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Age, Gender, and Experiential Differences in Alcohol-Related Expectancies

Both positive and negative alcohol-related expectancies vary by age. By age 12, individuals with and without drinking experience have a well-formulated sense of alcohol-related expectancies (Christiansen et al., 1982; Jones et al., 2001). Although children’s and adults’ general alcohol expectancies are similar (Dunn and Goldman, 1996), negative expectancies are more often reported by younger children, with perceptions of alcohol-related benefits increasing with age (Goldberg et al., 2002; Miller, Smith, and Goldman, 1990). Specific expectancies also differ by age. Young adolescents (e.g., 12- to 14-year-olds) rank reduced tension and impaired behavioral functioning among the highest expectancies; 15- to 16-year-olds cite enhanced social and physical pleasure and modified social and emotional behavior; and older adolescents (e.g., 17- to 19-year-olds) list enhanced sexual performance and increased power among their highest expectancies (Christiansen et al., 1982).

There are also gender differences in alcohol expectations. Adolescent males typically perceive more positive and fewer negative consequences of alcohol use than do adolescent females. Furthermore, the frequency of alcohol use has been associated with global positive effects, sexual enhancement, and pleasure for men, but reduced tension for women (Jones et al., 2001). However, there were no differences between males and females in the relationship between amount of alcohol use and perceived outcomes.

Independent of age effects, prior experience with alcohol use also plays a large role in alcohol-related expectancies, alcohol-related decision making, and subsequent alcohol use (Christiansen et al., 1989; Christiansen et al., 1982; Chen et al., 1994; Goldberg et al., 2002; Grube et al., 1995; Jones et al., 2001; Smith et al., 1995; Wood et al., 1992). In particular, enhanced sexual feelings, power, and reduced tension have been reported by those with greater drinking experiences, while youth with little or no alcohol experiences have more global expectancies of increased pleasure (Christiansen et al., 1982).


At the same time that youth are experiencing rapid physical, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional changes, they are embedded within changing and multilayered contexts. These contexts and their reciprocal relationship with youth also must be understood in order to reduce underage drinking most effectively. In this section, we discuss the roles that parents, peers, and the larger society play in underage alcohol use.

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