The University of Tennessee at Martin

The University of Tennessee - Martin

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University of Tennessee at Martin Martin, TN 38238

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Social Norms


What is it?

The Social Norms Approach is based on research that shows the majority of individuals incorrectly perceive that the attitudes or behaviors of others are different from their own, when in reality they are very similar.  People assume that extreme behavior is representative of the behavior of the majority. Their actions may then be based on what they think “everyone is doing.”  For example, students may believe that “almost every college student drinks heavily.”  In fact, many students choose to drink moderately or not at all.  These perceptions, or rather misperceptions, of peer behavior will continue to influence the habits of the majority, if they go unchallenged. Subsequently, individuals may be more likely to engage in problem behaviors because they feel that these behaviors are the “norm.”  This idea of social norms, and the misperceptions that come out of them, has been related to alcohol, illegal drug use, and smoking, as well as other health behaviors.  The good news is that when accurate information is provided, people may choose to behave in a healthier, more responsible manner.