No matter what the actual patterns of use were, the students thought everyone was drinking more, and a pattern of heavy use was reinforced.
In 1996, Perkins teamed up with Craig to dramatically expand the Alcohol Education Project, designed to educate students about what's really going on. The success of the HWS program can be demonstrated not only by the reduction in alcohol-abusive behavior, but also by the fact that it has been adopted by many other institutions across the country as a model for their own efforts.
The program uses a combination of methods to educate students, including an electronic media campaign and inclusion of alcohol-abuse awareness issues in the classroom. For example, the HWS campus computer network displays “campus factoids,” bits of interesting research results, as the screen saver on all computers. Students can browse “factoids” and “reactoids” as well as related student-produced videos, supplemental research data, and photos.