The development of children's knowledge of alcohol and the role of drinking

Lawrence S. Gaines, Penelope H. Brooks, Stephen Maisto, Mary Dietrich, Maureen Shagena

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34 Scopus citations


Eighty children in kindergarten and grades 3, 6, and 8 were interviewed regarding their understanding of adult drinking and their knowledge of the rules of drinking. Understanding of adult drinking motives was assessed by asking them to interpret drinking episodes portrayed in brief vignettes. Their knowledge of drinking rules was inferred from answers to questions on where people drink, who can drink, how much is a lot to drink, and who decides the age of legal drinking. Children were also given a series of questions to assess their knowledge of physical causality. In addition, their parents were interviewed to determine their drinking frequency (in view of the children) and their attempts to talk with their children about drinking. The results indicated that children's understanding of adults' drinking motives followed closely a developmental model. Their motive scores were correlated with physical causality scores and, in the third grade, with their parents' drinking frequency. Girls' motive scores were significantly and consistently more mature than boys' scores. Furthermore, there was a significant relationship between children's stated intentions to drink and their parents' drinking frequency. The results are discussed in terms of the complexity of the concept of drinking; different dimensions have different developmental functions. Some aspects of drinking knowledge conform to other cognitive developmental phenomena (e.g., physical causality) while others are related to specific social context (e.g., parental drinking).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)441-457
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Applied Developmental Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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