Insight: Drinkers ignore responsible drinking messages in pub environment

Drinkers are much less likely to notice responsible drinking messages on posters displayed in a busy, cluttered pub interior than in a plain and simple room, like a doctor’s surgery, show results of a study published today by psychologists at London South Bank University (LSBU).

Results of the pub environment experiment show that responsible drinking messages displayed on posters positioned inside LSBU’s dedicated ‘Pub-Lab’ research facility received only 16 per cent of the number of glances directed at the same poster when placed in a comparatively sparsely furnished, plain environment. On average, volunteer participants aimed nearly eight times as many glances at their drinks than at responsible drinking posters.

The research project, led by a team of psychologists at LSBU and funded by Alcohol Research UK, was conducted over an 18-month period from January 2015 to July 2016.

Over 100 volunteers participated in the trial which involved the use eye-tracking technology (micro cameras mounted on spectacles) to measure how participants directed their visual attention when presented with either a responsible drinking message or a control poster. The experiment was conducted inside LSBU’s ‘Pub-Lab’ – a dedicated alcohol research facility designed to test the impact of physical context on human behaviour.

Dr Daniel Frings, Associate Professor of Psychology at London South Bank University, who led the study, said, “On average, our Pub-Lab volunteers aimed nearly eight times as many glances at their own drinks than at responsible drinking posters.

“This tendency is backed up by previous research in this area of human behavioural psychology which has suggested that displaying responsible drinking messages may not always be the most effective way to get people to drink in a more controlled manner.

”Our study goes further to reinforce that hunch by showing that posters in bars designed to warn drinkers about the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption are much more likely to be completely ignored by them.  We found that most drinkers, especially heavier drinkers tend to allocate more of their attention to the beverages placed right in front of them.”

Dr James Nicholls, director of research and policy development at Alcohol Research UK, said, “While this study shows that posters received some attention in non-drinking environments, it is hard to prove that these have any measurable effect on levels of alcohol consumption.

“The findings raise further questions about the extent to which we can expect responsible drinking campaign posters or flyers to influence behaviour, especially when they are placed in environments where all the other visual cues are designed to encourage drinking.”

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