Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Yeah, I Drink ... but Not as Much as Other Guys: The Majority Fallacy among Male Adolescents

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Yeah, I Drink ... but Not as Much as Other Guys: The Majority Fallacy among Male Adolescents

Article excerpt

Male high school students reported the frequency and maximum quantity of their alcohol consumption and estimated the drinking behaviors of their same-age male peers. Consistent with past research on pluralistic ignorance and drinking that has utilized more proximal peer comparison groups, participants believed that their peers drank more frequently and in greater quantities than they themselves did. Furthermore, perception of the maximum quantity of peer drinking was a significant predictor of participants' drinking. Examination of effect sizes indicated that differences between self-reported alcohol consumption and perceived peer consumption were significantly larger for abstainers versus drinkers, which suggests that researchers should consider how the presence of abstainers in a sample may magnify majority fallacy effects.

Alcohol is the drug of choice among adolescents and its use is undeniably commonplace (Gatins, 2005; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2006). For example, more than 50% of 8th graders, approximately 75% of 10th graders, and 81% of 12th graders have tried alcohol (Maney, Higham-Gardill, & Mahoney, 2002). Arata, Stafford, and Tims (2003) found that in their high school sample two-fifths of males frequently binged. According to the Monitoring the Future Study (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2005), 30-day prevalence figures for alcohol use during 2004 were 18.6%, 35.2%, and 48% for eighth, tenth and twelfth graders respectively; 30-day prevalence rates for having been drunk were 6.2%, 18.5%, and 32.5% among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders respectively; and annual prevalence rates for having been drunk were 14.5%, 35.1%, and 51.8% for eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders respectively. While the highest prevalence for drinking and being drunk among high-school age adolescents is among twelfth graders (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2005), the largest jump in use occurs between eighth and tenth grade where prevalence rates of drunkenness more than double.

Kindlon and Thompson (1999) assert that when adolescent males drink, they tend to abuse alcohol and drink to excess, often in response to what are perceived as challenges from peers to drink more. Because boys are often pressured to drink as a rite of passage and as proof of masculinity (Pollack, 1998), being able to "drink like a man" carries significant weight for adolescent males. According to Pollack (1998), peer pressure to drink is particularly difficult for teenage males because refusal to engage in risky behaviors is a violation of what he calls the "Boy Code."

Consistent with these findings, males are generally more likely than females to be diagnosed with substance use disorders (Chambers, Taylor, & Potenza, 2003). Gatins and White (2006) have recently suggested, however, that gender differences in adolescent alcohol use may not be as salient as they once were. For example, they found that male and female high school students in their sample did not differ in the frequency of alcohol use. Although frequency of use may not differ drastically by gender, male adolescents tend to consume alcohol in greater quantities when they drink and are more likely to have drinking related problems (Arata, Stafford, & Tims, 2003; White & Huselid, 1997). Additionally, alcohol use in adolescence is more likely to be associated with aggression in young adulthood for males but not females (Duncan, Alpert, Duncan, & Hops, 1997). Male high school students, then, continue to be a uniquely vulnerable group both in terms of the quantity of alcohol they consume as well as the behaviors and consequences associated with their alcohol use. Furthermore, Aseltine (1995) suggests that mid-adolescent males, relative to females, may be more likely to conform to peer norms and values associated with alcohol use (Windle & Davies, 1999).

Adolescence represents the time during which drinking behaviors are typically adopted and is also a time in which peer pressure is particularly salient (Cahalan, 1987). …

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