How behaviors are influenced by perceived norms a test of the theory of normative social behavior

Rajiv N. Rimal, Kevin Real

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

606 Scopus citations


Normative restructuring strategies currently under way to combat alcoholrelated problems among U.S. college students are based on the idea that students harbor inflated perceptions about the prevalence of drinking on campus and that if these misperceptions can be corrected, then alcohol consumption will decrease. Evidence for the effectiveness of these strategies is lacking, and there is little discussion in the literature about how or why people's normative beliefs exert influence on their behaviors. The theory of normative social behavior that is proposed in this article includes three mechanismsinjunctive norms, outcome expectations, and group identity-that are hypothesized to moderate the influence of descriptive norms on behavior. This theory is tested through a survey (N = 1,352) conducted among incoming college students. Although all normative mechanisms predicted behavioral intention, four of the six variables also interacted with descriptive norms to influence intention, with relatively smaller effects. Overall, the model was able to predict 63% of the variance in intention to consume alcohol. Implications for health campaigns are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-414
Number of pages26
JournalCommunication Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2005


  • Alcohol consumption
  • Descriptive norms
  • Group identity
  • Injunctive norms
  • Outcome expectations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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