A multisite randomized trial of normative feedback for heavy drinking: Social comparison versus social comparison plus correction of normative misperceptions

J Consult Clin Psychol. 2016 Mar;84(3):238-47. doi: 10.1037/ccp0000067. Epub 2016 Jan 4.


Objective: Given widespread alcohol misuse among college students, numerous intervention programs have been developed, including personalized normative feedback (PNF). Most research evaluating PNF assumes that presenting one's own perceived norms is necessary to correct normative misperceptions and thereby reduce drinking. Alternatively, simply providing social comparison information showing that one drinks more than others may be sufficient. The present study evaluated the efficacy of full PNF (one's own drinking, campus drinking rates, and perceived norms) and a partial personalized social comparison feedback (PSCF; one's own drinking and campus drinking rates) in a randomized trial among heavy-drinking college students.

Method: Participants included 623 heavy-drinking students from 3 universities. Assessments occurred at baseline and 3- and 6-months postbaseline.

Results: Primary analyses examined differences across 4 drinking outcomes (drinks per week, total drinks past month, frequency of past month drinking, and negative alcohol-related consequences) at 3- and 6-month follow-ups controlling for the baseline variable. Results revealed significant reductions across all alcohol consumption outcomes at 3 months in both intervention conditions compared to attention-control. Mediation analyses demonstrated significant indirect effects of the intervention on 6-month drinking through changes in perceived norms at 3 months. Moreover, evidence emerged for changes in drinking at 3 months as a mediator of the association between PSCF and 6-month perceived norms.

Conclusions: The present research suggests PNF may not require explicit consideration of one's perceived norms to be effective and that direct social comparison provides an alternative theoretical mechanism for PNF efficacy.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking in College / psychology*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Binge Drinking / psychology
  • Binge Drinking / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Norms*
  • Students
  • Universities
  • Young Adult