Social Norms Research 2004-05

2004

Larimer, M. E., Turner, A. P., Mallett, K.A., & Geisner, I. (2004). Predicting drinking behavior and alcohol-related problems among fraternity and sorority members: Examining the role of descriptive and injunctive norms. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 203-212.

The authors examined the relation between Greek students' perceptions of alcohol consumption in their pledge classes (descriptive norms) and acceptability of drinking (injunctive norms) and the ability of these normative influences to predict drinking behavior, alcohol-related negative consequences; and symptoms of alcohol dependence concurrently and prospectively over I year. Participants were 279 men and 303 women recruited from incoming pledge classes of 12 fraternities and 6 sororities, who completed measures of descriptive and injunctive norms, alcohol use, and consequences. Results revealed that descriptive norms significantly predicted concurrent drinking. After controlling for baseline drinking, injunctive norms significantly predicted drinking 1 year later and predicted alcohol-related consequences and dependency symptoms at baseline and follow-up. The potential to incorporate injunctive norms into preventive interventions is discussed.


Albarracin, D., Kumkale, G.T., & Johnson, B.T. (2004). Influences of social power and normative support on condom use decisions: A research synthesis. AIDS Care, 16, 700-723.

A meta-analysis of 58 studies involving 30,270 participants examined how study population and methodological characteristics influence the associations among norms, control perceptions, attitudes, intentions and behavior in the area of condom use. Findings indicated that control perceptions generally correlated more strongly among members of societal groups that lack power, including female, younger individuals, ethic minorities and people with lower educational levels. Furthermore, norms generally had stronger influences among younger individuals and among people who have greater access to informational social support, including males, ethnic majorities and people with higher levels of education. These findings are discussed in the context of HIV prevention.


Lynch, J. F., Mowrey, R. J., Nesbitt, G. M., & O'Neill, D.F. (2004). Risky business: Misperceived norms of sexual behavior among college students. NASPA Journal, 42, 21-35.

Do students accurately perceive the sexual behavior of their peers? The results of this study indicate a dramatic difference between students' self-reported sexual behavior and their perceptions of peer sexual behavior. Specifically, students tend to overestimate the potentially risky sexual activity of their peers. The data also challenge popular myths regarding the sexual behavior of Greek and athlete populations. As with alcohol prevention efforts, the disparity between behavior and perception raises the question of whether social marketing strategies may be effective in lowering the incidence of unsafe sexual behaviors among college students.


Martens, M. P., Taylor, K. K., Damann, K. M., Page, L. C., Mowry, E. S., & Cimini, M. D. (2004). Protective behavioral strategies when drinking alcohol and their relationship to negative alcohol-related consequences in college students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 390-393

Prior research has examined a number of individual characteristics (e.g., gender, family connectedness) that protect individuals from engaging in heavy drinking and experiencing negative alcohol-related consequences, but less is known about specific behavioral strategies that might also serve as protective factors. In this study, 556 undergraduate students completed the National College Health Assessment and answered questions regarding the use of specific protective behavioral strategies (PBS), alcohol consumption, and alcohol-related consequences. Results indicated that less frequent use of PBS was related to a greater likelihood of experiencing negative alcohol-related consequences, even after accounting for the effects of gender and alcohol consumption. These results suggest that PBS may be an important component of both prevention and treatment programs for college students.


Swanson, D. J., Zegers, K. M., & Zwaska, A. A. (2004).Implementing a social norms approach to reduce alcohol abuse on campus: Lessons learned in the shadow of 'The World's Largest Six-Pack.' Social Science Journal, 41, 621-635.

Many institutions of higher education are struggling with the problem of excessive alcohol consumption by students. Colleges and universities want to be ‘good neighbors’ in their communities and must limit legal and social risks that result from excessive alcohol consumption by students. At the same time, colleges and universities operate in an increasingly challenging marketplace where many prospective students seek out institutions with a ‘party school’ reputation. Thus, higher education institutions are finding it difficult to define and carry out alcohol reduction measures that satisfy all constituents. This article discusses the approach taken at the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse. UW-L is an institution that identified a serious alcohol consumption problem and had to address the problem in a community where high levels of alcohol consumption are socially and culturally condoned. The article profiles the UW-L community and discusses the campaign model and strategy chosen. Quantitative and qualitative measures of success are discussed, along with lingering issues of resistance. The article ends with a summary of current issues and future directions being taken by the campaign.


