Social Norms Research 2006-07


Perkins, H. W. & Craig, D. W. (2006). A successful social norms campaign to reduce alcohol misuse among college student-athletes. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 868-879.

Objective: This study examines the impact of a social norms intervention to reduce alcohol misuse among student-athletes. The intervention was designed to reduce harmful misperceptions of peer norms and, in turn, reduce personal risk. Method: A comprehensive set of interventions communicating accurate local norms regarding alcohol use targeted student-athletes at an undergraduate college. An anonymous survey of all student-athletes was conducted annually for 3 years (2001: n == 414, 86% response; 2002: n = 373, 85% response; and 2003: n = 353, 79% response). A pre/post comparison of student-athletes was conducted separately for new and ongoing athletes at each point to isolate any general time period effects from intervention effects. A cross-sectional analysis of student-athletes with varying degrees of program exposure was also performed. Results: The intervention substantially reduced misperceptions of frequent alcohol consumption and high-quantity social drinking as the norm among student-athlete peers. During this same time period, frequent personal consumption, high estimated peak blood alcohol concentrations during social drinking, and negative consequences all declined by 30% or more among ongoing student athletes after program exposure. In contrast, no significant differences across time were seen for new student-athletes each year with low program exposure. Among student-athletes with the highest level of program exposure, indications of personal misuse were at least 50% less likely on each measure when compared with student-athletes with the lowest level of program exposure. Conclusions: This social norms intervention was highly effective in reducing alcohol misuse in this high-risk collegiate subpopulation by intensively delivering data-based messages about actual peer norms through multiple communication venues.

Haines, M. P., Barker, G., & Rice, R. M. (2006). The personal protective behaviors of college student drinkers: Evidence of indigenous protective norms. Journal of American College Health, 55, 69-75.

Given the prevalence of alcohol consumption and the relative infrequency of harm among college students, the authors sought to determine how most college students protect themselves from alcohol-related harm. An analysis of the aggregate National College Health Assessment data identified a cluster of personal protective behaviors that correlated with reduced risk when drinking. Further analysis revealed that nearly three-quarters of student drinkers regularly employ at least 1 protective behavior, and well over half of the students who use protective behaviors routinely employ 2 or more. In addition, the data reveal that student drinkers employ situational abstinence, with nearly 7 out of 10 students reporting that they sometimes or usually refrain from drinking alcohol when they socialize. The use of these protective behaviors is a strong predictor of safety and harm for college student drinkers.

Neighbors, C., Lewis, M. A., Bergstrom, R. L., & Larimer, M. E. (2006). Being controlled by normative influences: Self-determination as a moderator of a normative feedback alcohol intervention. Health Psychology, 25, 571-579.

The objectives of this research were to evaluate the efficacy of computer-delivered personalized normative feedback among heavy drinking college students and to evaluate controlled orientation as a moderator of intervention efficacy. Participants (N=217) included primarily freshman and sophomore heavy drinking students who were randomly assigned to receive or not to receive personalized normative feedback immediately following baseline assessment. Perceived norms, number of drinks per week, and alcohol-related problems were the main outcome measures. Controlled orientation was specified as a moderator. At 2-month follow-up, students who received normative feedback reported drinking fewer drinks per week than did students who did not receive feedback, and this reduction was mediated by changes in perceived norms. The intervention also reduced alcohol-related negative consequences among students who were higher in controlled orientation. These results provide further support for computer-delivered personalized normative feedback as an empirically supported brief intervention for heavy drinking college students, and they enhance the understanding of why and for whom normative feedback is effective.

DeJong, W., Schneider, S. K., Towvim, L. G., Murphy, M. J., Doerr, E. E., Simonsen, N. R., et al. (2006). A multisite randomized trial of social norms marketing campaigns to reduce college student drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 868-879.

