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Sensation-seeking and alcohol use

Abstract
Sensation-seeking is associated with likelihood of engaging in risky behaviours such as alcohol use and drug abuse. In this study, a sample 100 University students and members of general public were studied on sensation-seeking in relation to age, sex and alcohol use. Pearson correlation studies, Chi-Square test and independent t-test were carried out using SPSS to identify the relationship between the variables. The study shows that sensation-seeking decreases with age, sensation-seeking is higher in males than in females, alcohol use is dependent on sensation-seeking and increased alcohol taking is associated with high levels of sensation-seeking.

Introduction
According to Zuckerman and Kuhlman (2000, p. 1000), sensation-seeking is a personality trait is characterized by a tendency to seek “varied, novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences, and the willingness to take physical, social, legal, and financial risks for the sake of such experience.” Individuals with the sensation-seeking trait are likely to indulge in risky behaviours such as heavy drinking, risky sexual behaviours, and drug abuse. High sensation seekers perceive risks to be lower compared to low sensation seekers even if they have no prior experience in a particular activity. At the same time, high sensation seekers are less anxious when engaging in risky activities compared to low sensation seekers. Resultantly, high sensation seekers have a higher likelihood of being involved in risky behaviours than low sensation seekers (Zuckerman & Kuhlman, 2000). Ball, Farnill and Wangeman (1984) have shown that levels of sensation seeking are higher in males compared to females, with sensation-seeking tendencies declining with age. In this paper, it is hypothesized that sensation-seeking declines with increase in age. In addition, males have higher levels of sensation seeking than females. Alcohol use is dependent on levels of sensation seeking and increased alcohol taking is associated with high levels of sensation seeking.
Method
            The population of this study comprised of University students and members of the general community. A sample size of 100 participants was selected (50 females and 50 males). Additionally, the youngest participant was 18 years old whereas the oldest participant was 52 years old. SPSS was used to analyze data in this study. Pearson correlation analysis was performed to determine the relationship between sensation-seeking and age. To determine the whether there is a significant difference between males and females on levels of sensation-seeking; an independent samples t-test was conducted. Chi-square analysis was used to determine whether levels of alcohol use are dependent on sensation-seeking group. To determine the degree and magnitude of the relationship between sensation-seeking and alcohol use, Pearson correlation was performed.
Results
Relationship between sensation-seeking and age
            According to Table I (see appendix), the mean age for the sample is 26.52 years with a standard deviation of 8.18. The mean sensation-seeking score for the same sample is 31.78 whereas the standard deviation is 6.21. One hundred-pair scores have been used to form a sample for the above working, hence N=100.
The correlation coefficient between age and sensation-seeking score is a negative 0.215. This correlation coefficient is computed at 0.05 significance level and it is a 2-tailed test. The Pearson correlation coefficient between age and age is 1 and the correlation coefficient between sensation-seeking is 1. The Pearson correlation coefficient value of indicates a perfect association between two variables (age/age and sensation-seeking/sensation-seeking). Since there is no variation between age and age or sensation-seeking score and sensation-seeking score, then there is no significance level for these two pairs of variables. As a result, SPSS displays a dot (.). One hundred-pair scores have been used to form a sample for the above working, hence N=100 (Table 2).
The Pearson correlation coefficient is significant because the value is beyond 0.05 level (2-tailed). The significance is large since it is greater than 0.05 (0.215>0.05). The negative correlation indicates that there is a reverse relationship between age and sensations-seeking score. Therefore as the age of an individual increases, the level of sensation-seeking decreases implying that a one percent increase in age causes a 21.50 percent decrease in the level of sensation-seeking (Table 2).
Difference between males and females on sensation-seeking
Sex of the participants is the independent variable in this analysis while sensation-seeking is the dependent variable. Table 3 indicates the mean for sensation-seeking for males is 34.20 whereas the mean for females is 29.36. The standard deviation for sensation-seeking for males is 4.84 whereas the standard deviation for females is 6.52. Fifty-pair scores have been used to form a sample for the above working, hence N=50.
From Table 4, it is evident that Levene’s test for equality of variances is shown here. The Levene’s test for equality of variances of sex and sensation-seeking provides that the P-value is 0.02. The t-test value for equal variances is 4.212 and has an exact 2-tailed significance level of 0.000. The difference between sensation-seeking score for males and females is 4.84 (mean for male is 34.20 while that of females is 29.36). The t-test value (4.212) is almost equivalent to the mean difference for sensation-seeking in males and females (4.840). The 95% confidence interval of this difference is 2.559 to 7.121. (CI 95%; 2.559-7.121). Since this interval does not include zero, the difference is thus statistically significant at the 2-tailed 5 percent level. The P-value (0.000) of the t-value also shows that the mean sensation score for males and females is significantly different, that is to say P (0.000<0.05). From the Levene’s test, it should be noted that if the probability value is statistically significant, then the variance for sex and sensation-seeking are assumed not to be equal. For this case, Levene’s test for equality of variance shows that variances are not equal because the p value of 0.02 is statistically significant (Table 4). For this reason, this interpretation is based only on the first row preceded by “Equal variances assumed.” The mean for sensation-seeking for males is significantly higher than that of females. From this observation, it