Biases in the perception of drinking norms among college students

J Stud Alcohol. 1991 Nov;52(6):580-6. doi: 10.15288/jsa.1991.52.580.


Individual drinking patterns and the perceived typical drinking patterns of close friends and reference groups were assessed in two different studies with college students. In both studies virtually all students reported that their friends drank more than they did. These effects were found across different levels of individual drinking, within different types of samples, across gender of subjects and with different types of questionnaire assessment. In addition, students' estimates of typical or average drinking within their own social living groups were significantly higher than average drinking within the group estimated from self-reports. Because of the consistent, asymmetrical pattern of reports of self and other drinking, it was interpreted that reports of others' drinking were exaggerated. These biases were particularly evident within organized social groups (i.e., fraternities and sororities) but were minimal in reference to "students in general" or "people in general." Results are discussed in terms of cognitive and motivational factors that potentially could promote or excuse excessive drinking practices among college students.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Alcoholism / prevention & control
  • Alcoholism / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Education / methods
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Social Environment
  • Social Identification
  • Social Values*
  • Stereotyping
  • Students / psychology*
  • Students / statistics & numerical data*
  • Washington / epidemiology