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Pediatrics. 2000 Feb;105(2):343-9.

The role of interpretation processes and parental discussion in the media's effects on adolescents' use of alcohol.

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Edward R. Murrow School of Communication, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164-2520, USA.



The process that connects media use with alcohol-related beliefs and behaviors has not been well documented. To address this issue, we examined adolescents' viewing patterns, beliefs about alcohol and media messages, and parental discussion of media messages in the context of a theoretical model of message interpretation processes. Measures included the degree to which adolescents found portrayals desirable, realistic, and similar to their own lives; the degree to which they wanted to be like (identify with) the portrayals; and the degree to which they associated positive outcomes with drinking alcohol (expectancies).


Cross-sectional survey.


Two public high schools in the California central coastal area that include a diverse population in terms of ethnic origin, income level, and education level.


Ninth-grade students (n = 252) and 12th-grade students (n = 326).


Students reported the number of days within the past week watching various genres of television content, along with perceptions of realism of content, desirability of portrayals, identification with portrayals, expectancies toward alcohol use, personal norms for alcohol use, desire for products with alcohol logos, current alcohol use, frequency of parental reinforcement, and counter-reinforcement of television messages. Associations were examined via hierarchical multiple regression analysis.


Effects of media exposure on drinking behavior, controlling for grade level, ethnicity, gender, household income, and education levels were primarily positive and indirect, operating through a number of intervening beliefs, especially expectancies (beta =.59; r(2) =.33). Direct associations, primarily with exposure to late-night talk shows (beta =.12; r(2) =.01), were small. Parental discussion also affected behavior indirectly, operating through expectancies, identification, and perceived realism. The appeal of products with alcohol logos, which was higher among the younger students (t = 3.44) and predicted by expectancies (beta =. 37; r(2) =.13), sports viewing (beta =.17; r(2) =.03) and late-night talk shows (beta =.10; r(2) =.01), predicted actual drinking behavior (beta =.22; r(2) =.04). Drinking behavior was higher among the older students (t = -2.515).


Adolescents make drinking decisions using a progressive, logical decision-making process that can be overwhelmed by wishful thinking. The potential risk of frequent exposure to persuasive alcohol portrayals via late-night talk shows, sports, music videos, and prime-time television for underage drinking is moderated by parental reinforcement and counter-reinforcement of messages. Interventions need to acknowledge and counter the appeal of desirable and seemingly realistic alcohol portrayals in the media and alert parents to their potential for unintended adverse effects.

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