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Effectiveness of norm-based anti-drinking messages on college students’ binge drinking intentions

Binge drinking is prevalent in the U.S. college student population, and can lead to social and physical dangers as well as decline in academic performance. College students often overestimate drinking norms, which lends to a culture of excessive alcohol use. This is why it is important to identify strategies that will have the greatest impact on college students when it comes to creating anti-drinking messages.

A study at the University of Maryland surveyed 519 college students with a mean age of 19.77. These students completed an online questionnaire to assess their backgrounds, drinking-related beliefs, and regulatory mode. The survey showed two types of a norm-based anti-drinking poster including statistics on college drinking. Then, students responded to situational questions measuring binge-drinking intentions.

The two types of norm-based messages included in this study were descriptive norms and injunctive norms. Descriptive norms are based on the perceived prevalence of a behavior, and injunctive norms deal with the perception of social approval of a behavior. The other factor surveyed besides drinking was regulatory mode. Students answered questions to determine which approach they align with when it comes to fulfilling their goals: locomotion (quick, straightforward decision making) or assessment (critical evaluation to ensure doing the “right” thing).

The results showed that those who were older, affiliated with Greek organizations, and who drank higher levels had higher intentions to binge drink in the future. They also showed that those with stronger locomotion orientation were more likely to respond better to the message using descriptive norm-based messages, and those with stronger assessment orientation showed a stronger response to the injunctive norm-based message. The study also found that students who drank more were more likely to find the descriptive message more effective than the injunctive message.

Limitations of this study include the lack of a control group, the focus on the norm-based messages, and that the data did not include the students’ actual binge-drinking behaviors, only their intentions. This study also did not include students’ involvement in athletics, which has previously been linked to drinking.

Take away: U.S. college students who are older, associated with Greek organizations, and drink at high levels have high intentions to partake in binge drinking. To target and educate all college students, both descriptive and injunctive anti-drinking messages can be effective

Nan, X., Yang, B. (2018). Influence of Norm-Based Messages on College Students’ Binge Drinking Intentions: Considering Norm Type, Regulatory Mode, and Level of Alcohol Consumption. Health Communication,


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