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					Social Norms and
The Small Groups
Norms-challenging Model
  Jeanne M. Far, Ph. D.
  John A. Miller, M. S., M. Ed.
  Washington State University
  Small Group Model Norms-
Challenging Intervention Projects

     •Greek System
     •Summer Orientation
     •Curriculum Infusion - Classrooms
     •Athletic Teams
     •Residence Halls
Social Norms Theory:

 Students misperceive others’ attitudes,
values, and behaviors
 These misperceptions affect one’s own
beliefs and behaviors
 Correcting misperceptions empowers
healthy values and supports healthy
         Social Norms Theory

•Human beings experience basic needs to:
  belong – have a sense of community, of
  connectedness to others
  be somebody – have a sense of purpose and value,
  of making a meaningful contribution

•We are social creatures who are influenced by:
  what others say, do or believe
  what we think others say, do or believe
         Social Norms Theory

•One way to satisfy these needs is to adopt the
attitudes, expectations and behaviors or our
reference group and conform to some degree
with those of our peers.
•These become our “norms” – unspoken social
rules or codes about how we are supposed to
behave and what we are supposed to believe to
fit in and belong.
                Peer Influence

•Young people, particularly those away from home
such as students at residential college campuses, tend
to adopt peer attitudes and behaviors as contact with
peers is close and frequent.
•Peers set standards of acceptable and valuable
behavior, and students tend to think and act like their
•This holds true for AOD use attitudes and behaviors.
  The Misperception Hypothesis

•Norms are not explicitly taught or explained.
•Consequently, our perceptions of the attitudes
and behaviors of our peers are not always
•Accurate or not, our perceived norms become
our reality and we adjust our behavior
    The Misperception Hypothesis

•This holds true for AOD use attitudes and
behaviors. (Graham et al, 1991; Prentice & Miller,

•Students misperceive the alcohol use norms of
their peers, believing most students drink, and
approve of drinking, more than they really do.
(Perkins & Berkowitz, 1986)

•As a result, they raise their alcohol use level to
conform to these “inaccurate realities,” and
student drinking increases.
        How Misperceptions Work:

Public Conversation
•We tend to focus on and remember unusual, exceptional, or
sensational behaviors; they leave vivid impressions.
•We tend to focus on and talk about these behaviors with our
peers while not focusing on or talking about the typical or usual
behaviors that were also present.
•The behavior becomes more sensational in the telling.
•In a short time, it sounds like most people were engaging in the
sensational behavior.
•This distorts the actual reality, or normative behavior, of the
event and enhances the misperception of what actually took
       How Misperceptions Work:

The Media
•Local media tend to focus on sensational, negative or
problematic behavior and events.
•Repeated focus on the sensational, negative or problematic to
the exclusion of more usual, non-problematic behavior, creates
a distorted perception that this behavior is normative. The
behavior becomes more sensational in the telling.
•This contributes to our misperceptions of actual events,
attitudes and behaviors.
How Misperceptions Work - Summary

•Attitudes and behaviors are misperceived; the misperception
becomes the reality.
•People adjust their attitudes and behaviors accordingly.
•A “reign of error” is produced, creating a self-fulfilling
prophecy which has a snowball effect.
•Those who disagree with what they misperceive to be the
normative behavior believe there is little support for their
point of view – “pluralistic ignorance”
•Opposition is discouraged from speaking out for fear of
criticism and/or rejection – “bystander phenomenon”
•Students and others buy into the misperception and become
“carriers” of the inaccurate reality, passing it on to others.
           The Good News

