The Mediating Effects of Alcohol on the Relationship Between Sensation Seeking and Violence
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
ABBEY, R.D. (1998). The Mediating Effects of Alcohol on the Relationship Between Sensation Seeking and Violence. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 1. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 18, 2017 .

The Mediating Effects of Alcohol on the Relationship Between Sensation Seeking and Violence
RICHARD D. ABBEY
CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SAN MARCOS DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: MARIE THOMAS (mthomas@mailhost1.csusm.edu)
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this research was to investigate the possible mediating effects of alcohol abuse on the relationship between sensation seeking behavior and violence. That is, the pathway between sensation seeking and violence would work through alcohol abuse. The research also examined how the participant`s felt about their current drinking behavior. To test this, seventy-one participants were sampled from a small western university and were asked to complete a survey that included the following instruments: the Aggression Questionnaire, the Sensation Seeking Scale, the Index of Alcohol Involvement, the Marlowe-Crown Social Desirability Scale, and an open-ended question regarding drinking behavior. Results from a path analysis revealed that alcohol abuse may not be a significant mediator in the relationship between sensation seeking behavior and violence and that most participants were ambivalent about feelings concerning their drinking behavior. Implications for further research are discussed in terms of gender differences.

INTRODUCTION
The purpose of this research was to investigate the mediating effects of alcohol abuse on the relationship between sensation seeking behavior and violence. Violent crime affects an increasing number of individuals in the United States each year (Barratt, Stanford, Kent & Felthous, 1997). A study that examines the relationship between behaviors that are linked to violence may provide fruitful ground towards the prevention of violence. Because violence may affect all people, possible insights to the prevention of violence may improve the quality of life for many individuals. Since the human behavior is a complex phenomenon, including more than one variable in the pathway to violence may be useful. One such pathway may include sensation seeking.Sensation seeking refers to the concept that each individual has an optimal level of stimulation (Zuckerman, 1964). Levels of stimulation that are too low, as in perceptual isolation, may lead an individual to increase stimulation while too much stimulation may lead to behavior directed at stimulus reduction (Zuckerman, 1974). According to Zuckerman (1972), sensation seeking may be broken down into the following four categories: thrill and adventure seeking, experience seeking, disinhibition, and boredom susceptibility. Thrill and adventure seeking is defined as a desire for activities involving moderate danger or adventure such as parachute jumping or driving fast. Experience Seeking is defined as looking for new experiences through music, art, drugs, or unconventionality in dress or behavior. Disinhibition is defined as seeking sensation by casting off inhibition through activities such as drinking or sexual variety. Finally, Boredome Susceptibility is defined as a dislike for repetitious experience of any kind and a desire for novelty things and people. Taken together, these personality characteristics make up the sensation-seeking trait (Zuckerman, 1971). Research has revealed a significant relationship between sensation seeking, alcohol and violence (Zuckerman, 1979). The link between alcohol and violence will be addressed first.Steele and Josephs (1990, p.221) claim that "alcohol abuse has become the nation`s most costly health problem". Alcohol is associated with nearly 70% of all fatal automobile accidents, 65% of murders, and 55% of violent child abuse. Alcohol is a two-headed beast; it causes behaviors that are destructive to others and society and holds millions in the grip of addiction. Alcohol makes behavior more extreme by blocking an individual`s normal response conflict. This may lead one to a higher propensity towards violence (Norton, I. M. & Schauer, J., 1997). Because of this, any insight to causal links that may increase one`s propensity to abuse alcohol may be helpful to prevent violence. One such causal pathway may involve sensation-seeking behavior. There are at least two reasons why sensation-seeking behavior may increase one`s propensity to abuse alcohol. First, when an individuals stimulation level is too low, he or she may take action to increase his stimulation level (Zuckerman, 1974). This may be channeled into Disinhibition where an individual looks for new experiences through drugs or alcohol. If this individual`s current level of stimulation is too low, he may choose to drink an excessive amount of alcohol to increase his stimulation level. Second, an individuals optimal level of stimulation may be unusually high (Zuckerman, 1964). This larger appetite for sensation may also lead one to seek an abnormal amount of it. These individuals may choose alcohol to relieve their low level of stimulation and abuse alcohol to magnify its effects and restore their equilibrium (Zuckerman, 1974). To summarize then, sensation seeking has been shown to be related to alcohol abuse, which in turn, has been shown to be related to violence. Taken together, sensation seeking and alcohol abuse may be a better predictor of the pathway to violence than either behavior alone. This is the foundation for the hypothesis of the present research.In the present study, it was hypothesized that alcohol abuse would serve as a mediator in the relationship between sensation seeking and violence. That is, those individuals who are high in sensation seeking will drink more alcohol, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol will be related, in turn, to greater aggression (see Figure 1). Furthermore, the respondent`s feelings about their drinking behavior was also investigated.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS
Seventy-one participants were surveyed on the campus of a small western university. Six participants came from the human subjects` pool at the university`s psychology department. Sixty-five participants were selected on the university grounds. Ages of the participants ranged from 18 to 51 years (M = 24.78 years, SD = 6.85 years). The respondents were 65% female (1 participant failed to report gender). The majority of participants were White (63%), and Hispanic (21%). Ten percent of the sample reported having a high-school diploma or less schooling. Seventy-eight percent of the sample reported having some college, 7% reported having a bachelor`s degree and 4% reported having a graduate degree. Respondents reported having similar socioeconomic status with 68% reporting an annual income under $15,000.