Objective: An 18-site randomized trial was conducted to determine the effectiveness of social norms marketing (SNM) campaigns in reducing college student drinking. The SNM campaigns are intended to correct misperceptions of subjective drinking norms and thereby drive down alcohol consumption. Method: Institutions of higher education were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. At the treatment group institutions, SNM campaigns delivered school-specific, data-driven messages through a mix of campus media venues. Cross-sectional student surveys were conducted by mail at baseline (n = 2,771) and at posttest 3 years later (n = 2,939). Hierarchical linear modeling was applied to examine multiple drinking outcomes, taking intraclass correlation into account. Results: Controlling for other predictors, having an SNM campaign was significantly associated with lower perceptions of student drinking levels and lower alcohol consumption, as measured by a composite drinking scale, blood alcohol concentration for recent maximum consumption, drinks consumed when partying, and drinks consumed per week. A moderate mediating effect of normative perceptions on student drinking was demonstrated by an attenuation of the Experimental Group x Time interaction, ranging from 16.4% to 39.5% across measures. Additional models that took into account the intensity of the SNM campaign activity at the treatment institutions suggested that there was a dose-response relationship. Conclusions: This study is the most rigorous evaluation of SNM campaigns conducted to date. Analysis revealed that students attending institutions that implemented an SNM campaign had a lower relative risk of alcohol consumption than students attending control group institutions.

LaBrie, J. W., Lamb, T. F., Pedersen, E. R., & Quinlan, T. (2006). A group motivational interviewing intervention reduces drinking and alcohol-related consequences in adjudicated college students. Journal of College Student Development, 47, 267-280.

This study examines the effectiveness of a single-session group motivational enhancement intervention with college students adjudicated for violation of alcohol policy. The intervention consisted of a Timeline Followback assessment of drinking, social norms re-education, decisional balance for behavior change, relapse prevention, expectancy challenge, and the generation of behavioral goals. All participants evidenced significant reductions in drinking from baseline through one and three month follow-up. Male participants and frequent binge drinkers showed the largest and most sustained reductions in drinking behavior. The results of this study provide tentative evidence for the effectiveness of group motivational enhancement interventions with adjudicated students.

Smith, S. W., Atkin, C. K., Martell, D., Allen, R., & Hembroff, L. (2006). A Social Judgment Theory approach to conducting formative research in a social norms campaign. Communication Theory, 16, 141-152.

The social norms approach predicts that campaign messages providing true normative information about widely misperceived health behaviors will reduce the gap between distorted perceptions versus actual practices and consequently reduce behaviors based on exaggerated norms. Formative evaluation of messages designed to effectively convey true norms informed by social judgment theory (SJT) should measure the boundaries of the latitudes of acceptance, noncommitment, and rejection for normative information. This study found that these latitudes were significantly different from one another in believability. SJT predicts that a campaign based on a norm falling in the latitude of noncommitment will be likely to be effective. A series of messages using the true norm, which fell within the latitude of noncommitment, were part of a campaign. The gap in perceived versus actual drinking and the difference in perceived number of drinks was reduced, while self-reports of consumption of five or fewer drinks increased significantly."

Lewis, M. A. & Neighbors, C. (2006). Social norms approaches using descriptive drinking norms education: A review of the research on personalized normative feedback. Journal of American College Health, 54, 213-218.

College students have been shown to consistently overestimate the drinking of their peers. As a result, social norms approaches are effective in correcting these misperceived norms to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. In this review of the literature, the authors critically evaluated the effectiveness of personalized normative feedback. In addition, the authors reviewed personalized normative feedback interventions and provided suggestions for increasing the efficacy of these interventions by making better use of salient referent group data.

Kilmer, J. R., Walker, D. D., Lee, C. M., Palmer, R. S., Mallett, K. A., Fabiano, P., et al. (2006). Misperceptions of college student marijuana use: Implications for prevention. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 277-281.

Objective: This study investigates the relationship between marijuana use, perceived norms of use by friends and students in general, and negative experiences or problems from alcohol and drug use. It was hypothesized that students would overestimate the marijuana use of students in general and that perceptions about the prevalence of marijuana use would be related to drug-related consequences. Method: In this study, 5,990 participants provided information on the perceptions and consequences of drug use via an online survey or via a paper-based survey. Results: Although two-thirds of participants reported no marijuana use, 98% of respondents incorrectly predicted that students in general use marijuana at least once per year. Perceptions of use by friends and students in general accounted for variance in drug use and related problems or experiences. Conclusions: Given the relationship between norm misperception and behavior with marijuana use, future research could explore the impact of targeting misperceived norms through prevention and intervention efforts.

Neighbors, C., Oster-Aaland, L., Bergstrom, R. L., & Lewis, M. A. (2006). Event- and context-specific normative misperceptions and high-risk drinking: 21st birthday celebrations and football tailgating. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 282-289.

