Association between elementary school personality and high school smoking and drinking

Sarah J. Peterson, Gregory T. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background and aims: Among US high school students, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are associated with numerous concurrent and future harms. We tested whether multiple elementary school personality dispositions to behave impulsively can predict these addictive behaviors invariably across gender and race. Design and Setting: This longitudinal design involved testing whether individual differences on impulsigenic traits in elementary school predicted drinking and smoking 4 years later in high school in 23 public schools in Kentucky, USA. Participants: A total of 1897 youth, mean age 10.33 at wave 1, drawn from urban, rural and suburban backgrounds. Measurements: Drinking and smoking frequency were assessed by single-item questions. The key predictors were impulsigenic traits measured with the UPPS-P Child Version impulsive behavior scale. Important covariates included were pubertal status, depression, negative affect and positive affect; each was assessed by self-report. Findings: Three personality traits measured in 5th grade, each representing different dispositions to engage in impulsive behavior, predicted drinking and smoking in 9th grade above and beyond other risk factors and 5th grade drinking and smoking. Specifically, urgency (b = 0.10, 0.13), sensation-seeking (b = 0.13, 0.07) and low conscientiousness (b = 0.14, 0.11) each uniquely predicted both high school drinking and smoking, respectively. There was no evidence that any trait predicted either outcome more strongly than the other traits, nor was there evidence that predictive results varied by gender or race. Conclusions: Three personality traits (urgency, sensation-seeking and low conscientiousness), when measured in 11-year-old children, predict those children's drinking and smoking behavior individually at age 15. The effects are invariant across gender and race.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2043-2052
Number of pages10
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge research support from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism under award number R01 AA016166 to G.T.S. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Society for the Study of Addiction


  • Adolescence
  • drinking
  • impulsivity
  • personality
  • risk
  • smoking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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