Sex, Drugs & Science

Allecia Reid: Peer Influence & Alcohol

June 16, 2021 Valerie Earnshaw & Carly Hill Season 1 Episode 17
Sex, Drugs & Science
Allecia Reid: Peer Influence & Alcohol
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Allecia Reid is an Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Allecia’s research aims to both understand the psychological, social, and environmental factors that relate to health behaviors and to improve the design of health promotion interventions. Allecia talks with Valerie and Carly about drinking on college campuses, including the roles of peer influence and mimicry on alcohol use as well as protective strategies to reduce harmful alcohol use. Allecia also shares about her Fulbright experience working in the UK.

Read more about Allecia’s work here: https://blogs.umass.edu/spahlab


Valerie Earnshaw:

Okay . I'm Valerie Earnshaw.

Carly Hill:

I'm Carly hill.

Valerie Earnshaw:

and this is sex drugs and science.

Carly Hill:

Today's conversation is with Dr. Allecia Reid. Allecia is an assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Massachusetts. The research aims to understand the psychological, social, and environmental factors that relate to health behaviors and to improve the design of health promotion interventions. We talked with Allecia about her research on peer influence and alcohol use. And I really enjoyed this conversation. We talked about the role of mimicry specifically in alcohol use. So essentially like copying someone's behaviors and this conversation has stuck with me. So now I'm just like seeing mimicry everywhere. I don't know about you, but i'm an eating walking hand duster, I'm like a full-time mimicry monitor over here, seeing it everywhere, everywhere. So I hope that you all enjoy this conversation even half as much as I did.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Dr. Allecia Reed . Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Thanks for having me. It's great to be here with you.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah, it's great to see you. So I thought that we would start by sort of walking through your background and training so people can get to know you a little bit. So you did your bachelor's in psychology at the university of Connecticut. And I think actually, while you were there, you were, I think you're a research assistant um working on like meta-analyses with Dr. Johnson. Was that right?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. Yeah, that's correct. So I , um, finished my bachelor's degree at UConn and I'm sure like, lots of people kind of did the , like, what am I doing with my life? And what's, what am I doing post graduation? And , uh, thankfully1 Dr. Blair Johnson was looking for a full-time research assistant and somehow my CV landed in his hands and was able to get a full-time position with him for that year. Yeah. And so I , you know , I think when you do those positions, you kind of get filtered into the academic lifestyle and you're sort of like, okay, this feels, this feels okay. Right. And ended up applying for grad school in that year and getting in , in that year. So it was a short time as a research assistant at Uconn, but, but a good one for sure.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, it had a big impact because I got to UConn a few years later for grad school. And I actually had the impression at the time that you had been a PhD student in our program because people spoke so highly of you, so highly of you and, you know, your work and your skill set that I really, I had this impression that you, you know, had a PhD like maybe five years before you actually did.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

That's hilarious. I appreciate of the love from the , especially the CHIP folks, Center for Health and Intervention Prevention at UConn. I don't know what I could've done. I did a really good job coordinating the lecture series and ordering food. I don't know. I guess that was the thing that I did really well. So.

Valerie Earnshaw:

I think they just knew. They could see, you know, you're a budding star and they, they were, yeah. I don't know. I, I had the impression that they were, they were really proud of you and they thought very highly of you, which was very cool. All right. So you took this gap year and then you , uh , you land at Arizona State University and you do your Masters and your PhD there in psych, right? Is that correct?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And my impression is that while you were there, you had like a particularly strong training in stats and methods, was that correct? Or is my impression Right?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah, no, that is correct. So my graduate advisor was L eona A iken. U m, she's since retired, but she's w ell k nown in the field of quantitative psychology. Lots of people w ill use her big regression book, Cohen, Cohen, West, and Aikin. Right. Uh , i f you take Regression as a grad student. Um , y eah. And so we actually had a quantitative program, but I was in the social program of course, u m , a t A rizona state, but she was the founding chair of the quantitative program. And also of course taught in it as well as her husband, Steve west. Um , a nd so she just said, I don't care how many classes you need, You're taking every stats class we offer. So that just meant by virtue, I took everything we offered. Interestingly, except Missing Data. And now I'm kicking myself for not taking Missing Data. Like, I got to a point of like too much stats right. And wanting a break from it. But, u m , ye ah, it was, it was great. And I thank her profusely for pushing us all in that direction of "learn the sta ts", b ecause this will be handy in your back pocket for the rest of your career. And it actually has been.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. I mean, you're a phenomenal, like methodologist and statistician on top of all of your content expertise.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

That's so kind of you to say!

