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28 January 2019

Students Drink Less Alcohol When They Persuade Themselves To Do So

Telling people to change their behavior is often unsuccessful, because this can trigger resistance. It turns out to be much more effective to make people themselves think for reasons why it is important to change their behavior, a technique called ‘self-persuasion’. Two studies in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, show that self-persuasion is a promising technique to reduce alcohol consumption among students and can reduce drinking up to 30%. 

Take aways

  • Young people tend to accept a self-persuasion message (“Why do you have to drink less alcohol?”) more easily than a direct persuasion message (“You have to drink less alcohol!”)  
  • Exposure to the open-ended questions poster even makes them drink less alcohol.  
  • This implies that self-persuasion can be a viable strategy to be applied in health campaigns.

Study information

  • Who?

    Study 1: 131 participants (mean age: 22, age range: 18-60, 76% female) 

    Study 2: 122 participants (mean age: 21, age range: 18-34, 80% female)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    In the first experiment, the researchers presented participants with anti-alcohol posters that contained either open-ended questions why it is important to drink less alcohol (self-persuasion; for example “Why do you have to drink less alcohol?”) or pre-defined statements to drink less alcohol (direct persuasion; for example “You have to drink less alcohol!”). After exposure, participants’ evaluated the poster and reported all thoughts they had while viewing the poster.  

    In the second experiment, participants were unknowingly exposed to the same anti-alcohol posters (either open-ended questions or statements) while watching a short movie in a bar setting. In this case, the researchers also measured their alcohol consumption.

Facts and findings

  • For the participants who chose to drink during the experiment, the self-persuasion posters reduced how much alcohol they consumed by about 30%. 
  • Participants who were exposed to self-persuasion poster generated on average two arguments for drinking less alcohol, whereas participants who saw the poster including the statements (direct persuasion poster) did not generate any arguments.  
  • Participants liked the self-persuasion posters about 10% better than the direct persuasion posters, and recognized the persuasive intent of self-persuasion posters about 20% less often.  
  • These findings indicate that self-persuasion evoked less resistance than direct persuasion, which might explain the success of the self-persuasion posters.