Lintonen, T. P. & Konu, A. I. (2004). The misperceived social norm of drunkenness among early adolescents in Finland. Health Education Research, 19, 64-70.

Adolescents tend to overestimate peer drinking; the resulting misperception of the social norm predicts the child’s own future drinking. This study examined the misperception’s relatedness to a person’s drinking pattern in order to facilitate the segmentation of the audience for health education interventions. Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Survey (Finland)data on 14 year olds’ drinking patterns and perceptions of peer drinking were gathered using self-administered mailed questionnaires in 1989 (N = 3105, response rate 77%), 1995 (N= 8382, 79%) and 2001 (N = 7292, 70%). The perceptions of peer drinking were significantly related to respondents’ drinking patterns. Non-drinkers and those drinking recurrently until drunkenness held reasonably correct views of their peers’ drinking. However, the segment between these two extremes comprising around half of the cohort incorrectly thought that their peers drank more; they misperceived the normative drinking pattern to be drunkenness. From health education perspective, three different target audiences can be identified: non-drinkers, moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers. The intermediate group, drinkers not normally getting drunk, holds the view most influenced by the social norm misperception and are likely to feel pressured to increase their drinking. The social norms marketing approach to health education should find this group the most viable target.


Scholly, K., Katz, A. R., Gascoigne, J., & Holck, P. S. (2004). Using social norms theory to explain perceptions and sexual health behaviors of undergraduate college students: An exploratory study. Journal of American College Health, 53, 159-166.

The authors and associates conducted a social norms-based intervention targeting high-risk sexual behaviors among undergraduate students at 4 college campuses. Social norms theory predicts that widely held misperceptions may encourage risky behavior in a misguided attempt to conform to perceived norms and that information correcting these misperceptions will lead to a decrease in such behaviors. Students overestimated their peers' levels of sexual activity, number of partners, incidence of sexually transmitted infections, and rates of unintended pregnancies, but underestimated rates of condom use. Rates of HIV test taking, however, were accurately estimated. Although some components of sexual risk behaviors lend themselves well to social norms-based interventions, others, specifically inconsistent condom use and avoiding HIV tests, do not. Although no changes in reported beliefs or practices were apparent at the end of the 9-month intervention period, longer and modified interventions may be needed to make a fair assessment of the efficacy of this approach.


Alexander, E. N. & Bowen, A. M. (2004). Excessive drinking in college: Behavioral outcome, not binge, as a basis for prevention. Addictive Behaviors, 29, 1199-1205.

The dichotomous variable "binge drinking" and its associated outcomes may be insufficient for understanding the drinking phenomenon on college campuses. The current study examined the behavioral outcomes associated with different drinking nights (light, typical, and heavy) in an effort to more closely examine collegiate drinking behavior. Data were collected from 236 university students, including hourly drinking rate, estimated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was computed, and outcomes for each drinking night. Students reported drinking behavior that ranged from weekly "light night" drinking (average: 2.85 drinks, 3.34 h, end of night BAC = 0.04%) to biweekly "heavy nights" (average: 9.91 drinks, 4.93 h, end of night BAC = 0.25%). Students report encountering the greatest number of negative outcomes during heavy drinking nights, while light nights were found to have the fewest associated negative outcomes. Positive outcomes were highest on "typical" nights, although effect sizes were small. These data suggest that prevention efforts may be more successful if types of drinking night and positive outcomes become a stronger focus. Limitations and directions for future programming and research are discussed.


Thombs, D. L., Dotterer, S., Olds, R. S., Sharp, K. E., & Raub, C. G. (2004). A close look at why one social norms campaign did not reduce student drinking. Journal of American College Health, 53, 61-68.

The authors examined 3 possible explanations for the failure of a social norms campaign at a large public university. They administered an anonymous survey to 2 random samples of undergraduate classes: a baseline assessment of 616 students before the campaign's implementation and a follow-up survey of 723 students 4 academic years later. At follow-up, 66.5% of the students were aware of the campaign, yet the survey revealed no reduction in perceived drinking norms or alcohol use in this group. An analysis of the postcampaign sample revealed that (1) a majority of the students did not find the statistics used in the campaign messages credible, (2) higher levels of alcohol use predicted lower levels of perceived campaign credibility, and (3) only 38.5% of the students understood the campaign's intended purpose. If they are to influence personally relevant drinking norms, these campaigns must undergo further development to enhance message credibility and participants' understanding.


