Researchers Develop Role-Playing Model to Assess Young Children's Attitudes Toward Alcohol and Tobacco

From 2000 to 2002, researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center examined attitudes toward tobacco and alcohol products in very young children and their relationship to parental attitudes and behavior toward the same products.

In the study, researchers asked 120 children aged two to six to pretend they were one of four dolls inviting a friend—another doll—over to watch a movie and have something to eat. To get provisions for the friend's visit, the child also 'drove' the doll to the store, which was set up like a grocery store with shelves, refrigerator cases and a checkout counter, where the child could select from a variety of miniature products, including foods, drinks, alcoholic beverages (beer and wine) and cigarettes.

Key Findings

An article on the study was published by the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine (September 2005). It reported the following findings:

  • Children purchased an average of 17 of the 70 products in the experiment's store.
  • Close to two-thirds of the children (62%) bought alcohol and correctly identified it.
  • They were more likely to buy alcohol if their parents drank at least once a month.
  • Twenty-eight percent of the children bought and correctly identified cigarettes.
  • Children were more likely to buy cigarettes if their parents smoked.
  • Children were more likely to purchase alcohol if they watched movies rated for older audiences (PG-13 and R).
  • Parental messages about smoking and alcohol did not predict whether children purchased tobacco and alcohol products.
  • Children mimicked the use of these products by adults almost as if it were scripted.