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Monday, August 8, 2011

Social network influences of alcohol and marijuana cognitive associations

Decision-making is a social process whereby behaviors are often driven by social influences and social consequences. Research shows that social context also plays an integral role in decision-making processes. In particular, evidence suggests that implicit or non-conscious cognitions are linked to social information in memory and that implicit attitudes can be communicated and assimilated between people on an unconscious level.

This study assesses social contagion of implicit cognitions regarding alcohol and marijuana among high school friend networks.

Data are from an evidence-based drug education program delivered by either a health educator or by nominated class leaders over a 3-month period. Implicit attitudes were found to be susceptible to social influences, particularly for alcohol.

Surprisingly, social contagion was stronger for cognitions than for behaviors. In addition, results support prior research that has found that implicit attitudes are not entirely stable and may be more susceptible to change than are behaviors.

Public health initiatives to engender behavioral change could be facilitated by targeting flexible cognitive associations within existing social network structures.

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