Alcohol Expectancies, Perceived Norms, and Drinking Behavior Among College Students: Examining the Reciprocal Determinism Hypothesis

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Abstract

Social learning mechanisms, such as descriptive norms for drinking behavior (norms) and positive alcohol expectancies (PAEs), play a major role in college student alcohol use. According to the principle of reciprocal determinism (Bandura, 1977), norms and PAEs should be reciprocally associated with alcohol use, each influencing one another over time. However, the nature of these prospective relationships for college students is in need of further investigation. This study provided the first examination of the unique reciprocal associations among norms, PAEs, and drinking together in a single model. PAEs become more stable with age, whereas norms are likely to be more dynamic upon college entry. Thus, we hypothesized that alcohol use would show stronger reciprocal associations with norms than with PAEs for college students. Students (N = 557; 67% women) completed online measures of PAEs, norms, and quantity and frequency of alcohol use in September of their first (T1), second (T2), and third (T3) years of college. Reciprocal associations were analyzed using a cross-lagged panel design. PAEs had unidirectional influences on frequency and quantity of alcohol use, with no prospective effects from alcohol use to PAEs. Reciprocal associations were observed between norms and alcohol use, but only for quantity and not for frequency. Specifically, drinking quantity prospectively predicted quantity norms and quantity norms prospectively predicted drinking quantity. This effect was observed across both years in the model. These findings support the reciprocal determinism hypothesis for norms but not for PAEs in college students and may help to inform norm-based interventions.

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