Researchers at Loyola Marymount University found that social media content involving alcohol is associated with increased drinking among college students, the university announced Monday.
Researchers observed students in the few months before entering college and during their first year. They found that Instagram and Snapchat content affects students’ perceptions of drinking norms, and the amount of alcohol consumed by college students is impacted by how much they think others are drinking. One of the studies found that simply using Snapchat more during a student’s transition to college makes them more likely to drink heavily compared to their peers at the end of the school year. Researchers also believe that this period forms students’ attitudes toward drinking and has an impact on their habits in the future.
“Social media applications like Instagram and Snapchat are great at creating perceptions of what is normal, and as humans we act based on what we believe others are doing,” said Joe LaBrie, LMU psychology professor and lead author of several LMU studies that showed the connection.
“The problem is that the perceptions generated by these apps are often skewed, so that behavior is based on an incomplete or exaggerated view of what is really going on around us. Instagram and Snapchat are more prone to creating risky perceptions because of their greater privacy settings and more ephemeral, disappearing content than Facebook.”
According to LMU, previous studies into the subject focused mostly on Facebook, but LaBrie’s research built on those studies by focusing on Snapchat and Instagram, which have eclipsed Facebook as the leading networks for young people.
The studies also found that male students who are exposed to alcohol content on Instagram while transitioning into college are more likely to engage in risky drinking behavior during their first year. Also, every 30 minutes of additional daily Snapchat use by male students during their transitions into college correlates to the average number of drinks per week they have by the end of the school year, according to the study.
Additionally, students during their first year of college who have a “finsta” account — second Instagram accounts that are secrets from their parents and only shared with a small number of friends — are more likely to be heavy drinkers by the end of the year, the study found.
“These more specific findings — about a bigger effect among male students, about Snapchat and finsta accounts in particular — point toward possible areas of future research and potential intervention strategies for colleges to reduce problem drinking,” LaBrie said. “Although the impact of social media on first-year women is not as strong as men, there is other evidence that social media use and newsfeed exposure to others’ images may still impact drinking and other potential negative behaviors and affective states, including body image, depression, and anxiety in women.”
The 309 students who participated in the study downloaded an app that monitored their time on social media sites. It anonymously coded almost 90,000 Instagram images from their newsfeeds during the transition into college. The studies were funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.