Pilot study of alcohol policy and social norms in Welsh universities

Lead investigator
Prof. Simon Murphy, Cardiff University

Excessive alcohol consumption among university students has attracted increasing concern, with links to educational difficulties, psychosocial problems, antisocial behaviours and injuries. Originating in the USA, interest is growing in applying the social norms approach to reducing drinking behaviours in UK universities. This approach is based on the assumption that students’ perceptions of the norms of their peers are highly influential, but that students often believe that their peers drink more, and experience more alcohol-related consequences, than they actually do. Social norms interventions aim to correct these inaccurate perceptions and, in turn, to change behaviours.

In 2011, a survey was conducted by DECIPHer, in partnership with NUS Wales and Drinkaware, to assess first year university students’ perceptions of peer drinking behaviour and consequences in four Welsh Universities. Data from this survey informed design briefs that guided the development of two study interventions:

  • The social norms materials, a series of materials to be placed in student halls of residence that carried messages intended to change incorrect perceptions of drinking norms;
  • The Toolkit, a document containing information and resources to help universities review and revise existing alcohol policies and practices.

The briefs were given to a PR and marketing company, who produced the study interventions in collaboration with the research team and the study steering group.

Aims & objectives
This study aims to examine the impact of these materials on first year students’ drinking and alcohol related consequences in four universities, and to establish the feasibility of a larger national trial.
Study design

Cluster randomised controlled trial.

  • All first year students resident in halls of residence in four Welsh universities invited to participate.
  • Students randomised to either receive (intervention group) or not receive (control group) the social norms materials, comprising drinks mats, posters and mirror stickers providing information on drinking norms in Welsh universities.
  • Self-reported drinking behaviours and alcohol-related consequences among the intervention and control group compared. Students asked to complete an anonymous web-based or paper questionnaire describing their alcohol consumption and related consequences
Further information & publications
Start date
April 2011
End date
August 2012
Trial register number