Apparently, telling people not to ‘down' their drinks will make them do the complete opposite

Researchers say their study highlights need for care when selecting campaign messages.

You would think responsible drinking campaigns designed to stop people from “downing” their booze in one go would have the desired effect, but research suggests otherwise.

Scientists from the universities of Exeter in the UK and Queensland in Australia say promotions aimed at discouraging people from “bolting” (downing a drink in one go) could actually make them more likely to do it.

The research team conducted three small studies that involved 221 volunteers.

Some of the study subjects were shown posters warning about the dangers of bolting.

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Amongst those who saw the posters, some were also shown two messages.

The message for the first group said 70% of their peers “disapprove of bolting”, while the second group were shown a different statement that said 65% of their peers “do not bolt drinks on a night out”.

The participants were then asked to complete identical questionnaires. Their perceptions of group norms related to bolting were analysed, along with their own intentions of doing it in the future.

The researchers found that those exposed to the first statement said they were more likely to down their drinks in the future compared with those who saw the latter.

(Philip Toscano/PA)

“Many young people overestimate the extent to which their peers both approve of and engage in risky drinking behaviours,” said Dr Joanne Smith, of the University of Exeter, one of the study authors.

“One way to tackle risky drinking is to try to correct these misperceptions through health campaigns, such as posters.

“In our research, we wanted to explore what kinds of messages are more effective in changing people’s intentions to bolt.

“Our results highlight the potentially harmful effects of exposure to what’s called an ‘injunctive norm’ – a message about the approval or disapproval of others.

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“Meanwhile, a ‘descriptive norm’ – telling people what others do rather than what they think – had a positive impact.”

The researchers say their study highlights need for care when selecting campaign messages.

“This demonstrates how careful we need to be in selecting the right message in campaigns, and evaluating them before wider dissemination, as poorly designed campaigns, however well-intentioned, can backfire,” professor Charles Abraham, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said.

The study is published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory.

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