The Relative Impact of Injunctive Norms on College Student Drinking: The Role of Reference Group

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This research evaluated the importance of reference groups in the relationships between injunctive norms and alcohol consumption for college student drinkers. First-year students (N = 811; 58% women) completed online assessments of their drinking behavior, as well as their perceptions of the approval (injunctive norms) and prevalence (descriptive norms) of drinking by others. Injunctive norms were evaluated with respect to typical students, typical same-sex students, friends, and parents. Descriptive norms were evaluated with respect to typical students and typical same-sex students. Results suggested that for injunctive norms, only perceptions of proximal reference groups (friends and parents) are positively associated with drinking behavior. However, when considered in the context of multiple referents and norms, injunctive norms for more distal groups (typical students/same-sex students) were negatively associated with personal drinking, whereas descriptive norms for distal referents remained positively associated with drinking. Results suggest that injunctive norms are more complex than descriptive norms and these complexities warrant important consideration in the development of intervention strategies.

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