Resisting Peer Pressure: Characteristics Associated with Other-Self Discrepancies in College Students' Levels of Alcohol Consumption
Crawford, Lizabeth A., Novak, Katherine B., Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education
Since college undergraduates tend to increase their use of alcohol to match what they perceive to be normative, the assumption has been that students who believe that others on campus drink more than they do (a common misperception) are in a vulnerable position. Taking a different perspective, we consider large other-self discrepancies in levels of alcohol consumption as indicative of a capacity to resist situational pressures that favor drinking. OLS regression was used to assess the relationship between student background characteristics, self-presentational tendencies, and a gender-specific other-self gap measure. Overall, those individuals who drank closest to what they regarded as typical for same-sex peers at their school were students high in public self-consciousness with a family history of alcohol abuse and males who exhibited a tendency toward cross-situational variability. Students not affiliated with the Greek system who consciously limited their alcohol intake to avoid negative outcomes, on the other hand, drank substantially below what they perceived to be normative for their gender, suggesting that they were the most able to resist peer pressure.
Given the negative consequences associated with the abuse of alcohol on college campuses, many institutions now have specific policies designed to reduce students' levels of alcohol consumption (Wechsler, Kelley, Weitzman, Giovanni & Sebring, 2002). Despite this, the rate of heavy, or binge drinking, has remained relatively stable at around 44%. Moreover, both the percentage of frequent binge drinkers and drinkers who report consuming alcohol for the explicit purpose of becoming intoxicated have increased since the early 1990s (Wechsler, Lee, Kuo, Sebring, Nelson & Lee, 2002).
Although students drink for a variety of reasons (Baer, 2002), peer pressure plays an important role in maintaining these patterns. Peer pressure has three forms: explicit offers of alcohol, role modeling, and social norms (Borsari & Carey, 2001). In this paper we focus on the latter type of social influence.
Across analyses, measures of common campus drinking practices, often constructed by asking survey respondents to estimate how much alcohol the "typical" student at their school drinks (e.g., Baer, Stacy & Larimer, 1991; Wood, Read, Palfai, & Stephenson, 2001), are strongly associated with students' personal drinking habits (see Borsari & Carey, 2001 for a review of this literature). Since they are based on the behaviors of non-intimates whose approval and friendship has yet to be obtained, conceptualizing drinking norms in this manner captures the essence of the concept of peer pressure (Shore, Rivers & Berman, 1983). Students who see heavy drinking as a common activity at their school are likely to increase their levels of alcohol consumption in order to gain social acceptance and avoid negative peer evaluations. Since they tend to overestimate the amount of alcohol consumed by others on campus this serves to perpetuate abusive drinking practices (Baer, Stacy & Larimer, 1991; Perkins & Wechsler, 1996) that may not coincide with their underlying attitudes (Prentice & Miller, 1993; Schroeder & Prentice, 1998).
Given their success in reducing alcohol abuse on some college campuses (Perkins, Haines & Rice, 2005), norm corrective initiatives, which provide students with accurate information about how much other students are drinking, have been the subject of much discussion within the substance abuse literature. This approach is based on the assumption that students who perceive large other-self discrepancies in levels of alcohol consumption are in a vulnerable position and are highly likely to benefit from this type of intervention (Borsari & Carey, 2001). On the other hand, substantial gaps between students' own drinking and what they believe to be normative may reflect a capacity to resist peer influence.
In their meta-analysis of studies on college drinking norms, Borsari and Carey (2003) identify two individual-level characteristics associated with other-self discrepancies in levels of alcohol consumption--Greek membership (non-Greek affiliates > Greek affiliates) and gender (female > male). While Greek participants exhibit smaller other-self discrepancies because they recognize the fact that they drink more than other students (Borsari & Carey, 2001; 2003), the source of the relatively large gap scores observed among women is less clear.
Women may report greater discrepancies between how much they think others are drinking and their own levels of alcohol consumption because they use men as a frame of reference when responding to questions about the typical student's drinking habits (Borsari & Carey, 2003; Korcuska & Thombs, 2003; Lewis & Neighbors, 2004). Alternatively, the gender difference in other-self gap scores may reflect a greater susceptibility to peer pressure among males. In their longitudinal analysis of other-self discrepancies in perceived comfort with campus drinking practices, Prentice and Miller (1993) found that males were more likely than females to adopt attitudes toward alcohol use that matched what they believed to be normative. Women are also more likely than their male counterparts to state that they would be able to resist situational pressures conducive to drinking in a variety of hypothetical situations (Shore et al., 1983). Presumably this is due to the fact that men experience more pressure from others to drink. Students themselves acknowledge this gender difference. They also believe that women are more inclined to suffer negative consequences from excessive drinking (e.g., rape or sexual assault), which may make it easier for females to limit their levels of alcohol consumption, even when they regard doing so as deviant (Suls & Green, 2003).
More generally, college undergraduates who fear alcohol's negative effects may find it easier to resist peer pressure. Many students indicate that they consciously minimize their drinking in order to avoid the risks associated with alcohol intoxication, even on campuses where heavy drinking is common. Frequently given rationales for not drinking to excess include concerns about health, safety and mental alertness; the expense of alcohol (Slicker, 2001); and patterns of familial socialization (Greenfield, Guydish & Temple, 1989).
Consistent with these findings, adolescents who report that their parents abstain from alcohol or drink moderately are less likely than their peers to abuse alcohol (Hawkins, Catalano & Miller, 1992). Moreover, parents may reduce their children's risk for alcohol abuse by making explicit their disapproval of this behavior. Relative to classmates whose parents have less prohibitive attitudes, adolescents with parents who openly oppose youth drinking are less likely to have friends who use alcohol and are more resistant to situational pressures that facilitate drinking (Nash, McQueen & Bray, 2005; Wood, Read, Mitchell & Brand, 2004).
Social-psychological attributes may also influence individuals' abilities to resist peer pressure. Conforming to prevailing social norms increases the likelihood that one will be viewed favorably. The process through which people seek to maximize positive evaluations--by dressing in a particular way, by using props that convey status and/or competence, by effectively fulfilling one's social obligations, and by meeting others' expectations more generally--is referred to as impression management (Goffman, 1959). While we all have a stake in conveying favorable impressions to …
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Publication information: Article title: Resisting Peer Pressure: Characteristics Associated with Other-Self Discrepancies in College Students' Levels of Alcohol Consumption. Contributors: Crawford, Lizabeth A. - Author, Novak, Katherine B. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education. Volume: 51. Issue: 1 Publication date: March 2007. Page number: 35+. © 2009 American Alcohol & Drug Information Foundation. COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group.
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