Do different types of social identity moderate the association between perceived descriptive norms and drinking among college students?
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Perceived descriptive norms are one of the strongest predictors of college drinking. Social Identity Theory posits that much of our identity is based on groups with which we affiliate. Prior research suggests that there is an association between perceived descriptive norms and drinking among those who identify more strongly with the normative referent group. However, no studies to date have examined how different facets of social identity affect the relationship between perceived descriptive norms and drinking. The purpose of this study was to examine whether the interaction between perceived descriptive norms and social identity on drinking varied as a function of different dimensions of social identity among college students. Participants were 1,095 college students from a large, public, southern university who completed an online survey about drinking behaviors and related attitudes. Drinks per week was examined as a function of norms, the Importance, Commitment, Deference, and Superiority subscales of the Measure of Identification with Groups, as well as the two-way interactions between each dimension of social identity and norms. Results indicated that norms were associated with drinking, but that this relationship varied as a function of identity dimension. The association between norms and drinking was stronger among those who viewed the university’s student body as part of their own identity and were more committed to their fellow students, but weaker among those who reported greater deference to student leaders. This research suggests the importance of examining multiple dimensions of social identity in considering social influences on drinking.