David Craig, professor of chemistry and Wes Perkins, professor of Sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, recently presented their work at the 9th National Conference on the Social Norms Approach.
The event, held in Denver, is a national forum for examining socials norms issues in this growing national field of study. The social norms approach is a public health strategy for reducing high risk behaviors and promoting safety especially among youth and young adults pioneered by Perkins and Craig. It is based on the consistent finding that people think risk behaviors are more pervasive than is really the case and these misperceptions lead to greater problem behavior than would otherwise occur. Perkins and Craig’s work is devoted to dispelling these harmful misperceptions about peer norms.
Perkins along with Michael Haines from the National Social Norms Resource Center presented a preconference workshop introducing this approach to 105 attendees new to the field. This was the largest preconference session of this annual meeting in the last nine years.
Nicole Henderson ’08, who attended the conference, described that model as a way of telling people the truth. “Instead of saying ‘don’t drink’ we say ‘most of your peers don’t misuse alcohol or don’t drink at all'” she said. “Nationwide, the social norms concept is working.”
Henderson says that the conference was an excellent place to pick up some new tips and ideas that will help her as a service learning colleague in the fall. She was also impressed with the variety of attendees. “There were professors and students from all over,” she said. “I met students from Canada and faculty from Copenhagen, Denmark.”
Christa Hibbard ’09 was also in attendance. As the graphic designer for the ubiquitous social norms posters, Hibbard has already made her mark on campus, but the conference gave her more insight into marketing to her peers. “They talked about how to present the data,” Hibbard said “how important it is to go to the students and get their reactions to what they see.”
Hibbard has high hopes for the impact of the social norms approach. “It is working well on our campus already,” she said. “We’ve found a lot of ways to get the message out.”
Craig and Perkins gave five major presentations at the conference, more than the representatives of any other institution or program. The topics were:
• “Multi-State Results from an Online Tool for Assessing Secondary School Norms, 1999 – 2006”
• “Montana's MOST Of Us Don't Drink & Drive Campaign: A Successful Strategy to Reduce Impaired Driving in Young Adults”
• “Assessing Bullying in Secondary Schools with a New Online Survey: Applying the Social Norms Model to Adolescent Violence”
• “Results from a Study Measuring Late Night Blood Alcohol Levels in a Residential College”
• “Using Social Norms to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among College Student-Athletes: Results from a U. S. Department of Education 2005 Model Program”