The more self-conscious members of collegiate fraternities are, the less they tend to drink, but the opposite is true for sorority members, suggests a study published in the March issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (Vol. 20, No. 1).
Lead researcher Aesoon Park, a fourth-year clinical psychology student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, analyzed data collected between 1987 and 1991 by her adviser, psychology professor Kenneth J. Sher, PhD, on 489 college freshman with family histories of alcoholism at a large Midwestern university.
He measured participants' self-consciousness using a questionnaire that asked them to rate how much they identified with sentences such as, "I reflect about myself a lot" and "I'm concerned about what other people think of me." Those who strongly identified with such statements were considered highly self-conscious.
In a secondary analysis of the effects of self-consciousness and Greek-organization affiliation on drinking, Park found that highly self-conscious fraternity members were drunk less often, but the most self-conscious sorority members became drunk more often. Non-Greek members' drinking, however, was not influenced by self-consciousness. Speculating on the reasons for the findings, Park says, "Within their Greek environment, the social standards promote heavy drinking. But fraternity members high in self-consciousness are somewhat protected from this influence because of their heightened awareness of their own personal standards."
Unexpectedly, says Park, the effects of high self-consciousness were just the opposite for sorority members. Park suggests high self-consciousness may spur heavier drinking in sorority members because self-focused attention usually has a negative effect on mood due to differences between the real self and the ideal self. "Sorority members high in self-consciousness may have negative emotions, especially in the face of personal failure," Park explains, "and then they may drink as a coping strategy to regulate their negative emotions."
Park suggests several interventions to help regulate drinking among Greek members. First, identify at-risk subgroups based on self-consciousness measures, she advises. Then teach sorority members coping and stress-management strategies that don't involve alcohol, and raise fraternity members' awareness of the Greek system's social pressures so they're less affected by it.
"It's important to note the opposite effect of self-consciousness in men and women," says Park. "An intervention that targets all Greek members across the sexes won't work. We need two different plans of action."