Emergence of Alcohol Expectancies in Childhood: A Possible Critical Period

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Previous investigations with adolescents (aged 12-19) have shown alcohol-related expectancies to develop in childhood prior to significant drinking experience and to covary directly with drinking behavior. To chart the development of alcohol expectancies in children as young as age 6, a procedure was developed to be as independent as possible of age-related variation in reading and language development. This instrument was administered to 114 elementary school children of both genders, distributed across grades 1 to 5. Psychometric analysis provided evidence of the test's reliability and validity. Evaluation of the developmental pattern produced two primary findings: (1) there was an overall trend of increasingly positive expectancies with age; and (2) strikingly, the bulk of the increase was observed in the third and fourth grades. Children's expectancies may be less differentiated than adolescent or adult expectancies. These findings suggest that the precursors for later alcohol use and abuse are formed in childhood and that prevention efforts may need to begin as early as third grade.

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Journal of Studies on Alcohol, v. 51, issue 4, p. 343-349.