Exposing Pluralistic Ignorance to Reduce Alcohol Use Among College Students1


  • 1

    This article is based on a dissertation submitted by Christine M. Schroeder to Princeton University Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral degree. This research was supported by Grant P-I83A I015-OI/02 from the United States Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, Grant MH44069 from the National Institute of Mental Health, and a Grant-In-Aid from the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. Thanks are extended to Jessica Haile, who assisted in the preparation of materials and in the collection of follow-up data, Diane Cook, Jonathan Folkers, Diane Hood, Jen Kates, Betty Langan, and June Nehrod, who helped to coordinate and conduct the discussion sessions, and especially Susan Packer and Karen Gordon, who helped to plan and implement the entire project. In addition, the research benefited from the helpful comments of Gregory Clark and Barry Jacobs, who served on Christine Schroeder's dissertation committee, and John Darley and Dale Miller who both served on the dissertation committee and provided comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Deborah Prentice, Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Green Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544–1010. e-mail: predebb@princeton.edu.


Research has shown that students' beliefs about alcohol use are characterized by pluralistic ignorance: The majority of students believe that their peers are uniformly more comfortable with campus alcohol practices than they are. The present study examines the effects of educating students about pluralistic ignorance on their drinking behavior. Entering students (freshmen) participated in either a peer-oriented discussion, which focused on pluralistic ignorance, or an individual-oriented discussion, which focused on decision making in a drinking situation. Four to 6 months later, students in the peer-oriented condition reported drinking significantly less than did students in the individual-oriented condition. Additional results suggest that the peer-oriented discussion reduced the prescriptive strength of the drinking norm. The implications of these results for models of social influence and for the representation of peer opinion are discussed.