Kristyn Lao

Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2009

Capstone Advisor

Dr. Kate B. Carey

Honors Reader

Dr. Leonard Newman

Capstone Major


Capstone College

Arts and Science

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories

Social Sciences

Subject Categories

Other Psychology | Psychology | Social Psychology


Heavy alcohol use and related consequences among college students have prompted an increase in research on determinants of excessive drinking, including perceived drinking norms. A distinction can be made between descriptive norms (what others do) and injunctive norms (what others approve of). Research reveals consistent self-other differences (SOD) for both descriptive and injunctive norms (Borsari & Carey, 2003), such that students tend to endorse more conservative behaviors and attitudes for themselves than they ascribe to their peers. The purpose of this study is to extend understanding of injunctive norms by evaluating SOD on (a) global comfort with drinking of students on campus, (b) acceptability of drinking-related consequences, and (c) acceptability of protective behavioral strategies (PBS). Exploratory analyses examined drinking motives and first-year status as factors in self-other ratings.

Participants were 324 undergraduates (61% female, 70% freshmen, 67% White), who completed an anonymous, online survey. Questions included demographics and alcohol use histories, and ratings of overall comfort with student drinking habits for “self,” “friends,” and “average student” on 11-point scales (0=not at all to 10=very) adapted from Schroeder and Prentice (1998). Participants then also rated two sets of items on acceptability to self and to others: (a) negative consequences, items adapted from the Brief Young Adult Alcohol Consequences Questionnaire (Kahler et al., 2005) and (b) items adapted from the Protective Behavioral Strategies Scale (Martens et al., 2005). Self and other acceptability ratings used 6-point scales (1=least acceptable; 6=most acceptable).

T- tests were used to compare self and other acceptability ratings. Comfort with drinking habits at the university was higher for friends (M=8.22, SD=2.11) than for self (M=7.35, SD=2.60), t(323)=-7.31, p<0.001. However, the comfort levels of self and average student did not differ (M=7.38, SD=1.91), t(323)=1.91, ns. With regard to drinking consequences, participants rated others as more accepting (M=2.42, SD=.04) than they were themselves (M=1.90, SD=.033), t(323)=11.50, p<0.001. Conversely, participants rated others as less accepting (M=4.09, SD=.067) of PBS than they were (M=4.60, SD=.059), t(323)=-8.75, p<0.01. Motives significantly correlated with both self-approval ratings of negative consequences and PBS. When compared on the perceived approval of others, first-year students and upperclassmen differed significantly on negative consequences (t=2.1, p<0.05) and PBS (t=-3.3, p<0.01). Unexpectedly, more experience in college was associated with greater acceptability of negative consequences and less acceptability of PBS.

Participants expressed less approval of consequences and more approval of PBS than they expected of other students at their university. Thus, the injunctive norms held by college students reflect a perceived social environment that is more accepting of negative consequences (e.g., hangovers) and less accepting of strategies designed to protect the drinker from inebriation (e.g., spacing out drinks). Perceptions of a permissive social environment can facilitate excessive drinking, despite the more conservative attitudes held by individual students.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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