Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 991–1006 | Cite as

The Role of Sensation Seeking and R-rated Movie Watching in Early Substance Use Initiation

  • Tim Janssen
  • Melissa J. Cox
  • Mike Stoolmiller
  • Nancy P. Barnett
  • Kristina M. Jackson
Empirical Research


Adolescence is a time of heightened impulsivity as well as substantial exposure to the effects of popular media. Specifically, R-rated movie content and sensation seeking have been shown to be individually and multiplicatively associated with early alcohol initiation, as well as to mutually influence one another over time. The present study attempts to replicate and extend these findings to cigarette and marijuana use, considering several peer, parental, and individual correlates, as well as substance-specific movie exposure, among 1023 youth (mean age 12.4 years, 52% female), using a combination of cross-lagged path models, latent growth models, and discrete-time survival models. Changes over time were associated between R-rated movie watching and sensation seeking, and both individually, not multiplicatively, predicted earlier alcohol initiation. R-rated movie watching (but not sensation seeking) also predicted earlier smoking and marijuana initiation. Parental R-rated movie restriction may thus potentially delay smoking and marijuana initiation as well as adolescent drinking.


R-rated movies Alcohol use Sensation seeking Smoking Marijuana use Adolescents 


Authors’ Contributions

Authors are Tim Janssen, Melissa J. Cox, Mike Stoolmiller, Nancy P. Barnett, and Kristina M. Jackson. T.J., M.C., M.S., N.B., and K.J. have each made a substantial contribution to the conception, design, gathering, analysis, or interpretation of data and a contribution to the writing and intellectual content of the article. All authors have read and approved the final manuscript for submission.


This study was supported by grants R01 AA016838 (PI: Jackson), K02 AA13938 (PI: Jackson), and T32 AA007459 (PI: Monti) from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and R01 CA01077026 from the National Cancer Institute.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed assent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study, and informed consent was obtained from their parents.


