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Perceived personal immunity to the consequences of drinking alcohol: The relationship between behavior and perception

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Heavy drinkers, moderate drinkers, light drinkers, and nondrinkers were asked to rate a variety of negative health and social consequences of using alcohol. Subjects made probability ratings for fictional others who were heavy, moderate, or light drinkers or nondrinkers. Subjects also made probability ratings for themselves as hypothetical heavy, moderate, or light drinkers or nondrinkers and for themselves actually. A pattern of perceived personal immunity was found across groups. Subjects rated fictional others and themselves as hypothetical drinkers to be more likely to experience negative consequences than their actual selves. All groups of subjects (heavy, moderate, and light drinkers and abstainers) rated their actual chances of experiencing negative consequences to be approximately equal. In contrast, heavy drinkers saw the effects of drinking for other heavy drinkers as less likely than did subjects who had light or abstinent drinking patterns who rated fictional heavy drinkers. These findings suggest that individuals who drink more tend to deny the potential harm that may result from alcohol consumption. Short-term social consequences were viewed as most likely to occur. Long-term consequences were perceived as least likely to occur.

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Correspondence to William B. Hansen.

Additional information

This research was supported in part by grant 1-R01-AA06201 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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Hansen, W.B., Raynor, A.E. & Wolkenstein, B.H. Perceived personal immunity to the consequences of drinking alcohol: The relationship between behavior and perception. J Behav Med 14, 205–224 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00845452

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Key words

  • denial
  • alcohol consumption
  • beliefs
  • perceptions
  • negative consequences
  • personal immunity