Understanding children's thinking about alcohol advertisements on television : a cognitive developmental approach
A theoretical understanding of the nature of knowledge and its development in children was applied to an under-researched area: children's thinking about television alcohol advertisements. Methodologies were developed which recognise that children have multiple ways of thinking about things, that learning is a dynamic process and that knowledge is not always available for verbal report. Research took two complementary routes. Firstly, cross-sectional studies with children aged 7 to 10 tapped into children's implicit, pre-explicit and explicit knowledge, by means of a categorisation study, a story style paradigm and interviews. Children of all ages found television alcohol advertisements attractive and particular styles of advertising, e. g. humour, cartoon format or the inclusion of an animal, increased the popularity of an advertisement. Children's pre-explicit and explicit responses appeared to be biased by the development of alcohol knowledge. Secondly, a longitudinal study followed a group of over 100 children aged 9 for three years, collecting data every six months and investigating the potential influence of a number of factors on positive alcohol expectancies, a predictor of alcohol behaviour. New measures provided data on children's alcohol expectancies (Alcohol Beliefs and Expectancies in Childhood questionnaire), family and peer influences (The Children's Alcohol Inventory), self-esteem (IAM questionnaire), television viewing habits (TV Viewing Habits Questionnaire), and exposure to television alcohol advertisements (Television Advertising Awareness Questionnaire). The findings suggest a possible long term influence of alcohol advertising around the age of II on later alcohol expectancies, but that this influence is less than that of peer behaviour and parental attitudes. It is also suggested that children as young as seven be included in future research,t hat the style of alcohol advertisements is monitored closely to minimise their appeal to children and, finally, that applied research should include methodologies which reflect the state and complexity of children's developing knowledge.