Developmental Psychology | Health Psychology

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The development of a clear sense of identity is a key developmental task in adolescence, and recent studies have found that identity synthesis and confusion are associated negatively and positively, respectively, to alcohol use. One alcohol expectancy - tension reduction - coincides with the hypothesis that identity development may prove to be a stressful developmental process, and may thereby serve as a motivator for adolescents to drink when a belief exists that stress can be reduced through alcohol use. In the present study, we examined the mediational effects between identity synthesis and confusion and later alcohol risk via alcohol expectancies and valuations. The sample included 756 adolescents (53% girls; Mage=13.7 years; SD=1.6 years, 41.4% Hispanic, 39.6% non-Hispanic Black, 8.7% non-Hispanic White, 5.2% Asian, and 5.2% Other). Neither identity synthesis nor confusion significantly predicted tension reduction expectancies. Results indicated that tension reduction expectancies at Time 2 positively predicted alcohol risk levels at Time 3 (β=.112, p=.018). Our findings did not fully support our a-priori hypothesis that identity confusion and identity synthesis later predict tension reduction, in turn predicting alcohol risk. Interestingly, however, the findings revealed that identity synthesis did predict declines in expectancy valuations. This research contributes to the current literature and expounds upon the potential interactions between adolescent identity development and alcohol expectancies and specifically, valuations.