Stand-Alone Personalized Normative Feedback for College Student Drinkers: A Meta-Analytic Review, 2004 to 2014

PLoS One. 2015 Oct 8;10(10):e0139518. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139518. eCollection 2015.


Background: Norms clarification has been identified as an effective component of college student drinking interventions, prompting research on norms clarification as a single-component intervention known as Personalized Normative Feedback (PNF). Previous reviews have examined PNF in combination with other components but not as a stand-alone intervention.

Objectives: To investigate the degree to which computer-delivered stand-alone personalized normative feedback interventions reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms among college students and to compare gender-neutral and gender-specific PNF.

Data sources: Electronic databases were searched systematically through November 2014. Reference lists were reviewed manually and forward and backward searches were conducted.

Selection criteria: Outcome studies that compared computer-delivered, stand-alone PNF intervention with an assessment only, attention-matched, or active treatment control and reported alcohol use and harms among college students.

Methods: Between-group effect sizes were calculated as the standardized mean difference in change scores between treatment and control groups divided by pooled standard deviation. Within-group effect sizes were calculated as the raw mean difference between baseline and follow-up divided by pooled within-groups standard deviation.

Results: Eight studies (13 interventions) with a total of 2,050 participants were included. Compared to control participants, students who received gender-neutral (dbetween = 0.291, 95% CI [0.159, 0.423]) and gender-specific PNF (dbetween = 0.284, 95% CI [0.117, 0.451]) reported greater reductions in drinking from baseline to follow-up. Students who received gender-neutral PNF reported 3.027 (95% CI [2.171, 3.882]) fewer drinks per week at first follow-up and gender-specific PNF reported 3.089 (95% CI [0.992, 5.186]) fewer drinks. Intervention effects were small for harms (dbetween = 0.157, 95% CI [0.037, 0.278]).

Conclusions: Computer-delivered PNF is an effective stand-alone approach for reducing college student drinking and has a small impact on alcohol-related harms. Effects are small but clinically relevant when considered from a public health perspective. Additional research is needed to examine computer-delivered, stand-alone PNF as a population-level prevention program.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcohol Drinking in College / psychology*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Feedback, Psychological*
  • Humans
  • Internet

Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.