In Brief

Membership in fraternities or sororities may add to drinking in college, but it is only one of several factors and does not necessarily indicate a propensity for heavy drinking in later life, according to a new study published by APA in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (Vol. 15, No. 1).

The study, "Short and long-term effects of fraternity and sorority membership on heavy drinking: a social norms perspective," provides a cross-sectional analysis that examines the possibility that other factors--namely academic ability, gender, peer norms and personality traits--may play a pivotal role in determining heavy drinking habits and level of Greek life involvement by college students.

The study was conducted by Kenneth J. Sher, PhD, and undergraduate Shivani Nanda of the University of Missouri and the Missouri Alcoholism Research Center, and Bruce D. Bartholow, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The findings show that members of fraternities and sororities do drink more heavily than their non-Greek peers, referred to as the "Greek Effect." Research also shows that the Greek Effect results from the perception among Greeks that their friends drink heavily and support excessive drinking habits.

Researchers highlight the pivotal role of perceived social norms and suggest that heavy drinking is significantly reduced on campuses that provide "re-education programs" to dispel negative perceptions of what social norms are among college students.

To find out if heavy drinking in college could predict heavy drinking after college, the researchers surveyed students throughout their four years in college, and again three years after graduation. The survey found post-college drinking levels to be more moderate.

"Once the students leave campus, they are no longer immersed in a social environment that supports heavy drinking and their drinking decreases as a result," say the authors.

During the postgraduate survey, women who were in sororities still drank more than women who were not, "suggestive of a sex difference in the origination and duration of Greek effects."

Researchers noted that Greek affiliation and excessive drinking were linked to lesser academic ability, and a personality for novelty-seeking and extraversion.

This suggests that fraternities and sororities act as agents for certain personality traits and academic behaviors, and "that Greek living is itself responsible for most of the heavier alcohol involvement found for fraternity and sorority members."

For a complete copy of the study, go to the APA Public Affairs Office Web site: www.apa.org/journals/adb/adb15142.html.

--R. BALLIE