Background: Perceptions about the type of people who drink, also referred to as drinker prototypes, may strengthen young people’s motivation to engage in alcohol use. Previous research has shown that drinker prototypes are related to alcohol consumption in both adolescents and young adults. However, the evidence for the strength of these relationships remains inconclusive. One of the caveats in former studies is that all insights about prototype relations are based on self-reported data from youngsters themselves, mostly gathered in a class situation, which may contain bias due to memory distortions and self-presentation concerns.
Methods: The present study examined the impact of drinker prototypes on young adults’ drinking patterns by using a less obtrusive measure to assess alcohol consumption, i.e. ad lib drinking among friend groups in the naturalistic setting of a bar lab. Drinker prototypes, self-reported alcohol use in the past, and observed alcohol intake in the bar lab were assessed among 200 college students. Relations between participants’ drinker prototypes and their self-reported and observed drinking behavior were examined by computing correlations and conducting multilevel analyses.
Results: Drinker prototypes were related to both self-reported and observed alcohol use. However, the drinking patterns of friend group members had a strong impact on participants’ individual drinking rates in the bar lab. After these group effects had been controlled for, only heavy drinker prototypes showed relations with observed alcohol intake in the bar lab.
Conclusions: These findings further establish the value of drinker prototypes in predicting young adults’ drinking behavior and suggest that people’s motivation to drink alcohol in real-life drinking situations is related to their perceptions about heavy drinkers.