Kate B. Carey & Brian
Borsari talk with ScienceWatch.com 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
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
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
Would you summarize the significance of your paper in
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.
continue to explore peer
influence by assessing the
social networks of drinkers and
the perceived norms in our
ongoing college drinking
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 :
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 : 361-70, 2006).
Where do you see your research leading in the
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, : 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 : 385-93,
2006). Second, we are exploring moderators of response to drinking
interventions that relate to cognitive representations of the peer
Do you foresee any social or political implications for
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  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, NY, USA
Brian Borsari, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor (Research)
Brown Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies
Providence Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Providence, RI, USA