Over 50% of PSU students report having 4 or fewer drinks each week, if they drink at all.
Fact taken from 2009 NH Higher Education on line Alcohol and Drug Survey at PSU.
Well, if your guesses look something like 3 times, 30% and 75%, you are a victim of misperceptions!
Good or bad, it has provided CHAT with a new promotional campaign to combat abuse of alcohol. It is called Social Norms.
Whether and how much students drink partly depend on their perceptions of campus drinking norms. What they see as typical often becomes what is expected of themselves and among their peers. Freshmen arriving at university may drink heavily at parties because that’s what everyone does…or do they? Campus surveys around the country are finding that students typically have an exaggerated idea of how much drinking is actually going on. Consequently, in order to fit in with the “crowd” or the majority, they may turn to actions and behaviors that they perceive the majority of students are doing. “Everybody parties Thursday through Saturday night,” is one common misperception. In fact, the majority of PSU students party less than 2 nights per week.
Wes Perkins, a Professor of Sociology at Hobart and William Smith colleges in Geneva, NY, calls this pattern of misperception a “reign of error” and says that it can have severe repercussions. Ever hear of the self-fulfilling prophecy? The more students who believe that high-risk drinking is common, the more high-risk drinking will actually occur.
Thus, we have embarked on a campaign to tell the truth and help students understand that the “majority” may not be acting in the ways that they perceive. Research tells us that when people find out the true norms of the majority, they are more likely to follow them…to be “in the crowd.”
Using the Social Norms strategy, high-risk drinking at the University of Arizona dropped dramatically from 43.2% in 1995 to 30.6% in 1998. Western Washington University saw a 20% reduction in risky drinking levels, and Northern Illinois University measured an 18% reduction. What about smaller schools? Hobart and William and Smith University is a small liberal arts university in upstate NY with fewer than 1800 students. They reduced high-risk drinking by 21% following the initiation of a social norms campaign.
So what is going on with PSU? You may have noticed some of our posters up already.
These are the two main messages we are currently promoting. These messages are based on the PSU NH Higher Education Alcohol and Other Drug Survey (2009).
Of course, this will not be a “one shot deal” and the campaign will not be over after all the posters have gone up. We plan on this being a lasting campaign. Wes Perkins states that the one shot treatment just doesn’t work. What appears to work best is aiming for a synergistic effect: conveying your message in a multitude of ways and constantly so that the impact is great and long lasting (remember the McDonald’s jingles?). Not only will our PSU students see the norms on posters, but we hope to do:
The good news is that we can run a campaign like this for very little investment. Will it pay off? Looking at the research, yes. We hope to see lower drinking rates among PSU students which will, in turn, translate to savings in property damage, fewer students seeking medical help, and a reduced drop-out rate.
These results remain to be seen. But you can be sure that the CHAT team will be spreading the word about Social Norms and finally “telling it like it is.” Help us spread the word!