  1. Achenbach, T. M., Verhulst, F. C., Baron, G., & Akkerhuis, G. W. (1987). Epidemiological comparisons of American and Dutch children: I. Behavioral/emotional problems and competencies reported by parents for ages 4 to 16. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 26(3), 317–325.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Arthur, M. W., Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Pollard, J. A. (2000). Student survey of risk and protective factors and prevalence of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. Seattle: University of Washington, Social Development Research Group.Google Scholar
  3. Bandura, A. (1994). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J. Bryant & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  4. Bardo, M. T., Donohew, R. L., & Harrington, N. G. (1996). Psychobiology of novelty seeking and drug seeking behavior. Behavioural Brain Research, 77, 23–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Bartholow, B. D., Sestir, M. A., & Davis, E. B. (2005). Correlates and consequences of exposure to video game violence: Hostile personality, empathy, and aggressive behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1573–1586.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Barrett, P. (2007). Structural equation modelling: Adjudging model fit. Personality and Individual Differences, 42, 815–824.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bell, R. Q. (1968). A reinterpretation of the direction of effects in studies of socialization. Psychological Review, 75, 81–95.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Bloom, E. L., Matsko, S. V., & Cimino, C. R. (2014). The relationship between cigarette smoking and impulsivity: A review of personality, behavioral, and neurobiological assessment. Addiction Research and Theory, 22(5), 386–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bollen, K. A., & Curran, P. J. (2006). Latent curve models: A structural equation perspective (Vol. 467). Malden, MA: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  10. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (2006). The Bioecological Model of Human Development. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, theoretical models of human development (6th ed.). Malden, MA: John Wiley and Sons. Vol. 1.Google Scholar
  12. Brown, J. D., Halpern, C. T., & L’Engle, K. L. (2005). Mass media as a sexual super peer for early maturing girls. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36, 420–427.Google Scholar
  13. Caspi, A., & Moffitt, T. E. (2001). The continuity of maladaptive behavior: From description to understanding of antisocial behavior. In D. Cicchetti & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Vol. 2. Risk, disorder, and adaptation (pp. 472–511). New York, NY: Wiley and Sons, Inc.Google Scholar
  14. Crone, E. A., & Dahl, R. E. (2012). Understanding adolescence as a period of social–affective engagement and goal flexibility. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13(9), 636–650.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Cservenka, A., Herting, M. M., Seghete, K. L. M., Hudson, K. A., & Nagel, B. J. (2013). High and low sensation seeking adolescents show distinct patterns of brain activity during reward processing. Neuroimage, 66, 184–193.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Dal Cin, S., Worth, K. A., Dalton, M. A., & Sargent, J. D. (2008). Youth exposure to alcohol use and brand appearances in popular contemporary movies. Addiction, 103(12), 1925–1932.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. De Leeuw, R. N., Engels, R. C., Vermulst, A. A., & Scholte, R. H. (2008). Do smoking attitudes predict behaviour? A longitudinal study on the bi‐directional relations between adolescents’ smoking attitudes and behaviours. Addiction, 103, 1713–1721.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. De Leeuw, R. N., Sargent, J. D., Stoolmiller, M., Scholte, R. H., Engels, R. C., & Tanski, S. E. (2010). Association of smoking onset with R-rated movie restrictions and adolescent sensation seeking. Pediatrics, 127, e96–e105.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Enders, C. K., & Bandalos, D. L. (2001). The relative performance of full information maximum likelihood estimation for missing data in structural equation models. Structural Equation Modeling, 8, 430–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fuligni, A. J., & Eccles, J. S. (1993). Perceived parent-child relationships and early adolescents’ orientation toward peers. Developmental Psychology, 29, 622–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hampson, S. E., Andrews, J. A., & Barckley, M. (2008). Childhood predictors of adolescent marijuana use: Early sensation-seeking, deviant peer affiliation, and social images. Addictive behaviors, 33(9), 1140–1147.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. Hawkins, J. D., Catalano, R. F., & Miller, J. Y. (1992). Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: Implications for substance abuse prevention. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 64–105.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Hittner, J. B., & Swickert, R. (2006). Sensation seeking and alcohol use: A meta-analytic review. Addictive Behaviors, 31(8), 1383–1401.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Jackson, K. M., Colby, S. M., Barnett, N. P., & Abar, C. C. (2015). Prevalence and correlates of sipping alcohol in a prospective middle school sample. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 776–778.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Jackson K.M., Janssen, T., Barnett, N. P., Rogers, M., Hayes, K., & Sargent, J. (2017). Exposure to alcohol in movies and initiation of early drinking milestones. Manuscript resubmitted for review at Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.Google Scholar
