Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Drinking up with the Joneses

A number of different studies have shown that American college students tend to overestimate how much their fellow students drink and that the more people overestimate how much others drink the more they are likely to drink themselves. Based on the theory that people modify their behaviour to act in accordance with what they see as normal several campaigns have been developed for use on US campuses aiming to correct this misperception about how much other people drink and therefore to reduce levels of alcohol consumption. However there has been little research into whether the same theory holds true on UK campuses where students are legally allowed to drink and where college authorities hold more liberal views about alcohol consumption. A study of 500 students at Paisley University found the same link between how people thought others drank and how they drank themselves (although the researchers also conceded that the link could be down to heavy drinkers justifying themselves by arguing that 'everybody does it'). The majority of respondents to the survey overestimated how much other students drank although this misperception decreased as they got older. The fact that UK students behaved the same as US ones means that some of the US campaigns telling students about the actual level of drinking of their peers could also be used over here.

McAlaney, John and McMahon, John - Normative beliefs, misperceptions and heavy episodic drinking in a British student sample Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs May 2007, 68(3), 385-392

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