Peer Norms and Susceptibility Mediate the Effect of Movie Alcohol Exposure on Alcohol Initiation in Adolescents

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Abstract

Movie alcohol exposure is a known and consistent predictor of adolescent alcohol use initiation and escalation. Nearly 90% of the top U.S. movies contain alcohol content. Social–cognitive theory posits reciprocal links among environmental influences (e.g., movie alcohol exposure), social–cognitive processes (e.g., perceived norms, susceptibility, alcohol outcome expectancies), and behavior (alcohol use), but these links have been tested in only 1 direction. In the current study, we assessed movie alcohol exposure, alcohol cognitions, and alcohol initiation among adolescents (N = 1,023; 52% female, mean age = 13.7 years) in 4 annual survey waves. Cross-lagged panel models tested bidirectional relations between cognitions and movie alcohol exposure. Finally, we tested bidirectional mediation effects in the prospective prediction of alcohol initiation. Movie alcohol exposure prospectively predicted increases in descriptive norms, injunctive norms, and susceptibility but not positive or negative alcohol outcome expectancies. All factors predicted subsequent alcohol initiation. Close friend injunctive and descriptive norms, peer descriptive norms, and susceptibility mediated the effect of earlier movie alcohol exposure on subsequent alcohol initiation. Movie alcohol exposure mediated the effect of earlier close friend descriptive norms on subsequent alcohol initiation. Movie alcohol exposure and social−cognitive processes are interrelated facets that impact alcohol initiation. Permissive cognitions infrequently predicted higher subsequent exposure to movie alcohol. Clinical and preventative implications of this work are discussed.

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