Professor of Sociology H. Wesley Perkins, a leading expert in social norms research, was the invited guest speaker last month at the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services’ College Prevention Learning Institute, held at the University of Albany. The Learning Institute was attended by health educators, counselors, college prevention coordinators, researchers and higher education administrators from 20 institutions of higher education in the New York State system.
Perkins delivered a morning address, “Social Norms Theory and Practice: Preventing Problem Drinking & Substance Abuse and Promoting Healthy Campus Environments,” and an afternoon presentation, “Best Practices for Effective Social Norms Interventions.”
For years, Perkins and Professor of Chemistry David Craig P’05 have developed an influential body of data and research around college students’ perceptions and behaviors around alcohol use. As Perkins explained recently, the social norms approach takes “the point of view that humans are group oriented, that we largely operate within packs and that norms are critically important in guiding and shaping our behavior…Researchers in psychology and sociology have demonstrated time and time again that social norms are one of the most important influencers in shaping behavior, especially of youth with regard to health-related behaviors and risk-related behaviors.”
Over the past two decades, the social norms intervention model developed by the HWS Alcohol Education Project has been applied in a variety of settings and across various social circumstances, earning multiple awards from the U.S. Department of Education. Perkins and Craig launched the intervention program among student-athletes at HWS, eventually expanding the project to other NCAA Division III programs, schools abroad and the U.S. Air Force.
Perkins is a graduate of Purdue University, and he received his M.A., M. Div., M. Phil. and Ph.D. from Yale University. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and is editor of a book on the social norms approach to substance abuse prevention, and has been honored with national awards for his work in preventing alcohol and drug abuse in colleges and universities.