, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 89-99

Effects of Presenting Heavy Drinking Norms on Adolescents’ Prevalence Estimates, Evaluative Judgments, and Perceived Standards

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Abstract

Correcting normative information about the prevalence of heavy drinking is a key element in many prevention programs. To isolate the influence of normative information on older high school students’ (n = 230) alcohol-related judgments, the effects of delivering normative information in different contexts (no normative information, normative information only, normative information plus a self-focusing comparison to one’s drinking) and under different measurement conditions (public, private) were examined. First, relative to presenting no norms, presenting norms both with and without a self-focus reduced the underestimation of the percent of high school students who never drink heavily. Second, effects on both positive and negative evaluations of heavy drinking were examined independently. Heavy drinking students more strongly endorsed positive evaluations of heavy drinking than did non-heavy drinking students, but this self-serving bias was limited to the normative information only condition. Normative information failed to impact negative evaluations of heavy drinking for students at all drinking levels. Third, in judging the acceptable number of heavy drinking days approved by others, presenting the normative information in both contexts (relative to presenting no norms) led to more conservative judgments. Yet, only the normative context that added a self-focus to the norm led students to adopt more conservative personal standards for the acceptable number of heavy drinking days. Finally, public versus private measurement did not affect any of the dependent variables. The findings are discussed as they relate to confrontational versus empathic styles in delivering interventions.