Christensen, P. N., Rothgerber, H., Wood, W., & Matz, D. C. (2004). Social norms and identity relevance: A motivational approach to normative behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 1295-1309.

Two studies demonstrated that greater identification with a group was associated with more positive emotions for members who conformed with versus violated the group’s norms. These effects were found with injunctive norms, which specify what members should do or what they ideally would do, but emerged less consistently with descriptive norms, which specify what members typically do. Descriptive norms affected emotional responses when they acquired identity-relevance by differentiating an important ingroup from a rival outgroup. For these descriptive norms, much like injunctive norms, greater identification yielded more positive emotions following conformity than violation. The authors suggest that positive emotions and self evaluations underlie conformity with the norms of self-defining


Mattern, J. & Neighbors, C. (2004). Social norms campaigns: examining the relationship between changes in perceived norms and changes in drink levels. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 65, 489-493.

This study examines changes in drinking as a function of changes in perceived drinking norms following a social norms marketing campaign to correct normative misperceptions of college student drinking among residence hall students. Results revealed reduced perceptions of typical student drinking frequency and quantity. Among non-abstainers, drinking quantity went down from pre to post intervention. Further examination revealed that reductions in drinking were only evident among students whose perceived norms were reduced.


Neal, D. J. & Carey, K. B. (2004). Developing discrepancy within self-regulation theory: Use of personalized normative feedback and personal strivings with heavy-drinking college students. Addictive Behaviors, 29, 281-297.

Efforts to reduce the frequency of high-risk drinking have included the use of motivational interventions. Both the technique used in motivational interventions and an underlying theory of behavior change (i.e., self-regulation theory) invoke the construct of discrepancy development. This study was designed to determine whether techniques purported to develop discrepancy actually do so and to compare methods of developing discrepancy on indices of intention to reduce alcohol use. Male and female college drinkers (N = 92) were selected if they reported two or more binge episodes in the last month, or scored 4 or higher on the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index (RAPI). Participants were randomly assigned by gender to three conditions all conducted in a small group format: attention-control, personalized normative feedback (PNF), and personal strivings assessment (PSA). Personalized normative feedback was designed to develop discrepancy based on behavioral comparisons of self and others. Personal strivings assessment was designed to develop discrepancy between current and ideal self. It was hypothesized that participants who engage in discrepancy building activities would experience discrepancy specific to the activity in which they engaged, and that all participants who developed discrepancy would show higher levels of intention to reduce alcohol use. Results indicated that only the personalized normative feedback increased discrepancy and intention to reduce alcohol use.

2005

Perkins, H. W., Haines, M. P., & Rice, R. (2005). Misperceiving the college drinking norm and related problems: A nationwide study of exposure to prevention information, perceived norms and student alcohol misuse. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 66, 470-478.

OBJECTIVE: This study examined (1) the prevalence of misperceptions of college student drinking norms across campuses nationwide, (2) the importance of perceived norms in predicting high-risk drinking, (3) the association of exposure to alcohol education information with students' perceptions of campus drinking norms and (4) the differences in high-risk drinking rates between schools where exposure to alcohol information is associated with more accurately perceived norms and schools where exposure to information is unrelated to perceptions or is associated with greater misperceptions. METHOD: Multivariate analyses were used to analyze an aggregate database of the National College Health Assessment survey administered to 76,145 students from 130 colleges and universities nationwide from spring 2000 through spring 2003. RESULTS: Regardless of the actual campus drinking norm, a consistently large percentage of students nationwide overestimated the quantity of alcohol consumed by their peers. Students' perception of their campus drinking norm was the strongest predictor of the amount of alcohol personally consumed in comparison with the influence of all demographic variables. Perception of the norm was also a much stronger predictor when compared with the actual campus norm. Reduced levels of high-risk drinking and negative consequences were found among students attending the relatively few schools where exposure to prevention information was associated with less exaggerated perceptions of the drinking norm compared with students attending other schools. CONCLUSIONS: Misperceived drinking norms are a pervasive problem. Schools that do not seek to reduce these misperceptions with their prevention information are neglecting a potentially powerful component of prevention.


