Graduation Year

2003

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

Goldman, Mark S.

Keywords

personality, paired-associate learning

Abstract

Alcohol expectancy theory suggests that genetically influenced personality characteristics may lead to differential acquisition of expectancy information, and that this information then may serve as one mediational pathway for alcoholism risk. Research has already shown that expectancy information can predict and even mediate risk, but it has yet to be shown that personality traits can influence the acquisition of alcohol expectancy information. To that end, personality characteristics known to be risk factors for the development of excessive alcohol use were assessed in 83 male undergraduates. In addition, each participant studied, in a paired-associate learning/cued-recall test paradigm, a list of word pairs matching alcohol content words (keg, beer), positive/arousing alcohol expectancy words (happy, fun), and neutral words (backpack, desk).

Their rate of learning the second word from each pair after being cued with the first word was then assessed across three trials of this task, and overall learning of the pairs was then assessed using free-recall. To determine whether learning rates for each type of word pair was a function of participants' status on the personality risk measures, hierarchical regression analyses were conducted for cued- and free-recall data. Results indicated that higher sensation seeking, more drinking-related problems, and a lesser degree of a family history of alcohol problems were predictive of greater recall for word pairs containing alcohol and expectancy information. Consistent with predictions, these risk indicators were also associated with a higher rate of learning for the alcohol and expectancy pairs.

These findings suggest that significant differences exist in the ability to learn alcohol to expectancy word associations, and lend support to recent theories that implicate individual difference factors as a predisposition for the development of problematic alcohol to expectancy associations in memory.

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