Title: Social norms and undergraduate drinking: Scale construction and theory testing

Funding body: Insight Grant, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

Funding Awarded: $392,493 CND (for 5 years: 2020-2025)

PI: Roisin O'Connor (Concordia University, Canada)
Co-Applicants: Erin Barker, Alexandre Morin
Paul Norman

Project summary: The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 20 deaths are attributable to alcohol use. Drinking is typically at its heaviest and most problematic during the young adult years: 86% of undergraduates drink and almost half report at least one alcohol-related problem in the past year. Alcohol use during university predicts later problems including underemployment and addiction. Despite awareness of the negative consequences, risky drinking remains normative in university. This is not surprising, as humans often behave in ways that are destructive despite knowledge of the negative consequences. The theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen, 1991) provides a framework for understanding behavioural intentions and choices. However, one component of the model, injunctive norms (i.e., perceived approval by others), has received mixed support and is identified as the weakest part of the model. Alcohol use is one context where the ill-fit of norms is apparent. Young adults desire peer approval. In university, where risky drinking is ubiquitous, injunctive norms (perceived approval of risky drinking) should emerge as particularly relevant. While research finds that descriptive norms (perceived use by others) predict one's own drinking, the evidence implicating injunctive norms has been less clear. Some research suggests that injunctive norms may be a superior predictor of risky drinking. However, findings have been mixed raising doubts about the relevance of injunctive norms. It is unclear if the inconsistent findings stem from the fundamental irrelevance of injunctive norms in predicting alcohol misuse, or if this is an issue of measurement. Poor measurement of injunctive norms has been identified as a major limitation. Until reliable and valid measures of injunctive norms are developed, their relevance to behaviour, and the potential to utilize injunctive norms as an avenue for behaviour change, remains unclear.