Objective: Negative alcohol-related consequences often occur during specific events and in specific contexts (e.g., 21st birthday celebrations and tailgating parties). A lack of available event- and context-specific interventions suggests the need to better understand factors associated with heavy drinking in these contexts, with an eye toward developing specific interventions. The purpose of this research was to lay the foundation for developing personalized normative feedback interventions for 21st birthday celebratory drinking and tailgating drinking by evaluating whether students overestimate norms in these specific contexts, as they do more generally. Method: Perceived descriptive norms and alcohol consumption were assessed at event- and context-specific levels in two studies. Study 1 included 119 students turning 21 years old who reported their 21st birthday drinking behavior and estimated the typical number of drinking consumed by students celebrating their 21st birthday. Study 2 included 140 undergraduates drawn from a stratified sample who reported their behavior regarding drinking and tailgating and their perceived norms for typical drinking and tailgating behavior. Results: Results from Study 1 revealed that students overestimated peer drinking during 21st birthday celebrations, and this overestimation was associated with heavier drinking on one's own 21st birthday. In Study 2, students underestimated the percentage of tailgaters who drank but overestimated typical consumption. Overestimation was consistently associated with heavier drinking during tailgating. Conclusions: Successful correction of general normative misperceptions for specific events and contexts provided by these results represents an important step in developing event- and context-specific interventions utilizing specific normative feedback.

Neighbors, C., Dillard, A. J., Lewis, M. A., Bergstrom, R. L., & Neil, T. A. (2006). Normative misperceptions and temporal precedence of perceived norms and drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 290-299.

Objective: Previous research has shown that students overestimate the drinking of their peers, and that perceived norms are strongly associated with drinking behavior. Explanations for these findings have been based largely on cross-sectional data, precluding the ability to evaluate the stability of normative misperceptions or to disentangle the direction of influence between perceived norms and drinking. The present research was designed to evaluate (1) the stability of normative misperceptions and (2) temporal precedence of perceived norms and drinking. Method: Participants were college students ( N = 164; 94 women) who completed assessments of perceived norms and reported behavior for drinking frequency and weekly quantity. Most participants (68%) completed the same measures again two months later. Results: Results indicated large and stable overestimations of peer drinking for frequency and weekly quantity. Results also showed that for weekly quantity, perceived norms predicted later drinking, but drinking also predicted later perceived norms. Results for frequency revealed norms predicted later drinking, but drinking did not predict later perceived norms. Conclusions: These findings underscore the importance of longitudinal designs in evaluating normative influences on drinking. The present findings suggest that normative misperceptions are stable, at least over a relatively short time period. Findings support a mutual influence model of the relationship between perceived norms and drinking quantity but are more strongly associated with conformity explanations for the relationship between perceived norms and drinking frequency. Results are discussed in terms of implications for prevention interventions.

Cho, H. (2006). Readiness to change, norms, and self-efficacy among heavy-drinking college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 131-138.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate the association between the readiness to change of college heavy drinkers and their normative and self-efficacy beliefs. Method: A multiple regression model analyzed the association in a heavy-drinker subsample (n = 306; men = 53.3%) drawn from a survey of a convenience sample of college students in two large-size midwestern universities. Results: Precontemplation was most strongly associated with the descriptive and injunctive norms of campus peers as well as friends. Contemplation was significantly associated with descriptive and injunctive norms of friends. The size of the association between readiness and normative beliefs decreased as the readiness progressed. Both precontemplation and contemplation were negatively associated with self-efficacy. Conclusions: Differences in readiness to change are related to different normative and self-efficacy beliefs to different degrees. Incorporating these differences could improve the effectiveness of future interventions. In particular, addressing friends' norms in addition to campus norms could increase self-efficacy and facilitate the behavioral change process of college heavy drinkers.

Hughes, C. (2006). Preventing alcohol-related harm among Australian rural youth: Investigating the social norms approach. The Social Norms Review, 1. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from

Excerpt: We are currently exploring the possibility of running the first Australian trial of the SN approach to substance abuse prevention. Although the finer details of the trial are yet to be determined, it is possible to sketch out some of the defining features at this point. It is envisaged that the trial will be both multi-state and multi-site, and will initially focus upon reducing binge-drinking among high-school aged children in a Tasmanian rural community.