  26. Jackson, K. M., Roberts, M. E., Colby, S. M., Barnett, N. P., Abar, C. C., & Merrill, J. E. (2014). Willingness to drink as a function of peer offers and peer norms in early adolescence. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 75, 404–414.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  27. Janssen, T., Larsen, H., Peeters, M., Pronk, T., Vollebergh, W. A., & Wiers, R. W. (2014). Interactions between parental alcohol-specific rules and risk personalities in the prediction of adolescent alcohol use. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 49, 579–585.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Janssen, T., Larsen, H., Peeters, M., Boendermaker, W. J., Vollebergh, W. A., & Wiers, R. W. (2015). Do online assessed self-report and behavioral measures of impulsivity-related constructs predict onset of substance use in adolescents? Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 12–18.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Jessor, R. (1987). Problem‐behavior theory, psychosocial development, and adolescent problem drinking. Addiction, 82(4), 331–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Johnson, W., Hicks, B. M., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2007). Most of the girls are alright, but some aren’t: Personality trajectory groups from ages 14 to 24 and some associations with outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 266–284.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Kuczynski, L., Marshall, S., & Schell, K. (1997). Value socialization in a bidirectional context. In J. E. Grusec & L. Kuczynski (Eds.), Parenting and the internalization of values: A handbook of contemporary theory (pp. 23–50). New York, NY: Wiley and Sons, Inc.Google Scholar
  32. Lerner, R. M., & Spanier, G. B. (1978). A dynamic interactional view of child and family development. In R. M. Lerner & G. B. Spanier (Eds.), Child influences on marital and family interaction: A life-span perspective (pp. 1–22). San Francisco, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  33. Littlefield, A. K., Sher, K. J., & Wood, P. K. (2009). Is ‘maturing out’ of problematic alcohol involvement related to personality change? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118, 360–374.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Littlefield, A. K., Stevens, A. K., & Sher, K. J. (2014). Impulsivity and alcohol involvement: Multiple, distinct constructs and processes. Current Addiction Reports, 1, 33–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Littlefield, A. K., Stevens, A. K., Ellingson, J. M., King, K. M., & Jackson, K. M. (2016). Changes in negative urgency, positive urgency, and sensation seeking across adolescence. Personality and Individual Differences, 90, 332–337.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  36. Lynam, D. R., Smith, G. T., Whiteside, S. P., & Cyders, M. A. (2006). The UPPS-P: Assessing five personality pathways to impulsive behavior. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University.Google Scholar
  37. Mann, F. D., Kretsch, N., Tackett, J. L., Harden, K. P., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2015). Person×environment interactions on adolescent delinquency: Sensation seeking, peer deviance and parental monitoring. Personality and Individual Differences, 76, 129–134.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Marshal, M. P., & Chassin, L. (2000). Peer influence on adolescent alcohol use: The moderating role of parental support and discipline. Applied Developmental Science, 4, 80–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Masten, A. S., & Cicchetti, D. (2010). Developmental cascades. Development and Psychopathology, 22(3), 491–495.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Muthén, L.K. and Muthén, B.O. (2010). Mplus User’s Guide. 6th edn. Muthén and Muthén, Los Angeles, CA.Google Scholar
  41. Polansky, J. R., Titus, K., Atayeva, R., & Glantz, S. A. (2016). Smoking in top-grossing US movies 2015. San Francisco, CA: Resource document. Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. Accessed 17 May 2017.Google Scholar
  42. Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40, 879–891.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Prinstein, M. J., Boergers, J., & Spirito, A. (2001). Adolescents’ and their friends’ health-risk behavior: Factors that alter or add to peer influence. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 26(5), 287–298.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Quinn, P. D., & Harden, K. P. (2013). Differential changes in impulsivity and sensation seeking and the escalation of substance use from adolescence to early adulthood. Development and Psychopathology, 25, 223–239.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Reis, H. T., & Lee, K. Y. (2016). Promise, peril, and perspective: Addressing concerns about reproducibility in social–personality psychology. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 66, 148–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Roberts, D. F., Henriksen, L., and Christenson, P. G. (1999). Substance Use in Popular Movies and Music. Office of National Drug Control Policy, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  47. Sameroff, A. J., & MacKenzie, M. (2003). Research strategies for capturing transactional models of development: the limits of the possible. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 613–640.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Sargent, J. D., Beach, M. L., Dalton, M. A., Ernstoff, L. T., Gibson, J. J., Tickle, J. J., et al. (2004). Effect of parental R-rated movie restriction on adolescent smoking initiation. Pediatrics, 114(1), 149–156.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Sargent, J. D., Stoolmiller, M., Worth, K. A., Dal Cin, S., Wills, T. A., Gibbons, F. X., et al. (2007). Exposure to smoking depictions in movies: Its association with established adolescent smoking. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 161(9), 849–856.