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Media Effects On Social Groups

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Drinking in college is portrayed in the media as a social norm and heavily encouraged by advertisements such as commercials directed at students, flyers dispersed throughout campuses, and even coupons for local bars found in student newspapers. Given that alcohol consumption is known to increase throughout adolescence and climax in late adolescence or emerging adulthood, heavy episodic alcohol use among college students makes this period crucially important to the etiology of adult alcohol abuse (Shim 2005).

The decision-making perspective suggests that adolescents make rational, goal-oriented decisions to drink, decisions that occur in a series of steps involving the identification and assessment of the desirability and the likelihood of potential consequences (Shim 2005). In a study conducted by Soyeon Shim and Jennifer Maggs (2005), the attraction to drinking in college is linked to personal attitudes, values, and beliefs. Specifically self-actualizing values, which are related to one's inner self and are utilitarian, and social-hedonic values, which are primarily pleasure seeking. Research has shown that the pursuit of social-hedonistic pleasure, sensation-seeking traits, and college students' interpersonal goals are positive predictors of heavy drinking and/or other risk-taking behavior. Conversely, social conformity and college students' academic and health goals are negative predictors of drinking and/or other risk-taking behavior (Shim 2005).

In 1994, a study was conducted to determine if the price of alcohol would effect how much young people would consume, and therefore in retrospect how incidents regarding alcohol are affected. The study shows that during times when taxation was being imposed that alcohol consumption from the youth was lowered to a large degree while accidents also dropped. This was seen especially when the drinking age was increased during the 1980's. This research suggests that if reductions in youth alcohol consumption, heavy alcohol consumption, and alcohol-related injuries and deaths are desired, an increase in federal taxes on alcoholic beverages is an effective policy to accomplish these goals (Grossman 1994).

Norms are social "facts" of life that help frame perceptions and influence behavioral choices. One refers to norms as widely shared attitudes or expectations about how people in general, or members of particular social group, behave. The term also refers to the most common behavior exhibited in a social group, that is, the statistical average or most typical behavior of group members (Jung 2005).

One important factor in the decision-making process among college students', who choose to drink, is the perception of the social norms. Commonly, people's perceptions of social norms are greatly influenced by vicarious experiences-by what they see, hear, and read-without direct experiential correctives. Because the symbolic environment occupies a major part of people's everyday lives, much of the social construction of reality and shaping of social norm consciousness occurs through electronic acculturation (Jung 2005).

Liking for an advertisement is usually a good indicator of its effectiveness, as that attitude can generalize to the brand, produce, or service being advertise (Russell 2005). In 1990, beer, wine, and liquor advertisers spent $56.5 million on billboard advertising which is believed to be attractive to the alcohol industries due to broad exposure that includes children and young adults. Drinking advertisements include socially desirable attributes such as tough, sociable, and sexually attractive people, and employ visual imagery with depictions of the benefits of consumption (Schooler 1996). Subliminal messages incorporated in advertisements have been mostly ineffective according to researchers; however a 1988 study found that two-thirds of Americans believe they work. "Subliminal messages are only subliminal if people don't realize what they've seen. They are intended to work by tapping the unconscious mind of viewers or listeners and influencing them to think or feel a certain way" (Onion 2000).

Increased identification with reference groups, such as the models portrayed in advertisements, can lead to changes in social reality construction or behavior, because identification tends to lead to the expectation that doing something consistent with that seen in the media will bring positive results. These beliefs, called expectancies, strongly and consistently predict behavior (Austin 2002).

College students today are bombarded with mediated messages to consume alcoholic beverages. These messages help to create an image of a social norm that may or may not be consistent with the actual values of college students. The more strongly students endorsed self-actualizing values, such as having a sense of accomplishment and self-respect, the less favorable were their attitudes toward both physical and psychological, alcohol-related consequences (Shim 2005).

The "social norm approach" has been the basis of several research studies in regards to problem of college alcohol consumption. Studies suggest that drinking among college students stems from several factors including peer pressure and easy access to alcohol, as well as influence by media and perceived social norms.

Social norm media campaigns, for example, may have been particularly effective because these media campaigns made more salient subjects' correct conceptions about college students' alcohol consumption. Social norm marketing campaigns are designed to decrease the pressure to drink (Russell 2005). Ads with psychological themes (e.g., no one wants to drink heavily anymore) in particular can help to create the impression that binge drinkers are uncool, unattractive, unexciting, and unpopular. Compared to the traditionally favored macho image of binge drinkers, it seems important to debunk the myth that heavy drinkers are cool, because health-related information does not necessarily deter youths from taking up the aversive habit (Jung 2005). Given the consistency with which social-hedonic values, goals, or similar concepts predict college students' drinking consumption, one might argue that hedonic values have central importance during this developmental period. In fact, there is evidence that younger people tend to endorse the value of excitement more highly than older people do (Shim 2005).

College students commonly believe that their peers engage in higher levels of dangerous drinking than is actually the case, which may lead to greater perceived normative pressure to drink (Russell 2005). Misperceived drinking norms are vied as important risk factors that instigate alcohol misuse. The most common type of misperception is when nondrinkers and moderate drinkers (as a majority of students on most



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