Overestimation of peer drinking: error of judgement or methodological artefact?

Melson, A. J. , Davies, J. B. and Martinus, T. (2011) Overestimation of peer drinking: error of judgement or methodological artefact? Addiction, 106(6), pp. 1078-1084. (doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03392.x) (PMID:21306598)

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Abstract

Aims: To examine whether inclusion of both self- and peer-referent items in the context of a single social norms drinking questionnaire plays an active role in producing the much-reported tendency for young people to overestimate the extent of peers' alcohol-related behaviour and the permissiveness of their attitudes towards alcohol. Design, setting, participants and measurements: In a between-subjects design pupils attending two Scottish secondary schools (n = 1074; 12–18 years; 52.5% male) completed one of three questionnaires designed to measure a range of alcohol-related behaviours, attitudes and perceptions: a paradigmatic multiple-target questionnaire included self- and peer-referent items while two single-target questionnaires included self-referent or peer-referent items only. Findings: Pupils' self-reported drinking behaviours and attitudes were similar, regardless of whether multiple or single-target versions of the questionnaire were used, as were perceptions of peers' frequencies of alcohol use and drunkenness. In contrast, by comparison with pupils who responded to a single-target version that omitted self-referent items, use of a multiple-target questionnaire was significantly more likely to result in reports that peers would consume alcoholic drinks when with friends and hold more permissive or liberal attitudes towards alcohol. Conclusions: Social norms research and related health promotion programmes that seek to reduce the extent of overestimation of peer drinking norms are heavily reliant upon multiple-target drinking questionnaires. The use of such a questionnaire may lead to more distorted or extreme perceptions being reported by pupils compared to single-target versions, which omit self-referent drinking items. By implication, use of multiple-target questionnaires may encourage young people to ‘over-overestimate’ peer drinking norms.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:A.J.M. is funded by an ESRC CASE studentship and theScottish Association of Alcohol and Drug Action Team.
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Melson, Dr Ambrose
Authors: Melson, A. J., Davies, J. B., and Martinus, T.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
Journal Name:Addiction
Publisher:Wiley
ISSN:0965-2140
ISSN (Online):1360-0443
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2011 The Authors and the Society for the Study of Addiction
First Published:First published in Addiction 106(6): 1078-1084
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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