Social Norms Project

Brief, Live, Interactive Normative Group-Specific Intervention (BLING) to Reduce Heavy Drinking among College Students

College drinking

  • Heavy drinking among college students remains a national concern that can lead to a multitude of alcohol-related consequences for individuals and the surrounding community.
  • A 2009 review estimated that 500,000+ unintentional injuries and more than 1700 U.S. college student deaths were alcohol-related.
  • Excessive drinking increases the risks of fatal and nonfatal injuries, academic failure, violence and other crime and unsafe sexual behavior
  • One-quarter of students report that drinking has had a negative impact on their academic life; from missed classes, poor test and assignment performance, and falling behind in coursework.
  • THE AVERAGE STUDENTS SPEND MORE TIME UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL THAN THEY DO STUDYING!!! 

Misperceptions of student norms

  • Students’ misperceptions of the drinking behavior of their friends and peers are strongly associated with their individual drinking behavior. 
  • Correcting these misperceptions can help reduce heavy drinking and reinforce moderate or abstaining behavior.
  • Students are often skeptical about the salience of norms they receive in normative feedback interventions, as the norms come from “unknown” sources.

The current intervention

  • Uses highly advanced technology to provides student members of campus organizations (freshman resident halls, fraternities, sororities, service organizations, and academic clubs) with live, real-time, group-specific normative data based on the responses of other students in their peer group.
  • Over 2,000 students have received this intervention. 
  • Participants respond on individual hand-held devices that wirelessly transmit their data to a central computer. 
  • Responses are displayed instantaneously for all participants to see discrepancies between their perceptions of group behaviors and attitudes and the actual behaviors and attitudes of their group members. 
  • Group-specific and salient group nature of the intervention combines with the real-time presentation of data to increase the credibility of the normative feedback.

Results

  • Results showed that all three groups (first-year students, student-athletes, and Greek-affiliated students) overestimated their group’s alcohol consumption prior to the intervention, with males having greater misperceptions than females.
  • Findings revealed that normative feedback via the BLING intervention appears to be equally effective in correcting normative misperceptions among all three groups regardless of gender or the magnitude of initial misperception. 
  • In addition, reductions in normative misperceptions were present immediately post-intervention.
  • Among a sample of intercollegiate athletes from two universities, the BLING intervention reduced misperceptions of both group-specific attitudes and behavior which subsequently reduced individual drinking behavior and permissive attitudes at one and two-month follow up. 
  • Among a sample of Greek-affiliated students, the BLING intervention was effective in reducing group-specific normative misperceptions and subsequent drinking, also at one-and two-month follow-up. Results were consistent at both the individual and group levels of analysis. 
  • Finally, consistent with the theory underlying social norms interventions, results showed that this approach appears to be most effective among students who start out with large group-specific normative misperceptions and that reductions in misperceptions mediate actual changes in drinking.