Wise and Scott: The Puck Stops Here: Evolving Social Norms of Helmet Usage in the National Hockey League

Sarah Wise and Steve Scott

Since the mid 1960s, the use of safety helmets in the National Hockey League (NHL) went from virtually nil to almost universal adoption. Despite horrific injuries sustained by players early in the history of the sport, widespread helmet adoption did not take place immediately. Using the NHL as an example, this paper examines the process of emerging norms in a social group, considering peer influence and exogenous policy impacts. The historical circumstances surrounding the NHL helmet usage policy changes are presented, along with a brief survey of the social science modeling of cultural norms. The study presents a peer-influence model in which players helmet usage decisions are influenced by their immediate social network and an exogenous mandate requiring helmet usage for new players. Model results are compared to actual NHL helmet usage trends based on data extracted by review of NHL game footage. The results show eventual dominance of helmet usage, but without the wide fluctuations in the actual historical adoption trends. The study is of interest to policy makers comparing interventionist strategies versus social network based approaches for influencing cultural norms of behavior.

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