MATERIALS
The Sensation Seeking Scale (SSS) was used to measure individual differences in optimal levels of stimulation and arousal and served as a subject variable in the present research. This 40-item instrument is written in a forced-choice format. Participants must pick one of two choices that measure four components of sensation seeking: Thrill and Adventure Seeking (TAS), Experience Seeking (ES) Disinhibition (Dis), and Boredom Susceptibility (BS). Participants must choose statements that best describe their personalities such as "I dislike all body odors", or "I like some of the earthy body smells". The scale is scored by assigning one point to each choice that corresponds with the higher sensation seeking choice. A total score is derived through adding all the scores. Higher scores indicate higher optimal levels of stimulation and arousal. Seventy participants completed this survey with scores ranging from 6 to 32 (M = 19.41, SD = 6.58). One participant failed to complete the instrument and had to be dropped from the analysis. The SSS has demonstrated an internal consistency ranging from .57 to .86 (Zuckerman, 1974). The present research revealed a Cronbach`s Alpha level of .83.The validity of this instrument has been shown through correlating the SSS and the Embedded Figures test revealing a significant correlation (r = .36, p<.05). The Index of Alcohol Involvement (IAI) is a 25-item self-report instrument designed to measure the magnitude that an individual abuses alcohol. An example of a typical question is the following: "When I have a drink with friends, I usually drink more than they do". Questions are rated on a 7 point Likert scale ranging from "never" to "always". Higher scores indicate a greater propensity to abuse alcohol. Seventy-one respondents completed this instrument with scores ranging from 0 to 45.33 (M = 10.43, SD = 8.85). This measure has a reported alpha of .90 and is derived from the WALMYR Assessment Scale (MacNeil, G. 1991). The present research revealed a Cronbach`s Alpha level of .83. MacNeil (1991) reports that the IAI has a very good construct validity and correlates well with the Generalized Contentment Scale and the Index of Clinical Stress. The Aggression Questionnaire (AQ) measures 4 components of aggression and served as the dependent variable (see Appendix A). The four components of aggression include physical aggression (PA), verbal aggression (VA), anger (A), and hostility (H). The AQ is derived from the Hostility Inventory that is a widely used instrument developed over 30 years ago (Buss & Perry, 1992). An example of a typical question on this instrument is the following: "Once in a while I can`t control the urge to strike another person". Questions are rated on a 5 point Likert scale ranging from "extremely uncharacteristic of me" to "extremely characteristic of me". A total score was calculated by adding the each score from the 4 sub-scales. Higher scores indicate more aggression and a higher propensity for violence. Seventy participants completed this survey with scores ranging from 37 to 107 (M = 66.53, SD = 14.30). One participant failed to complete the instrument and had to be dropped from the analysis. The AQ has an overall reported alpha of .89 (Buss & Perry, 1992). The present research revealed a Cronbach`s Alpha level of .85. The Marlowe-Crown Social Desirability Scale (MCSD) focuses on ordinary personal and interpersonal behaviors and was included as a potential control for participants answering in a socially desirable way (see Appendix A). Four of the 33 original questions from the MCSD were used to measure the participant`s avoidance of disapproval. Respondents answered true or false to questions that exaggerate an individual`s good qualities. An example of a question that appears on this instrument is the following: "I never hesitate to go out of my way to help someone in trouble". Total scores were calculated by assigning 1 point to each "socially desirable" answer. Correlations run between the MCSD and the SSS, IAI, and the AQ did not approach significance so the measure was dropped. Seventy-one participants completed this scale with scores ranging from 1 to 4 (M = 2.08, SD = 1.02). The MCSD has a reported alpha ranging from .73 to .88. The present research revealed a Cronbach`s Alpha level of .70. The MCSD shows low to moderate correlations with the Edwards SD which gives evidence for good construct validity (Robinson, 1991). Feelings about alcohol use were assessed by asking respondents to answer an open-ended question. This question was used to investigate the self-perceptions about each participant`s drinking behavior. Respondents were asked to respond to the following question in writing: "How do you feel about your drinking behavior?" The open-ended question was coded into 3 general categories that described the participant`s feelings about their drinking behavior (negative, neutral, and positive). Evidence for the validity concerning the respondent`s answers to this question may be supported by the failure of the MCSD instrument to correlate with all the other instruments on this survey.

