Frequently Used Terms

Types of Norms

Norms – a pattern or trait taken to be typical in the behavior of a social group

Descriptive Norms - Are concerned with what people actually do. They refer to the perceptions of "the most common actions actually exhibited in a social group," (Perkins, 2002, p.165) such as the quantity and frequency of drinking, and are largely formed from observations of others' alcohol consumption. (Borsari & Carey, 2003). Park and Smith (2007) found that descriptive norms can be perceived at both a personal and societal level, and define them as "individuals’ beliefs regarding the popularity of the behavior in question," (p. 196) either among valued others or society at large.

Injunctive Norms - Are concerned with what people feel is right based on morals or beliefs. Perkins defines them as "widely shared beliefs or expectations in a social group about how people in general or members of the group ought to behave in various circumstances" (2002, p.165). Park and Smith (2007) note that injunctive norms can also be perceived at a personal or a societal level, defining them as "individuals’ beliefs regarding approval or disapproval of the behavior in question," (p.196) either by valued others or societal members.

Subjective norms - perceived social pressure by important others, with whom one wants to comply, to engage or not to engage in a behavior. It is a central construct in the Theory of Reasoned Action and the Theory of Planned Behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Ajzen, 1985; Park & Smith, 2007). 

Types of Misperceptions

False Consensus– the incorrect belief that others are like oneself when in fact they are not (Ross, Greene & House, as cited in Berkowitz, 2004.)

False Uniqueness – the incorrect belief that occurs when individuals who are in the minority assume that the difference between themselves and others is greater than is actually the case (Suls & Wan, as cited in Berkowitz, 2004).

Pluralistic Ignorance – the false assumption of an individual that most of their peers behave or think differently from them when in fact their attitudes and/or behavior are similar (Miller & McFarland, Prentice & Miller, and Toch & Klofas, as cited in Berkowitz, 2004).

Clarifying Language

Protective Behavior – “Behaviors that individuals can engage in while drinking in order to limit negative alcohol-related consequences” (Martens, et al., 2004, p. 390). Examples of protective behaviors include staying with the same group of friends, alternating drinks, or using a designated driver.

Celebratory Drinking – Drinking during celebratory occasions, such as “Welcome Week,” holidays (21st birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, et al.), football games, spring break, etc.