Earlier this week I spent several days in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to attend and speak at the 1st International Seminar on Perspectives on Youth and Alcohol Abuse. Other speakers included representatives from the Village Education Institute, UNESCO, IRI-USP and UNAS (Union Centers and Heliopolis neighborhood associations), along with the sponsor AmBev and the Lynx Agency. Members of several youth groups were also in attendance, to add their own voice to the discussion and to help demonstrate some of the group activities that can be used in alcohol education.
The event was very positive, with the issue of empowering young adults to make informed decisions being consistently raised by speakers as a key priority. The importance of developing socio-emotional skills and resilience in young people was another theme of the day, with discussion around how changes to alcohol use must be part of a more fundamental process in which young people are equipped navigate their social world. Overall there was a clear sense amongst speakers and attendees that the majority of young people behave in a socially responsible way, and that this must be acknowledged to dispel negative and unhelpful stereotypes. This of course fits very well with the social norms approach, in which we challenge misperceptions and highlight that the majority of the target population behave in a substantially more positive and socially responsible way than may be thought. As such it was very enjoyable to be able to talk to the attendees about my own work in this area, and to hear about social norms project taking place in Brazil. It also demonstrated how even with cultural differences the social norms approach can be applied across countries, with misperceptions of the norms appearing to be a reflection of fundamental psychological processes that are shared by all.