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Influencing college students’ normative perceptions of protective behavioral strategies: A pilot randomized trial

It has been shown that many college students participate in heavy episodic drinking (HED) which can lead to negative consequences such as poor academic performance and physical injury. Some research has also looked at personalized feedback interventions (PFIs) to assess patterns and behaviors of those drinking alcohol. The current study looks at the efficacy of existing PFIs with an attempt to evaluate normative versus traditional protective behavioral strategies (PBS) feedback.

The final study included 408 participants from a large Midwestern university. Students completed a pre-screening questionnaire and then a baseline survey if they were eligible for the study. After this, they were assigned either assessment-only control (AOC), typical PBS feedback (typical strategies PFI), or PBS normative feedback (strategy norms PFI). The measures of the study included alcohol consumption, protective behavioral strategies, PBS norms, and alcohol-related consequences. Some of the questions asked were about 15 different protective behavioral strategies and if participants thought that others used them along with if they used any of them themselves.

Results showed that participants underestimated how much the typical student engaged in protective behavioral strategies at the baseline of the study. Other results showed that participants in the strategy norms PFI and typical strategies PFI groups had a more accurate perception of other students PBS use at the 1-month follow-up. Researchers found no significant differences in use of PBS, drinks consumed per week, alcohol related consequences, or peak drinking quantity at 1-month follow up. Overall this study shows that general feedback regarding protective behavior strategies may be sufficient for changing student’s perceptions of these strategies use.

Take Away: Personalized feedback interventions (PFIs) are used to assess patterns and behaviors of those drinking alcohol. The current study looks at the efficacy of existing PFIs with an attempt to evaluate protective behavioral strategies (PBS) feedback. The final study included 408 students who completed baseline surveys and 1-month follow up surveys. They were assigned either assessment-only control (AOC), typical PBS feedback, or PBS normative feedback. Results showed that participants underestimated how much the typical student engaged in protective behavioral strategies at the baseline of the study. Results showed that the typical PBS feedback and PBS normative feedback groups both helped students provide a more accurate perception of other students PBS use. Overall this study shows that general feedback regarding protective behavior strategies may be enough for changing students’ perceptions of these strategies use.

Leavens, E. L., Miller, M. B., Brett, E. I., Baraldi, A., & Leffingwell, T. R. (2020). Influencing college students’ normative perceptions of protective behavioral strategies: A pilot randomized trial. Addictive Behaviors, 104, 106256. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2019.106256

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