West, S. L. & Graham, C. W. (2005). A survey of substance abuse prevention efforts at Virginia's colleges and universities. Journal of American College Health, 54, 185-191.

The extremes of college student substance use and the negative consequences students face as a result of such use are of great public health concern. Although a multitude of campus-based substance abuse prevention efforts have appeared in the literature, a clear picture of the programs and policies currently at use at college and universities is not readily available. This research was undertaken to detail both the efforts aimed at general student samples and those targeting at-risk (e.g., Greeks, student athletes) and historically underserved student groups at colleges and universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While a variety of efforts were being made, there was a reliance on program orientations with limited scientific support. Four-year institutions used a wider array of outlets for their prevention messages. Targeted programs for at-risk groups were common but were largely unavailable specifically for ethnic minority students and students with disabilities.


Eisenberg, M. E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., & Perry, C. (2005). The role of social norms and friends’ influences on unhealthy weight-control behaviors among adolescent girls. Social Science & Medicine, 60, 1165-1173.

Dieting is common among adolescent girls and may place them at risk of using unhealthy weight-control behaviors (UWCBs), such as self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diet pills, or fasting. Research has suggested that social factors, including friends and broader cultural norms, may be associated with UWCBs. The present study examines the relationship between the school-wide prevalence of current weight loss efforts among adolescent girls, friends’ dieting behavior, and UWCBs, and investigates differences in these associations across weight categories. Survey data were collected in 31 middle and high schools in ethnically and socio-economically diverse communities in Minnesota, USA. The response rate was 81.5%. Rates of UWCBs were compared across the spectrum of prevalence of trying to lose weight and friends’ involvement with dieting, using ?2 analysis and multivariate logistic regression, controlling for demographic factors and clustering by school. Girls with higher body mass index (BMI) were more likely to engage in UWCBs than those of lower BMI. Multivariate models indicated that friends’ dieting behavior was significantly associated with UWCBs for average weight girls (OR=1.57, CI=1.40–1.77) and moderately overweight girls (OR=1.47, CI=1.19–1.82). The school-wide prevalence of trying to lose weight was significantly, albeit modestly, related to UWCBs for average weight girls (15th–85th percentile; OR=1.17, CI=1.01–1.36), and marginally associated for modestly overweight girls (85th–95th percentile; OR=1.21, CI=.97–1.50), even after controlling for friends’ dieting behaviors. The social influences examined here were not associated with UWCBs among underweight (<15th percentile) or overweight (>95th percentile) girls. Findings suggest that social norms, particularly from within one's peer group, but also at the larger school level may influence UWCBs, particularly for average weight girls. Implications for school-based interventions to reduce UWCBs are discussed.


Chernoff, R. A., & Davison, G. C. (2005). An evaluation of a brief HIV/AIDS prevention intervention for college students using normative feedback and goal setting. AIDS Education and Prevention, 17, 91-104.

This study evaluated the ability of a 20-minute self-administered intervention to increase HIV/AIDS risk reduction among sexually active college students. The intervention presented normative data on the relatively low prevalence of HIV risk behaviors among college students for the purpose of conveying the idea that risk reduction was the prevailing social norm among their same sex peers. The intervention also invited students to select specific risk reduction goals to be implemented over a 30-day follow-up period. Participants (N=155) were assigned in alternating order to receive either the intervention or a control condition that entailed reading a general AIDS information pamphlet. Results were partially moderated by gender. Compared with controls, men in the intervening group reported significantly higher condom use, whereas women in the intervention group reported significantly fewer sexual partners.


Werner, N. E. & Nixon, C. L. (2005). Normative beliefs and relational aggression: An investigation of the cognitive bases of adolescent aggressive behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34, 229-243.

The relations between normative beliefs about different forms of aggression and corresponding aggressive behaviors were investigated in 2 studies of adolescents. In Study 1, we revised an instrument designed to assess normative beliefs about aggression to include beliefs about the acceptability of relational aggression, and we examined the psychometric properties of the instrument. In Studies 1 and 2, the unique associations of normative beliefs about relational and physical aggression with self-reported relational and physical aggression were examined. Findings across both studies revealed that beliefs-behavior associations were specific to aggression forms. In other words, beliefs about relational aggression were uniquely associated with engagement in relationally aggressive acts, whereas beliefs about physical aggression, but not relational aggression, contributed unique information about adolescents' level of physical aggression. No gender effects were found. Results are discussed with a social-cognitive framework, and implications are explored for future prevention and intervention efforts to reduce aggressive behaviors.


