Evaluating the believability and effectiveness of the social norms message "most students drink 0 to 4 drinks when they party"

Lindsey D. Polonec, Ann Marie Major, L. Erwin Atwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-34
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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