Research shows that students generally exaggerate the use of drugs by peers, and in their drinking and drug using behavior, live up to their overestimates. For example, college freshman are among the biggest “binge drinkers” in the country. That is very high percentages report having had five or more drinks in a row at least once in the past two weeks. Freshmen usually substantially exaggerate the amount of binge drinking on their campus. They drink more than they otherwise would to fit in with their misperception of the group norm for college drinking. Research shows that when the misperceived - the exaggerated norm - of college drinking is corrected, binge drinking is reduced.
An example of the misperception of the extent of drinking comes from the experience of the Director of this project when teaching a university course on the Sociology of Drug Abuse. Each year he asked students in the class to estimate the level of binge drinking by students at the university. In each class the level of binge drinking was greatly exaggerated. It was generally put at 60 to 80 percent. However, university-wide surveys showed the actual level of binge drinking, while high, was actually 35 percent.
As indicated, because the behavior of young people is significantly affected by the desire to fit the expectations of their age group, research shows that correcting the misperceived - the exaggerated - norm reduces the problem behavior.
The misperception of norms can be readily addressed in classes. For example, in social science classes students may analyze the misperception of drinking norms and examine the effects of the misperceptions. They may analyze the media’s role in greatly exaggerating the extent of violence in the society. In math classes students can create graphs and tables comparing misperceptions of norms to actual levels of at risk behavior.