is clear that males have a higher level of sensation-seeking than females thus qualifying the hypothesis. Alcohol and levels of sensation-seeking A cross-tabulation of sensation-seeking group versus drinker category is presented in two rows and three columns (Table 5). Taking the row “Low sensation-seeking”, the observed counts for light drinker, moderate drinker and heavy drinker are 25, 20 and 11 respectively. This means that there are 25 light drinkers who are in the low sensation-seeking group, 20 moderate drinkers, and 11 heavy drinkers in the low sensation seeking group. The expected counts for light drinkers in the low sensation-seeking group are 17.4, 20.2 for moderate drinkers and 18.5 for heavy drinkers. In the high sensation-seeking group, the observed count for light drinkers is 6, 16 for moderate drinkers and 22 for heavy drinkers. On the other hand, the expected counts for high sensation-seeking group are 13.6 for light drinkers, 15.8 for moderate drinkers and 14.5 for heavy drinkers (Table 5). The Pearson Chi-Square value is 14.525, the degrees of freedom are 2 while the exact 2-tailed probability is 0.001 (Table 6). A Chi-square test carried out on the data on sensation-seeking groups versus alcohol drinking categories was significant at 5 percent level. This is because the P value of 0.001 is less than the alpha value of 0.05 [p (0.001<0.05)]. The Pearson Chi-Square value obtained here is also greater than the critical Chi-Square value at 5 percent level (2df) and thus a reason why it is concluded to be significant. The critical Chi-Square value at 5 percent level and 2 df is 5.991 (NIST SEMATECH, 2010). Since this is less than the calculated Chi-Square value of 14.525, then the value 14.525 is significant. It is therefore concluded that alcohol use is dependent on levels of sensation seeking.   Relationship between sensation-seeking and alcohol use The mean sensation-seeking score is 31.78 whereas the mean for alcohol use score is 6.72. The standard deviation for sensation-seeking score is 6.21 whereas the standard deviation for alcohol use score is 4.43 (Table 7). One hundred-pair scores have been used to form a sample for the above working, hence N=100. According to Table 8, the correlation coefficient between sensation-seeking score and alcohol use score is 0.359 computed at 0.05 significance level using a 2-tailed test. The Pearson correlation is statistically significant since it is above 0.01 level (2-tailed). The significance is large because it is greater than 0.01 (0.359>0.01).The Pearson correlation coefficient between sensation-seeking score and sensation seeking score is 1. Similarly, the Pearson correlation coefficient between alcohol use score and alcohol use score is 1. One hundred-pair scores have been used to form a sample for the above working, hence N=100. A correlation coefficient of 1 indicates a perfect association between either sensation-seeking score versus sensation-seeking score or alcohol use score versus alcohol use score. Since there is no variation between sensation-seeking score and sensation-seeking score or alcohol use score and alcohol use score, then there is no significance level for these pairs of variables. This is resultantly displayed as a dot (.) in SPSS (Table 8).
The above (Table 8) correlation coefficient (between sensation-seeking score and alcohol use score) is significant at 5 percent (0.05) level. This is because the probability of achieving this correlation coefficient by chance is (0.359) or 35.9%. There is a positive relationship between sensation-seeking score and alcohol use score. This indicates that as sensation-seeking level increases, alcohol use increases. In other words, a 1% change in sensation-seeking causes 35.9% change in level of alcohol use.
Discussion
            In this study, the main focus is on sensation-seeking in relation to age, sex, and alcohol use. Sensation-seeking has been found to be negatively related to age such that an increase in age leads to a reduction in sensation-seeking tendencies. It is therefore evident that the hypothesis that sensation seeking decreases with age has been supported. According to Ball, Farnhill and Wangeman (1984), sensation-seeking tendency has been found to reduce with age. This is a confirmation that the findings in this study are in tandem with previous studies on levels of sensation in relationship to age. Biologically, sensation-seeking declines with age because of “decline in augmenting vs. reducing of average evoked potential, increase in monoamine oxidase, and weakening of the magnitude of the electrodermal orienting reflex” (Ball, Farnill & Wangeman, 1984, p 258).
The second hypothesis in this study was that sensation-seeking is higher in males than females. The findings of this study strongly support this hypothesis since males have been found to have higher levels of sensation-seeking than females. This finding is consistent with a previous study done by Zuckerman and Kuhlman (2000) who identified risk taking (associated with sensation-seeking) to be higher in male students than in females. In a different study, Ball, Farnill and Wangeman (1984) also identified that levels of sensation-seeking were higher in males than in females mainly because of differing social experiences. Therefore, hormonal differences in males and females have been ruled out as the main factor determining differences in sensation-seeking among males and females.
The third hypothesis states that alcohol use is dependent on sensation-seeking. From this study, it has been found that heavy drinkers are mainly classified high sensation-seeking individuals while light drinkers are mainly clustered in the low sensation-seeking category. There are only a few high sensation seeking individuals who are light drinkers and equally, only a few low sensation-seeking individuals are heavy drinkers. It is therefore clear that the hypothesis has been supported by this study. Baer (2002) reports similar findings among college students where drinking in more common among students who display sensation-seeking tendencies.
Finally, it is evident that sensation-seeking is positively associated with alcohol use thus supporting the hypothesis that increased alcohol taking is associated with high levels of sensation-seeking. An increase in levels of sensation-seeking results to an increase in alcohol use as indicated in this study. Similar findings have been reported by Baer (2002, p. 40) whereby “a pattern of impulsivity/sensation-seeking is strongly related to increased drinking among students.”
 
