Concussion Reporting Heavily Influenced by Social Norms

| By Dr. Jennifer Hunnicutt

Recent technical report has significant implications for athletes, coaches, parents, and all involved in sports.

In the world of sports and athletics, particularly among youth and adolescent athletes, the issue of concussions has been taken more and more seriously. However, despite increased education and improved policy implementation for the care and management of concussions, athletes often choose not to report their symptoms. It turns out that this decision is heavily influenced by “social norms.”

In this blog, we will delve into the definitions of social norms and how they relate to concussion reporting… or, more importantly, lack thereof!

Understanding Social Norms in Concussion Reporting

A recent technical report, written by researchers from Northern Arizona University and published in the Journal of Athletic Training, describes social norms and offers insights for improving athlete safety.

The technical report points out that the term “social norms” encompasses unwritten, socially acceptable behaviors. These norms are split into two types: injunctive (what others expect you to do) and descriptive (beliefs about what others actually do).

In the context of concussions, these norms can significantly influence an athlete’s decision to report – or not report – their symptoms.

Key Insights from the Technical Report

Social norms can be difficult to define and measure in concussion research, so this technical report aimed to provide key insights for clinicians and future researchers:

  • Mixed Findings in Previous Research: Past studies show inconsistent results regarding the influence of social norms on concussion reporting. This inconsistency partly stems from what was mentioned above – social norms are hard to define and measure. Future studies should carefully define and measure both injunctive and descriptive norms, including their direct and indirect forms.
  • Importance of Differentiating Norms: The report emphasizes the critical need to distinguish between injunctive and descriptive social norms. Both types have unique influences on behavior, but they are often blurred in research. Additionally, future researchers need to be selective about the scales that they use to measure social norms. Many scales in the literature don’t clearly fit the description of either injunctive or descriptive norms.
  • Designing Effective Interventions: Understanding these norms can guide more effective educational interventions. For example, interventions could focus on altering athletes’ beliefs regarding concussion reporting and presenting data on how many teammates actually report concussions.

Implications for Athletes, Coaches, and Parents

This report has significant implications for athletes, coaches, parents, and all involved in sports. First, there is a need to educate athletes and coaches about the types of social norms and how they impact concussion reporting. This education could help break down barriers to reporting concussion symptoms. Secondly, interventions addressing social norms around concussion should take into account the complexities of these norms and how they differ among various groups and sporting communities.


The technical report sheds light on an often-overlooked aspect of concussion management – the powerful influence of social norms on athletes’ reporting behaviors. By understanding and addressing these norms, we can move towards a sports culture where athletes feel supported and empowered to prioritize their health and safety, ultimately reducing the rates of non-reporting. This change is essential for protecting athletes from the long-term consequences of unreported concussions.


Monica R. Lininger, Natalie Cook, Heidi A. Wayment; Social Norms and Concussion Disclosure Behavior: Clarification of Terms and Measurement Recommendations. J Athl Train 2024; doi:

Dr. Jennifer Hunnicutt

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