Abstract: Exploring the Relationship Between Youth Information Behavior, Substance Use, and Substance Use Expectancies

◆ Sarah Barriage, University of Kentucky
◆ Hye Jeong Choi, University of Missouri
◆ Anne E. Ray, University of Kentucky
◆ Michael L. Hecht, REAL Prevention LLC
◆ Kathryn Greene, Rutgers University
◆ Shannon D. Glenn, REAL Prevention LLC

Information behavior refers to the ways in which “people need, seek, manage, give, and use information in different contexts” (Fisher, Erdelez, & McKechnie, 2005, p. xix). Although health information behavior is a significant area of inquiry in information science, little research in this area has focused on youth information behavior as it relates to substance use specifically. An exception to this is the substantial body of research that has explored the relationship between passive information seeking and youths’ beliefs about and use of substances (for a recent review, see Jackson, Janssen, & Gabrielli, 2018). The aim of this study was to examine the association between additional dimensions of youth information behavior (i.e., active information seeking, information needs, and information use) and their self-reported substance use, as well as use-related expectancies (the beliefs individuals hold about the positive and negative effects of substance use).

This study draws from a community-based randomized controlled trial evaluating an online media literacy curriculum for youth focused on substance use prevention. Four-hundred and forty-six participants between 12 and 17 years of age were recruited from 4-H clubs in eight U. S. states. Participants completed self-report measures of their information behavior and their use of and expectancies regarding the following: cigarettes; electronic vapor products; chewing tobacco, snuff, dip, or snus; cigars, cigarillos, or little cigars; alcohol; and marijuana. The analyses presented here include data from two time periods (pre-test and 3-month post-test).
Regression models were conducted to examine the relationship between information behavior, substance use, and substance use expectancies. Information behavior at post-test was negatively related with positive social expectancies on cigarette (b = -0.12, se = .04, p = .001), vaping (b = -0.19, se = .05, p < .001), chewing (b = -0.15, se = .04, p < .001), and cigar (b = -0.18, se = .04, p < .001) whereas information behavior was not related with alcohol (b = -0.09, se = .05, p = .07) and marijuana (b = -0.09, se = .05, p = .06) expectancy variables. That is, youth who had higher information behavior scores had lower positive social expectancy scores (i.e., more negative expectancies) regarding tobacco products. There was no significant association between information behavior and actual substance use.
Notably, the information behavior – expectancy association was observed for tobacco-related beliefs and not beliefs about alcohol or marijuana. Perhaps this reflects more consistent messaging and information related to negative aspects of tobacco products relative to other substances (e.g., the link between tobacco products and cancer). Given the popularity of alcohol experimentation in youth as well as the changing legal landscape of marijuana, it is possible that youth who seek information on alcohol or marijuana are likely to discover positive messages that counter any negative information they may find.
Future research should continue to explore the relationship between youth information behavior, substance use, and expectancies. Establishing a relationship between these constructs would allow for the development of prevention programs that focus on specific aspects of information behavior related to youth substance use.