Friends have greater sway on college students' beliefs on drinking behavior

College students' friends have a greater influence on the students' drinking behavior or beliefs about campus drinking than social norms campaigns, according to a Penn State study.

Social norms campaigns are based on the rationale that binge drinkers will be more likely to reduce their drinking if they believe other students on campus drink less than they themselves do. Across the nation, university health educators have coordinated such campaigns based on the rationale that students will drink less alcohol if they think most other students on campus are not heavy or binge drinkers.

Binge drinking behavior is defined as having five drinks in one sitting for men and four for women. It has been estimated nationally that two of every five college students between ages 18 and 24 engage in this behavior, threatening the health of the campus community.

A survey of 277 college students at a northeastern university found that nearly 73 percent did not believe the norms message that most students drink "0-4" drinks when they party. Of that group, nearly 53 percent reported they typically drank five or more drinks at one sitting. To illustrate the influence of social networks, 96 percent of the 5-plus-drink group said their friends drank a similar amount and believed that "other students" on campus drank a similar amount.

"Disbelief in the campaign message may have resulted from the behavior observed by students among their friends and acquaintances, which contrasted with the 0-4 message," says co-author Dr. Ann Major, professor of communications and director of the Jimirro Center for the Study of Media Influence at Penn State. "Also, some students may discount social norms campaigns as an attempt by university administrators to control their behavior."

Lindsey Polonec, graduate student in communications, Dr. Major and L. Erwin Atwood, research associate at the Jimirro Center, all at Penn State, are authors of the article "Evaluating the Beli

Contact: Vicki Fong
Penn State

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