Applying Peer Pressure to Reduce Alcohol Intake

It is widely recognised that peer pressure generally leads to increased alcohol intake. But researchers at the University of Kansas show how positive peer pressure can be used to reduce alcohol intake. (Goode et al., 2014)

In two experiments the researchers influenced how individuals viewed themselves in comparison to other group members.

we manipulated the extent to which sorority members viewed themselves as prototypical group members before they learned social norm information

In the first experiment which examined undergraduates requested the participants complete questionnaires to assess such qualities as cooperativeness, dependability, leadership, open-mindedness and team-oriented.

2-3 weeks later the research team then presented the participants with a letter that presented information indicating that the participants traits matched the characteristics that the group members most valued.

The undergraduates were either told they were either:

“91% similar to the type of personality that this university’s sorority members value most” (with the phrase “very similar” circled in ink)

or “51% similar to the type of personality that this university’s sorority members value most”

The researchers were able to show that participants who were rated as more similar to the groups values were more likely to conform with the group, in contrast participants who learnt they did not match the groups ideals were more likely to go against the group norms and drink more.

The researchers indicated problems with the experimental design but nonetheless prompt discussion of the potential of positive peer pressure.

The second experiment showed participants norm-manipulated powerpoint presentations found similar results:

prototype-primed participants reported drinking significantly less alcohol in comparison to individual-primed participants. Participants also reported drinking less alcohol following the descriptive norm presentation in contrast to either the injunctive or combined norms presentations.

That is to say that similarly to the first experiment, participants who were ‘primed’ to believe in the social norms of their group were likely to drink less than participants primed with the information about the alcohol intake that is generally approved or disapproved.