How friends in college influence students’ alcohol consumption: a social network perspective

  • H. Giese


Background: The theory of planned behaviour emphasizes the important role of social norms in the prediction of behaviour. However, this and comparable models only take perceived norms rather than actual group behaviour into account. This study explores the extent to which norm perceptions and other cognitive constructs can explain social influence processes on alcohol consumption within a social network. Methods: At three time points across three months, 109 psychology freshmen indicated their perceived norms, attitudes, self-efficacy, and intentions with regard to alcohol consumption as well as their actual drinking behaviour. In addition, they nominated friends among their fellow freshmen. RSiena longitudinal models were applied to explore both social influence and friend selection processes. Findings: The average alcohol consumption by friends influenced the individual alcohol consumption in the following month (b = 1.89, OR = 6.64, 95%CI [1.28; 34.50], p = .022) even when the effects of all cognitive variables postulated by the theory of planned behaviour were controlled for. Crucially, the selection of friends itself was not influenced by individual alcohol consumption (all ps ≥ .279). Discussion: Social influence of college peers on alcohol consumption cannot be fully explained by perceptions of social norms and other cognitions.