The Effectiveness of Message Framing and Temporal Context on College Student Alcohol Use and Problems: A Selective E-Mail Intervention

Alcohol Alcohol. 2016 Jan;51(1):106-16. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agv091. Epub 2015 Sep 11.


Aims: Only one study has examined message framing on college drinking, but did so in a laboratory setting among a general sample of college students. The current study was designed to: (a) compare the efficacy of emailed interventions differing by message framing and temporal context on alcohol involvement among heavy drinking college students and (b) examine need for cognition (NFC), consideration of future consequences (CFC) and self-efficacy as putative moderators.

Methods: Hazardous drinking college students (N = 220) were randomly assigned to conditions in a 2 (Frame: gain vs. loss) × 2 (Temporal Context: long-term vs. short-term consequences) factorial design. Participants received four emails on heavy drinking consequences phrased in a manner consistent with their condition. After each message, participants were given a manipulation check. Participants were sent a 1-month follow-up assessment. Primary outcome measures were heavy episodic drinking (HED) and alcohol-related problems. We hypothesized two main effects (less alcohol consumption in the gain-frame and short-term condition), qualified by a Frame × Temporal Context interaction with substantially less alcohol involvement in the gain-frame/short-term condition.

Results: There was very little study attrition (96.4% completed follow-up survey, 93.2-99.5% completed manipulation checks), and strong effects were observed for the manipulations. A 2 × 2 ANCOVA, controlling for baseline alcohol involvement, revealed no consistent main effects or interactions on either outcome. No moderation was observed for any putative moderator.

Conclusions: These results do not replicate prior laboratory-based research. The null findings may be attributed to the heavy drinking sample or electronic means of message delivery.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Alcohol Drinking in College / psychology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / prevention & control
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Binge Drinking / prevention & control*
  • Binge Drinking / psychology
  • Electronic Mail*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Self Efficacy*
  • Students
  • Time Factors
  • Universities
  • Young Adult