Context effects on alcohol-related cognitions: A multi-methodological approach.

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Aim: To examine the hitherto under-researched effects of social and environmental contexts on alcohol-related cognitions in a variety of laboratory and field settings. Method: Study 1 – University students were recruited via opportunity sampling and completed questionnaires in either a university lecture theatre or in a student union bar, with statistical controls adopted in order to control for individual variations in consumption. Study 2 – Questionnaires were distributed across colleges, universities and businesses in order to compare and contrast cognitions across a more varied sample than has been previously assessed. Study 3 – Environmental cues were delivered by the use of panoramic filming and projection, creating an immersive video of either a bar or lecture theatre. These environmental cues were simultaneously manipulated alongside social context (peer group or solitary testing). Study 4 – A specifically designed smartphone application was used to conduct context-aware time stratified experiential sampling. Results: Alcohol-related cognitions varied between real-world social and environmental contexts. Laboratory procedures were also found to mirror these effects. Specifically, positive outcome expectancies and normative beliefs about consumption were higher, and refusal efficacy lower, when questioning occurred in alcohol-related environments and in the presence of social others, when compared with responses in non alcohol-related environmental and during solitary response sessions. Exposure to immersive, alcohol-related cues and group testing in the laboratory had similar effects on responses. Conclusion: Alcohol-related cognitions appear to be fluid and, as such, are affected by changes in social and environmental contexts. These findings suggest that the traditional approach of conducting assessments in laboratories and/or classrooms may produce results which do not represent people’s beliefs in contexts associated with alcohol consumption. Technologically advanced research designs are recommended to provide the tools to conduct context aware research and produce more ecologically valid findings. Future research may therefore be advised to conduct more contextually aware research, in order to more fully elucidate alcohol-related cognitions. These findings also have implications for the improvement of therapeutic interventions which are likely to benefit from potentially contextually varying needs/desires of the client. Original Contributions: The effect of context on alcohol-related cognitions has been a hitherto largely ignored phenomenon. This thesis therefore presents work to address this gap in the research and suggests that existing research may be limited owing to its failure to consider such influencing factors. Indeed, these findings are a reflection of the wider axiom that context effects are largely overlooked across psychology and related disciplines. Furthermore, the multi-methodological approach utilised in this research is original and provides a blueprint for more ecologically valid, context-aware procedures which can be implemented both within and outside the laboratory in many areas of research.
Date of Award6 Nov 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorDerek Heim (Director of Studies) & LEON CULBERTSON (Supervisor)


  • Psychology
  • alcohol

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