UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA SITES IN THE ALCOHOL USE TRAJECTORIES OF FIRST-YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS
Previous studies examining the influence of social media sites (SMS) on underage drinking have suffered from substantial methodological limitations (e.g., relying on self-reports of SMS use and exposure to alcohol-related content, examining Facebook alone despite emerging evidence that Instagram may be more influential; examining only one potential mediator [normative perceptions] of the SMS-alcohol relationship). Further, no interventions have yet been designed to mitigate the risk associated with SMS alcohol influence, largely because an understanding of the cognitive pathways involved is severely lacking.
In order to advance the scientific knowledge of SMS influences on college students' drinking and inform the development of SMS-based prevention efforts, goals of this NIAAA funded R21 project will: 1) evaluate short- and long-term effects of viewing SMS alcohol content on later drinking by utilizing a combination of time-tracking software, scheduled newsfeed captures, hand-coding and machine learning to objectively assess exposure to peers’ alcohol-related posts on Facebook and Instagram; 2) elucidate both explicit (perceived norms, expectancies, beliefs) and implicit (approach/excite alcohol associations and implicit expectancies) cognitive mechanisms by which exposure to peers’ alcohol-related SMS content influences trajectories of use; 3) identify the characteristics of student observers (e.g., demographics and personality characteristics) that make SMS influence more likely; and 4) identify the specific attributes (e.g., media richness, social context) of alcohol-related social media content that make influence more likely.
320 incoming students were followed from July 2017 (prior to matriculation) through April 2018 (spring semester of their first year). A software application installed on participants’ computers and smartphones monitored the time spent using SMS while a novel web portal designed for the present study systematically sampled content from participants’ Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds during the first 30 days of college. Throughout the year, participants completed web-based measures assessing their explicit and implicit alcohol-related cognitions, personality and individual difference variables, and alcohol consumption and consequences. With analysis currently under way, findings will substantially bolster our understanding of SMS alcohol influence during a critical developmental period and will inform the development, implementation, and evaluation of SMS-based prevention and intervention efforts aiming to mitigate alcohol-related risks on college campuses.
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