Trolian, T.L., B.P. An, and E.T. Pascarella. 2016. “Are There Cognitive Consequences of Binge Drinking During College?” Journal of College Student Development, 57 (8), 1009–1026.
Teniell L. Trolian, Brian P. An, and Ernest T. Pascarella found that the influence of binge drinking during college depends on the students’ entry level of critical thinking. More specifically, those students who entered college with lower levels of critical thinking ability experienced the negative effects of binge drinking during college. The authors put this finding into sharp perspective by stating “binge drinking during college functioned to exacerbate further the cognitive deficit of students who started college with the least well-developed critical thinking skills” (p. 1021).
Trolian et al. ask the important question: Does college student binge drinking negatively affect the critical thinking abilities of undergraduate college students? The authors use data compiled by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to point out that 80 percent of college students drink and about 50 percent of these students engage in binge drinking. More specifically, binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks in a row for males and four or more drinks in a row for females. The NIAAA regards binge drinking as high risk or dangerous drinking.
DISCUSSION OF THE FINDINGS
The authors suggest that binge drinking may affect the cognitive ability of college students as it changes their sleep habits. They suggest that diminished academic performance results from increased sleepiness during the day brought on by disruptions in the students’ sleep. Moreover, an increase in neurocognitive deficiencies also occurs because of binge drinking and negatively affects the learning and intellectual development of college students who binge drink. Such negative effects on the learning and intellectual development of college students harm the development of their critical thinking abilities.
Trolian et al. used the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) Critical Thinking Test developed by the American College Testing Program. The Critical Thinking Test is a reliable instrument with high concurrent validity with other measures of critical thinking. This test of critical thinking was administered to a longitudinal panel of 826 students who participated in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education (WNS). The students took the CAAP Critical Thinking Test in the late summer/early fall of 2006 and again in spring 2010. Thus, this study used a pretest-posttest design. The WNS consists of student samples from 17 four-year colleges and universities, including 11 liberal arts colleges, three research universities, and three regional univer-sities.
The authors used ordinary least-squares regression to determine the influence of students’ binge drinking behavior on their critical thinking abilities at the end of the fourth year of college. Binge drinking behavior during college was an independent variable of this study’s pretest-posttest design, and the dependent variable was critical thinking abilities at the end of the fourth year of college. The authors also controlled for other factors that might influence the critical thinking abilities of students, such as pre-college levels of critical thinking (the late summer/early fall 2006 administration of the CAAP Critical Thinking Test), pre-college academic ability (ACT Composite Test score), and pre-college academic motivation.
The results indicate that that the influence of binge drinking during college depends on the students’ entry level of critical thinking. Those with initial lower critical thinking skills were more negatively impacted by binge drinking.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ACTION BY CAMPUS LEADERS
CIC member institutions espouse the development of critical thinking abili-ties as an important outcome of an undergraduate education. Consequently, the findings of this study should signal both a policy and pragmatic alarm for CIC member institutions. The negative effects of binge drinking on critical thinking joins a list of other negative outcomes involving student health and safety. Although the incidence of both drinking in general and binge drinking in particular may vary across college campuses whether they are public or private, the adverse influence of binge drinking on critical thinking provides an incentive for CIC member institutions to devote further attention to what the authors call a “wicked problem” (p. 1022).
Such attention begins with a review of the literature on institutional approaches to reducing college binge drinking. CIC leaders may wish to delegate the responsibility for enacting such institutional approaches to the chief student affairs officer of their institution.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Tenielle L. Trolian is assistant professor of educational administration and policy studies at the University of Albany, State University of New York.
Brian P. An is associate professor of educational policy and leadership studies at the University of Iowa.
Ernest T. Pascarella is professor and Mary Louise Peterson Chair of Higher Education at the University of Iowa.
LITERATURE READERS MAY WISH TO CONSULT
There are three categories of references that readers may wish to consult to further their understanding of student alcohol use. The first two categories include some of the references cited in the article by Trolian et al. and the final category includes links to on-line resources:
Reduction of College Binge Drinking Behaviors
Carter, C.A., and W.M. Kahnweiler. 2000. “The Efficacy of the Social Norms Approach to Substance Abuse Prevention Applied to Fraternity Men.” Journal of American College Health, 49, 66–71.
Institutional Approaches to Curb Binge Drinking
Bishop, J.B., T.T. Downs, and D. Cohen. 2008. “Applying an Environmental Model to Address High-Risk Drinking: A Town/Gown Case Study.” Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 22(4), 3–16.
Buettner, C., D. Andrews, and M. Glassman. 2009. “Development of a Student Engagement Approach to Alcohol Prevention: The Pragmatics Project.” Journal of American College Health, 58, 33–38.
Glassman, T., N. Haughton, J. Wohlwend, S. Roberts, T. Jordan, F. Yingling, and A. Blavos. 2013. “A Health Communication Intervention to Reduce High-Risk Drinking among College Students.” Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 50, 355–372.
Ziemelis, A., R. Bucknam, and A. Elfessi. 2002. “Prevention Efforts Underlying Decreases in Binge Drinking at Institutions of Higher Education.” Journal of American College Health, 50, 238–252.
Harding, F.M., and K. Kruger. 2016. “Addressing Violence, Substance Abuse, and Mental Health Concerns among College Students.” Future Directions for Prevention in Higher Education. NASPA: Student Affairs Educators in Higher Education.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)—College Drinking: Changing the Culture