Chapman, R. J. (2006). Social norms as treatment: Clinical uses of a prevention strategy. The Social Norms Review, 1. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from

Excerpt: This brief essay will present an argument that social norms theory may represent a strategy that counselors and other treatment professionals may wish to consider as they engage clients individually or in groups for counseling.

Hancock, L. (2006). Audience response technology in social norms marketing: Getting students to believe with the click of a button. The Social Norms Review, 1. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from

This article will provide an overview of the history of clicker development, some facts about the current state-of-the-art including costs, comments about active learning research, and a summary of the use of quasi-anonymous versus anonymous clickers. Next, suggestions for possible application of audience response technology to improving social norms marketing (SNM) efforts will be discussed. Clickers can be adapted for use in media channel surveys, focus group testing, and pilot-testing of media. In addition, these systems may be a new and powerful way to make health norms more credible. Several small group social norming pilot projects that are currently underway at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and lessons learned so far will be described.

Martell, D., Atkin, C. K., Hembroff, L. A., Smith, S. W., Baumer, A. J., & Greenamyer, J. (2006). College students and “Celebration Drinking." The Social Norms Review, 1. Retrieved July 16, 2007 from

Michigan State University (MSU) is the site of a successful global social norms campaign that began in 2000. Students’ misperception that the norm for drinking at parties and social occasions was 5 or more drinks had declined more than one-third by 2004 and more than two-thirds by 2005, while the average number of drinks consumed by the majority of students declined from 6 or fewer to 4 or fewer by 2005. In addition to the global campaign that broadly addresses typical drinking, in 2001 MSU researchers sought to find evidence regarding the existence of, and social norms surrounding, “celebration drinking.” Initially funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and later by a grant from the Anheuser-Busch Foundation, the research team sought to answer the following questions: (1) Are there occasions during which larger proportions of students consume alcohol, drink to excess, and commit more time to drinking, and thereby increase the risk of negative consequences? (2) What is the difference between the perceived percentage of other MSU students versus the self-reported percentage of those who engage in drinking during various celebratory occasions?

Page, R. M., Ihasz, F., Simonek, J., Klairova, R., & Hantiu, I. (2006). Cigarette smoking, friendship factors, and social norm perceptions among central and eastern European high school students. Journal of Drug Education, 36, 213-231.

Studies investigating smoking behavior among adolescents living in post-communistic Central-European countries are sparse. This study focused on the relationship between cigarette smoking, certain friendship factors, and social norm perceptions among 1,886 Central-Eastern European adolescents from high schools in Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Romania. Smoking behavior was related to having friends who smoke, ease or difficulty making new friends, time spent with friends after school and during evenings, and estimations of the prevalence of smoking by schoolmates. Because these youth appear to overestimate the prevalence of smoking by schoolmates, the use of a norms-correction strategy may have potential merit in smoking prevention efforts targeting these adolescents. Smoking prevention and reduction are critical issues for Central-Eastern European youth because they appear to smoke cigarettes at a high rate.

Cameron, K. A. & Campo, S. (2006). Stepping back from social norms campaigns: Comparing normative influences to other predictors of health behaviors. Health Communication, 20, 277-288.

Recent health campaigns on college campuses have used a social norms approach, which suggests that one's perceptions of others' attitudes and behaviors are the key components in attitude and behavior change. However, the efficacy of social norms campaigns has been mixed. This study was conducted to assess the relationships among sociodemographics, normative perceptions, and individual attitudes on 3 health behaviors. Students at 2 universities (N = 393) completed questionnaires assessing how these variables related to their consumption of alcohol, tobacco use, and exercise behaviors. Regressions indicated that each of these variables was associated with behavior, but varied independent variables emerged as the salient predictors among behaviors. In several conditions the effect of normative perceptions on behaviors was not significant, a finding in direct opposition to social norms marketing. In all 3 behavioral conditions, the variable accounting for the greatest variance was whether or not the individual liked participating in that particular behavior. Thus, although some social norms marketing may be meeting with success, it may be the case that predicted attitudinal and behavioral changes will not be found when applied across diverse health topics.

Bergstrom, R. L. & Neighbors, C. (2006). Body image disturbance and the social norms approach: An integrative review of the literature. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25, 975-1000.

