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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Brown: Discrepancies Exist Between Personal and Perceived Approval of Intoxicated Behaviors

Approximately 38 percent of young adults report engaging in binge drinking, which is associated with various acute health risks such as cognitive impairment, compromised motor skills, and severely hindered decision making. These risky drinking patterns are influenced by environmental and social-cognitive factors such as social norms. Social norms, or the perceived approval of drinking behaviors and the perceived drinking behavior of one’s peers, often predict college students’ drinking behaviors. Students tend to overestimate peers’ consumption and approval relative to their own alcohol consumption and approval. These discrepancies are referred to as self-other differences or SODs.


[Photo: Ms. Ashley Lowery]

This study, authored by recent Behavioral and Social Health Sciences masters program graduate Ms. Ashley Lowery, sought to examine SODs for college students’ ratings of the approval of intoxicated behaviors. The authors had two primary objectives: (1) determine if significant differences exist between students’ personal approval and perceived approval of student peers in regards to intoxicated behaviors, and (2) identify demographic factors associated with SODs.

To do this, the authors recruited 234 undergraduate students taking an introductory psychology course at a large public university in the northeastern United States. The students were asked to fill out online surveys that assessed demographics, alcohol consumption over the past month, personal approval toward intoxicated behaviors, and injunctive norms regarding intoxicated behaviors.

Results indicated that perceived others’ approval ratings exceeded personal approval ratings for 42 of the 44 different intoxicated behaviors. Men and women’s SODs were significantly different, revealing that women rated intoxicated behaviors to be personally less acceptable than men. However, no significant difference was found for perceived approval ratings. The authors also found a significant difference between racial/ethnic groups with regard to SODs for intoxicated behaviors. This suggested that minority students, relative to white students, reported both less accepting attitudes toward intoxicated behaviors, and perceptions that peers are more accepting of intoxicated behaviors.

Overall, consistent SODs were observed in the approval of intoxicated behaviors. These findings may help to inform normative feedback interventions by revealing the potential for normative pressure, especially for female and minority students. Additional research exploring attitudes of minority students toward drinking is needed, for it is important to understand the possible social pressures this population may face as they join campus communities where drinking is prominent.

This article was published in Addictive Behaviors, Volume 76.