Improving social norms interventions: Rank-framing increases excessive alcohol drinkers' information-seeking

Health Psychol. 2015 Dec;34(12):1200-3. doi: 10.1037/hea0000237. Epub 2015 Jul 20.


Objective: Two types of social norm message frame for encouraging seeking of alcohol-related health information by excessive drinkers were compared: (a) how much the average person actually drinks and (b) how their drinking ranks among others. It was hypothesized, in accordance with recent evidence of how the brain represents value, that Frame (b) would be more effective than Frame (a). This is the first test comparing these frames in any domain of social norms research.

Method: U.K. university students with excessive alcohol intake (n = 101; 66 female) were sent 4 weekly messages containing 1 of 4 types of information depending upon the experimental condition to which each participant was randomly allocated: (a) official alcohol consumption guidelines, (b) how their alcohol consumption compared with official guidelines, (c) how their consumption compared with the sample mean, or (d) how their consumption ranked among the sample. They then had the opportunity to request up to 3 types of alcohol-related health information.

Results: Participants informed of how their consumption ranked were more likely to request information (p < .01, odds ratio = 6.0) and tended to request a greater number of types of information (p < .01, Wald = 7.17) than those in other conditions.

Conclusions: Informing excessive drinkers of how their alcohol consumption ranked was more effective in eliciting their seeking of alcohol-related health information than informing them of how their consumption compared with the mean. Research investigating the effectiveness of this message frame in social norms interventions more generally is needed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Alcohols
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Male
  • Random Allocation
  • Social Norms*
  • Students / psychology*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult


  • Alcohols