College students binge drink more frequently than adolescents and young adults, and a new study explored the psychological decision-making processes and other factors that lead to this behavior.
An obvious contributor to the higher rates of binge drinking is the availability of alcohol in the college setting. However, while young adults are able to reason and make decision making similarly to older adults, when it comes to drinking or other risk behaviors, they tend to be driven by reward rather than the risk of facing negative consequences. In a recent study, over 300 students completed an in-person survey to assess their deliberative and intuitive decision-making, cognitive control, motives for drinking, and alcohol use habits.
The survey differed from existing research because it included specific psychological parameters. The questions identified whether students were more deliberative or intuitive in their decision-making processes. Also, multiple cognitive control variables such as self-regulation, resistance of peer influence, and future orientation were quantified as well. Socioemotional factors on the survey included sensation seeking and reward sensitivity.
The results showed that deliberative decision-making correlated with cognitive control, and intuitive decision-making with socioemotional variables. Deliberative decision-making had a negative effect on alcohol use, and intuitive decision-making was not linked to alcohol use.
Higher levels of cognitive control correlated to less alcohol use, and sensation seeking and reward sensitivity were linked to higher instances of alcohol use. This study adds to existing research on prevalence of college student binge drinking by suggesting that decision-making processes and psychological motives correlate to alcohol use.
Take Away: College students who exhibit cognitive control and deliberative decision-making are likely to binge drink less frequently than those who are driven by sensation seeking and make decisions based on intuition or feelings.