Articles & Abstracts

Atkin, C. K., Smith, S. W., Klein, K. Glazer, Ed., & Martell, D. (2008).  In their own words:  Student characterizations of protective behaviors to prevent alcohol harm.  Most of Us:  Report on Social Norms, http://mostofus.org/newsletter/article.php?newsletterID=22&articleID=78.

A considerable number of college students engage in heavy consumption of alcohol and often suffer negative consequences from it. While the most important goal is to persuade students to reduce their alcohol consumption, a secondary goal is to identify and persuade them to use protective behaviors that reduce the likelihood of harm from heavy drinking. This research endeavor was designed to augment the standard list of 9 protective behaviors that are identified on the National Health College Assessment (NCHA) instrument that is often employed by researchers and health practitioners. Forty-three separate protective behaviors were listed in response to an open ended question. One possible higher order scheme of dimensions is offered here, as is a discussion of the findings.



Martell, D., Atkin, C. K., Hembroff, L. A., Smith, S. W., Baumer, A. J., & Greenamayer, J. (2006) College Students and "Celebration Drinking." Social Norms Review, 1, 10-17.

Since 2001, MSU researchers have sought to find evidence regarding the existence of and social norms surrounding "celebration drinking." For this study, the research team sought to answer the following questions:

RQ1. 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?

RQ2. 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?

RQ1 was investigated using a telephone survey with 1,162 MSU undergraduate students. Drinking patterns were measured for these focal occasions of celebration: Welcome Week, Halloween, the home MSU football Saturday with rival University of Michigan, other home football Saturdays, the end of the semester, St. Patrick's Day, and Spring Break. The questions for each of these occasions included whether or not the respondents drank at all during the occasion, whether or not they self-reported getting drunk, how many drinks they drank, and over how many hours they drank. In order to establish comparison points for typical drinking, respondents were also asked the same questions about their drinking on the weekend immediately prior to the interview. RQ2 was investigated using data from a web-based survey, which had 1,302 respondents. Among other questions, respondents were asked to estimate the percentage of other MSU students that they believed consumed alcohol on at least one day of welcome week and Spring Break as well as on a typical football Saturday, Halloween, and St. Patrick's Day during the 2003-04 academic year. Respondents also reported whether or not they drank alcohol on each of these occasions. The results from both surveys provide evidence that "celebration drinking" is a distinct phenomenon that differs from college students' typical drinking. Across the data there is a consistent pattern: those who drink on celebration days tend to drink more and over a longer period of time; and larger percentages of students report getting drunk on celebration days. Furthermore, our findings that students overestimate the percentage of their peers who engage in celebratory drinking suggest that the social norms approach may be an effective way to reduce high-risk consumption and negative consequences during such occasions.



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, 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.



Atkin, C. K., Smith, S. W., & Bang, H, K, (1994). How young viewers respond to televised drinking and driving messages. Alcohol, Drugs, and Driving, 10, 1-13.

A message response testing study was conducted with several hundred teenagers and young adults to explore perceptions and evaluation of television spots on responsible drinking and drunk driving. Nine ads presented by beer companies were compared to nine non-industry public service announcements (PSAs). The brewer-sponsored spots tend to produce dual responses among young viewers. On one hand, many regard these ads as promoting beer consumption; others interpret the campaign slogans as permitting liberal consumption amounts, even in risky situations. Most young viewers detect commercial and public relations elements in these campaigns, and they rate the informative and motivational qualities of the prevention appeals as mediocre. The industry spots receive less positive ratings and are judged to be less effective than conventional PSAs. At the same time, viewers feel there is a genuine prevention-oriented purpose and that the spots offer sensible advice that is mildly influential in fostering responsible drinking. These favorable aspects of their evaluations apparently contribute to the positive images and attitude change toward the corporate sponsors, and suggest that a limited prosocial impact may result from exposure to the ads.



Atkin, C. K., Martell, D., Smith, S. W., & Greenamyer, J. (2004) Specialized Social Norm Message Strategies Focusing on Celebratory Drinking. Report on Social Norms, 3, 4-5

This article describes some of the steps taken at MSU beginning in the 2001-2002 school year to tackle drinking at celebratory events, such as holidays, home football games, and 21st birthdays. It begins with a discussion of the campaign messages created to target specific events through the use of global norm messages. The article also provides summative evaluation measures, which demonstrate that these messages have been largely effective. Also included are strategies and data regarding the future use of event-specific norms (which often differ from the general drinking norms) in messages. Finally, a plan to use specialized Who-What-When-Where-Why-How messages to supplement the global norms messages is presented. Together, these projects demonstrate the importance of focusing prevention efforts on special occasions characterized by high-risk drinking with peers, and supplementing generalized social norm strategies with specialized messages targeting celebratory occasions, social identity segments, and protective behaviors.

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