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Kate B. Carey & Brian Borsari talk with and answer a few questions about this month's Fast Moving Front in the field of Psychiatry/Psychology.
Article: Peer influences on college drinking: A review of the research
Authors: Borsari, B;Carey, KB
Journal: J SUBST ABUSE, 13 (4): 391-424 2001
Addresses: Syracuse Univ, Ctr Hlth & Behav, 430 Huntington Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244 USA.
Syracuse Univ, Ctr Hlth & Behav, Syracuse, NY 13244 USA.

Featured Research Front Map on "College Student Drinking"

Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

The Borsari and Carey (2001) review on peer influences on college drinking was published at a time when interest in social norms was growing but the empirical literature had not reached a critical mass justifying a review on its own. A contribution of our paper was to organize the existing literature into active and passive influences, and then place this body of research in the context of other psychological literature on peer influences on drinking, namely social modeling and direct pressures to drink.

This broader framework provided a springboard for investigators across a wide range of social influence topics. Furthermore, the structure of the review emphasized the multiple layers of peer influence at play, offering a conceptual foundation for multivariate social influence models of drinking behavior.

Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman’s terms?

Our review contributed to the field primarily by synthesizing the empirical literature that addresses the direct ways that peers can influence young adults to drink and the indirect, or cognitively mediated, ways that peers exert influence on others. In essence, we made the case that the commonly observed phenomenon of "peer pressure" to drink existed.

Brian Borsari

"We continue to explore peer influence by assessing the social networks of drinkers and the perceived norms in our ongoing college drinking intervention studies."

However, peer pressure could not be understood simply as direct offers of alcohol or verbal persuasion to drink. Peers influence college drinkers in at least two more subtle ways. First, they provide role models for heavy drinking. Seeing others get social reinforcement from drinking, students learn by observation that such behavior is one way to be accepted and liked. Second, peer behavior contributes to perceived norms about drinking. These perceived norms are almost always exaggerated in the direction of more drinking and more approval of drinking than really exists. Thus, perceived norms create an environment that supports drinking, and strengthens the influences of heavily drinking role models and direct peer persuasion to drink.

How did you become involved in this research, and were there any particular problems encountered along the way?

I was drawn into social norms research by my co-author and then graduate student Brian Borsari. He was curious about why drinking behavior on college campuses developed as it did. Together we reviewed the literatures on the influences of Greek life on college drinking: (Borsari BE, & Carey KB, "Understanding fraternity drinking: Five recurring themes in the literature, 1980-1998," Journal of American College Health [48]: 30-37, 1999), the peer influence literature broadly defined, which led to the present article, as well as a second article on the mechanisms that enhance or limit peer influences on college drinking (Borsari B, & Carey KB, "How the quality of peer relationships influences college alcohol use," Drug and Alcohol Review [25]: 361-70, 2006).

Where do you see your research leading in the future?

We have taken our interest in peer influences on drinking in two directions. First, we have documented a pattern of self-other differences in both descriptive and injunctive norms (Borsari B & Carey KB, "Descriptive and injunctive norms in college drinking: A meta-analytic integration," Journal of Studies on Alcohol, [64]: 331-41, 2003) and demonstrated that such discrepancies place college drinkers at risk of increasing their drinking over time (Carey KB, Borsari B, Carey MP, & Maisto SA "Patterns and importance of self-other differences in college drinking norms," Psychology of Addictive Behaviors [20]: 385-93, 2006). Second, we are exploring moderators of response to drinking interventions that relate to cognitive representations of the peer environment.

Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

In a randomized trial of brief interventions for college students who drink heavily, we discovered that the tendency to seek information from the social environment and to make social comparisons placed students in control conditions at risk for increases in drinking; however, participating in a brief motivational intervention mitigated the influence of that risk factor (Carey KB, Henson JM, Carey MP, & Maisto SA, "Which heavy-drinking college students benefit from a brief motivational intervention?" Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 75 [4] 663-69 Aug 2007). We continue to explore peer influence by assessing the social networks of drinkers and the perceived norms in our ongoing college drinking intervention studies.

Kate B. Carey, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Department of Psychology
Syracuse University
Syracuse, NY, USA

Brian Borsari, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor (Research)
Brown Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies
Brown University
Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Providence, RI, USA

2008 : March 2008 - Fast Moving Fronts : Kate B. Carey & Brian Borsari