Do positive alcohol expectancies have a critical developmental period in pre-adolescents?

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OBJECTIVE: Positive outcome expectancies have been shown to predict initiation of alcohol use in children and to mediate and moderate the relationship between dispositional variables and drinking behavior. Negative outcome expectancies for alcohol appear to weaken as children progress to middle adolescence, but positive expectancies tend to increase during this time. Positive alcohol expectancies have been found to increase in children in third and fourth grades, indicating what some investigators have termed a possible critical period for the development of positive expectancies. METHOD: In the present study, we assessed alcohol expectancies at baseline, 6, 12, and 18 months in 277 second-through sixth-grade students. Children completed the Alcohol Expectancy Questionnaire-Adolescent. Univariate analyses of covariance were conducted. RESULTS: There were significant main effects for grade on positive alcohol-expectancy change for Global Positive Transformations at 12 and 18 months, Social Behavior Enhancement or Impediment at 6 and 12 months, and Relaxation/Tension Reduction at 6 and 18 months, whereby a consistent pattern emerged in that lower grades did not differ from each other, but they differed significantly from the higher grades. CONCLUSIONS: Data support a critical developmental period for positive alcohol expectancies, with the greatest change observed between third and fourth grade and between fourth and fifth grade, and only in those expectancies clearly describing positive outcomes (e.g., Relaxation/Tension Reduction) via positive or negative reinforcement versus those with either combined or ambiguous outcomes (e.g., Social Behavior Enhancement or Impediment).

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Journal of studies on alcohol and drugs

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