Paradoxical Effects of Alcohol Information on Alcohol Outcome Expectancies

Document Type



Community and Global Health (CGU)

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Behavioral Disciplines and Activities | Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Community Health | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychology | Public Health | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Background:  Cognitive associations with alcohol predict both current and future use in youth and young adults. Much cognitive and social cognitive research suggests that exposure to information may have unconscious influences on thinking and behavior. The present study assessed the impact of information statements on the accessibility of alcohol outcome expectancies.

Methods:  The 2 studies reported here investigated the effects of exposure to alcohol statements typical of informational approaches to prevention on the accessibility of alcohol outcome expectancies. High school and university students were presented with information statements about the effects of alcohol and other commercial products. The alcohol statements were taken from expectancy questionnaires. Some of these statements were presented as facts and others as myths. The retention of detailed information about these statements was manipulated by (i) divided attention versus focused attention or (ii) immediate versus delayed testing. Accessibility of personal alcohol outcome expectancies was subsequently measured using an open-ended question about the expected effects of alcohol.

Results:  Participants reported more alcohol outcomes seen during the information task as personal expectations about the effects of alcohol use than similar unseen items. Paradoxically, myth statements were also more likely to be reported as expectancies than unseen items in all conditions. Additionally, myth statements were generated less often than fact statements only under the condition of immediate testing with strong content processing instructions.

Conclusions:  These observations are consistent with findings from cognitive research where familiarity in the absence of explicit memory can have an unconscious influence on performance. In particular, the exposure to these items in an informational format increases accessibility of the seen items even when the participants were told that they were myths. The findings have implications for the development of effective prevention materials.

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