You are already familiar with the term ‘social norms’ – the pattern of behaviour in any social group that is accepted as normal and to which all members of that group are expected to conform. This is a good thing when applied to behaviours that are beneficial to the greater society – drink driving for example, or not allowing your dog to foul the path, are both considerable changes to social norms driven by the attitudes of those around us. Social norms, in effect, create social order.
Social norms are not such a great thing however when we are influenced by the way we perceive our peer group to be behaving. As part of stage one of our R U Different? programme we found that whereas 90% of year 9 students reported that they DID NOT smoke, the same group of students perceived that more than half of their year group DID smoke. Their perception of the social norm was far different from the reality…but we know that we are more likely to make decisions that bring us into what we imagine to be the social norm of our peer group, making it all too easy to light up that first cigarette.
HOWEVER – if you can change their perception of the social norm, you can change their behaviour.
Don’t just take our word for it. Have a read through this excellent article in the New York Times. What’s particularly interesting is the success Northern University of Illinois had when they finally realised that the ‘scare tactics’ approach wasn’t working. It’s the same approach we advocate as stage two of R U Different? and the same approach that we have already proven works for our own children.
“You don’t have to change the social norm. You just have to show people what it is.” Michael Haines, Northern Illinois University.
Would you like to learn more about how you can make change through effective prevention rather than expensive cure?
For more information about R U Different? and our approach to influencing healthy decisions in young people, contact firstname.lastname@example.org