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The effects of social and health consequence framing on heavy drinking intentions among college students

Authors

  • John H. Kingsbury,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota, USA
    • Correspondence should be addressed to John H. Kingsbury, Minnesota Department of Health, 85 7th Place East, 4th Floor, St Paul, MN 55102, USA (email: john.kingsbury@state.mn.us).

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  • Frederick X. Gibbons,

    1. Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA
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  • Meg Gerrard

    1. Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA
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Abstract

Objectives

Many interventions targeting college student drinking have focused on negative health effects of drinking heavily; however, some research suggests that social factors may have a stronger influence on the drinking behaviour of young people. Moreover, few studies have examined message framing effects in the context of alcohol consumption. This study investigated the effects of social and health consequence framing on college students' intentions to engage in heavy drinking.

Design

This study used a 2 × 2 experimental design with an appended control condition.

Methods

One hundred and twenty-four college students (74 women; Mage = 18.9) participated in this study for course credit. Participants read vignettes that were ostensibly written by a recent graduate from the university, who described an episode of drinking in which he or she experienced either social or health consequences. These consequences were framed as either a gain (i.e., positive consequences of not drinking heavily) or a loss (i.e., negative consequences of drinking heavily). After reading the vignette, participants completed a measure of heavy drinking intentions.

Results

Regression analyses revealed that social consequences were associated with lower heavy drinking intentions when framed as a loss and that health consequences were associated with lower heavy drinking intentions when framed as a gain. These effects were stronger among those who reported higher (vs. lower) levels of previous drinking.

Conclusions

Results suggest that interventions that focus on the negative health effects of heavy drinking may be improved by instead emphasizing the negative social consequences of drinking heavily and the positive health consequences of avoiding this behaviour.

Statement of contribution

What is already known on this subject?

  • Previous studies have shown that gain frames are more effective than loss frames when highlighting the health consequences of health risk behaviours, such as heavy drinking. The heavy drinking behaviour of young people is influenced by social factors (e.g., perceived social consequences). However, little is known about framing effects for social consequences of heavy drinking.

What does this study add?

  • This study builds on previous research by demonstrating that a loss frame is more effective than a gain frame when highlighting the social consequences of health risk behaviour.
  • Framing effects are strongest for those with more previous drinking experience.

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