PULLMAN, Wash. — Media perceptions play an influential role in shaping
children’s decision making about alcohol, according to a new study by
Washington State University researchers. The study, to be published in the
February 2000 edition of Pediatrics, states that the process is well underway by
third grade.

“Beer advertisers are targeting kids very effectively, whether or not they
intend to do so,” said coauthor Erica Austin, associate professor of
communication at WSU’s Edward R. Murrow School of Communication.

“We find that children who like beer ads tend to like toy trucks and piggy
banks with alcohol logos, and this can lead them to drink the real thing once
they have the chance,” she said.

The article focuses on the subtleties of when and how media effects happen,
Austin explained. By tracing important benchmarks in children’s decision
making about media and alcohol for different age groups, the study suggests
how children actually progress from exposure to behavior as they get older.

Coauthored by Austin’s colleagues, Bruce Pinkleton and Yuki Fujioka at the
Murrow School of Communication, the study is the first of its kind to compare
“pre-drinking” with actual drinking behavior among high school students —
specifically ninth and 12th graders.

“Parents want to blame the media, but the reality is that they have a much
stronger influence on their children’s decision to drink than they may realize,”
Pinkleton said. “They need to help kids see the fallacies in alcohol portrayals
that seem desirable but are untrue or misleading.”

Austin and Christopher Knaus will examine how the prebehavior measure
compares with drinking among younger children in a forthcoming study of
third, sixth, and ninth graders in the Journal of Health Communication.

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