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Get the FAQs about Social Norms Research

Get the FAQs about social norm research 

Do students tell the truth on surveys?


Decades of research suggests that self-reports of alcohol use are accurate sources of data about drinking. Many surveys have been administered to assess drinking behavior, and studies have examined the validity, reliability, and effectiveness of these surveys.
This research has shown that self-report data on alcohol use are valid. In simple terms, this means that the survey questions regarding alcohol use are accurately measuring the behaviors they are intending to measure. In scientific terms, validity is demonstrated by showing that it is highly correlated with other measures of alcohol consumption including:


• reports by friends
• statistics on alcohol-related problems
• scientific testing (chemical analysis of blood alcohol content) (Meier, Brigham, and Handel, 1987)

In addition, self-reports of drinking have been found to be reliable through examining test-retest reliability (Sobell, Sobell, Leo & Cancillo, 1988). That means that individuals respond consistently to questions about their drinking at multiple points in time. Research has shown that when people feel that their responses to survey questions are anonymous, they tend to respond honestly (Nurco, 1985). There is overwhelming evidence that students tell the truth about sensitive topic areas, like alcohol use, when taking anonymous and voluntary surveys. The surveys used by Siena were both anonymous and voluntary.

How can the results be accurate when not all students participated?


One of the most fascinating aspects of survey research is that a surprisingly small number of people need to be surveyed to accurately represent a large population. Did you know that when you hear about opinion polls on the news, such as those determining which candidates are leading in pre-election times, often a sample of only 1,000 voters is used to describe the leanings of the entire nation (Newport, Saad, Moore, 1997)? More specifically, if you have a population of 1,000,000 citizens and you survey just 500 of them, your results will be accurate to within 4.4 percentage points in either direction!
As long as you select a random sample of students to complete a survey, then you can legitimately survey only a small number of students and still get results that are accurate to within a few percentage points in either direction. Furthermore, even though the sample sizes may appear to be small, random sample surveys mean that the results are representative of students at Siena College. Additionally, the results within and between the five surveys were consistent.


Why does it still seem so hard to believe some of the messages we see in the Siena campaign?


One reason it is hard to believe the data is that those who are intoxicated or acting intoxicated are the ones who typically get noticed and talked about later. You are more likely to remember one very drunk person than several others who are having a good time but not being loud or obnoxious.