This article merges two existing literatures: the body image literature and the social norms literature. Body image disturbance, which is known to be related to the development of eating disorders, continues to be an important area of study, particularly among college women. Perceived norms are known to be related to the occurrence of a variety of behaviors and attitudes, including heavy drinking and body image disturbance. Not only do existing norms influence behavior, but misperceptions regarding actual norms, which occur for a variety of reasons, are known to predict behavior as well. Interventions aimed at correcting normative misperceptions and thereby reducing problematic behaviors have shown promising results. Because normative misperceptions regarding norms for attractive body image predict eating disordered behaviors, applying intervention strategies based on correcting perceptions of the norm may prove to be a fruitful endeavor.

Gilbertson, T. A. (2006). Alcohol-related incident guardianship and undergraduate college parties: Enhancing the social norms marketing approach. Journal of Drug Education, 36, 73-90.

This randomized experiment examines the effects of contextual information on undergraduate college student's levels of alcohol-related incident guardianship at college parties. The research is conceptualized using routine activities theory and the theory of planned behavior. The experiment examines attitudinal variations about heavy drinking differentiated by sex, athletic status, and location of the drinking event. The sex and athletic status variables produce statistically effects on the dependent variables, while location of the drinking event is not significant. The article concludes by discussing the importance of context as it pertains to the social norms marketing strategy utilized in much college alcohol programming, and suggests a more directed marketing approach.

Polonec, L. D., Major, A. M., & Atwood, L. E. (2006). Evaluating the believability and effectiveness of the social norms message - "Most students drink 0 to 4 drinks when they party." Health Communication, 20, 23-34.

In an effort to reduce dangerous drinking levels among college students, university health educators have initiated social norms campaigns based on the rationale that students will be more likely to reduce their own drinking behaviors if they think that most students on campus are not heavy or binge drinkers. Within the framework of social comparisons theory, this study reports the findings of a survey of 277 college students and explores the correlates of accuracy and bias in students' estimates of whether or not most other students think that binge drinking on campus is a problem and whether or not most other students believe the campaign message. The overwhelming majority (72.6%) of students did not believe the norms message that most students on campus drink "0 to 4" drinks when they party, and 52.7% reported drinking "5 or more" drinks in a sitting. The social norms campaign was effective in motivating 61% of the respondents to think about binge drinking as a problem. For the most part, group or social network norms were more influential on students' own drinking behavior than were their estimates of the campus drinking norm. The findings also clarify that accuracy in estimating the campus social norm in and of itself does not necessarily lead to an increase or reduction in alcohol consumption. The social comparisons approach underscores the complex and social nature of human interaction and reinforces the need for the development of multiple approaches to alcohol education with messages that are designed to target the specific needs of students based on their orientations toward alcohol consumption.

Yanovitzky, I., Stewart, L. P., & Lederman, L. C. (2006). Social distance, perceived drinking by peers, and alcohol use by college students. Health Communication, 19, 1-10.

Many colleges in the United States are employing social norms marketing campaigns with the goal of reducing college students' alcohol use by correcting misperceptions about their peers' alcohol use. Although the typical message used in these campaigns describes the quantity and frequency of alcohol use by the average student on campus, many students may find such a vague comparison to others to be socially irrelevant. This study compares the relative weight of perceptions about alcohol use by distant versus proximate peers in the prediction of college students' personal drinking behavior. The results of analyzing data collected from a sample of college students at a large public northeastern university (N = 276) show that, as hypothesized, perceived alcohol use by proximate peers (best friends and friends) was a stronger predictor of students' personal alcohol use than perceived alcohol use by more distant peers (such as students in general), controlling for other strong predictors of alcohol use by college students (age, gender, race, off-campus residency, and sensation-seeking tendencies). The implications of these findings for the design of more effective social norms messages are discussed.

Martens, M. P., Dams-O'Connor, K., Duffy-Paiement, C., & Gibson, J. T. (2006). Perceived alcohol use among friends and alcohol consumption among college athletes. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 20, 178-184.

Intercollegiate athletes have been identified as an at-risk group for heavy alcohol consumption (e.g., T. F. Nelson & H. Wechsler, 2001). The purpose of this study was to assess the relationship between descriptive drinking norms among one's closest friends and personal alcohol consumption among athletes. Specifically, the authors sought to determine whether perceptions of alcohol consumption among one's closest friend who was an athlete (athlete norms) demonstrated a stronger relationship with personal alcohol use than normative perceptions among one's closest friend who was not an athlete (nonathlete norms). Data were collected on 165 athletes competing at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I level. Results indicated that the athlete norms demonstrated a stronger main effect with personal alcohol use than the nonathlete norms, although both norms demonstrated strong effects. However, an interaction effect indicated that the athlete norms demonstrated a stronger relationship with personal consumption among men, whereas the nonathlete norms demonstrated a stronger relationship among women. Implications for alcohol prevention programs among college athletes are discussed.

