PRC Resources

Underage Drinking

The Effects of Information on Norms about Heavy Drinking in High School
Story of Discovery

Background

Young people tend to overestimate the number of their peers who drink heavily. Studies have found that when these young people are given more accurate information about how few of their peers drink, they tend to drink less. This strategy has been used in many prevention programs in high schools and colleges.

 

The Current Study

In this study, 230 California high school students 16 years of age or older were asked about their drinking habits and their attitudes towards drinking. Some of the students were given information about student drinking in their area. In some cases, they were also asked to compare their own drinking to the drinking of other students. Students in the control group were given no information about drinking among their peers.

 

Results

Giving students information about drinking among their peers did seem to have an effect on their perceptions about how many of their peers drink heavily. Students also changed their opinions about how positively or negatively their peers viewed heavy drinking. That is, when they received information about their peers' drinking, they tended to expect their peers to view heavy drinking more negatively. When they were asked to compare their drinking to that of their peers, they also tended to change their thinking about how they should drink themselves, reducing the amount of heavy drinking they thought they would do. This even occurred for students who currently were heavy drinkers.

 

The Take-Home Message

Prevention strategies that provide accurate information about how much peers drink can be effective in changing attitudes about drinking. When students are asked to compare their peers' drinking to their own drinking habits, it can also influence their intentions to drink less.

 

The Reference

Agostinelli, G.; Grube, J., Effects of presenting heavy drinking norms on adolescents' prevalence estimates, evaluative judgments, and perceived standards. Prevention Science, 6(2): 89-100, 2005.