Background: Participant reports of their own behaviour are critical for the provision and evaluation of behavioural interventions. Recent developments in brief alcohol intervention trials provide an opportunity to evaluate longstanding concerns that answering questions on behaviour as part of research assessments may inadvertently influence it and produce bias. The study objective was to evaluate the size and nature of effects observed in randomized manipulations of the effects of answering questions on drinking behaviour in brief intervention trials.
Methodology/principal findings: Multiple methods were used to identify primary studies. Between-group differences in total weekly alcohol consumption, quantity per drinking day and AUDIT scores were evaluated in random effects meta-analyses. Ten trials were included in this review, of which two did not provide findings for quantitative study, in which three outcomes were evaluated. Between-group differences were of the magnitude of 13.7 (-0.17 to 27.6) grams of alcohol per week (approximately 1.5 U.K. units or 1 standard U.S. drink) and 1 point (0.1 to 1.9) in AUDIT score. There was no difference in quantity per drinking day.
Conclusions/significance: Answering questions on drinking in brief intervention trials appears to alter subsequent self-reported behaviour. This potentially generates bias by exposing non-intervention control groups to an integral component of the intervention. The effects of brief alcohol interventions may thus have been consistently under-estimated. These findings are relevant to evaluations of any interventions to alter behaviours which involve participant self-report.