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Psychological Science
Completed Project

Alcohol Misuse and Personality Predict Social Connection in College Students

Laura Townsend ’17 and Allan Clifton (Psychology)

College alcohol misuse is a major public health problem in the United States. Interpersonal factors are deeply involved in this phenomenon, and social network analysis can be useful in ascertaining these factors. Social network analysis is a methodology for quantifying and analyzing the connections among a group of individuals. We present two studies examining how personality traits and drinking behavior predict social connection among college students. In both studies, participants completed measures of alcohol misuse and the five-factor model of personality. They also reported how well they knew all other participants. Study 1 (N=213) was cross-sectional, whereas Study 2 (N=96) was longitudinal - the same data was collected at two time points five weeks apart. Results across the two studies found that alcohol misuse correlated with greater social connection, and that individuals with similar drinking habits were more likely to be connected. Personality traits also predicted social connectedness, but in Study 2, alcohol misuse predicted several measures of social connection over and above personality. Drinking correlated with personality such that people with higher rates of alcohol misuse tended to be more extraverted, more open to experience, and (in Study 2) less conscientious. Between the two time points in Study 2, people with higher alcohol misuse tended to form more new connections. Longitudinal analyses also found that individuals tended to form new connections with others who had levels of alcohol misuse similar to their own. Results suggest that alcohol misuse strongly predicts social connection among college students, and that levels of use can be predicted by personality traits and peer drinking.