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Research into unacceptable behaviour among students: Dissolute image doesn’t fit average student

09 March 2011

It’s all about having fun! Partying and drinking beer. If schoolpupils or students are asked about their image of the Groningen student, they nearly always respond with these words. However, this image does not match reality.

Research commissioned by the Groningen Police and the University of Groningen into unacceptable behaviour among Groningen students has revealed that the average student in this city behaves in a rather moderate and even exemplary fashion. Levels of aggression, criminal behaviour and drug abuse are reassuringly low. And even though students drink more than their contemporaries, the alcohol use of the vast majority remains within limits.


In the research, conducted by Prof. Tom Postmes and Marlon Nieuwenhuis of the Institute for Integration and Social Efficacy (ISW), in academic year 2009/2010 roughly 1000 first-year students were asked about their alcohol use, drug use, unprotected sexual contacts and aggression/criminal behaviour. Half of these students participated in the follow-up research, when they answered questions before the start of the academic year (July) and at two moments during the first year (December and March).

The respondents were on average 19 years old; 66 percent were women and 22 percent were members of a student association (and half of these of a large association).

The research has revealed that first-year students drink on average ten glasses of alcohol in a regular teaching week. However, there is a significant difference between men (16 glasses) and women (6 glasses).

The borderline between normal and excessive alcohol use is generally regarded to be 21 glasses a week for men and 14 for women. Alcohol use is considered extreme at more than 50 glasses a week for men and 35 for women.

Image is wrong

The research shows that the image of frequently drunk, partying students is simply wrong. However, the behaviour of students who are members of a student association show the greatest similarities with the image. Members of student associations with an average of 21 glasses a week are above the average. Incidentally, these students usually drank more than average even before they started their studies.

This image influences the picture that students have of alcohol use within their group: they think that the average student is a heavy drinker. In actual fact, the average student drinks much less. This is a well-known phenomenon in social psychology, say the researchers – people often think that others behave in a much more extreme way than they do themselves.


Although students in reality drink much less than was thought, there is nevertheless an increase in alcohol use after starting a degree. The cause of this increase in alcohol use, according to the researchers, lies in the degree to which first-year students identify with, and comply with, the reigning image of ‘the Groningen student’. Identification with this image appears to be a good predictor of increase in alcohol use during the first months of the degree programme.

Alcohol consumption

The research also shows that alcohol use is related to negative effects, such as poorer study performance, a greater chance of becoming involved in aggression (for men) and a greater chance of having unprotected sex (for women). However, alcohol use is also related to positive effects. Students who drink more are less lonely, have more self-confidence and are happier with their lives.

Social norms

According to the researchers, the cause of increased alcohol use among students can to a significant degree be related to social norms and to identification with a group. Other forms of problem behaviour, such as unprotected sex and drug abuse, fall outside this social norm and are thus not (or at least not measurably) determined by group processes related to student life.

Note for the press

More information: Prof. T.T. Postmes, contactable via the ISW secretariat, tel. 050-363 7122, e-mail: a.dotinga

Read the complete report and the literature study [PDF] (Dutch)

See also: video of Prof. Tom Postmes talking about emotions and behaviour (Dutch)

Last modified:19 February 2021 2.28 p.m.
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