•We may reverse this process by providing
students with accurate information through
social norms interventions (Hansen & Graham,
1991) that aim to
  Correct students’ misperceptions of student
  alcohol use attitudes and behaviors
  Highlight the proportion of students who
  consume moderately and responsibly (or do not
  drink at all).
The Small Group Intervention
       • Reference Group/Membership
       Group Identification
       • Motivational Interviewing Theory
       • Cognitive Dissonance
       • Bystander Phenomenon
       • Social Norms Discussion
          Major Theoretical Influences
        on Presentation Style and Format
   Critical Task: avoid arousing defensiveness and
    blocking change
   Festinger: Cognitive dissonance and
    disconfirming information
       “Flying saucer people”
   Rokeach: Values, stability, and change
       “Great American Values Test”
   Motivational Interviewing and Stages of Change
       Exploring and resolving ambivalence
         Cognitive Dissonance
   Violating one’s own values feels bad
   How to reconcile behavior, misperceptions, and
   Changing to avoid dissonance
      Men - tend to internalize new values, change
        behavior to match misperceptions
      Women - tend NOT to internalize new
        values, but change behavior to match
        misperceptions anyway
      Whatever the outcome, it isn’t desirable
            Rokeach: Respect Allows
               People to Change
   After watching a TV show about values, people
    changed their behavior (donating to political causes).
   Rokeach hypothesized that the people who changed
    CHOSE to change after learning the new values
    information - their behavior shifted to match their new
   The TV format allowed “confrontation” to happen in
    the privacy of people’s own minds. It was respectful
    and didn’t force them to protect their old beliefs and
    behaviors in order to “save face” - even to themselves.
    Motivation and Precontemplation
   In “precontemplation” people are not yet aware of a
    problem and so are not yet considering change.
   We want to raise doubts or concerns about person’s
    current behavior - is it in line with values (is there
    discrepancy or dissonance)?
   We want to mobilize people’s intrinsic values and
    goals to stimulate behavior change.
   “Denial of a problem” is primarily a reaction to the
    behavior of the “messenger.”
             The “Spirit” of
       Motivational Interviewing (1)
   Motivation comes from within the person, not
    from without (our efforts to change them).
   It is up to the person to recognize and resolve
    ambivalence (dissonance).
   Direct persuasion is not an effective method for
    examining and resolving ambivalence
    (dissonance). Trying too hard will increase
    resistance and diminish the probability of
                The Spirit of
        Motivational Interviewing (2)
   The most effective style is quiet and eliciting: the
    person’s own desire to change is primary.
   Providing the opportunity to be aware of
    dissonance is our best strategy.
   Readiness to change is strongly affected by
    presenter style.
   The most helpful “relationship” is that of partners
    in exploring information, rather than “expert” and
      Facilitating vs Presenting
   Be a Facilitator:
       Follow “Far’s First Law” (“You can lead a
        perfectly adequate 2-hour discussion without
        even knowing what the topic is.”)
       Ask, don’t tell.
       Draw out others’ knowledge and thoughts.
   Don’t be a Presenter:
       Presenters are expert sources of information.
       Presenters provide a set body of knowledge.
       Presenters are “talking heads.”
Theory into Practice: Facilitator Style
   Avoid arousing defensiveness
       Don’t confront or argue with anyone
   Presenting disconfirming information
       Game show host: “Here’s what it really is!”
   Empowering change
       Don’t cause anyone to “lose face”
   Columbo: “Gee, I wonder how that happened?”
       You’re not the expert, the participants are
   The Magician: Keep up the “patter”
       Protect people from public confrontations and give
        them the time/space/privacy to change
    Avoid arousing defensiveness:
   Don’t be drawn into arguments if people
    disagree with the data or other elements of the
    presentation. Instead, refer them to the
    “authorities” who developed the material.
   Don’t ask people specifically what they did or
    what they think. Instead, ask open-ended
    questions of the group in general.
    Don’t make any behaviors or numbers look
    “bad.” Instead, let people look and then make
    their own judgements.
Presenting disconfirming information:
 Let the information speak for itself
   Don’t ever read the overheads to people - everyone is
    going to read them anyway (we’re wired that way), and
    you don’t want to bore people or sound like an
   Think of yourself as a “Game Show Host” who is
    giving just having fun with people.
   People will be pretty surprised when they see their own
       “Well, isn’t that just amazing?”
       “Everybody gets this wrong - wonder how that
                Empowering Change
   As Facilitators, we truly believe that people
    have good values and want to live by them.
   This program is based on RESPECT. We’re not
    telling people made-up stuff in order to change
    their minds. We’re giving them accurate
    information and letting them decide what they
    want to do with it.
   Allowing people to “save face” gives them more
    opportunity to become their best selves.
          Columbo the Detective: “Gee, I
           wonder how that happened?”
   Columbo just wandered around looking clueless,
    and so no one found him threatening. Let yourself
   Experts put people on their guard as they wait to be
    shown as wrong or stupid.
   You just sort of scratch your head and say
    “Aw shucks, look at that!” when showing people
    their numbers. That way, their numbers are “OK”
    no matter how they answered the surveys.
     The Magician: Keep up the “patter”
   We want to allow the numbers to sink in without
    arousing defensiveness, so we distract people and
    avoid arguments with “entertainment.”
   Magicians keep you busy watching their left hands (or
    the smoke or doves or assistants) while they “do the
    magic” with their right hands.
   We keep people busy with “patter” - asking open-
    ended questions, making general comments, eliciting
    feedback - so they can take in the numbers without
    feeling directly confronted or threatened.
          Points to Remember
   Norms are powerful influences on people’s
    behavior. You don’t have to convince
    anyone about the materials or numbers.
   Good facilitators aren’t experts - they just
    have information to share, and want
    everyone to contribute to the discussion.
   When people have accurate information,
    they will make good, healthy decisions for
    themselves. You can let them do that.