 

References
Baer J. S. (2002). Student factors: Understanding individual variation in
college drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 14, 40-53. Available on DSO
Ball, I. L., Farnhill, D., & Wangeman, J. F. (1984). Sex and age differences in
sensation-seeking: Some national comparisons. British Journal of
Psychology, 75, 257-265. Available on DSO.
NIST SEMATECH. (2010).’Critical values of the Chi-Square distribution’ in NIST/SEMATECH e-Handbook of Statistical Methods. Retrieved 25, Aug. 2010 from http://www.itl.nist.gov/div898/handbook/eda/section3/eda3674.htm
Zuckerman, M. & Kuhlman, M. D. (2000). Personality and risk-taking:
Common biosocial factors. Journal of Personality, 68(6), 999–1029. Available
on DSO.
 
Appendix
Table 1: Descriptive Statistics for Age and Sensation Seeking Score
Descriptive Statistics

Mean
Std. Deviation
N

Age
26.520
8.1792
100

Sensation-Seeking Score
31.7800
6.21269
100

 
 
Table 2: Pearson Correlation between Age and Sensation-Seeking Score
Correlations

Age
Sensation-Seeking Score

Age
Pearson Correlation
1
-.215(*)

Sig. (2-tailed)
.
.031

N
100
100

Sensation-Seeking Score
Pearson Correlation
-.215(*)
1

Sig. (2-tailed)
.031
.

N
100
100

* Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).
 
 
Table 3: Group Statistics for Sex and Sensation-Seeking Score
Group Statistics

Sex
N
Mean
Std. Deviation
Std. Error Mean

Sensation-Seeking Score
male
50
34.2000
4.84452
.68512

female
50
29.3600
6.52393
.92262

 
 
 
 
Table 4: Independent Samples Test for Sex and Sensation-Seeking Score
Independent Samples Test

Levene’s Test for Equality of Variances
t-test for Equality of Means

F
Sig.
t
df
Sig. (2-tailed)
Mean Difference
Std. Error Difference
95% Confidence Interval of the Difference

Lower
Upper

Sensation-Seeking Score
Equal variances assumed
5.589
.020
4.212
98
.000
4.84000
1.14918
2.55948
7.12052

Equal variances not assumed
4.212
90.439
.000
4.84000
1.14918
2.55710
7.12290

 
Table 5: Sensation-seeking Group versus Drinker Category Crosstabulation
Sensation-seeking group * Drinker Category Crosstabulation

Drinker Category
Total

Light drinker
Moderate drinker
Heavy drinker

Sensation-seeking group

Low sensation-seeking
Count
25
20
11
56

Expected Count
17.4
20.2
18.5
56.0

High sensation-seeking
Count
6
16
22
44

Expected Count
13.6
15.8
14.5
44.0

Total
Count
31
36
33
100

Expected Count
31.0
36.0
33.0
100.0

 
 
 
 
Table 6: Chi-Square Tests
Chi-Square Tests

Value
df
Asymp. Sig. (2-sided)

Pearson Chi-Square
14.525(a)
2
.001

Likelihood Ratio
15.252
2
.000

Linear-by-Linear Association
14.361
1
.000

N of Valid Cases
100

a 0 cells (.0%) have expected count less than 5. The minimum expected count is 13.64.
 
 
 
Table 7: Descriptive Statistics for Sensation Seeking Score versus Alcohol Use Score
Descriptive Statistics

Mean
Std. Deviation
N

Sensation-Seeking Score
31.7800
6.21269
100

Alcohol Use Score
6.7200
4.43148
100

 
 
 
Table 8: Pearson Correlation for Sensation Seeking vs. Alcohol Score
Correlations

Sensation-Seeking Score
Alcohol Use Score

Sensation-Seeking Score
Pearson Correlation
1
.359(**)

Sig. (2-tailed)
.
.000

N
100
100

Alcohol Use Score
Pearson Correlation
.359(**)
1

Sig. (2-tailed)
.000
.

N
100
100

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
 

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