PROCEDURE
Subsequent to receiving participants verbal and informed consent, the researchers asked each participant to complete the survey. The participants were also instructed to place the survey in a sealed envelope that was provided by the researchers. The envelopes were then placed in a bag that was not opened until data collection was completed. A colleague that was not involved in the research opened the envelopes subsequent to data collection to insure confidentiality.

PLAN OF ANALYSIS
A mediator is present when the effects of the independent variable on the dependent variable are diminished in the presence of a significant mediator variable (Baron & Kenny, 1986). The mediating effects of alcohol abuse on the relationship between sensation seeking and violence was tested using the regression method established by Baron and Kenny (1986). First, scores from the IAI were regressed on the AQ scores. Second, the AQ scores were regressed on the SSS scores. Finally, the IAI scores were regressed on both the SSS and IAI scores.


RESULTS
Alcohol abuse did not mediate the relationship between sensation seeking and aggression (see Figure 2.). The relationship between sensation seeking and alcohol abuse was not significant (B = .12, p>.05). A multiple regression revealed a significant positive relationship between alcohol abuse and aggression (B = .23, p<.05). The relationship between sensation seeking and aggression was not significant (B= -.14, p>.05). Regressing the AQ score on both the SSS and IAI scores showed a non-significant relationship (B = -.10, p>.05, B = .02, p>.05 respectively). That is, alcohol abuse did not serve as a mediator in the relationship between sensation seeking and aggression. This research investigated self-perceptions of drinking behavior. Respondents were asked in an open-question format to write about how they felt about their drinking behavior. Of the sixty-eight respondents that answered this question appropriately, 23% said they felt good about their drinking behavior, 66% responded with neutral answers, and 7% of the individuals reported bad feelings about their drinking behavior. Three participants (4%) failed to respond to this question and had to be dropped from the analysis.


