Thursday, March 27, 2008

Misestimating Peer Activities Contributes to Death

In support of other social norms research a study recently published in the Journal of the National Medical Association (Vol. 100, No. 3, Mar 08, sorry no link) found
“that 90% of subjects overestimated the rate of smoking among their peers. Overestimating was associated with a > 80% increase risk of smoking.”

Perceptions of use patterns and use acceptability have been shown to influence a number of behaviors, including both smoking and alcohol consumption. But the effect occurs with life activities as diverse as tax compliance, energy consumption, violence, and risky sexual behavior. This effect seems particularly prevalent and strong among adolescents. We need to learn to harness social norms “marketing” for prevention efforts.

What is the best way to convince folks that they overestimate the amount of smoking and drinking that is occurring amongst their peers? Who is the best spokesperson? How do we reinforce healthy, non-detrimental behaviors using social norms “marketing”? How do we expand social norms-based education to other behaviors that are detrimental to health and longevity?

I am sure this holds great promise with improving health and forestalling death, I’m just not sure how best to utilize this technique. But as awareness of this technique spreads, who knows?

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