Social norms approach

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Social norms approach is a method used in behavioral science and health education to understand and influence individual and group behavior. The approach is based on the premise that people's behavior is influenced by their perception of how their peers think and act (norms). By correcting misperceptions about the prevalence and acceptability of certain behaviors, the social norms approach aims to change behavior.

Overview[edit | edit source]

The social norms approach was first developed in the 1980s by H. Wesley Perkins and Alan Berkowitz, who were studying alcohol use among college students. They found that students consistently overestimated the amount and frequency of their peers' drinking, which in turn influenced their own drinking behavior. This led to the development of the social norms approach, which seeks to correct these misperceptions and thereby reduce harmful behaviors.

Theory[edit | edit source]

The social norms approach is based on social norms theory, which posits that our behavior is influenced by our perceptions of what is normal or typical. We are more likely to engage in a behavior if we believe it is common and accepted by our peers, and less likely to engage in a behavior if we believe it is uncommon or disapproved of.

In the social norms approach, these perceptions are often found to be inaccurate. For example, people may overestimate the prevalence of risky behaviors like drinking and drug use, and underestimate the prevalence of protective behaviors like studying and exercising. By correcting these misperceptions, the social norms approach aims to change behavior.

Applications[edit | edit source]

The social norms approach has been applied in a variety of settings, including colleges and universities, high schools, and communities. It has been used to address a range of health and social issues, such as alcohol and drug use, smoking, sexual behavior, eating disorders, and violence.

In a typical social norms campaign, data is collected on the actual behaviors and attitudes of a population, and then this information is widely disseminated to correct misperceptions. This can be done through a variety of methods, including posters, flyers, social media, and workshops.

Effectiveness[edit | edit source]

Research on the effectiveness of the social norms approach has been mixed. Some studies have found significant reductions in risky behaviors following social norms campaigns, while others have found little or no effect. Factors that may influence the effectiveness of the approach include the accuracy of the data, the credibility of the message, and the extent to which the campaign reaches its target audience.

Criticisms[edit | edit source]

Critics of the social norms approach argue that it oversimplifies the complex factors that influence behavior, and that it may not be effective in all populations or for all behaviors. Some also question the ethics of using normative messages to influence behavior, particularly when the messages may not reflect the values or beliefs of all members of a community.

See also[edit | edit source]


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD