Assessing Associations Between Personality Traits And Protective Behavioural Strategies Among Young Female University Students

The study focused on examining the use of “Protective Behavioral Strategies (PBS)” among young female university students. The body of research assessing PBS has been growing in recent times as they can be utilized to help individuals be more responsible and, therefore, safer when drinking. PBS are cognitive-behavioral strategies, such as alternating between water and alcoholic drinks, setting a limit on the number of drinks consumed, or using a designated driver, that can help individuals to reduce their alcohol consumption.

In turn, by reducing alcohol consumption, PBS can help to reduce the number of related negative consequences that someone may experience after alcohol consumption (Martens et al., 2005). For interventions aimed at encouraging responsible drinking behaviors, PBS are seen as potential components that could be utilized by a wide range of individuals and across many environments.

How was this study conducted?

Very few previous examinations of PBS have included personality or a focus on one gender. The current study presented a novel approach by assessing the associations among personality, PBS, alcohol consumption, and sexual behavior in Irish, female university students.

Participants completed six questionnaires online asking about their own personality, PBS use in situations where there were drinking alcohol, social desirability, their level and frequency of alcohol consumption within the last six months, sexual intercourse, and alcohol-related negative sexual consequences at the times when they had consumed alcohol. Everyone who took part in the study was female, between the ages of 18 to 25 years (N = 749, M = 20.22, SD = 1.79), and 92.2% of the sample reported their nationality as Irish.

What was found?

Through hierarchical multiple regression, we found that PBS were significantly associated with sex-related negative consequences, where individuals who used more PBS were less likely to report experiencing sex-related negative consequences. The finding gives further support to the use of PBS for helping these individuals to be safer when drinking and in turn, experience fewer negative consequences. As would be expected from the above results, it was also found that PBS had medium, negative correlations with the level of alcohol frequency and consumption. For the individuals who took part in the study when they used PBS there were more likely to consume less alcohol.

The study included a focus on personality and measured openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Openness was the only personality dimension found to be significantly correlated with sex-related negative consequences. Individuals with high openness scores were more likely to report having experienced sex-related negative consequences.

Caution should be taken when interpreting this result. Higher levels of openness could suggest that these individuals are more willing to report and talk about their alcohol consumption and related sexual experiences, rather than being different in their use of PBS, and associated alcohol and sexual behavior. It could be that these individuals are more open about these experiences than being different in PBS use, alcohol consumption, and/or sexual experiences. Related to this, it was found that openness had a small, positive correlation with PBS use, suggesting that individuals high in openness were more likely to employ PBS, and then potentially consume less alcohol.

How could the results be used in the future?

There is little research examining personality, PBS, alcohol consumption, and sex-related negative consequences in-depth for specific population groups and situations. Therefore, this study with its focus on young, Irish, female university students provides a unique contribution to the literature. Similar to previous investigations, the study did find that those who used more PBS consumed less alcohol and, in turn, reported experiencing fewer sex-related negative consequences.

For young Irish female university students, in particular, it was found that openness was associated with more use of PBS. In practical terms when looking at developing drinking interventions for this group, further investigations need to be conducted to assess the mechanisms for how openness is resulting in more use of PBS. Are these individuals more likely to employ PBS and/or are they more experienced when consuming alcohol because they’re more open to new experiences? Or are they more likely to discuss and report similar experiences to others?

The supportive body of research behind PBS is growing with more evidence showing that their use is linked to lower alcohol consumption and in turn, reductions in sex-related negative consequences. Therefore, it may be possible to develop PBS-based single-component preventative interventions aimed at reducing alcohol consumption, but also more advanced interventions aimed at reducing risky sexual behavior. More in-depth assessments are needed around the associations and mechanism that may exist among personality, PBS, alcohol consumption and sexual behavior before it will be possible to develop successful focused PBS-based preventative interventions.

These findings are described in the article entitled The associations among personality, alcohol-related Protective Behavioural Strategies (PBS), alcohol consumption and sexual intercourse in Irish, female college students, recently published in the journal Addictive Behaviors Reports. This work was conducted by Sinéad Moylett and Brian M. Hughes from the National University of Ireland Galway.