“Last Friday Night”

By Vidya Ramaswamy, Layout Editor

Dr. Dana Litt, an Assistant Professor in the University of Washington’s Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors, came to Bryn Mawr on Sept. 28 to discuss her research about how social media affects alcohol consumption among young adults.

“What I’m arguing today is that the Internet and social media is a risk conducive environment,” Litt said.

In the US, about 75% of alcohol consumption occurs during heavy episodic drinking. However, that rate jumps to 90% for people from ages 18-29. Litt says that while research might indicate that alcohol consumption is decreasing, when focusing on periods of heavy episodic drinking, especially within this age group, alcohol consumption is actually increasing.

Litt talked about how she was interested in finding the reason for this trend.

“We need to take a step back and ask why young adults engage in something that does have negative consequences,” Litt said.

Litt explained how the majority of theoretical models are based on the idea that when people choose to take a risk, their thoughts are logical and reasoned. Though these models often work, for age groups younger than 20 they begin to crumble. While there are people who give risks a lot of thought, most don’t.

This led Litt to using the Prototype Willingness Model in her research. This model puts forward that some people might make decisions based on social factors and immediate environment rather than what is intentional and planned.

“A recent study showed that of young adults aged 18-29, 85% had on their own Facebook wall said something about alcohol in the last month,” Litt said. “People are suddenly seeing a lot of alcohol online.”

This means that alcohol has a greater presence in young adults’ environments than it did before.

“What I wanted to do was design an experiment where I could look at the direction of this,” Litt said. “When I started thinking about how to theoretically frame things, I thought about the role of norms. Your thoughts about what others are doing turns out to be the strongest predictor of substance use. The reason for this could be that norms are being shifted by what is online.”

Litt conducted an experiment where her test subjects, people of ages from 13-15, saw four Facebooks profiles that either showed alcohol use or did not. In the end of the experiment, those who saw alcohol were significantly more willing to use alcohol in the future than those who did not. How favorably they viewed people who drink also increased. Since each experiment only lasted 40 minutes, it’s clear that adolescents’ norms can be shifted very quickly.

Litt concluded by providing ways to stop this phenomenon. One is simply correcting the norm: if people are made aware that their views on how others behave are skewed, they can adjust their lifestyles accordingly. Another method is reminding people of negative consequences they have had to face due to periods of excessive drinking in the past and letting them think about how they can prevent them. People can also be encouraged to think critically about what they see online by thinking about someone’s motivation for posting a photo or realizing that they cannot see everything that is happening in the photo.

Litt was applauded at the end of the presentation, which was followed-up by a short Q&A.

From the print edition published on Oct. 5, 2016

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