College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date

11-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

College/Department Conferring Degree

Psychology

Keywords

sense of community, peer norms, communication technology, alcohol, attitudes

Abstract

Social experiences such as sense of community (SOC) and peer norms have the potential to influence attitudes and behaviors around a host of wellness-related issues. Social interaction, facilitated by the rapid growth of communication technology, in addition to the enduring need to interact in physical space, represent important community features. College residence halls are of interest to community psychology and other fields, as they are highly interactive, technologically-rich contexts where communities occur. Peer norms having a strong relationship to students’ perspectives and choices around alcohol. Less understood is the role that SOC plays, and the forms of social interaction that generate a SOC.

The current study examined social interaction and SOC, including the role of SOC and peer norms in impacting alcohol-related attitudes and behaviors. Online survey data for 1003 undergraduate students residing in residence halls at a large, private, Midwestern university were analyzed. Physical and communication technology-based interaction was measured. SOC and both injunctive and descriptive peer norms were measured, along with frequency of alcohol use, interest in alcohol-free social programming, support for alcohol-related hall policies, and alcohol use in one’s own hall. Findings suggested that both physical and communication-technology-based social interaction related to a students’ SOC, with face-to-face interaction having a substantially greater impact. Peer norms for alcohol use, but not SOC, were related to frequency of use and rates of binge drinking. SOC in residence halls and peer norms were related to alcohol-free programming in residence halls, with SOC being more strongly related. SOC and peer norms for alcohol use were related to support for policies concerning alcohol use and use of alcohol in one’s hall, with peer norms being stronger predictors than SOC.

Findings are relevant to theory as it relates to SOC, as they examine overlapping physical and technology-based social spaces experienced within the same community. Findings can benefit student affairs and others concerned with promoting campus wellness, and can direct future research on substance use. The project underscores the important role that collaborative relationships between community researchers and residential education departments can have in promoting student wellness and expanding knowledge of community experience.

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