PerkinsWechsler - Perceived College Drinking Norms and Alcohol Abuse - Troubled Times

PerkinsWechsler - Perceived College Drinking Norms and Alcohol Abuse - Troubled Times

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244 PART III Troubled Behavior: Problems of Deviance 30 Perceived College Drinking Norms and Alcohol Abuse H. Wesley Perkins and Henry Wechsler Social norms are an important structural fac- tor that influences individual behavior. But what if people misperceive the norms? This is the question that H. Wesley Perkins and Henry Wechsler raise in their study of alcohol abuse among college students. Campus norms about drinking behavior are not sufficiently clear and precise to the bulk of students. As a result, stu- dents react to their own perceptions of the norms. Perkins and Wechsler do not deal with how individual perceptions arise and why they differ. Undoubtedly a combination of social- psychological factors (drinking patterns of friends and perhaps pre-enrollment attitudes about the norms) and structural factors (such as students' economic resources and media portrayals of college life as free-wheeling and partying) contribute to the perceptions. In any event, these misperceptions legiti- mate abuse, particularly when combined with an existing personal permissiveness towards drinking. The recommendations of Perkins and Wechsler for dealing with the problem are important in light of the fact that alcohol use and abuse is high on campuses, with one study reporting that 44 percent of students are binge drinkers (five drinks in a row on at least one occasion in the two weeks prior to the survey) (Wechsler et al. 1994). Reference Wechsler, H.A., A. Davenport, G. Dowdall, B. Moeykens, and S. Castillo. 1994. "Health and Behavioral Consequences of Binge Drinking." Journal of the American Medical Association 272:1672-77. Focus Questions 1. Why are perceived norms important? 2. How do perceived college drinking norms vary? 3. How do perceived norms affect drinking behavior? Introduction A lcohol abuse among college students has been highly linked to the influence of peers in the peer intensive environment of college campuses for several decades (cf. Gusfield 1961; Perkins 1985; Orcutt 1991). Classic theories and research in social psychology have long argued that friendship affiliation needs and social comparison processes (Fest- inger 1954), pressures toward peer group conformity (Asch 1951, 1952), and the forma- tion and acquisition of reference group norms (Newcomb 1943; Newcomb and Wil- son 1966; Sherif 1936, 1972) typically coa- lesce to produce a strong desire within (or force upon) individuals to adopt and main- tain peer group attitudes and to act in accord- ance with their peers' expectations and be- haviors. Even if behavior such as heavy alco- hol use is viewed as deviant by the larger so- ciety, youths may socially learn and continue abusive drinking in response to peer groups that provide models and rewards for such be- havior and perpetuate a definition of it as de- sirable (Akers et al. 1979). Yet the influence of peers in terms of what
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This note was uploaded on 02/28/2010 for the course SOCY SOCY - 203 taught by Professor Brianhawkins during the Spring '10 term at University of Colombo.

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PerkinsWechsler - Perceived College Drinking Norms and Alcohol Abuse - Troubled Times

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