Changing Perceptions to Change Behaviors
> 2/21/2006 9:24:22 AM

A big hat tip to the guys over at Mind Hacks for the heads up on a great article from The Scientist. In "Battling Bad Behavior", the writer examines the barriers that exist between research that proves a new idea or practice is good and the eventual adoption of that idea or practice by the general public. In many ways, the article is a more concise and scientifically supported version of Malcolm Gladwell's now famous work, The Tipping Point.

Researchers have shown time and again that competing interests, societal norms and causality confusion can all derail the transmission of information that benefits the greater good. As mentioned at Mind Hacks, there is a sidebar to the main story that carries particular weight here at TOL Education. One aspect of bad behavior that falls victim to mixed perceptions and misinformation is college drinking. The sidebar, College Drinking: Norms vs. Perceptions, hits all of the important notes in the song about alcohol abuse among college students.

Study after study has shown that college students over estimate the amount that their classmates drink, which has a direct correlation with their own misuse of alcohol. The lesson is that to attack problem drinking we need to attack the misconceptions that students have about alcohol norms. The article calls this norm-based intervention, and cites the success that the few universities who stress this approach have had.

Both articles are certainly worth the time. The former also has some important application for the mental health field, where misconceptions can often have terrible tolls including death. The NIMH's recent push to inform men of the dangers of depression is a perfect example of trying to have the public's understanding catch up with scientific knowledge. It's too soon to measure the effectiveness of Real Men. Real Depression., but as The Scientist points out, extending a bridge across the gulf between academic knowledge and real world practices is an important first step.

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