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R U Different? and the Social Norms Approach

Social norms refers to our perceptions of what is ‘normal’ behaviour in the people around us.

It has long been established that these beliefs are very influential on our own behaviour - so for example how much alcohol a person drinks will be strongly determined by how heavily they think their friends drink.

Individuals have a tendency to follow the herd (or what they perceive the herd to be doing). An important factor is ‘pluralistic ignorance’ – that is ignorance on the part of the majority about what other people think and do. Therefore, we may indulge in a ‘risky behaviour’ because we (incorrectly) assume everyone else is doing it.

There are several factors which can affect how much the perceived group norm influences the individual, including how much contact they have with the group and how similar the individual thinks they are to them.

R U Different? offers young people the opportunity to share their perceptions alongside their own participations in a range of risky behaviours such as: smoking, alcohol use, drugs use and underage sex.

Data gathered within our project shows that young people often overestimate participations of others in such behaviours.

Therefore the key element of the R U Different? project lies in using this local and statistically-backed data to promote positive behaviours as part of a controlled and sustained intervention process.

Once the Intervention is completed, reassessing these attitudes and perceptions can measurably demonstrate the degree to which young people’s views on participation (including their own) have changed.