Social Norms Handbook Reviewed – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Social Norms Handbook Reviewed

The New Republic ran an extensive review of Professor Wes Perkins' new book, “The Social Norms Approach to Preventing School and College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators, Counselors, and Clinicians” in an article titled “Sober Lemmings” from the April 3 issue. After giving background on the history of conformity studies and their results, the review wrote “… an understanding of conformity explains a lot about human behavior—some of it harmless, some of it disturbing, some of it dangerous. Studies have shown that political violence and even terrorism are often not a product of social deprivation. Much of the time, they are fueled by social pressures. But an important question remains. Is it possible for well-motivated reformers, or for government, to use an understanding of conformity to move people in helpful directions? This book, mostly a collection of essays on substance abuse in college, suggests a fascinatingly positive answer to that question.”

The review then identified various social norms studies used in the book, and their implications, including the work done by Perkins and Professor David Craig at the Colleges. The reviewer concluded, “Perkins and his colleagues deserve considerable credit for developing a promising method for reducing harmful behavior, one that has the unusual virtue of improving matters without relying on punishment or even regulation.”

With Craig, Perkins co-directs the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Alcohol and Other Drug Education Project and the two are frequent guests at schools and universities across the country that want to know more about this successful model of abuse prevention. “The Social Norms Approach to Preventing School and College Age Substance Abuse: A Handbook for Educators, Counselors, and Clinicians,” edited by Perkins, was published by Jossey-Bass in February. The book outlines the history of the social norms approach, offers case studies relating the success of the model at various institutions, discusses social norms work beyond the campus, and posits further applications and challenges for the social norms model in promoting health and well-being.