Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The normative approach...bear with me, it is quite interesting!

Educators, health professionals, the media and parents/carers tend to focus on the most extreme risk taking behaviours in young people (e.g. early sex, binge drinking etc). This can give us an exaggerated view of young people’s behaviour and make us forget that the vast majority are behaving ‘sensibly’. Furthermore it doesn’t just give ‘us’ that impression, young people also receive distorted impressions about their peers' behaviour.

The normative effect is something I learnt about at a conference a few years ago and despite its proven beneficial influence in health promotion and reducing risky behaviours (it's been heavily researched), its 'use' has not filtered through universally. It’s another counter-intuitive thing (like giving kids sexual aspirations!) that once explained – makes perfect sense.

Here goes……

The normative approach is a model based on the idea that we are influenced so much by our peers – especially when we are teenagers (when we are often at our most 'herding' point in life) - and is best illustrated by example:

If you asked a class of 14 year olds confidentially if they have had sex, 10% might say ‘yes’ (depending upon where you were etc). However, if you ask the same class of pupils how many of their peers they perceive have had sex, their guesses will be more like 90%. The actual norm (reality) is far less than the perceived norm. This misperception is a form of peer influence.

The difference between reality and perception puts a pressure on young people to engage in risky behaviours. If a young person believes that they are the only person who ‘hasn’t’ they will want to remedy this so they become someone who 'has'. One of the most effective things you can tell young people to alter their behaviour is ‘the reality’. For example, ‘did you know that more than half of young people in the UK wait beyond their 16th birthday before having sex’ (a true statistic). This relieves the perceived peer influence/pressure as it helps young people realise that they are actually not the only person who has not had sex.

When the normative approach is applied (and kids are told the true statistics) it shows significant decreases in risk taking behaviour and the most significant reductions are surprisingly in the most vulnerable groups.

Causes of people’s misperception:

Social psychological causes:
 conversation patterns (boasting) – exaggerations from young people
 mental attribution process - see a person doing it once, tend to think it is what they do all the time. E.g. you see someone drunk – you assume that’s how they carry on all the time.

A focus on extreme behaviours
 We, the media, the news, only talk about extreme behaviour and rarely talk about the 95% of people representing the ‘norm’.
 Shock tactics are often used to try and scare people out of risky behaviours. Ironically, displaying the extreme ill fait that you are trying to prevent can just make the behaviour seem more the 'norm' and therefore less shocking! e.g. the advert showing a really drunk person falling off scaffolding. Actually most young people didn't relate to that at all because they knew that when they got drunk, they didn't climb up things!

Health advocacy
 Health professionals tend to focus on the problems in health and exaggerate these problems to get funding etc. This exasperates misperceptions.

This is an example of an advert that was used in the past that exasperates the difference between the actual norm and people’s perceived norm. This advert would be more effective in smoking prevention if it showed most of the fish not smoking and told everyone to be more like everyone else!!!!!

Nerding ceases.


  1. How shall we celebrate/commiserate your SC? It needs some kind of blogging party thing xxx The fish advert example is very powerful of the normative effect.

  2. Sorry, my English has gone a bit weird xxx

  3. If the red fish had a fag in it's mouth and all the orange ones didn't, that's me that is.

  4. I say can you tell me where the under water cigarettes are obtainable from ?
    For I do find that when I'm enjoying a glass or two of rich red wine, whilst having a candle lit bath and lisening to Brahms; that a cigar would be a great accompaniment !

  5. i knew this.
    (on a purely subconscious level of course)
    but i find it very interesting.
    in a Michael Caine, 'not a lot of people know that' sort of way.

  6. "Neighbours kids really nice"

    "Fully functional family nice to old lady across the road shock"

    "18 year old boy found in pub with dad on Friday night"

    "Teenage girl has baby, her and partner very happy"

    not good schlock headlines for the media are they really, and that people I think is our problem in so many ways. Watching the 6 o'clock snooze yesterday, they kept banging on about Cheryl thingy, I'm sorry, I appreciate that the news is for everyone, but it's not news is it, dumbed down to the point of me wanting to turn it off, it's rating chasing, If you need hype and trash, buy Heat magazine, everything has its place, and the News media, really does peddle 24 hour cock now.

