Students overestimate alcohol abuse
Posted on Thursday, September 29, 2005
The Daily Princetonian, Princeton, N.J.
by Chloe Estep
The more information students have, the more likely they are to make smart decisions about alcohol, according to a new study.
The study stressed the need to correct misperceptions among students, particularly concerning the overestimation of alcohol use.
The authors - H. Wesley Perkins, a professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Michael Haines, director of the National Social Norms Research Center - advocate the dissemination of additional information on college campuses, such as the average amount of alcohol consumed by students.
Perkins asserts that the way students see their peers behave influences their own actions, adding, "What I think the norm is has the most influence on what I do personally."
According to this research - conducted with more than 75,000 students at 130 colleges and universities across the nation - the "norm" is far different and, in most cases, far lower than most students think.
"We find the same thing everywhere on every campus. Students base their assumptions on the few [drinkers] that are most visible," Haines said.
Administrative officials from Princeton declined to comment on the study.
In some cases, the gap between estimation and reality was as much as three or more drinks, with the proportion of students who overestimate drinking sometimes surpassing 70 percent.
"What we didn't expect was how the survey disclosed consistent misperceptions in schools with very different norms, whether the average was abstention or three or four drinks," Perkins said.
According to the study, students who are exposed to programs designed to decrease misperceptions are less likely to participate in high-risk drinking and its negative consequences.
Haines said that such misperceptions do not apply only to alcohol consumption on college campuses.
"We find the same type of misperception with crime or violence. An Australian study showed that most people thought that the majority of adults cheated on their income taxes, but the reality is that most don't, and don't approve of it," he said.
Not all studies agree. A September 2000 study by Henry Wechsler of Harvard's School of Public Health said only 29 percent of students nationwide overestimate binge drinking on campus, and half of all binge drinkers actually underestimate the extent of binge drinking on campus.