What are the perceptions of students in health-related undergraduate programs of the health behaviours of their peers (e.g. alcohol consumption, smoking) ?
Undergraduate students taking courses related to human health have various perceptions of the behavior that may affect their health, if this behavior is exhibited by their peers (Zhang, 2011, n.p.). Ridder, Heuvelmans, Visscher, Seidell, & Renders (2010) argue that there is a relationship between the actual behaviours reported about students and perceived behaviour by the medical students in Netherlands. The authors used a sample of 1608 students issued with questionnaires regarding the number of students engaged in alcohol consumption. Riddler et al., found that the perceptions of medical students tend to overestimate the levels of consumptions for cigarettes and alcohol. Jones and Rossiter (2008) agree with the authors. They argue that medical students overestimate the indulgence of the behaviour of their peers in unhealthy practices. For instance, Jones and Rossiter found that medical students think that 90 per cent of their peers drink over a period of two weeks. In reality, only 80 per cent who reach this level, making their estimations inaccurate (Jones & Rossiter, 2008, p. 12).
Shafiq, Shah, Saleem, Siddiqi, Shaikh, Salahuddin, Siwani, & Naqvi (2006) examined the perceptions of undergraduate medical students on the causes of indulgence in the supposed unhealthy behaviour. Peer influence was the major cause for indulgence in unhealthy behaviours, such as heroin, charas, benzodiazepines and alcohol consumption, according to medical research. The proposal is in agreement with the perspective of Duperly et al., (2009) who argued that indulgence in perceived wrongful behaviour suffers is rampant when people share similar attributes such as age, gender, and institutional other institutional frameworks. It is easier to indulge in similar behaviour when the parties have an element in common that connects them. In this context, it is elementary to explore the sociological aspects involved in this setting. Papinczak, Young, Groves, & Haynes (2008) discuss the nature versus nurture framework, which triggers the behaviour in individuals. Essentially, Papinczak et al, focus on nature and its influence on the behaviour of individuals such that the students’ peers drink and indulge in other behaviour because of the influence of the environment. Papinczak et al conducted his study on first year medical students, by applying a pre-test, post-test design together with intervention and control. The argument is similar to Cegolon, Miatto, Bortolotto, Benetton, Mazzoleni, & Mastrangelo (2010) quantitative study in Italy, which suggests that 65 per cent of the indulgence in seemingly unhealthy habits emanates from the interaction with people around students.
Valaitis, Sword, Jones, & Hodges (2005) evaluate the risk factors associated with indulgence in unhealthy behaviour. Medical students think that their peers are not adverse to the risk involved when engaging in the risky behaviour. Since they are many, they tend to have a feeling of security such that the effects of the risk involved will be mitigated by the fact that their friends are also involved in the behaviour. Abahussain and Abahussain (2010) also touch on the issue of group mentality and the perceptions held by medical students about their peers. Abahussain et al, assert that medical students think that indulgence in unhealthy behaviour happens when their peers are in social groups associated with the behaviour.
Abahussain and Abahussain (2010) cite Cape, Hannah, & Sellman, (2006) who propose that more than 50 per cent of people who engage in wrong behaviour perceived to be morally wrong and detrimental to health because of the social group. Such a practice is dangerous, but students still engage in it in because they feel that it is right to act in the same manner as their friends. Engaging in behaviour that is dangerous to mental and physical health affects both the group and the individual (Levinthal, 2014, p. 13).
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Shafiq, M., Shah, Z., Saleem, A., Siddiqi, M. T., Shaikh, K. S., Salahuddin, F. F., Siwani, R., & Naqvi, H. (2006). Perceptions of Pakistani Medical Students About Drugs and Alcohol: a Questionnaire-based Survey. Substance Abuse Treatment Prevention and Policy, 1(1), p. 31. doi:10.1186/1747-597X-1-31.
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