Page last updated: Tuesday, September 15, 2009
The importance of social norms - Changing perceptions about student drinking reduces alcohol misuse
Giving students personalised feedback on their drinking behaviour and how it compares to social norms might help to reduce alcohol misuse, according to a recent study by MT Moreira and colleagues.

A large body of previous social science research has established that students tend to overestimate the amount of alcohol that their peers consume. This overestimation causes many to have misguided views about whether their own behaviour is normal. Interventions that provide feedback about own and peer drinking behaviours may help to address these misconceptions.

Researchers analysed data from 22 trials that together included 7,275 college and university students, mostly studying in the US. They found that students who were provided with personalised feedback via the internet or individual face-to-face sessions drank less often and indulged in less binge drinking than those in control groups. Web-based feedback also resulted in significant reductions in blood alcohol content and alcohol related problems.

Group counselling and mailed feedback were not found to be effective compared to control interventions, although the researchers say further studies comparing the different ways of providing social normative feedback are required. “We can’t make direct comparisons between the different interventions, but based on a small number of studies web-based interventions would certainly seem to be a cost-effective option for reducing alcohol misuse,” said Moreira.

Source: Moreira MT, Smith LA, Foxcroft D. Social norms interventions to reduce alcohol misuse in University or College students. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD006748. DOI: 10.1002/14651858. CD006748.pub2.

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