Background: Positive expectancies about alcohol’s effects are more likely to be endorsed with increasing age through adolescence, and the strength of positive alcohol expectancies in children appears to differ by ethnicity. Little is known about the extent to which differences in a measure’s psychometric properties as a function of development and ethnicity may account for changes that are observed over time and ethnic differences. This study used measurement invariance methods to examine ethnic differences in the development of alcohol expectancies, and examined risk factors associated with girls’ positive expectancies.
Methods: African-American (56%) and Caucasian (44%) girls (n = 570) in the age 7 cohort of the Pittsburgh Girls Study, and the girl’s primary caretaker, were followed annually for 4 years (ages 7–10). Girls reported on alcohol expectancies at each wave, and physical aggression at Year 1. In Year 1, caretakers reported on neighborhood drug use, their own substance-related problems, and depression in the girl. Structural equation modeling was used to examine measurement invariance of positive alcohol expectancies, and to test associations of risk factors to initial level and change in expectancies.
Results: Five of 8 positive alcohol expectancy items showed measurement equivalence for African-American and Caucasian girls in cross-sectional, but not longitudinal, analyses. Measurement equivalence over ages 7–10 was demonstrated for Caucasian girls, and over ages 7–8 and 9–10 (i.e., a two-part model) for African-American girls. Risk factor analyses indicated that, for Caucasian girls, greater physical aggression was associated with higher initial positive expectancies.
Conclusions: Some developmental change and ethnic differences in the performance of positive expectancy items were identified, highlighting the utility of measurement invariance methods. Risk factor analyses suggest the potential benefit of targeted alcohol prevention interventions for certain girls.