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Source: Megan Miller, mmmiller@k-state.edu; Laura Brannon, 785-532-0604, lbrannon@k-state.edu.
News release prepared by: Greg Tammen, 785-532-2535, media@k-state.edu

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


MANHATTAN -- With binge drinking among college students a concern for many, two Kansas State University researchers may have found a way to combat it through messages tailored to a student's psyche.

Megan Miller, graduate student in psychology, Pueblo, Colo., and Laura Brannon, associate professor of psychology, researched binge drinking and college students' intent to binge drink. The two examined persuasive messages relating to the topic.

The study used undergraduate students from introductory psychology courses and monitored student responses through a Web site simulation about fun things to do in Manhattan, Kan. The simulation, Miller said, looked exactly like a real Web site, with the final page about local bars. On the left-hand side of the page, there was one of three anti-binge drinking messages. One-third of the students received a control message, informing them of a variety of problems which can occur from binge drinking. One-third of the students received a social norms message, informing them that most college students drink less than one might expect. A final one-third of the students received a self-schema message that was tailored to the student's personal values. Self-schema is a way of thinking about oneself in terms of your personal beliefs and attitudes.

Prior to the simulation, each student completed a self-schema survey and listed how many drinks they have on a typical occasion. The self-schema messages were then tailored to fit self-schemas that were adventuresome, very warm and caring, responsible or curious/versatile.

"For example, if I were an adventuresome type of person, I would get the type of message saying that 'you shouldn't engage in binge drinking because alcohol inhibits your ability to be outgoing, and will actually slow you down and prevent you from being the person you are because it's a depressant,'" Miller said.

After seeing a message in the simulation, students were then asked to indicate how many drinks they intended to have on their next social outing. Miller and Brannon then looked at whether the average number of intended drinks differed between the group of students who received a social norms message and the group of students who received a self-schema matched message. It was found that students who viewed either the tailored self-schema messages or the social norms message intended to drink less than those who viewed a generalized control message, but these two types of messages appealed to different types of people, Miller said.

Social norms and control messages are typically used to detour binge drinking on college campuses, Miller said. However, they have not been found to be consistently effective.

"Social norms messages are based on the finding that students tend to overestimate how much their peers drink, and that students' perceptions of how much their peers drink influences their own drinking behavior more strongly than how much their peers actually drink. That means that if I think that my peers drink 10 drinks a night when they go out, then I tend to drink more regardless of whether that is the average," Miller said.

On average, Miller said most studies have found that students have four to five drinks in a social setting.

"So, it was previously suspected that if these misperceptions were corrected, then students would reduce the amount of drinking. Our findings suggest that this may work for a subset of people," Miller said.

The goal, Miller said, was to compare the self-schema tailored messages to the social norms messages. Based on prior research, self-schema tailored messages have been found to be more effective at changing behavior than generalized messages. The results of Miller and Brannon's study support this previous research and also suggest that for a subset of people, social norms messages work. With the data, she believes this personalized type of anti-binge drinking messages can be posted via Facebook, Webmail, K-State Online and other frequented student sites. Personalization can be done through tracking cookies, as already practiced by Facebook.

Currently Brannon is looking at attitude toward these messages, as attitude can be indicative of a person's future behavior change.

Brannon and Miller hope to submit their findings on self-schema messages for publication later this year.



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