White, H. R. (2006). Reduction of alcohol-related harm on United States college campuses: The use of personal feedback interventions. International Journal of Drug Policy, 17, 310-319.

This paper reviews research evaluating personalised feedback interventions (PFIs) for reducing the harms associated with alcohol abuse among US college students. PFIs provide students with feedback about their own alcohol use relative to college norms, as well as information about other aspects of their drinking behaviours, related problems and/or perceived risks. Studies conducted in the United States using randomised designs indicate that PFIs are efficacious for reducing various aspects of alcohol use and/or related negative consequences for both high-risk volunteer and mandated college students. To date, these studies have demonstrated that written-feedback-only PFIs are as efficacious as brief in-person PFIs, at least on a short-term duration. Therefore, college administrators should be encouraged to develop interventions to screen students and provide written personal feedback in order to reduce high-risk drinking patterns among college students. Web-based approaches might prove to be a very cost-effective strategy, although more research is needed to determine their efficacy, as well as what aspects of the feedback are the most effective.

Campo, S. & Cameron, K. A. (2006). Differential effects of exposure to social norms campaigns: A cause for concern. Health Communication, 19, 209-219.

College students' processing of alcohol social norms messages, related effects on normative judgments, attitudes toward their own behaviors, and perception of undergraduate attitudes were examined using expectancy violation theories and social norms marketing. Data were collected from 2 universities (N = 393). Following message exposure, the majority moved their normative judgments toward the statistic provided in the message. Slight attitude change occurred but not always in the desired direction. Those most likely to develop unhealthier attitudes drank more than those who developed healthier attitudes, consistent with psychological reactance to the messages. Therefore, the effects of social norms campaigns on those at greatest risk for primary and secondary alcohol effects due to their increased alcohol consumption could lead to increased risk for those participants, indicating that the widespread use of social norms campaigns needs to be scrutinized.


McAlaney, J. & McMahon, J. (2007). Normative beliefs, misperceptions, and heavy episodic drinking in a British student sample. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68, 228-237.

Objective: Numerous studies have demonstrated the existence and effect of normative misperceptions on heavy episodic drinking behavior. However, there has been little work on these processes or application of normative-belief interventions outside the U.S. college system. The aim of the current study, therefore, was to investigate heavy episodic drinking and normative misperceptions in a U.K. university setting. Method: An email containing a link to a survey Web site was distributed to all current undergraduate students at the University of Paisley, Scotland. In addition to age and gender questions, the survey contained items on students' personal behavior and perception of the level of that behavior in three groups of increasing social distance: close friends, other students of the same age, and other people of the same age in U.K. society in general. Results: Completed surveys from 500 respondents were returned. In keeping with previous research, significant correlations were found between the respondents' behavior and the perception of that behavior in others, with beliefs about the most proximal individuals being the most strongly correlated. The majority of respondents were also found to overestimate alcohol consumption in other students. An age effect was noted, in which misperceptions appeared to decrease with age but did not vary between genders. Conclusions: The findings of the study indicate that the normative-belief alcohol consumption processes that have been found on U.S. college campuses also operate in U.K. university settings. This raises the possibility of applying social-norms interventions from the United States to the United Kingdom and potentially elsewhere in the world. Furthermore, the study noted apparent age effects in the degree of misperception, the implications of which are discussed.

Chawla, N., Neighbors, C., Lewis, M. A., Lee, C. M., & Larimer, M. E. (2007). Attitudes and perceived approval of drinking as mediators of the relationship between the importance of religion and alcohol use. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68, 410-418.

