Swindon Borough Council has seen a significant reduction in teenage drinking rates in the area – thanks to a successful Social Norms programme delivered in schools this year.
In Autumn 2011, 11% of the 595 year 9s who were surveyed in the town (13 and 14 year olds) reported that they were drinking in the last week, however the same group incorrectly perceived that 42% of others in their year group were drinking.
Similar perception vs reality gaps existed for other behaviours so throughout Winter and Spring, schools used a variety of means to address the myths and promote the real reported figures to students.
As a result of the Intervention, reported numbers in July 2012 for drinking reduced to 7% while the perception of others drinking also reduced to 28% - closer to the reported behaviour.
The R U Different programme is being rolled out in various parts of the country to identify where misperceptions among young people exist - which can sometimes be 4 or 5 times more negative than the actual behaviour and lead to pressures to ‘conform’ to a false norm.
Where gaps existed, targeted Interventions within schools such as posters, iphone Apps’, QR Codes, classroom quizzes and giant billboards were deployed to promote the positive messages back to students in a bid to challenge their myths and address attitudes.
Programme founder Gary Lovatt from Social Sense Ltd explains:
“When it comes to drinking, smoking, drugs and sexual activity young people will often make decisions based on what they think the majority are doing. If the perceived participation levels are high, then this can have a direct impact on uptake and behaviours.
“By promoting the truth to young people in Swindon and focussing on the positive majority who are making healthy choices, we have shifted both perceptions and behaviours in a positive and measurable way.
Mr Lovatt explains that further research is now needed to examine the wider context of changing perceptions and behaviours.
“These results could offer the government hugely significant benefits longitudinally in terms of reducing unwanted pregnancies, STIs, alcohol hospital admissions and other related consequences.
“We are now conducting further programmes in Swindon and other parts of the UK to further validate this research and identify the longer term effects of delaying and/or preventing certain behaviours.”
Other areas taking part in the programme include Warrington, St Helens, Manchester and Salford, who recently recorded an average 10% positive shifts in both alcohol and smoking perceptions as a result of a their own Social Norms Marketing programme.
The data, which has now recorded over 1 million responses from young people has been independently validated by the University of Salford.
For more information about the programme visit www.rudifferent.co.uk
For more information about Social Sense visit www.social-sense.co.uk