I have a particular interest in understanding the influence of perceptions of ‘social norms’ on the engagement in health-related behaviours, including both protective (e.g. healthy eating, cancer screening) and risky behaviours (e.g. alcohol and other substance use).
I attempt to take a skeptical approach to my research around the ‘social norms’ approach, by which I attempt to understand why some individuals under- and over-estimate how often their peers engage in particular health behaviours, and how such perceptions are predictive of personal behaviours and intentions to engage in specific behaviours.
My work in this area is characterised by multidisciplinary and international collaborations, across Psychology, Public Health, Medicine and Computing. We have established the Socially Normative blog where we will be posting regular commentaries about our work, new developments in the ‘social norms’ field and commenting on recent events relating to the field.
- “Applying the Social Norms Approach to Improve Dietary Behaviours amongst High School Students“. PhD Studentship funded by Staffordshire University to investigate the effectiveness of a social norms campaign on reducing high school students’ misperceptions of peers’ snacking and healthy eating behaviours.
- “The role of social norms in reducing belief in conspiracy theories“. PhD Studentship funded by Staffordshire University to investigate the role of perceived social norms in conspiracy theory beliefs in order to develop behaviour change techniques, particularly those that can reduce beliefs in health-related conspiracies which may negatively impact on health outcomes (e.g. vaccine uptake).
- Understanding the role of normative perceptions in help-seeking behaviours for physical and mental health complaints (e.g. substance use, cancer screening behaviours).
- Developing an integrated theoretical model of the development of social normative misperceptions.
- Feasibility study of a web-based Social Norms Intervention for the Prevention of polydrug usE in European university students (SNIPE). Although the SNIPE project has now completed, we are in the process of writing and publishing some remaining papers based on SNIPE data.
- Dempsey, R. C., McAlaney, J., & Bewick, B. M. (2018). A critical appraisal of the Social Norms Approach as an interventional strategy for health-related behaviour and attitude change. Frontiers in Psychology, 9:2180, 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02180. [Free to access]
- Lehne, G., Zeeb, H., Pischke, C. R., Mikolajczyk, R., Bewick, B. M., McAlaney, J., Dempsey, R. C., Van Hal, G., Stock, C., Akvardar, Y., Kalina, O., Orosova, O., Aguinaga-Ontoso, I., Guillen-Grima, F., & Helmer, S. M. (2018). Personal and perceived peer use and attitudes towards use of non-prescribed prescription sedatives and sleeping pills among university students in seven European countries. Addictive Behaviors, 87, 17-23.
- Helmer, S. M., Pischke, C. R., Vriesacker, B., Van Hal, G., Dempsey, R. C., Akvardar, Y., Guillen-Grima, F., Salonna, F., Stock, C., & Zeeb, H. (2016). Personal and perceived peer use and attitudes towards the use of nonmedical prescription stimulants to improve academic performance among university students in seven European countries. Drug & Alcohol Dependence, 168, 128-134.
- Dempsey, R. C., McAlaney, J., Helmer, S., Pischke, C., Akvardar, Y., Bewick B. M., Fawkner, H., Guillen-Grima, F., Stock, C., Vriesacker, B., van Hal, G., Salonna, F., Kalina, O., Orosova, O., & Mikolajczyk, R. T. (2016). Normative perceptions of cannabis use amongst European University students: associations of perceived peer use and peer attitudes with personal use and attitudes. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 77(5), 740-748.
- McAlaney J., Helmer, S., Stock, C., Vriesacker, B., Van Hal, G., Dempsey, R. C., Akvardar, Y., Salonna, F., Kalina, O., Guillen-Grima, F., Bewick, B. M., & Mikolajczyk, R. (2015). Personal and perceived peer use of and attitudes toward alcohol among university and college students in seven EU countries: Project SNIPE. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 76(3), 430-438.
Media Coverage & Blogs
Our Drug & Alcohol Dependence paper on university students’ perceived norms of using ritalin to boost academic performance attracted some substantial international media attention:
- May 2018, the i newspaper: Exclusive: University students turn to dark web for performance enhancing ‘smart drugs’
- May 2017, SociallyNormative.org Blog: Perceived norms and acceptability of ‘smart drug’ use by students
- May 2017, The Guardian: Universities must do more to tackle use of smart drugs, say experts
- May 2017, HeartFM Interview: Staffordshire University professor says there needs to be more debate on students using “smart pills”
- Feb 2017, NewKerala.com (India): Students think it’s ‘normal’ to use performance enhancing drugs: Study
- September 2016, Staffordshire University press release: Students think it is ‘normal’ to use performance enhancing drugs shows study