The influence of misperceptions about social norms on substance use among school-aged adolescents

Health Econ. 2019 Jun;28(6):736-747. doi: 10.1002/hec.3878. Epub 2019 Apr 24.


Individuals often have biased perceptions about their peers' behavior. We use an economic equilibrium analysis to study the role social norms play in substance use decisions. Using a nationally representative dataset, we estimate the effect of misperception about friends' alcohol, smoking, and marijuana use on consumption of these substances by youths in grades 7-12. Overestimation of friend's substance use significantly increases adolescent's own use approximately 1 year later, and the estimated effect is robust across specifications including individual-level fixed effects regression. The effect size is bigger for boys than for girls. The estimates for those who initially underestimated the norm suggest the possibility of a rebound/boomerang effect.

Keywords: add health; adolescents; misperception; social norms; substance use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Child
  • Databases, Factual
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Social Norms*
  • Substance-Related Disorders*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires