Adolescent Compulsive Consumption: Issues in Motivation, Identification and Prevention

Joan Scattone, New York University
Durairaj Maheswaran, New York University
[ to cite ]:
Joan Scattone and Durairaj Maheswaran (1995) ,"Adolescent Compulsive Consumption: Issues in Motivation, Identification and Prevention", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, eds. Frank R. Kardes and Mita Sujan, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 498-499.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 22, 1995      Pages 498-499


Joan Scattone, New York University

Durairaj Maheswaran, New York University

Compulsive consumption involves behaviors that are very difficult to control through reason and willpower and are often associated with negative consequences (Hirschman 1992). Studies have reported that there has been a considerable increase in drug, alcohol and cigarette consumption during the last decade and more important, such consumption is growing among adolescents. For example, a recent survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control found that smoking is on the increase among high school and college students whereas it has remained stagnant among the older segments of the population. In addition, a study of 212,802 students in 1,588 schools and 34 states revealed that the use of drugs increased during the 1991-92 school year after a three year plateau (PRIDE 1992). Fifty-six percent of high school students and thirty percent of students in grades 6-8 reported using at least one of the three primary "gateway" drugs: liquor, beer, or marijuana. These figures highlight the continuing importance of research intended to enhance our understanding of the factors that influence the consumption of illicit substances by young people.

In order to effectively combat the prevalence of such behaviors and design effective communication strategies and successful intervention programs, it is important to understand the whys of such behaviors. While some consumer research has addressed the importance of such addictive consumption among adults (Hirschman 1992), relatively little systematic empirical research has addressed the issues related to compulsive consumption among adolescents (Rose, Bearden and Teel 1992). The objectives of this special session were threefold. First it attempted to create awareness among consumer researchers of this important social issue by sharing three relevant papers in a discussion format. Second, it examined the underlying psychological processes, motivations and factors that influence adolescent compulsive consumption. Finally, implications for prevention strategies (e.g. public service advertising) based on the findings of these studies were discussed.

The first presentation, "Factors Influencing Adolescent Drug Use: An Attributional Analysis" by F. Robert Shoaf, Joan Scattone, Durairaj Maheswaran and Maureen Morrin, examined the impact of gender and education on conforming behavior using an attribution theory framework. In general, the study confirmed the results of Rose (1992) relating attributional thought, particularly that of an external nature, to a decline in intentions to conform with a group's marijuana use. Gender-based differences were found in intentions to conform and the nature (i.e. locus) of attributional thought. Females' weaker intentions to conform were viewed partly as a function of their tendency to be less likely to make internal attributions and more likely to make external attributions for their friends' drug use than males. However, gender based differences persisted only through high school and undergraduate levels of education. At the graduate level, males and females displayed no differences in their intentions to conform or the nature of their attributional thought. Both genders displayed an increasing tendency to make internal attributions and a decreasing tendency to make external attributions as education increased.

The second presentation, "Conformity in Illicit Consumption: the Effects of Attitude, Attribution and Group Attractiveness", by Randall Rose, William Bearden and Kenneth Manning further examined the relationship between attributions and conformity. While the association between attributional thinking and conformity intentions was found to be robust in the Rose et al. (1992) studies, the mechanisms underlying the observed relationships had not been studied. The current research provided information regarding why a program based on introducing biases toward external attributions for illicit consumption may work to reduce conformity. This is a meaningful contribution because it has been noted elsewhere that intervention programs tend to be complex and multifaceted. Consequently, it is not always clear what components of a given program are effective or ineffective in reducing illicit consumption (Beisecker 1991). Therefore, in order to design more efficient and effective intervention programs, research is needed that addresses fundamental process issues. This presentation described three studies designed to identify the processes underlying the associations between attributions and conformity observed in prior research. Results from Study 1 indicated that attitude toward marijuana use and reported marijuana usage affect the explanations made to account for a peer group's illicit consumption. In Studies 2 and 3, support was obtained for group attractiveness as a mediator of the effects of external attributions on conformity intentions. The implications of these findings for theory, insights regarding intervention programs, and suggestions for future research were also discussed.

The third presentation, by Cornelia Pechmann and Susan Knight, discussed their research on "Identifying and Classifying Adolescent Smoker Attributes Using a Modification of the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET)." They examined youths' positive and negative perceptions of teenage smokers. Their goal was to create a better perceptual measure of smoking and anti-smoking ad effects. Earlier measures were incomplete, lacked uniformity and dimensionality, and used biased, adult-oriented wording. To determine smoker traits, Pechmann and Knight used a ZMET modification (Zaltman and Higie 1993). Youths aged 13-15 made individual collages and discussed these in focus groups. The data (collages, audiotaped discussions, and research observations) were analyzed using HyperQual software. Six underlying construct categories (plus one Global category) were identified: Social Facility, Self-Governance, Internal Welfare (Spranger 1955), Sex Appeal (Erikson 1950), Material Welfare (Havighurst 1951), and Health. Several differences were noted due to gender and smoking orientation (Never Smokers, Vulnerables, and Smokers). The underlying theory involves impression management (Schlenker 1980) and attributions due to correspondent inferences (Jones and Davis 1965). The final measure, consisting of 26 semantic differential items, is being tested for reliability and validity.

Among the three presentations there was convergent evidence for the differential impact of external and internal attributions on adolescents' tendencies to consume drugs such as tobacco and marijuana. The Rose and Pechmann and Knight papers shed some light on the mediating impact of group attractiveness. Shoaf and Pechmann and Knight provided evidence of gender-based differences in motivations for engaging in compulsive consumption among adolescents.

The discussant, Manoj Hastak, gave credence to the importance of this research topic, the paucity of research and the particular difficulty associated with data collection in this area. He pointed out that this session focused specifically on preventing the initiation of addictive behaviors and explaining the onset of such behaviors with respect to social influence and underlying cognitive mechanisms. Several mediation and measurement issues were discussed as potential sources for additional research. These included examining the impact of prior attitudes and the sequence of attributional thoughts, assessing whether attributional effects differ for individuals who are neutral or undecided and comparing cognitive responses to belief ratings in evaluating the underlying cognitive processes.


Beisecker, Analee E. (1991), "Interpersonal Approaches to Drug Abuse Prevention," in Persuasive Communication and Drug Abuse Prevention, eds. Lewis Donohew, Howard E. Sypher, and William J. Bukoski, Hilldale, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, 229-238.

Erikson, E. H. (1950), Childhood and Society, New York: W.W. Norton.

Havighurst, R. J. (1951), Developmental Tasks and Education, New York: Longmans, Green.

Hirschman, E. (1992) "The Consciousness of Addiction: Toward a General Theory of Compulsive Consumption", Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (September), 155-179.

Jones, E. E., and K. E. Davis (1965), "From Acts to Dispositions: The Attribution Process in Person Perception," in L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 2, 219-266, San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

PRIDE Survey of Alcohol and Other Drug Use (1992), National Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education, Atlanta, Georgia, 30303.

Rose, Randall L., Bearden, William O. and Teel, Jesse E. (1992) "An Attributional Analysis of Resistance to Group Pressure Regarding Illicit Drug and Alcohol Consumption", Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (September), 1-13.

Schlenker, Barry R. (1980), Impression Management: the Self-Concept, Social Identity, and Interpersonal Relations, Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Spranger, E. (1955), Psychologie des Jugendalters, 24 ed., Heidelberg: Quelle and Meyer.

Zaltman, Gerald, and Robin A. Higie (1993), "Seeing the Voice of the Customer: The Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique," Marketing Science Institute working paper.