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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Academics & Research

Psychology research finds link between social media, alcohol

Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

While social media play a big part in the life of college student, new research shows it is probably not a good idea to post videos of yourself taking shots.

University of Houston psychologist Mai-Ly Steers is taking a more in depth study  on student’s drinking levels with a $251,010 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Grant funding for the project is expected to continue for five years.

“The research has found that heavy-drinking students typically overestimate how much others drink relative to what they drink,” said Steers, a lecturer and postdoctoral fellow. “That is, they think they drink at or a little below the norm.”

Steers began researching social media during her time as a graduate student at UH. She was influenced by Clayton Neighbors, director of the social psychology program, who researched alcohol and drinking norms. Steers will work with Neighbors and researchers at University of Wisconsin-Madison and Palo Alto University in this research.

Steers’ goal for this research is twofold: measure how often students post about alcohol on social media and understand what the average college student thinks about when they see these posts.

Steers will then get feedback on students’ drinking, what students think is the average amount of consumption and the norms related to how often people post alcohol-related content to social media.

Although there’s a clear link between the two, the reason for this is unclear. The normalizing influence social media creates among college-aged students could be a factor, Steers said.

“I think social media has a major effect on alcohol consumption,” said exploratory studies freshman Daniella Acosta. “As college students on social media, we tend to see a lot of drinking and partying on Instagram, Snapchat, et cetera, so I think this influences us a lot more to drink.”

Creative writing junior Gabriela Torres disagrees that there is a correlation between social media and student’s drinking frequency.

“I personally am an underage drinker, but my drinking has nothing to do with what I see on the Internet, not inherently,” Torres said. “It’s just a fact that my peers drink and post about it. They just happen to occur at the same time. It’s like if there is drinking, there are posts of them drinking.”

Steers, however, said she believes the positive feedback from alcohol-related posts may encourage the drinking and partying because it leads students to believe it’s the norm.

“There is a large body of literature which supports that the more a student posts about alcohol-related posts, the more likely they are to drink more and the more likely they are to experience alcohol-related problems,” Steers said.

Social media can exacerbate this because it can create this a bubble among students that post about alcohol, so they think everyone else drinks and posts about it, Steers said.

Biochemistry senior Akash Ramesh also believes there is a relationship between social media and college-aged drinking.

“I think there is some sort of correlation, because by psychology, there’s always the feeling of peer pressure,” Ramesh said. “Although in the case of social media it’s not direct, it is a passive way of promoting it since there are a lot of underage kids drinking. It makes people feel that if they’re doing it, then it’s probably OK for me to do it.”

There are also larger concerns that can result from social media’s alcohol consumption influence, such as unwanted sexual advances, Acosta said.

“I’ve heard of stories of girls getting taken advantage of during college events while consuming alcohol,” Acosta said. “I think that is a major problem on college campuses, and I think drinking is a major part of it sometimes.”

Social media can have significant effects on alcohol consumption, especially when famous individuals show off lifestyles that reflect an image that college students want to imitate, said junior marketing and advertising double major Andrea Herran.

“The hype people build relating to alcohol makes it that much more desirable to be like the rest and go out drinking as well,” Herran said. “I think people with no social media probably drink less because they don’t have that influence.”

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