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The Strong Effect of Other People's Drinking: Two Experimental Observational Studies in a Real Bar


  • Dr. Larsen is now at the ADAPT-lab, Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Dr. Granic is now with the Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Dr. Larsen, Developmental Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Weesperplein 4, 1018 XA Amsterdam, the Netherlands. E-mail:


Research has demonstrated that when people are with heavy-drinking peers, they consume more alcohol than when they are in the company of light-drinking peers. This social influence process has usually been investigated in clinical laboratories or seminaturalistic drinking settings such as laboratory bars. The question remains whether these robust effects can be replicated in real-life drinking settings. The aim of these experimental studies was to examine social influence processes in real bars. In Study 1 a two (confederate drank alcoholic vs. nonalcoholic drinks) by two (male vs. female participant) between-participant design was used to test imitation in same-sex dyads (N = 79). Study 2 tested differences in imitation between same- and other-sex dyads with a two (confederate drank alcoholic vs. nonalcoholic drinks) by two (male vs. female confederate) between-participant design (N = 60). Both studies showed that participants consumed more alcohol in the alcohol condition than the nonalcohol condition. No sex differences emerged in the extent to which participants imitated their drinking partners. Study 2 demonstrated no difference in imitation between same-sex and other-sex dyads. Results support the ecological validity of research on imitation of alcohol consumption conducted in laboratory bars. (Am J Addict 2012;00:1-8)