Plain English Summary
Background and study aims
Although originating in the USA, interest is growing in applying the social norms approach to reducing drinking behaviours in UK universities. This approach is based on the assumption that students perceptions of the norms of their peers are highly influential, but that these perceptions are often incorrect. That is, students often believe that their peers drink more, and experience more alcohol-related consequences, than they actually do. Social norms interventions therefore aim to correct these inaccurate perceptions, and in turn, to change behaviours.
Earlier in 2011, a survey was conducted by the Cardiff Institute of Society and Health, in partnership with NUS Wales and Drinkaware to assess first year university students perceptions of peer drinking behaviour and consequences in four Welsh Universities. Data from this survey have informed the development of materials which aim to correct incorrect perceptions of drinking norms, which will be delivered through university halls of residence.
This study aims to examine the impact of these materials on first year students drinking and alcohol related consequences in four universities, and to establish the feasibility of a larger national trial.
Who can participate?
All first year students resident in halls of residence in four Welsh Universities will be invited to participate.
What will the study involve?
The study will involve comparison of self-reported drinking behaviours and alcohol-related consequences among students living in halls of residence randomly selected to receive the social norms materials, comprising drinks mats, posters and mirror stickers providing information on drinking norms in Welsh Universities, with those students living in halls randomly selected not to receive such materials. Students within each hall will be asked to complete an anonymous web-based or paper questionnaire describing their alcohol consumption and related consequences.
What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
Students will be offered entry into a £100 prize draw as an incentive for participation.
There are no known risks of participating in the study. Contact details for student support services are included at the end of the questionnaire, in case its completion raises any difficult issues for students.
Where will the study run from?
The study will be conducted by the Cardiff Institute of Society & Health, School of Social Sciences within Cardiff University.
When is study starting and how long is it expected to run for?
Participants will be invited to participate in a post-intervention survey between February and May 2012.
Who is funding the study?
Alcohol Research UK (formerly known as the Alcohol Education and Research Council).
Who is the main contact?
Dr Simon Murphy
An exploratory cluster randomised controlled trial of a halls of residence based social norms marketing intervention to reduce alcohol consumption in first year undergraduates in Welsh universities
As of 14/02/2012, anticipated start date of trial has been updated from 14/02/2012 to 20/02/2012.
Students living in halls in which a social norms based intervention is delivered will report lower levels of alcohol consumption and alcohol related problems than those in halls where it is not.
Cardiff University School of Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee, 8th December 2011 , reference no. SREC/827
Cluster randomised controlled trial
Primary study design
Secondary study design
Randomised controlled trial
Patient information sheet
Not available in web format, please use the contact details below to request a patient information sheet
Social norms marketing materials, including posters and drinks mats to be distributed within halls of residence. Messages communicate discrepancies between actual drinking levels and prevalence of alcohol-related consequences amongst first year students, and student's perceptions of these.
Primary outcome measure
Alcohol consumption (units per week) measured using the Daily Drinking Questionnaire (DDQ)
Secondary outcome measures
1. Frequency of alcohol consumption [Daily Drinking Questionnaire (DDQ)]
2. Frequency of binge drinking (DDQ)
3. Prevalence of higher risk drinking, assessed via Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C)
4. Change in perceptions of alcohol-related norms, assessed using the Drinking Norms Rating Form
5. Alcohol related problems measured using the Rutgaers Alcohol Problem Index
Overall trial start date
Overall trial end date
Reason abandoned (if study stopped)
Participant inclusion criteria
First year undergraduate students living in halls of residence in four Welsh Universities
Target number of participants
50 halls will participate in the trial. The halls accommodate approximately 4000 students. Surveys will be distributed to all students, aiming to achieve responses from 40%.
Participant exclusion criteria
Students not in their first year or not living in halls
Recruitment start date
Recruitment end date
Countries of recruitment
Trial participating centre
Cardiff Institute of Society & Health
Alcohol Research UK (UK)
7 23 Willow Place
Alcohol Research UK (formerly Alcohol Education and Research Council) (UK) (Grant number 502302, sponsors reference CR 11/12 07 DA)
Funding Body Type
private sector organisation
Funding Body Subtype
Other non-profit organizations
Results and Publications
Publication and dissemination plan
Not provided at time of registration
Intention to publish date
Participant level data
Not provided at time of registration
Basic results (scientific)
Murphy S, Moore G, Williams A, Moore L, An exploratory cluster randomised trial of a university halls of residence based social norms intervention in Wales, UK., BMC Public Health, 2012, 12, 186, doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-186.