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Positive alcohol expectancies mediate the influence of the behavioral activation system on alcohol use: A prospective path analysis

Addictive Behaviors
DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.12.004
  • Behavioral Activation System
  • Behavioral Inhibition System
  • Alcohol Expectancies
  • Alcohol Use
  • Longitudinal Data
  • Design


Abstract Gray's (1975, 1987) behavioral activation (BAS) and behavioral inhibition systems (BIS) are thought to underlie sensitivity to reinforcement and punishment, respectively. Consistent with Gray's theory and the Acquired Preparedness model, BAS may facilitate the learning of positive alcohol expectancies (PAEs) over time, leading to increases in drinking. Yet, no prospective tests of this pathway have been reported. The present study investigated whether BAS prospectively predicted PAEs and whether PAEs mediated the association between BAS and subsequent alcohol use. We hypothesized that BAS would influence drinking specifically via enhancement-related PAEs. We also explored the role of BIS in PAEs and drinking. College students (N=557) completed online BAS, PAE, and alcohol use measures in September of their first (T1), second (T2), and third (T3) years of college. We conducted autoregressive path analyses with three BAS subscales and BIS (T1) as predictors, four PAE types (T2) as mediators, and quantity and frequency of drinking (T3) as outcomes. The BAS Fun-Seeking scale was prospectively associated with PAEs, and there was a significant indirect path from Fun-Seeking to alcohol use mediated specifically through activity enhancement PAEs. BIS was positively associated with some PAE types, but did not have indirect effects on drinking. Findings are consistent with both the theory of the BAS and the Acquired Preparedness model, as individuals high on BAS Fun-Seeking may find the rewarding properties of alcohol more reinforcing, leading to stronger enhancement PAEs and increased drinking over time. The prospective design helps establish the temporal association between BAS and alcohol-related learning, and points to the need for prevention efforts that target these at-risk students.

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