Lapinski, M. K. & Rimal, R. N. (2005). An explication of social norms. Communication Theory, 15, 127-147.

This article identifies four factors for consideration in norms-based research to enhance predictive ability of theoretical models. First, it makes the distinction between perceived and collective norms and between descriptive and injunctive norms. Second, the article addresses the role of important moderators in the relationship between descriptive norms and behaviors, including outcome expectations, group identity, and ego involvement. Third, it discusses the role of both interpersonal and mass communication in normative influences. Lastly, it outlines behavioral attributes that determine susceptibility to normative influences, including behavioral ambiguity and the public or private nature of behavior.


Walters, S. T. & Neighbors, N. (2005). Feedback interventions for college alcohol misuse: What, why, and for whom? Addictive Behaviors, 30, 1168-1182.

In response to the persistent problem of college drinking, universities have instituted a range of alcohol intervention programs for students. Motivational feedback is one intervention that has garnered support in the literature and been adopted on college campuses. This article reviews published outcome studies that have utilized feedback as a major component of an alcohol intervention for college students. Overall, 11 of 13 reviewed studies (77%) found a significant reduction in drinking as compared to a control or comparison group. While the studies varied widely in terms of population, follow-up period, and feedback content, it appears that feedback can be effective whether delivered by mail, the Internet, or via face-to-face motivational interview. Feedback seems to change normative perceptions of drinking and may be more effective among students who drink for social reasons. The addition of a group or individual counseling session does not appear to increase the short-term impact of the feedback.


Agostinelli, G. & Grube, J. (2005). Effects of presenting heavy drinking norms on adolescents' prevalence estimates, evaluative judgments, and perceived standards. Prevention Science, 6, 89-99.

Correcting normative information about the prevalence of heavy drinking is a key element in many prevention programs. To isolate the influence of normative information on older high school students' (n=230) alcohol-related judgments, the effects of delivering normative information in different contexts (no normative information, normative information only, normative information plus a self-focusing comparison to one's drinking) and under different measurement conditions (public, private) were examined. First, relative to presenting no norms, presenting norms both with and without a self-focus reduced the underestimation of the percent of high school students who never drink heavily. Second, the effects on both positive and negative evaluations of heavy drinking were examined independently. Heavy drinking students more strongly endorsed positive evaluations of heavy drinking than did non-heavy drinking students, but the self-serving bias was limited to the normative information only condition. Normative information failed to impact negative evaluations of heavy drinking for students at all drinking levels. Third, in judging the acceptable number of heavy drinking days approved by others, presenting the normative information in both contexts (relative to presenting no norms) led to more conservative judgments. Yet, only the normative context that added self-focus to the norm led students to adopt more conservative personal standards for the acceptable number of heavy drinking days. Finally, public versus private measurement did not affect any of the dependent variables. The findings are discussed as they relate to confrontational versus empathic styles in delivering interventions.


Lewis, T. F. & Thombs, D. L. (2005). Perceived risks and normative beliefs as explanatory models for college student alcohol involvement: An assessment of a campus with conventional alcohol control policies and enforcement practices. NASPA Journal, 42, 202-222.

The aim of this study was to conduct a multivariate assessment of college student drinking motivations at a campus with conventional alcohol control policies and enforcement practices, including the establishment and dissemination of alcohol policies and the use of warnings to arouse fear of sanctions. Two explanatory models were compared: perceptions of risk and normative beliefs. An anonymous questionnaire was administered to 1,396 students at a large Midwestern university. Data analyses were conducted on the subsample of participants who had reported using alcohol within the past 12 months (n=1,322). Overall, the results from a canonical correlation analysis indicated that alcohol involvement was best explained by normative beliefs about drinking practices of one's closest friends. Perceptions of drinking risk were less important to the explanation of alcohol involvement, and some of these measures unexpectedly had positive associations with indicators of alcohol risk behavior. The findings call into question the conventional deterrence strategies used in many university communities (i.e., belief that students perceive there to be a low risk of receiving sanctions were those most likely to engage in alcohol-related misbehavior). Furthermore, the findings suggest that effective interventions will need to impact students' normative beliefs about the drinking practices of proximal peer groups.


