Tackling student binge drinking: Pairing incongruent messages and measures reduces alcohol consumption

Br J Health Psychol. 2015 Sep;20(3):498-513. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12111. Epub 2014 Jun 13.


Objectives: Excessive alcohol consumption is a persistent problem in Northern European cultures. Across a 2-week period, we tested the effect of varying message frames, message types, and response measures, in reducing alcohol consumption.

Design: Three hundred and twenty-three respondents were allocated to a 2 (message frame: gain vs. loss) × 2 (message type: health vs. social) × 2 (response type: engaging vs. refraining) mixed design.

Method: Binge drinking and units consumed were measured at Time 1 and Time 2 (2 weeks later). Participants read (following Time 1) a gain- or loss-framed message on binging emphasizing either social or health consequences and answered engaging in or refraining from drinking attitude measures.

Results: No main effects were identified. The key finding was that gain-framed messages, when used in conjunction with engage response measures (an incongruous pairing), were highly effective in reducing alcohol consumption 2 weeks later compared with the other message frame/response measure combinations.

Conclusions: We suggest that for prevention behaviours, gain-framed messages, when paired with engage response measures, initiate an inconsistency resolution process. Together, our findings emphasize the importance of message frame and response type when seeking to reduce alcohol consumption using persuasive health messages.

Keywords: binge drinking; intervention; message framing.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcohol Drinking in College / psychology*
  • Binge Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Binge Drinking / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Students / psychology*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult