Self-other Differences in Student Drinking Norms Research: The Role of Impression Management, Self-deception and Measurement Methodology

Jack Melson, Rebecca Monk, Derek Heim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Data-driven student drinking norms interventions are based on reported normative overestimation of the extent and approval of anaverage student’s drinking. Self-reported differences between personal and perceived normative drinking behaviors and attitudes are taken at face value asevidence of actual levels of overestimation. This study investigates whether commonly used data collection methods and socially desirable responding may inadvertently impede establishing 'objective' drinking norms. Methods: UK students [N=421; 69% female; Mean age 20.22 years (SD = 2.5)] were randomly assigned to one of three versions of a drinking norms questionnaire: The standard multi-target questionnaire assessed respondents' drinking attitudes and behaviors (frequency of consumption, heavy drinking, units on a typical occasion) as well as drinking attitudes and behaviors for an ‘average student’. Two deconstructed versions of this questionnaire assessed identical behaviors and attitudes for participants themselves or an 'average student'. The Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding was also administered. Results: Students who answered questions about themselves and peers reported more extreme perceived drinking attitudes for the average student compared with those reporting solely on the ‘average student’. Personal and perceived reports of drinking behaviors did not differ between multi- and single-target versions of the questionnaire. Among those who completed the multi-target questionnaire, after controlling for demographics and weekly drinking, socially desirable responding was related positively with the magnitude of difference between students’ own reported behaviors/attitudes and those perceived for the average student. Conclusions: Standard methodological practices and socially desirable responding may be sources of bias in peer norm overestimation research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2639-2647
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research Online
Issue number12
Early online date1 Oct 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Oct 2016


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