Ott, C. H., Cashin, S., & Altekruse, M. (2005). Development and validation of the College Tobacco Survey. Journal of American College Health, 53, 231-238.

The authors report on the development and assessment of an instrument to measure baseline campus cigarette use and outcomes from prevention programs, including those using a social norms approach combined with environmental policy change. They administered the 37-item College Tobacco Survey (CTS) to a convenience sample of 1,279 college students in freshmen-level classes at a large urban university. Factor analysis of 15 belief items revealed 3 factors: Peer Environment, Personal Effects, and Campus Policy Endorsement. The findings support the survey's reliability and validity. The authors discuss potential uses of the survey in terms of social norms and environmental prevention programs.


Ott, C. H., & Doyle, L. H. (2005). An evaluation of the small group norms challenging model: Changing substance use misperceptions in five urban high schools. The High School Journal, 88, 45-55.

According to social norms theory, when high school students overestimate the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD) by their peers, they tend to use more themselves. The purpose of this study was to determine whether these overestimations (misperceptions) could be corrected through a similar age peer-to-peer interactive social norms approach based on the Small Group Norms-Challenging Model. The sample included 414 adolescents in health classes in five urban high schools. Baseline data were retrieved from the school district's Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). Perception change was measured with items adapted from the YRBS. Results indicate a significant decrease in misperceptions from pretest to posttest. Student responses to open-ended questions indicate increased awareness of ATOD issues, positive plans for behavioral change, and positive program evaluation. Implications for the use of the social norms approach is presented for high school teachers and administrators.


Martino-McAllister, J. & Wessel, M. T. (2005). An evaluation of a social norms marketing project for tobacco prevention with middle, high, and college students; Use of funds from the tobacco master settlement (Virginia). Journal of Drug Education, 35, 185-200.

The Anti-Tobacco Media Blitz (ATMB), a social-norms marketing program, was utilized for tobacco prevention with middle and high school students. University students assisted middle and high school students with the implementation of this campaign, which included a variety of media. Students worked in teams to design, develop, and evaluate tobacco-free messages through posters, radio, television, and peer-led activities. Evaluation of the campaign was constant and included assessment of message retention and demonstration of positive behaviors. This article discusses the procedures of this project, the five-step social norms marketing model, with emphasis on the student-centered evaluation and results.


Haines, M. P. (2005). Habituation and Social Norms. The Report on Social Norms, 4, 1,3,8.

Excerpt: "Anyone experienced with applying social marketing concepts to correct misperceived social norms knows that delivering credible true norm messages consistently and frequently is a key to success. Is it possible to overdo the marketing, overdose our audience, turn them against us? The answer is "yes" and when we do that it is called habituation by professional advertisers. Habituation can reduce the effectiveness of a social norms campaign or even cause it to fail." The article describes the stages and causes of habituation, as well as solutions to it.


Braxton, J. & Caboni, T. (2005). Using student norms to create positive learning environments. About Campus, 9, 2-7.

Excerpt: "College and university administrators, faculty, and staff members often invest considerable time and effort in the formulation and modification of institutional policies and practices designed to foster campus environments favorable to student learning. Such policies and practices frequently offer much hope. However, the success or failure of such policies and practices depends on student acceptance and compliance. Knowledge and understanding of the norms espoused by student peer groups thus provide powerful tools for the formulation of such policies and practices."


Russell, C. A., Clapp, J. D., & DeJong, W. (2005). Done 4: Analysis of a failed social norms marketing campaign. Health Communication, 17, 57-65.

College students commonly believe their peers engage in higher levels of dangerous drinking than is actually the case. Social norms marketing campaigns attempt to correct these misperceptions, decrease the perceived normative pressure to drink, and thereby drive down high-risk alcohol consumption. In this case study, we critically examined "Done 4," an unsuccessful social norms marketing campaign conducted as part of a comprehensive prevention trial at a large urban university. As part of this analysis, undergraduate marketing students were shown the principal advertisement used in the campaign and asked to complete an advertising analysis questionnaire. The results of this case study suggest that the advertisement was poorly constructed, which decreased its effectiveness and led to confusion about the social norms message. We discuss implications of these findings for future prevention campaigns and new research.


Rice, R., & Hancock, L. (2005). The mall intercept: A social norms marketing research tool. The Report on Social Norms, 4, 4-7.

