They drink how much and where? Normative perceptions by drinking contexts and their association to college students' alcohol consumption

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2011 Sep;72(5):844-53. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2011.72.844.


Objective: Prior research has shown that normative perceptions of others' drinking behavior strongly relates to one's own drinking behavior. Most research examining the perceived drinking of others has generally focused on specificity of the normative referent (i.e., gender, ethnicity). The present study expands the research literature on social norms by examining normative perceptions by various drinking contexts. Specifically, this research aimed to determine if college students overestimate peer drinking by several drinking contexts (i.e., bar, fraternity/sorority party, non-fraternity/sorority party, sporting event) and to examine whether normative perceptions for drinking by contexts relate to one's own drinking behavior specific to these contexts.

Method: Students (N = 1,468; 56.4% female) participated in a web-based survey by completing measures assessing drinking behavior and perceived descriptive drinking norms for various contexts.

Results: Findings demonstrated that students consistently overestimated the drinking behavior for the typical same-sex student in various drinking contexts, with the most prominent being fraternity/sorority parties. In addition, results indicated that same-sex normative perceptions for drinking by contexts were associated with personal drinking behavior within these contexts.

Conclusions: Results stress the importance of specificity of social norms beyond those related to the normative referent. Clinical implications are discussed in terms of preventions and intervention efforts as well as risks associated with drinking in a novel context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Peer Group*
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Perception*
  • Social Values*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Ethanol