Reinforcement sensitivity theory and alcohol outcome expectancies in early adolescence

Hector I. Lopez-Vergara, Craig R. Colder, Larry W. Hawk, William F. Wieczorek, Rina D. Eiden, Liliana J. Lengua, Jennifer P. Read

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Background: Little research has examined the development of alcohol expectancies in childhood, a notable omission as expectancies are viable targets for prevention programs. Moreover, limited alcohol expectancies research has been conducted from the perspective of psychobiological models of motivation despite the strong conceptual links between such models and cognitive models of alcohol use. Objective: To examine if the associations between individual differences from the revised reinforcement sensitivity theory (Gray JA, McNaughton N. The Neuropsychology of Anxiety: An Enquiry into the Functions of the Septo-hippocampal System (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000) and alcohol use is mediated by alcohol expectancies in a large community sample of early adolescents using a prospective design. Methods: 378 families (1 caregiver; 1 child) were recruited via random digit phone call using a prospective design. Results: Our findings suggest that both a strong behavioral approach system and fight-flight or freeze system were associated with high levels of positive outcome expectancies, which subsequently predicted an increase in likelihood of alcohol use. There was also some evidence that drive (an aspect of behavioral approach system) was also positively associated with negative expectancies, which subsequently predicted a low probability of alcohol use. Conclusions and Scientific Significance: Individual differences in reinforcement sensitivity may influence the acquisition of positive and negative outcome expectancies, thereby potentially influencing the likelihood of alcohol use in early adolescence. Thus, reinforcement sensitivity theory is a promising theory to account for the link between neural models of addiction and early acquisition of alcohol use in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-134
Number of pages5
JournalAmerican Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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