Objective: Previous research has consistently demonstrated that religiosity and personal importance of religion are associated with lower levels of alcohol use among both adolescents and college students. Although a number of different mechanisms have been proposed to account for this, few studies have empirically examined potential mediators of this relationship. Given the extensive literature on the impact of social norms on the drinking behavior of college students, the present study evaluates the role of perceived drinking norms as a mediator of the relationship between the importance of religion and alcohol use. Specifically, we examined both personal attitudes and perceived injunctive norms with regard to reference groups that vary in their proximity to students (i.e., close friends and typical college students). Method: Participants were 1,400 undergraduate students (60.6% women) who were assessed using self-report measures of alcohol consumption, importance of religion, attitudes, and perceived norms. Results: Results indicated that, consistent with the hypotheses, personal attitudes were the strongest mediator of the relationship between importance of religion and alcohol use, followed by the approval of close friends, and, to a lesser extent, the approval of typical college students. Conclusions: These findings suggest that importance of religion may have an indirect effect on alcohol use via personal attitudes and the perceived approval or disapproval of important others, and this relationship varies as a function of reference group. Implications for interventions that incorporate information on social norms are discussed.

Park, H. S. & Smith, S. W. (2007). Distinctiveness and influence of subjective norms, personal descriptive and injunctive norms, and societal descriptive and injunctive norms on behavioral intent: A case of two behaviors critical to organ donation. Human Communication Research, 33, 194-218.

The effects of the attitudinal, normative, and perceived behavioral control (PBC) components of the theory of planned behavior and personal- and societal-level descriptive and injunctive norms were investigated with regard to their impact on the intent to enroll on a state organ-donor registry and the intent to engage in family discussion about organ donation. The results indicated that the 5 types of norms were distinct across the 2 behaviors. Different types of norms served as predictors and as moderators for the 2 behavioral intentions. The effects of attitudes toward each behavior and PBC were moderated by personal descriptive norms for behavioral intention to sign and by subjective norms for behavioral intention to talk with family.

Goldstein, N. J., Griskevicius, V., & Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Invoking social norms: A social psychology perspective on improving hotels' linen-reuse programs. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, 48, 145-150.

Social psychology theory can be applied to such mundane purposes as encouraging guests to reuse their washroom towels. In contrast to the appeals now in use to persuade guests to reuse their towels, research found that applying the norm of reciprocation and the descriptive norm for proenvironmental action improved guests' participation in one hotel's towel-reuse program. The implication is that such research ca also be applied to other areas of hotel operation to benefit businesses, consumers, and the environment.

Lewis, M. A. & Neighbors, C. (2007). Optimizing personalized normative feedback: The use of gender-specific referents. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68, 385-392.

Objective: Many brief interventions include personalized normative feedback (PNF) using gender-specific or gender-neutral referents. Several theories suggest that information pertaining to more socially proximal referents should have greater influence on one's behavior compared with more socially distal referents. The current research evaluated whether gender specificity of the normative referent employed in PNF related to intervention efficacy. Method: Following baseline assessment, 185 college students (45.2% women) were randomly assigned to one of three intervention conditions: gender-specific feedback, gender-neutral feedback, or assessment-only control. Immediately after completing measures of perceived norms, alcohol consumption, and gender identity, participants in the gender-neutral and gender-specific intervention conditions were provided with computerized information detailing their own drinking behavior, their perceptions of student drinking, and actual student drinking. Results: After a 1-month follow-up, the results indicated that normative feedback was effective in changing perceived norms and reducing alcohol consumption for both intervention groups for women and men. The results provide support, however, for changes in perceived gender-specific norms as a mediator of the effects of normative feedback on reduced drinking behavior for women only. Additionally, gender-specific feedback was found to be more effective for women higher in gender identity, relative to the gender-neutral feedback. A post-assessment follow-up telephone survey administered to assess potential demand characteristics corroborated the intervention effects. Conclusions: Results extend previous research documenting efficacy of computer delivered PNF. Gender specificity and gender identity appear to be important elements to consider for PNF intervention efficacy for women.

P. Wesley Schultz, Jessica M. Nolan, Robert B. Cialdini, Noah J. Goldstein, Vladas Griskevicius (2007). The Constructive, Destructive, and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms. Psychological Science, 18, 429–434.

Despite a long tradition of effectiveness in laboratory tests, normative messages have had mixed success in changing behavior in field contexts, with some studies showing boomerang effects. To test a theoretical account of this inconsistency, we conducted a field experiment in which normative messages were used to promote household energy conservation. As predicted, a descriptive normative message detailing average neighborhood usage produced either desirable energy savings or the undesirable boomerang effect, depending on whether households were already consuming at a low or high rate. Also as predicted, adding an injunctive message (conveying social approval or disapproval) eliminated the boomerang effect. The results offer an explanation for the mixed success of persuasive appeals based on social norms and suggest how such appeals should be properly crafted.

