Social norms intervention--Redefining the stereotype

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Laura L. Valentine
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The military has a culture rich with a broad range of practices, traditions and beliefs - dependant on anything from base assignment to age and career field.

These social norms, the rules for how people should act in a given group or society, are the subject of an ongoing study into the drinking behaviors of Airmen ages 18 to 24.

The Alcohol Social Norms Intervention Project was initiated at McConnell in March 2012. The project consists of three survey sessions and two media campaigns spanning a two year period. The initial survey was conducted in March where 577 out of 622 Airmen participated.

The results were compiled and advertised across base through a poster campaign in high-visibility areas. The second survey is scheduled to be complete in November and the project will conclude August 2013.

Collaborating with the Air Force Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Branch, the project was designed by the Alcohol Education Project of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York and partially funded by a grant from Kansas State University.

Its purpose is to enhance alcohol prevention training programs Air Force-wide and is currently being administered at eight installations with an estimated 8,500 Airmen participants.

McConnell is the only base in the Air Mobility Command to participate.

Funding for the program was only available for 12 of the 64 Air Force bases so McConnell advocated for this program, said Master Sgt. Raul Salinas, 22nd Medical Operations Squadron Mental Health Flight chief.

The surveys were administered through non CAC enabled laptops distributed to each unit by Salinas. The surveys are anonymous, Airmen are not asked to submit their name or unit. Information is then sent directly to researchers of the Alcohol Education Project through wireless hotspots.

The program is an Integrated Delivery System initiative, spearheaded by the Mental Health Flight.

"This program takes a lot of effort and support from all units on base," said Salinas. "[McConnell] is half way through it right now. Originally 12 bases were chosen, but four dropped out due to the coordination support this program requires."

It starts with gathering credible data from a population and identifying the actual norms regarding the attitudes and behavior of concern. Then a social norms intervention intensively communicates the truth through media campaigns, interactive programs, and other educational venues. Evidence has shown people responding to these initiatives with more realistic perceptions of peers, problem behavior decreasing, and the norm of positive behavior growing stronger in the population, said Dr. H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology and Sociology Hobart and William Smith Colleges project director.

"[The Project] is a form of intervention and education. Most people believe when you look at the target population - ages 18 to 24 - that they are making irresponsible choices when it comes to their alcohol use," said Salinas. "This study works to dispel the myth through actual facts and shows that a small minority is being irresponsible and the majority is making responsible decisions."

"This form of intervention has been used on many college campus' across the U.S. with much success in decreasing irresponsible alcohol use and educating people on the facts when it comes to their perception of their peers alcohol use."

More information on Social Norms Projects can be found at and

Results from the spring 2012 survey of 577 McConnell Airmen ages 18 -24:

  • 94% of McConnell Airmen believe that Airmen should not drink to an intoxicating level that affects military duties or other responsibilities.
  • The majority (62%) consumes alcohol twice per month or less often or do not drink at all.
  • 60% consume four or fewer drinks or no drinks with alcohol at parties and bars.
  • 4 out of 5 McConnell Airmen (83%) agree that Airmen at this base are (typo) respectful of peers who choose NOT to drink.
  • Most McConnell Airmen (79%) who consume alcohol at parties, bars or other social gatherings and know that they will be travelling later by car ALWAYS have a designated driver.
  • Most McConnell Airmen (84%) agree that it is easy to make friends at this base without drinking alcohol.
  • 88% of McConnell Airmen always or usually eat before or during their attendance at parties, bars and social gatherings where they might be consuming alcohol.
  • 7 out of 10 McConnell Airmen (71%) leave parties or bars with little or no alcohol impairment (blood alcohol concentrations below .05%).