Cross-sectional and longitudinal research has shown that favorable drinker prototypes (i.e., perceptions about the typical drinker) are related to higher levels of alcohol consumption in adolescents and college students. So far, few studies have experimentally tested the causality of this relationship and it is not clear what type of manipulation affects drinker prototypes and drinking levels.
In an experimental 1-factor design with two levels, we tested the short-term effects of exposing students to either positive or negative stereotypic information about drinkers on their drinker prototypes and actual drinking behaviors. We exposed 192 male and female college students to positive drinker prototype information (drinkers in general were presented as being attractive, sociable and successful), or to negative information (unattractive, unsociable and unsuccessful). Subsequently, participants’ levels of alcohol consumption were observed unobtrusively while they were interacting with peers in a naturalistic drinking context, namely a bar lab.
Participants exposed to positive stereotypic information about drinkers reported more favorable drinker prototypes than participants exposed to negative stereotypic information. Multilevel analyses revealed that men's subsequent alcohol consumption in the bar lab was higher in the positive prototype condition than in the negative prototype condition. For women, no prototype effects on alcohol use were found.
These findings underline that drinker prototypes affect actual alcohol use in men and suggest that changing perceptions of drinkers may be a useful tool in alcohol prevention programs.
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