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Preventing College Sexual Victimization by Reducing Hookups: a Randomized Controlled Trial of a Personalized Normative Feedback Intervention


Sexual activity, including hooking up, increases college women’s vulnerability to sexual victimization. Reducing hookups may reduce rates of sexual victimization among this vulnerable population. Because college students overestimate how frequently their peers hook up, correcting their misperceptions may lead to more accurate perceived social norms, and consequently, less hookup behavior. The study was designed as a randomized controlled trial of the efficacy of a brief, computer-administered personalized normative feedback (PNF) intervention regarding hookups during the first semester of college. We tested an indirect effects model in which PNF was hypothesized to predict perceiving fewer peer hookups, which were expected to predict fewer actual hookups and consequently, less sexual victimization during the first semester of college. Entering first-year women (N = 760) were randomly assigned to receive web-delivered PNF or no information. At the end of the semester, perceived number of hookups of others, number of hookups during the semester, and sexual victimization experiences were assessed. Women who received the intervention perceived that their peers engaged in significantly fewer hookups than did control women. Consistent with the proposed indirect effects model, intervention had a significant indirect effect on the odds of first-semester victimization via lower perceived descriptive norms, which in turn predicted fewer hookups. The study provides proof of concept for the importance of hookups as a risk factor for sexual victimization and provides novel, preliminary support for intervention to change descriptive norms as a way of reducing hookups and consequently, sexual vulnerability.

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This research was funded by grant R34AA024854 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Maria Testa.

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All procedures were approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University at Buffalo (FWA 00008824). All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Institutional Review Board and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

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Testa, M., Livingston, J.A., Wang, W. et al. Preventing College Sexual Victimization by Reducing Hookups: a Randomized Controlled Trial of a Personalized Normative Feedback Intervention. Prev Sci (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-020-01098-3

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  • Sexual victimization
  • Personalized feedback intervention
  • Sexual risk-taking
  • College students
  • Descriptive norms