Prevention Science, Vol. 6, No. 2, June 2005 (
Effects of Presenting Heavy Drinking Norms
on Adolescents’ Prevalence Estimates, Evaluative
Judgments, and Perceived Standards
and Joel Grube
Correcting normative information about the prevalence of heavy drinking is a key element
in many prevention programs. To isolate the inﬂuence of normative information on older
high school students’ (n = 230) alcohol-related judgments, the effects of delivering normative
information in different contexts (no normative information, normative information only,
normative information plus a self-focusing comparison to one’s drinking) and under differ-
ent measurement conditions (public, private) were examined. First, relative to presenting no
norms, presenting norms both with and without a self-focus reduced the underestimation of
the percent of high school students who never drink heavily. Second, effects on both positive
and negative evaluations of heavy drinking were examined independently. Heavy drinking
students more strongly endorsed positive evaluations of heavy drinking than did non-heavy
drinking students, but this self-serving bias was limited to the normative information only
condition. Normative information failed to impact negative evaluations of heavy drinking for
students at all drinking levels. Third, in judging the acceptable number of heavy drinking days
approved by others, presenting the normative information in both contexts (relative to pre-
senting no norms) led to more conservative judgments. Yet, only the normative context that
added a self-focus to the norm led students to adopt more conservative personal standards
for the acceptable number of heavy drinking days. Finally, public versus private measure-
ment did not affect any of the dependent variables. The ﬁndings are discussed as they relate
to confrontational versus empathic styles in delivering interventions.
KEY WORDS: normative feedback; self-focusing comparison; self-serving biases; confrontational ver-
sus empathic interventions.
Normative beliefs about the prevalence of
alcohol use are a signiﬁcant risk factor for drinking
among adolescents and are often targeted in pre-
vention efforts (e.g., Graham et al., 1991; Hansen
& O’Malley, 1996; Petraitis et al., 1995; Windle
et al., 1996). Although normative interventions are
evaluated favorably, their multi-component nature
makes it difﬁcult to pinpoint the mechanisms under-
lying their effectiveness (Hansen, 1994; Hansen &
Prevention Research Center, Berkeley, California.
Correspondence should be directed to Gina Agostinelli,
Prevention Research Center, 1995 University Avenue, Suite 450,
Berkeley, California 94704; e-mail: email@example.com.
O’Malley, 1996; Windle et al., 1996). For example,
in the typical Life Skills Training Program, adoles-
cents are not only provided with information about
the social acceptability and prevalence of alcohol
use, but also about anxiety management, decision
making, and assertiveness (e.g., Botvin et al., 1990).
Even so, the normative information component of
such interventions can be effective independently,
and may also account for the potency of other com-
ponents (Donaldson et al., 1995; Hansen & Graham,
1991). Research should now focus on how and
when normative information interventions are most
effective (Hansen, 1994; Hansen & O’Malley, 1996).
Normative information approaches posit that
knowledge of others’ behavior can serve as a
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.