  7. Molly – stop harping on about your spontaneous combustion – it’s really no big deal.

    James – I am only spontaneously combusting –no celebration or commiseration needed. I will be back after a few days or so when i have been extinguished. The comment you gave about the fish was very out of character – are you OK?

    Mr T – after a bit to drink (when I’v built up courage and have a need to look hard) I will ‘red up’ and join you.

    Heronsterioni – I will build the waterproof cigar factory next to the tea towel one. My chore list is mounting. P.S. You can keep your head out of water when you have a bath – with a bit of practice – or are you actually a fish? – in which case that’s not a good name you’ve got there – unless you are trying to pretend to be a Heron to avoid being eaten. You still with me?

    Clipster – your true unhingedness is starting to shine through (don’t forget we can see your subconscious – even if you can’t). I, too, have vast knowledge on a subconscious level. You live in Canada. Where?

    Mr T – they are the headlines in Pretty Hippiesville. I live there – in my head. I know – I even understand the news these days. Clever people will stop watching and then NOBODY will be informed about anything real.

  8. It's cause it's only when I got to the fish bit that it got snappy and snippety enough for me to feel that I would make space in my brain for this knowledge xxx

  9. I will set you a test then.

    1) Is that advert an example of effective or ineffective use of the normative approach in health promotion?
    2) Name something that makes people get an exagerrated view of other people's behaviour.
    3) How does attribution thoery lead people to believe I am an absolute pi** head when I'm not actually?
    4) What colour is Mr T before and after the advert has been corrected to portray him?
    5) What factory am I building now (sigh)?
    6) If you were a fish, would you smoke?

  10. 1. Totally ineffective because who wants to be the odd one out?
    2. Binoculars
    3. Your zany sense of humour Miss?
    4. Piebald.
    5.Whichever of the two, you think is the most difficult :)
    6. Absolutely especially now that I have seen the advert!

  11. Right - now for the A-level

    1) If you were a fish what would your best friend be called and would she or he smoke?
    2)What happens if you jump off scaffolding?
    3)Is there anything you haven't done that you think all your mates have done?
    4) If you were called Norma Normative, what would you do?
    5) What's the most average thing about you?
    6) What is my middle name?

  12. 1) Dennis and he would smoke but only once he was dead because he is a smoked mackerel - or rather he would be smoked.

    2) Splattity-splat-splat

    3) Manage all their household finances efficiently and cheerfully

    4) I'd be honoured as my dad is called Norman and my grandad (mum's side) is also called Norman and I would be proud to carry on the Normaning tradition!

    5) I'm 5'5 with shoe size 5 (that's the mode for ladies innit or is it the mean?)
    I'm sure I did a test a while back that indicated I was very average in many ways but I can't remember what it was

    6) Either Hepzibah or Xenia, I can't remember which

  13. Well I bore with it, and it was really, really quite interesting :)

  14. i have completely lost the plot here.
    yes i'm in Canada: about 15 mins from Niagara Falls, 1 and a bit hrs (depending on traffic) from Toronto.
    (is your middle name)
    I will come back tomorrow when order has been restored.
    i.e. the norm.

  15. I think all order has been lost. I am relying on you Clippy to restore it. (Ha - Clippy order is interesting).

    I have only been to Ottawa (family there) and Maniwaki!

    Great answers Nikki - ha ha

    Codgi - why haven't you done the A-level? You'd get an A I'm sure.

  16. I'd also like to know the name of the red fish please.

  17. 1) She would be called Gill, she would smoke only the finest weed.
    2) Bungee ironing - everyone's at it.
    3) Make odious comparisons.
    4) I eat three meals a day.
    5) Yolantha


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