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  • Effects of Team Climate on Substance Use Behaviors, Perceptions, and Attitudes of Student-Athletes at a Large, Public University
  • Jennifer E. Tomon (bio) and S. Raymond Ting (bio)

College student-athletes comprise a special group on the college campus owing to their dual roles as students and athletes. Although many positives are associated with being a student-athlete (Nelson & Wechsler, 2001), researchers have found that this population is faced with unique academic, physical, and social stressors that put student-athletes at greater risk for substance use than their nonathlete peers (e.g., Baer, 2002; Hildebrand, Johnson, & Bogle, 2001; Huang, Jacobs, Derevensky, Gupta, & Paskus, 2007; Presley, Meilman, & Leichliter, 2002; Wilson, Pritchard, & Schaffer, 2004). These studies have indicated that college student-athletes binge drink at higher rates than nonathletes and that binge drinking tends to increase as participation in athletics increases. In addition, Leinfelt and Thompson (2004) found that student-athletes were three times more likely to be arrested for alcohol-related behaviors than nonathletes. However, studies comparing the non-medical drug use of student-athletes and their peers have been inconclusive, with Huang and coworkers (2007) and Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdell, and Grossman (1997) finding lower rates of drug use among college student-athletes compared with the findings of Nattiv and Puffer (1991) and Rockafellow and Saules (2006), which showed higher rates of drug use among the student-athlete population. The work of Rockafellow and Saules has suggested that extrinsic motivation within the athletic community may impact the higher rates of substance use among the student-athlete population.

Bandura's Social Learning Theory

Bandura's Social Learning Theory (1969, 1977) focused on the idea that people learn within a social context of observation, imitation, and modeling (Ormrod, 1999). Bandura's concept of reinforcement may provide insight into the choices student-athletes make in regard to substance use (Bandura, 1977). Bandura described three types of reinforcement: vicarious reinforcement, differential reinforcement, and self-reinforcement. Diacin, Parks, and Allison (2003) found that all of the participating athletes' responses were consistent with the different types of reinforcement discussed by Bandura. Social deviance among student-athletes explains the relationship between Bandura's concepts of reinforcement and the behaviors and attitudes of student-athletes. Hughes and Coakley (1991) found that much of the social deviance that existed within the college student-athlete population resulted from overconformity to the norms and values of the team or sport. Through vicarious reinforcement and differential reinforcement, the student-athletes saw overconformity via participation in behaviors that please coaches and teammates as a necessary means to success and acceptance. [End Page 162]

Social Norms Approach

The social norms approach (Berkowitz & Perkins, 1987; Perkins & Berkowitz, 1986) has become a popular method for reducing high-risk behaviors on college campuses. The theoretical basis for the approach stemmed from the idea that individuals, especially college students, typically overestimate the frequency with which their peers engage in risky behaviors, thus leading to behaviors that coincide with the individuals' misperceptions (Perkins, 2003). Perkins found that when an individual observed peers using substances and was unaware of the peers' typical behavior, an individual assumed that the peers' use of substances was their normal behavior. In addition, people tended to remember the negative behaviors (e.g., those getting drunk versus those not drinking), which contributed to pluralistic ignorance. This ignorance may then lead to behaviors consistent with the perceived norms. For example, Kandel and Yamaguchi (1999) and Peters and coworkers (2005) found that the behaviors of one's peers were the largest indicators of marijuana use and ephedrine use, respectively.

The research of Perkins (2003) and Martens and associates (2006) found that most college students perceive substantially more substance use than what really occurs among college students. The findings also revealed that students who would normally drink moderately based on their own inclinations might drink more heavily if they believe that to be the expectation of their peer group. Also, students who are heavy drinkers might perceive themselves to be in the majority, thus not seeking to remedy their negative behaviors. Perkins (2003) found in his own research and in an extensive review of other social norms studies that the perception of substance use behaviors and attitudes of other college...


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