Social Norms Approach to Campus Drinking Fails

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An approach to alcohol awareness used by many colleges has largely failed to curb students’ consumption by emphasizing that heavy drinking is not normal, says a new Harvard School of Public Health study, the Washington Post reports.

The research, to be published this month in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, found no decrease in student drinking on campuses that used the method — a cornerstone of some programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education — compared with those that did not. Student drinking actually increased in two ways, the study said.

The study highlights the difficulties colleges face. A report last year by the College Alcohol Study found that 44 percent of students engage in binge drinking, and colleges have spent millions of dollars targeting the problem.

One popular method involves advertising “socially normal” behavior, such as drinking only one bottle of beer. The social norms method uses posters and fliers, with follow-ups such as leadership training and campus newspaper articles, to ease perceived peer pressure and expectations. The Harvard study concluded that, overall, the programs have had negligible impact.


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