Peer pressure can limit student binge drinking, says University of Kansas study

June 21, 2017 — Houston Chonicle — Peer pressure can lead college students to drink heavily.  But a new study by a  researcher shows that social cues can also be an effective way to get college students to stop binge drinking, too.  Colleges have long struggled to implement effective alcohol policies to moderate student drinking, which is especially risky in the first months of the fall semester.

Margaret Kelley, an American studies professor at the University of Kansas, found that the prospect of embarrassment and shame among peers may be the most effective way to keep students from drinking dangerously.  Kelley’s study, published in the Journal of Drug Issues, surveyed 508 students at a large public university in the southwest U.S.

That university had recently established a dry policy on campus. Fear of punishment didn’t deter drinking, as students said they would drink in places where they likely wouldn’t be discovered. Students who worried that their peers would think less positively of them said they would be less likely to violate the policy, the study found. Women were more swayed by perceptions of their peers’ reactions.

Friendships and casual relationships “are more important from the standpoint of moderating drinking behavior than the threat of formal punishment, or even being kicked out of school,” Kelley said in a press release. “The ideas of day-to-day embarrassment or feeling basic social shame were more of a deterrent.”

An effective orientation program to curb student drinking may be a positive social event in which students can befriend each other. Computer information sessions on alcohol policies may be less effective, Kelley wrote.

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