Neighbors, C., Lee, C. M., Lewis, M. A., Fossos, N., & Larimer, M. E. (2007). Are social norms the best predictor of outcomes among heavy-drinking college students? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 68, 556-65.

OBJECTIVE: This research was designed to evaluate the relative contribution of social norms, demographics, drinking motives, and alcohol expectancies in predicting alcohol consumption and related problems among heavy-drinking college students. METHOD: Participants included 818 (57.6% women) first-year undergraduates who reported at least one heavy-drinking episode in the previous month. In addition to providing demographic information (gender and fraternity/sorority membership) participants completed Web-based assessments of social norms (perceived descriptive norms regarding typical student drinking, injunctive norms regarding friends' and parents' approval), motives (social, enhancement, coping, and conformity), and expectancies and evaluations of positive and negative alcohol effects. RESULTS: Regression results indicated that descriptive and injunctive norms were among the best predictors of college student drinking. With respect to alcohol problems, results indicated that coping motives accounted for the largest proportion of unique variance. Finally, results revealed that alcohol consumption mediated the relationships between predictors and problems for social norms, whereas coping motives, negative expectancies, and evaluation of negative effects were directly associated with alcohol problems despite having relatively weak or null unique associations with consumption. CONCLUSIONS: The results of this study substantiate social norms as being among the best predictors of alcohol consumption in this population and suggest that drinking to cope is a better predictor of problems. The findings are discussed in terms of practical prevention and treatment implications.

Leone, T., Pliner, P., & Peter Herman, C. (2007). Influence of clear versus ambiguous normative information on food intake. Appetite, 49, 58-65.

Two studies were conducted in order to examine the conditions under which social norms operate to control people's otherwise prepotent response to maximize eating. The social-normative model of eating assumes that people will follow one of two possible norms for "appropriate" eating behavior: the norm to eat minimally and the norm to avoid eating excessively. In Experiment 1, it was predicted that amounts eaten would be bimodally distributed (with the modes at or just below the two amounts chosen to represent minimal and excessive eating). Instead, most participants ate considerably more than either of the norms presented. Experiment 2 was intended to test the following explanation for these results: exposure to ambiguous norms liberated participants from normative constraints and led them to overeat. Experiment 2 demonstrated that exposure to clear norms in the same situation exerted a braking effect on overeating. We conclude that individuals are more likely to eat in accordance with their own desires when they cannot perceive that others are following a clear pattern of eating behavior and social norms are, therefore, not apparent.


Lewis, T. F. (2007). Perceptions of risk and sex-specific social norms in explaining alcohol consumption among college students: Implications for campus interventions. Journal of College Student Development, 48, 297-310.

The aim of this study was to expand the assessment of two explanatory models of drinking behavior - perceptions of risk and social norms - and determine their relationship to dimensions of alcohol involvement in a multivariate evaluation. The Alcohol and Drug Survey was administered to a sample (N = 235) of college students from a university in the Southeast. Results from the canonical correlation analysis revealed that perceived normative beliefs of closest friends of the same sex best explained dimensions of alcohol involvement. Perceptions of risk were associated with drinking involvement, although the direction of relationships was unexpectedly positive. Implications for campus interventions are discussed.

Juvonen, J., Martino, S. C., Ellickson, P. L., & Longshore, D. (2007). "But others do it"! Do misperceptions of schoolmate alcohol and marijuana use predict subsequent drug use among young adolescents? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 37, 740-758.

We examined the effects of perceived prevalence of drug use among same-age peers on adolescents’ subsequent drug use. In 7th grade, participants estimated prevalence of alcohol and marijuana use among 7th-grade students in their school, reported own use of these drugs, receipt of offers to use these drugs, and frequency of contact with peers who use these drugs. In 8th grade, participants reported their frequency of alcohol and marijuana use. Although perceived prevalence of drug use predicted subsequent alcohol and marijuana use when controlling for actual prevalence, these effects disappeared once participants’ prior levels of drug use and proximal peer contacts were considered. Implications of findings for intervention programs aiming solely to increase accuracy of perceived prevalence estimates are discussed.

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