Effects of normative feedback for drinkers who consume less than the norm: Dodging the boomerang
A number of alcohol interventions designed for college students attempt to correct exaggerated perceptions of alcohol use on college campuses through the use of personalized normative feedback. Personalized normative feedback has been shown effective in reducing drinking both as a stand-alone intervention and as a part of a multi-component intervention. Typically, this feedback is targeted to heavier drinkers, in order to create a discrepancy between their personal beliefs and behavior and the actual lower levels of use on campus. However, little is known about how this form of normative feedback might affect lighter drinkers who learn that they are drinking less than the typical student at their school. The risk is a potential boomerang effect, or an increase in drinking among lighter drinkers receiving personalized feedback. The current study examined four samples from three geographic locations, two employing computer delivered personalized normative feedback alone and two delivering personalized feedback in the context of a brief motivational intervention. We found no evidence for a boomerang effect among lighter drinkers receiving personalized normative feedback in any of the four samples. These findings help to assuage fears of increasing drinking among lighter drinkers through widespread implementation of normative interventions for college students in the absence of screening for current drinking status.