DISCUSSION
Violence is a growing problem in the United States today. The purpose of the present study was to examine the possible effects of alcohol with respect to the relationship between sensation seeking and violence. Specifically, alcohol abuse was hypothesized to serve as a mediator in the relationship between sensation seeking and aggression. The respondent`s feelings about drinking behavior were also investigated. The results of this research indicate that the proposed model was not supported. That is, alcohol abuse did not mediate the relationship between sensation seeking and violence. Furthermore, the relationship between sensation seeking and alcohol abuse was not significant. This is inconsistent with the current body of literature (Zuckerman, 1974). The reason for this may be due to the fact that most of the respondents had low scores on the IAI. This indicates that few individuals in the present study abuse alcohol. This may have resulted in a reduction in the power of the study leading to non-significant results. Future research may benefit from a design that includes a larger sample of alcohol abusers. This may be accomplished with a stratified random sampling technique or an emic design that focuses on a population of alcohol abusers. The results of this study did reveal a significant positive relationship between alcohol abuse and aggression. This is consistent with other research that has established a relationship between alcohol abuse and violence (e.g. Fulwiler, 1997). This finding gives support for the need for future research in this area. Illuminating relationships and causal pathways between alcohol abuse and violence may lead to a better understanding of this phenomenon. This in turn may lead to the prevention of violence throughout society which may greatly benefit a multitude of people.The relationship between sensation seeking and aggression was also non-significant. This is inconsistent with the current literature that has established a relationship between these two variables (Zuckerman, 1974). This research also investigated how the respondents felt about their drinking behavior. The results suggest that most participants were ambivalent about their drinking behavior. Future research may include a series of questions to better assess how individuals feel about their drinking behavior. This may lead to the investigation of whether alcohol abuse is dependent on the perceptions of an individual`s drinking behavior. That is, people who abuse alcohol may not feel that they have a problem with alcohol.The present research had several methodological strengths with respect to validity issues. First, the present research included the MCSD to control for respondents answering questions in a favorable light. The MCSD has a proven reliability and validity with respect to measuring the degree to which participants answer questions in a socially desirable way (Robinson, 1991). The results suggest that most of the respondents answered the questions candidly. Second, the remaining instruments used in this study have an established reliability with alpha levels exceeding .80. In the present study, most of the instruments revealed a strong reliability indicating that the internal reliability of this research was powerful. Furthermore, the researchers followed a procedure that informed and ensured the respondents that the completed surveys would be kept confidential. This may have given the participants confidence to answer all the questions on the survey candidly.The present study also had some internal and external threats to validity that may be considered for future research. First the data was collected in a haphazard manner. Subsequent studies should make efforts to achieve a random sample. Second, there were over twice as many females as males surveyed in this study. There is evidence that males have a higher propensity for thrill and adventure seeking and experience seeking than females (Zuckerman, Eysenck & Eysenck, 1978). Furthermore, males are more susceptible to alcohol abuse than females (Perkins, 1990). Subsequent research should test the model separately for gender or at least use a stratified random sampling method to ensure homogeneity. Third, the failure of the aggression questionnaire (AQ) to reveal a relationship with sensation seeking behavior suggests that subsequent studies should use a different measure with a higher validity. This may increase the effect size of the study, which should increase the power of the research design and may lead to significant findings. Finally, increasing the sample size in subsequent studies would also increase the power of the study. Based on the current literature concerning this research, future research including the suggestions listed above into its research design may lead to significant findings. That is, alcohol abuse may prove to be a significant mediator in the relationship between sensation seeking and violence with a more powerful research design. Violence is a major problem in the United States today. Relationships that are established that lead to understanding violence may lead to a better understanding and a possible reduction of violence. Although the present research did not demonstrate that alcohol is a mediator in the relationship between sensation seeking and violence, future research designed with the above recommendations may lead to significant findings. This in turn may help explain why some people have a higher propensity to commit violent acts.


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Last Edited 9/11/98 10:57:46 PM
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