Social distance, perceived drinking by peers, and alcohol use by college students

Itzhak Yanovitzky, Lea P. Stewart, Linda C. Lederman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Many colleges in the United States are employing social norms marketing campaigns with the goal of reducing college students' alcohol use by correcting misperceptions about their peers' alcohol use. Although the typical message used in these campaigns describes the quantity and frequency of alcohol use by the average student on campus, many students may find such a vague comparison to others to be socially irrelevant. This study compares the relative weight of perceptions about alcohol use by distant versus proximate peers in the prediction of college students' personal drinking behavior. The results of analyzing data collected from a sample of college students at a large public northeastern university (N = 276) show that, as hypothesized, perceived alcohol use by proximate peers (best friends and friends) was a stronger predictor of students' personal alcohol use than perceived alcohol use by more distant peers (such as students in general), controlling for other strong predictors of alcohol use by college students (age, gender, race, off-campus residency, and sensation-seeking tendencies). The implications of these findings for the design of more effective social norms messages are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Communication


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