Social norms theory makes two primary assumptions: people (college students in this case) tend to alter their behaviors based on their perceptions of their society’s norms and that frequently these perceptions are incorrect (Berkowitz, 5). When applied to the problem of college drinking, the theory suggests that college students overestimate the alcohol consumption of their peers and will in turn consume more to mirror their perceptions of the societal norm. In theory, changing the misperceptions that college students have about their peers should lead to a significant reduction in the amount of alcohol that college students consume. In practice, social norms theory is used in media campaigns all over college campuses that reinforce the notion that most college students are not heavy drinkers, such as in RU Sure's media campaign at Rutgers University.
While a social norms approach sounds good in theory, there does exist opposition to the theory. The first is that in order for the theory to work, a student must overestimate the alcohol use of his or her peers. Should this not be the case, the theory does not fit properly. Another concern with the use of social norms theory is that the students have to buy into the message that the academic institutions are sending. Some students may be untrustworthy of these types of tactics and think of them as ways that an authoritative body is trying to ruin their fun college experiences.