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Sargent, J. D., Wills, T. A., Stoolmiller, M., Gibson, J., & Gibbons, F. X. (2006). Alcohol use in motion pictures and its relation with early-onset teen drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67(1), 54–65.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Sargent, J. D., Worth, K. A., Beach, M., Gerrard, M., & Heatherton, T. F. (2008). Population-based assessment of exposure to risk behaviors in motion pictures. Communication Methods and Measures, 2(1–2), 134–151.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  52. Saunders, J. B., Aasland, O. G., Babor, T. F., De La Fuente, J. R., & Grant, M. (1993). Development of the alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT): WHO collaborative project on early detection of persons with harmful alcohol consumption‐II. Addiction, 88(6), 791–804.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Shulman, E. P., Harden, K. P., Chein, J. M., & Steinberg, L. (2015). Sex Differences in the Developmental Trajectories of Impulse Control and Sensation-Seeking from Early Adolescence to Early Adulthood. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(1), 1–17.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Sijtsma, K., Veldkamp, C. L., & Wicherts, J. M. (2016). Improving the conduct and reporting of statistical analysis in psychology. Psychometrika, 81(1), 33–38.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Singer, J. D., & Willett, J. B. (2003). Applied longitudinal data analysis: Modeling change and event occurrence. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Slater, M. D. (2003). Alienation, aggression, and sensation seeking as predictors of adolescent use of violent film, computer, and website content. Journal of Communication, 53(1), 105–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Slater, M. D. (2007). Reinforcing spirals: The mutual influence of media selectivity and media effects and their impact on individual behavior and social identity. Communication Theory, 17(3), 281–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Slater, M. D., Kelly, K. J., Edwards, R. W., Thurman, P. J., Plested, B. A., & Keefe, T. J., et al. (2006). Combining in-school and community-based media efforts: Reducing marijuana and alcohol uptake among younger adolescents. Health Education Research, 21, 157–167.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Stautz, K., & Cooper, A. (2013). Impulsivity-related personality traits and adolescent alcohol use: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 574–592.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Steinberg, L., Albert, D., Cauffman, E., Banich, M., Graham, S., & Woolard, J. (2008). Age differences in sensation seeking and impulsivity as indexed by behavior and self-report: Evidence for a dual systems model. Developmental Psychology, 44(6), 1764–1778.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Stoolmiller, M., Gerrard, M., Sargent, J. D., Worth, K. A., & Gibbons, F. X. (2010). R-rated movie viewing, growth in sensation seeking and alcohol initiation: Reciprocal and moderation effects. Prevention Science, 11(1), 1–13.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  62. Strasburger, V. C., Wilson, B. J., & Jordan, A. B. (2009). Children, adolescents, and the media. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.Google Scholar
  63. Tanski, S. E., Dal Cin, S., Stoolmiller, M., & Sargent, J. D. (2010). Parental R-rated movie restriction and early-onset alcohol use. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 71, 452–459.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  64. US Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.Google Scholar
  65. VanderVeen, J. D., Hershberger, A. R., & Cyders, M. A. (2016). UPPS-P model impulsivity and marijuana use behaviors in adolescents: A meta-analysis. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 168, 181–190.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  66. Wills, T. A., Gibbons, F. X., Sargent, J. D., Gerrard, M., Lee, H. R., & Dal Cin, S. (2010). Good self-control moderates the effect of mass media on adolescent tobacco and alcohol use: Tests with studies of children and adolescents. Health Psychology, 29(5), 539–549.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  67. Wood, M. D., Read, J. P., Palfai, T. P., & Stevenson, J. F. (2001). Social influence processes and college student drinking: The mediational role of alcohol outcome expectancies. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 62, 32–43.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Wood, M. D., Read, J. P., Mitchell, R. E., & Brand, N. H. (2004). Do parents still matter? Parent and peer influences on alcohol involvement among recent high school graduates. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 19–30.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Worth, K. A., Chambers, J. G., Nassau, D. H., Rakhra, B. K., & Sargent, J. D. (2008). Exposure of US adolescents to extremely violent movies. Pediatrics, 122(2), 306–312.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  70. Yanovitzky, I. (2005). Sensation seeking and adolescent drug use: The mediating role of association with deviant peers and pro-drug discussions. Health Communication, 17(1), 67–89.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  71. Zuckerman, M. (1994). Behavioral expressions and biosocial bases of sensation seeking. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge university press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tim Janssen
    • 1
  • Melissa J. Cox
    • 1
  • Mike Stoolmiller
    • 2
  • Nancy P. Barnett
    • 1
  • Kristina M. Jackson
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Alcohol and Addiction StudiesBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.College of Human MedicineMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

Personalised recommendations