Sept. 21, 2006 -- The University of Virginia, a national leader in alcohol and substance abuse education, announced today the establishment of the National Social Norms Institute to conduct ongoing research into the effectiveness of social norms methodology to combat high-risk drinking among students and has received a $2.5 million gift from the Anheuser-Busch Companies to help fund the project.
The presence of the independent institute at U.Va. will permit the University to build on its national leadership role in alcohol and substance abuse education through ongoing research and the dissemination of best practices for prevention of alcohol misuse programs at U.S. colleges and universities.
“We are grateful for this gift from Anheuser-Busch and for the opportunity to establish the National Social Norms Institute at the University,” said U.Va. President John T. Casteen III, who has been recognized as a national leader in educating students about alcohol use and abuse. “As part of a comprehensive education program, the social norms approach has shown promise in shaping young people’s attitudes about alcohol. Our goal in this work is to protect students from harm and to encourage behavior that will enable them to reach their full potential.”
Social norms is an area of research in the social sciences that focuses on the impact of norms on people’s attitudes and behaviors. Utilizing a variety of techniques, the social norms approach offers the potential to achieve large-scale, positive behavior change and harm reduction by communicating to students the true responsible behavior of their peers. The goal is to get students to emulate the positive behavior of the vast majority of students.
“We salute the University’s leadership role in developing a highly effective social norms marketing initiative that has shown significant declines in abusive college drinking at U.Va.,” said Francine Katz, vice president for communications and consumer affairs at Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., St. Louis. “This grant and the establishment of the National Social Norms Institute will allow U.Va. to take an even more prominent role in helping college students on campuses nationwide stay safe.”
A growing body of evidence suggests that providing information to students about accurate drinking norms is associated with decreased drinking on campus. Annual surveys conducted among U.Va. undergraduates over the past five years show decreases in several alcohol-related negative consequences since the advent of the social norms marketing campaign and other programs at U.Va. These decreases include fewer injuries related to alcohol consumption, fewer students driving under the influence of alcohol and fewer students engaging in unprotected sex.
In addition, the U.Va. surveys show an increase in the number of students not experiencing any of 10 serious alcohol-related consequences. Data also indicate that the University’s use of targeted social norms messages has been effective in correcting students’ misperceptions about their peers’ drinking behavior.
The institute will continue to gather data on the effectiveness of social norms marketing and will work closely with five other universities currently funded by Anheuser-Busch in that process. In addition to U.Va., the five universities include Georgetown University, Michigan State University, Florida State University, California State at Fresno and Virginia Commonwealth University.
James C. Turner, M.D., executive director of U.Va.’s Department of Student Health who will take the leadership role at the institute, has long been committed to social norms marketing as an effective means of preventing undergraduate alcohol abuse. In 1998, his department led the implementation of a social norms marketing campaign at U.Va. Turner’s published research on alcohol-related emergency room visits and the risks associated with blood alcohol concentration have been integrated into the University’s social norms educational programs. Since 1999, with the support of $600,000 from Anheuser-Busch, U.Va. has added social norms marketing programs to its portfolio of education programs for students.
The University’s Center for Alcohol and Substance Education (CASE) has concurrently developed educational programs integrating the social norms approach.
“I am honored that the University of Virginia and Anheuser-Busch have the confidence in our existing program to offer us this greatly expanded opportunity for research and education in this area,” Turner said. “The institute will give my staff and me an opportunity to better understand the intricacies of the social norms approach and to lead the way in helping other colleges and universities adopt their own programs. I believe we have made a big difference in the lives of thousands of U.Va. students over the last six years.”
Since 1982, Anheuser-Busch has invested more than $535 million in national advertising campaigns and community-based programs to promote responsible drinking and prevent all forms of alcohol abuse, including underage drinking and drunk driving. Anheuser-Busch ranked first in the beverage industry for social responsibility in Fortune magazine’s 2006 ranking of “America’s Most Admired Companies” and “Global Most Admired Companies.”
For more information on U.Va.’s social norms marketing campaign, please visit http://www.virginia.edu/studenthealth/hp/norms/index.html. For more information on the National Social Norms Institute, please contact James C. Turner, M.D., executive director of U.Va.’s Department of Student Health, at (434) 924-2670 or jct4w@Virginia.edu.