Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Mark Goldman, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Tom Brandon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Drobes, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cheryl Kirstein, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kristen Salomon, Ph.D.


alcohol, expectancies, cue reactivity, family history, psychophysiology


The study examined the overlap between cognitive and affective measures of alcohol expectancies as they related to risk for developing alcohol use disorders. It was hypothesized that cognitive-based, paper-and-pencil measures and appetitive psychophysiological reactivity to alcohol cues would correlate and independently correlate to drinking behavior in a sample of college drinkers. It was also hypothesized that genetic risk would impact the relationship between upstream and downstream expectancy measures, given that children of alcoholics displayed blunted reactivity to appetitive cues.

A sample of 137 college drinkers (67 males; mean age = 20.23 ± 1.61) reporting a range of drinking behavior (mean quantity/occasion = 4.03 ± 2.34; mean frequency/month = 6.24 ± 4.31) and genetic risk for alcohol use disorders (47 children of alcoholics) participated in this study. The cue reactivity paradigm included the measurement of skin conductance, cardiac response, and acoustic startle eyeblink response to a randomized sequence of alcohol and neutral pictures. Questionnaires and interviews assessed alcohol expectancies, family history, drinking behavior, and risk.

Findings revealed that cognitive and affective measures shared modest overlap in the overall sample, such that sedating and negative alcohol expectancies were positively correlated with less appetitive early acoustic startle response. However, alcohol expectancies were not significantly correlated with any of the remaining psychophysiological measures. Further, affective measures were not related to drinking behavior, indicating failure to detect drinking variance in a sample of college drinkers.

Findings also indicated that genetic risk impacted the relationship between cognitive and affective measures of expectancy. Specifically, children of alcoholics (COAs) displayed stronger relationships between both positive and negative expectancies and early startle response than their peers. Further, COA Status moderated the relationship between early startle response and Social/Physical Pleasure and Positive/Arousing alcohol expectancies.

This dissertation provided evidence that cognitive and affective measures of alcohol expectancies shared modest overlap, indicating that expectancy subscales and early acoustic startle response tapped into the same expectancy construct. Further, genetic risk moderated the strength of relationships between upstream and downstream expectancy measures, which were stronger in children of alcoholics. Overall, affective measures of expectancy were more sensitive to expectancy variation in high-risk college drinkers.