Excerpt: "The mall intercept is an indispensable tool for conducting timely and effective process or monitoring research. Because it is relatively economical and can be easily adapted to investigate both ongoing and emergent questions, the mall intercept can generate a wealth of both qualitative and quantitative data about various aspects of project implementation. In addition, a wide variety of individuals can be trained to conduct intercepts, thus providing an important educational opportunity for peer educators, students in public and community health, marketing students, etc. In short, social norms projects have abundant reasons to use the mall intercept. By doing so, they can effectively bolster the comprehension, reach, and recall of their normative messages."


Schneider, S. K., Towvim, L. G., & DeJong, W. (2005). The social norms marketing research project: Results for study 1. The Report on Social Norms, 4.

Annotation from socialnorm.org: "This study found "slight decreases or modest increases in alcohol consumption at the schools randomly assigned to conduct a social norms marketing campaign, compared to fairly substantial increases at the control group schools. In sum, the social norms marketing campaigns conducted by the experimental schools appear to have provided a protective effect against the increases in alcohol consumption shown by the control group."


Lederman, L. & Stewart, L. (2005). Changing the culture of college drinking: A socially situated health communication campaign. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Annotation from socialnorm.org: Included in this book are chapters by Alan Berkowitz (reviewing the history of social norms Theory), Patricia Fabiano (describing the work done at WWU with a small group approach incorporating social norms) and by Linda Jeffrey and Pam Negro of Rowan University (summarizing their work with a state-wide social norms project). The book targets a new audience for social norms work: the discipline of communication, where many who study persuasion theory and health communication may now be introduced to the Socially Situated Experiential Learning approach used by Lederman and Stewart at Rutgers University: an approach that relies upon and acknowledges the role of social norms and misperceptions.


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2005). Montana's MOST of Us Don't Drink and Drive Campaign: A social norms strategy to reduce impaired driving among 21-34-year-olds. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Publication No. DOT HS 809 869). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Objective: To test the efficacy of a high-intensity social norms media intervention to reduce the prevalence of driving after drinking among 21-to-34-year-olds living in western Montana.Method: The efficacy of a high-intensity social norms media campaign was tested in this quasi-experimental controlled design. A baseline survey collected self-reported data on the target population’s behavior with respect to impaired driving, as well as on its perceptions of the behavior of their peers. Normative messages and media were developed from these data. Approximately half of the 21-to-34-year-olds in the State reside in 15 of its western counties.These Montana counties served as a high-dosage paid social norms media intervention area and were exposed to high levels of campaign television, radio, newspaper, billboard, and movie slide advertisements; 26 eastern counties served as a low-dosage control environment and were exposed only to low levels of free media (television and radio public service announcements) and paid newspaper advertisements. Promotional items bearing the campaign message were distributed statewide. In order to make the paid media intervention as powerful as possible, fear-producing, deterrent-based media efforts were eliminated or severely restricted in the treatment counties. Random samples of the target population were surveyed a total of four times. At Time 1 (November 2001) and Time 2 (November 2002) 1,000 respondents were surveyed. At Time 3 (March 2003) 1,005 respondents were surveyed; at Time 4 (June 2003) a reduced sample of 517 respondents was surveyed. Ten- to twelve-minute telephone interviews were conducted at each time point by trained interviewers through a computer-assisted telephone interviewing laboratory. Each survey gathered information on respondents’ exposure to the campaign message, and on their perceptions and reported behaviors regarding driving after drinking.Results: The campaign successfully reduced the target population’s misperceptions of the frequency of impaired driving among their peers. When compared to the control counties, follow-up surveys found a 7.5-percent relative decrease in the percentage who believed the average Montanan their age drove after drinking during the previous month and an 11.0-percent relative increase in the percentage who accurately perceived that the majority of their peers use a non-drinking designated driver. The change in perceptions was associated with a change in reported behavior. In the target area there was a 13.7-percent relative decrease in the percentage that reported personally driving after drinking and a 15.0-percent relative increase in the percentage that reported always using non-drinking designated drivers. The campaign also affected attitudes towards impaired driving enforcement policy. Target county residents reported a 16.5-percent relative increase in the percentage who would support passing a law to decrease the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) legal limit for driving to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent.Conclusions: A high-intensity paid media social norms intervention can be successful on a statewide scale, across a variety of measures including perceptions, reported behaviors, attitudes, and support for policy. Self-reported surveys are a reliable and widely used method of data collection. However, the results of the data reported by respondents could not be corroborated with changes in BAC of arrested drivers or numbers of alcohol-related fatalities due to accessibility and availability of BAC data of arrested drivers.


