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Do more introverted and lonely college students with lower levels of self esteem drink alcohol more or less than their less introverted and lonely peers with higher levels of self esteem? Through the theoretical lens of the self-presentation model, this paper addresses conflicting results from previous research on the links between alcohol use and introversion, loneliness, and self esteem. Specifically, it explores, through statistical tests for suppression, what role self-presentation styles may play in the relationship between diffidence and alcohol use among college students.
In this paper, we define diffidence as the quality of having high levels of introversion and loneliness, and low levels of self esteem. Introversion, loneliness, and low self esteem are positively interrelated (Kamath and Kanekar, 1993; Salmela-Aro and Nurmi, 1996; Schmidt and Fox, 1995). Introverted people tend to avoid others or worry about the prospect of negative interpersonal evaluation during social interactions with strangers or casual acquaintances (Bruch et al., 1995; Cheek et al., 1986; Cheek and Buss, 1981). Their concern about the possibility that others may have undesirable opinions about their social abilities (Fatis, 1983; Schmidt and Robinson, 1992; Snyder et al., 1985) has been found to lead to withdrawal from efforts to engage in social behaviors (Asendorpf, 1987; Schmidt and Robinson, 1992). Fewer social interactions eventuate in a greater sense of loneliness (Booth, 1990) and fewer opportunities for the pursuit of meaningful relationships with others, a fundamental aspect of healthy self esteem and personal development.
Inconsistent Relationships Between the Components of Diffidence and Alcohol Use
Introversion and Alcohol Use
Introversion has been described as both a personality dimension and a set of behavior patterns that are characterized by an inward intellectual focus, a preference for solitude, avoidance of social situations, discomfort during interactions with casual acquaintances or strangers, but an ability to interact with others when necessary (Bruch et al., 1989). Though introversion is not synonymous with social anxiety, researchers regard it as a subtype of social anxiety because it involves both subjective apprehension and behavioral inhibition (Bruch et al., 1989).
There are puzzling, inconsistent findings in the literature regarding the relationship between this component of diffidence and alcohol use, among college students. For example, some studies indicate a negative relationship between introversion and alcohol use among students (e.g., Bruch et al., 1992, 1997), while others either show no relationship between interpersonal anxiety and alcohol use (e.g., Holroyd, 1978), or a positive relationship (e.g., Hartman, 1986). Research involving the 16 Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) indicates positive correlations between both shyness and drinking as well as social anxiety and drinking, among college students (Brown and Munson, 1987).
While introversion has been found to be both positively and negatively correlated with alcohol use, researchers have failed to demonstrate a clear and consistent relationship. The inconsistent findings pertaining to this first component of diffidence may be attributed to a disparity in the variables each of the original authors measured (e.g., introversion, interpersonal anxiety, shyness, social anxiety). Notwithstanding, Bruch and colleagues (1992) discovered that although no simple bivariate correlation was observed between social anxiety and alcohol use, social anxiety was a positive predictor of alcohol use once expectancies about the effects of alcohol were controlled statistically. This finding has been replicated twice (Bruch et al., 1997; Tran et al., 1997).
Loneliness and Alcohol Use
There are also inconsistent findings pertaining to the relationship between alcohol use and loneliness, the second component of diffidence. Loneliness has been defined as a perceived inadequacy of attachments to others (Gore and Aseltine, 1995), negative introspection, deficient social skills, and absence of supportive social relationships (Sadava and Thompson, 1986). Using the revised UCLA Loneliness Scale, Bonin, et al. (2000) found that higher levels of loneliness are significantly related to greater frequency of intoxication and binge drinking. Conversely, researchers have discovered that adolescents and young adults who report experiencing only a little loneliness also report consuming alcohol more frequently (Barretta et al., 1995; Newcomb and Bentler, 1988). In two other studies, the relationship between loneliness and alcohol use was either negative or nonsignificant. Hays and DiMatteo (1987), for example, found that loneliness was uncorrelated with six different health-related behaviors, including alcohol use, among college students.
Self Esteem and Alcohol Use
Discordant results also describe the relationship between alcohol use and self esteem--a general tendency to hold a positive or negative attitude toward the self, the third component of diffidence (Rosenberg, 1985; Rosenberg and Rosenberg, 1978). In several studies, low self esteem was associated with heavier use of alcohol among college students (Schaeffer et al., 1976) and young adults (Singh and Mustapha, 1994), as well as greater likelihood of college students to consume alcohol to gain peer acceptance and support (Parish and Parish, 1991). Similarly, Maggs (1997) found that low self image emerged as a significant predictor of heavier drinking in college students only after levels of peer acceptance were controlled. Among a sample of adolescents, higher self esteem was correlated with less alcohol use (Trindade and Correia, 1999). In contrast, young adult users of alcohol have been found to score higher in self esteem than nonusers (Sharp and Getz, 1996). It should be noted that all but one of the studies cited here sampled adolescents, college students, or young adults.
Because there are so many inconsistencies linking the three components of diffidence (i.e., introversion, loneliness, and low self esteem) with alcohol use and because Bruch. Tran, and their respective colleagues (Bruch et al., 1992, 1997; Tran et al., 1997) discovered and replicated the suppression finding for one component of diffidence (i.e., expecting alcohol to diminish social anxiety statistically suppresses the negative relationship between introversion and alcohol use), we were interested in exploring whether alcohol expectancies serve a similar function in the relationship between the diffidence composite, as a whole, and alcohol use.
Alcohol expectancies are if-then, cause-effect beliefs about the relationship between alcohol use and the physiological and behavioral consequences or outcomes of alcohol use (Goldman et al., 1991). Alcohol expectancy theory (Goldman et al., 1987) posits that once a person acquires knowledge about a probable relationship between alcohol use and its outcomes, the stored information is used to form expectations about systematic, anticipated consequences of alcohol use in the future. According to the assumptions of alcohol expectancy theory, the cognitive processes that ensue before a person drinks alcohol play an integral role in determining whether the individual will choose to consume alcohol as well as how much alcohol will be consumed. More specifically, according to alcohol expectancy theory, the inclination to initiate drinking, the …