Sensation seeking, drinking motives, and perceived norms as mediators of the association between college major and drinking patterns

Date of Award


Degree Name

M.A. in Clinical Psychology


Department of Psychology


Advisor: Catherine L. Zois


Excessive drinking on college campuses has been investigated extensively in psychological literature. While some studies suggest that business students are consuming alcohol at higher rates than students in other majors, there is a lack of research exploring mechanisms that account for this consumption difference. The focus of this study was to determine to what extent the following variables mediated the relationship between choice of major and drinking behavior: drinking motives, perceived drinking norms for that major, primary psychopathy, and sensation seeking. A total of 169 undergraduate students completed survey packets assessing the following: alcohol consumption (e.g., binge drinking frequency, drinking frequency, and drinking problems), trait anxiety, sensation seeking tendencies, perceived drinking norms, psychopathy, social desirability, and professed motives behind their alcohol consumption. The initial MANCOVA revealed a nonsignificant omnibus F, technically precluding exploration of the subsequent univariate ANOVAs. However, for teaching purposes as well as to explore directions for future research, the complete proposed analyses were conducted. Thus, the results of this study should be interpreted with caution. The first set of univariate ANOVA results indicated that business students and arts and sciences students only significantly differed from each other in binge drinking frequency. Contrary to hypotheses, the results revealed that drinking motives, sensation seeking tendencies, and primary psychopathy did not mediate the relationship between choice of major and binge drinking frequency. The results did indicate that perceived drinking norms for that major fully mediated the relationship between choice of major and binge drinking frequency. Business students may engage in binge drinking more frequently than arts and sciences students due to the perceived drinking norms within their major. That is, while business students did report engaging in binge drinking more frequently, they may also be overestimating the actual amount of alcohol others in their major consume. Therefore, they might consume more alcohol themselves in order to match their perceptions. Although the above results should be interpreted with caution, the treatment and prevention implications include education concerning perceived versus actual drinking norms on college campuses as well as treatment focused on changing the culture surrounding alcohol consumption for business majors.


College students Alcohol use, Business students Alcohol use, College majors Psychological aspects, Peer pressure, Social norms, Binge drinking

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