Perkins, H. W. (2005). Critical concerns for evaluating social norms interventions with survey data. The Social Norms Review, 1. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from http://www.socialnorms.org/pdf/SNR1-1-2005.pdf

Excerpt: The social norms approach is an intensely data-driven process. For example, data are gathered in social norms projects in order to establish baseline measures, to provide verifiable information for normative messages, to identify effective media channels and credible messages (sometimes called market research), to perform process evaluation and, as part of outcome evaluation, to assess the effectiveness of the intervention. Each of these areas is important, of course, and has its own particular challenges. In this article I would like to focus on a number of key issues affecting outcome evaluation; specifically, I want to examine in detail seven concerns that are critically important for the proper evaluation of survey data gathered in a social norms project.


Christensen, S. (2005). The snowball survey as a component of a high school social norms marketing intervention: A pilot study. The Social Norms Review, 1. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from http://www.socialnorms.org/pdf/SNR1-2-2005.pdf

Excerpt: Evanston’s Social Norms Marketing Campaign, Strength in Numbers, was launched in November 2001. In partnership with Evanston Township High School (ETHS), Strength in Numbers is sponsored by the Evanston Substance Abuse Prevention Council, a coalition that was founded in Evanston in 1984. The campaign was initially comprised of interventions for high school students (approximately 3,000), their parents and school staff (approximately 500). The stated goals of the campaign are to reduce parent, staff, and student overestimations of student alcohol and tobacco use, to increase the frequency with which parents and staff communicate true norm statements to students, and to reduce the prevalence of student alcohol and tobacco consumption. Given that, a comprehensive marketing strategy has been employed—including posters, postcards/mailers, newspaper and theatre ads, brochures, presentations, and promotional items—to communicate to students, parents, and teachers accurate information about ETHS student norms of non-use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. In addition, real-life strategies that have been gathered from the students themselves for protecting oneself from the pressure to use are routinely communicated to students.


Gitchel, S. & Zelezny, L. (2005). The snowball survey: A social norms classroom activity. The Social Norms Review, 1. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from http://www.socialnorms.org/pdf/SNR1-2-2005.pdf

Excerpt: The Snowball Survey is an interactive learning activity that reduces students’ misperceptions and stimulates discussion about social norms. We found it to be an effective enhancement of our social norms marketing project, with both short-term and long-term (4-week) effects on students’ perceptions.


Wenzel, M. (2005). Misperceptions of social norms about tax compliance: From theory to intervention. Journal of Economic Psychology, 26, 862-883.

Taxpayers may estimate others' acceptance of tax evasion as being greater than their own. This self-other discrepancy in tax ethics could undermine people's tax compliance as they conform to the misperceived social norm. Feedback about the self-other discrepancy could correct the misperception and improve compliance. This approach was first tested in a scenario study with 64 students. Respondents showed the expected self-other discrepancy in tax ethics and feedback about the finding increased their hypothetical compliance. Further results showed that the effect was due to the intervention improving the perception of others' tax ethics, as expected. Study 2, a field experiment with 1500 Australian taxpayers, replicated the self-other discrepancy and provided taxpayers with information about the result. Compared to control groups, the feedback did not affect work-related expenses claims but significantly reduced other deduction claims.


Thombs, D. L., Ray-Tomasek, J., Osborn, C. J., & Olds, R. S. (2005). The role of sex-specific normative beliefs in undergraduate alcohol use. American Journal of Health Behavior, 29, 342-351.

Objectives: To create explanatory models of 3 undergraduate drinking practices based on sex-specific norms. Methods: An electronic, student survey at one Midwestern university produced a representative sample of college students. Results: Multivariate analyses indicated that close- friend norms were the best predictors of drinking frequency, quantity, and drunkenness. With one exception, typical student (or distal) norms had no significant relationship to drinking. Opposite-sex norms had associations with drinking above and beyond that explained by same-sex norms. Conclusions: The findings challenge the current application of the popular social norms approach that relies on distal drinking norms to provide normative feedback.

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