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The role of personality dispositions to risky behavior in predicting first-year college drinking


Gregory T. Smith, 124 Kastle Hall, Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0044, USA. E-mail:


Aims  US college student drinking is associated with enormous risks to health, safety and productivity. Recent advances in personality research that have delineated multiple, separate dispositions to engage in risky behaviors may help to clarify the personality contribution to risk for this problem.

Design  The authors compared the prospective roles of sensation seeking, lack of planning, lack of perseverance, negative urgency and positive urgency (dispositions to engage in rash action when in an unusually negative or positive mood, respectively) in predicting increases in drinking frequency, drinking quantity and negative outcomes from consumption across the first year of college.

Setting  University of Kentucky campus.

Participants  A total of 418 first-year US college students enrolled in an Introduction to Psychology course during the first assessment; 293 participants completed both phases of the study.

Measurements  Participants completed self-report measures of personality and drinking behavior twice during the first year of college [the UPPS-R Impulsive Behavior Scale, positive urgency measure (PUM) and Drinking Styles Questionnaire (DSQ)].

Findings  Whereas sensation seeking related to increases in the frequency with which college students drank alcohol, positive urgency predicted increases in (i) the quantity of alcohol students consumed at any given drinking episode and (ii) negative outcomes experienced from drinking.

Conclusions  It appears that although sensation seeking is a risk factor for participation in drinking behaviors, risk for increased quantity of consumption and its negative outcomes may be more a function of dyscontrol stemming from high positive mood for college students.