Does Learning About the Effects of Alcohol on the Developing Brain Affect Children's Alcohol Use?
OBJECTIVE To assess age differences in children's beliefs about the long-term health effects of alcohol and cocaine, to use such beliefs to predict attitudes toward and intentions to use these substances, and to establish whether accurate beliefs are more predictive than inaccurate ones. METHODS Children ages 6 to 12 (N: = 217) responded to an open-ended question about the effects of long-term alcohol and cocaine use and to 12 structured questions asking whether each produces alcohol-like, cocaine-like, and tobacco-like effects. RESULTS Differentiation among alcohol, cocaine, and tobacco effects was limited but increased with age. Beliefs about health effects had no impact on alcohol attitudes and intentions, but intentions to drink were stronger among older and white children. Anti-cocaine attitudes and intentions were associated with being older and non-White and with having accurate knowledge of cocaine's true health effects-but also with believing falsely that cocaine has tobacco-like effects and that drugs in general have catastrophic effects. CONCLUSIONS With age, and as predicted by Werner's orthogenetic principle, children differentiated more sharply between substances. Although negative misconceptions can contribute to anti-drug attitudes and intentions, children should nonetheless be taught about the distinct effects of different substances on health.