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, it's just, it's just really clear in reading your work. So, so that's really neat. Cause we actually, in our grad program at the beginning of every year, they go around and like the faculty are supposed to give like one piece of advice to the incoming graduate students, and it sort of ranges from, like, don't forget to get enough sleep to, like, all sorts of things. And one person every year is like take all of the classes that you can, all of the like quantitative or statistics classes. And I think that there really is something to , like, if you build these methodological skills or you accumulate this like toolkit of stats, analyses that you can do, then you can study lots of things.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

That's true. And I think the other piece of doing it while you're in grad school is that, of course you can take these workshops after, right. But they're three day, five day kind of crash course workshops, as opposed to taking a full semester kind of getting the lay of the land and really kind of, you know, getting your feet wet with it, I feel like is a much better way to learn, especially for me statistical methods then like, you know , these five day courses where you're like, am I ever going to use this? If I've taken anything away from this.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. I'm like really guilty of the three-day Stats Course. Then I'm like, what's the multi-level? What's the second level? What's... What Is hierarchical again? Yeah. So, I mean, I totally agree with that. I mean, I know I took a structural equation modeling like a certain type of stats class in grad school and I know that like really well in and out. And then the three and five day classes are a little bit of a different story, but yeah.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. And then the other thing actually I will say that I was lucky to be able to do was I TA'd two classes, growth modeling and multi-level modeling. Right. And it's like, you learn things best when you now have to teach them to other people. So, and it was like the second time seeing the course taught. So it was like this refresher plus like, oh, I really have to know this. So if people ask questions , um, I'm ready to answer them. And so I think those were great experiences that kind of helped me to use those techniques and then now build on them, right. With the new things coming down the pipe .

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah, that's certainly true from my seat that you like, it becomes very clear very quickly what you don't know and you're trying to teach it to somebody else, especially a graduate student . You've really got to have it figured out. So that's definitely a good observation. Yeah. All right . So then you pack up all your stats skills from Arizona and you come back to the east coast, you start a postdoc at the center for interdisciplinary research on AIDS at Yale university, which is where we met. I got to see like all of these stats skills up close in person.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. I remember Carly. Like I got there. I was, like, very green and Allecia is like, okay, here's how I manage -- She was managing this like, you know, ongoing data collection for this big randomized controlled trial . So big intervention study in the field of pregnancy. And she was like, showing me, you know , how she was pulling together the data. And I was just like, I'm so in over my head, because she also, at the time was you know, she was transitioning over to brown for post-doc that was it more focused on alcohol use, which is, you know, her area. But I was like, please never leave. Please stay here forever.

Carly Hill:

How am I going to do this alone?

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah . That data set was just generally generally difficult. What is like every download. It was like, there was, there was always going to be something that was wrong with the downloaded. It was a fun one for sure.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah, it was, that was definitely a good practice. But , um, but yeah, so, but then you land at Brown and you start focusing on alcohol use at Brown and it seems like that was a great experience because, you know, some point along the way you had really started to develop this interest in peer influence and alcohol use. Right. So did you, did you settle into that interest at Brown or did you develop that earlier and then seek out Brown because of their focus on alcohol?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah, I would say that I sought Brown out because of the alcohol focus. So, I went to Arizona State in part because of my advisor being a health psychologist, quantitatively minded. Um, but also Bob Cialdini was there , um , who is sort of one of the big names in the field of Norms , uh , research and, and sort of, you know, that history. And so I always knew I kind of wanted to do something in that realm. Uh, and so my dissertation was a sunscreen intervention that used normative information to encourage women to use sunscreen and wear hats and all that stuff. But I was never going to do sunscreen work, like as a life thing, I'm going to make a lot of sense in Arizona. It only rains 30 days a year in Arizona. So it's like every day is an opportunity for protection, but, and we should be doing it in the Northeast as well. Actually we have really high rates of melanoma. So, so use your sunscreen.

Carly Hill:

using this as a plug for a PSA for sunscreen.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. So then I , then I got to Yale and was sort of, you know, staying in the HIV condom use , um , sort of sexual risk-taking realm there and just realized it was really not the right area to think about. Norms research that, you know, in the context of sexual relationships, that's really kind of partner dynamics, right. And less so, Like, these broad views of how others view this behavior. Um, and so I really kind of made a , like, did a lot of thinking about what makes sense if this is what I want to do, what's the right behavior for this. And, you know, it just seems like college students and alcohol , uh, where else can you very obviously see peer influence happening , um , on a weekly basis. Right. Um, and so, sought out, uh, Brown for that reason and, you know, sort of academic world is small, right. Um , and interconnections lead you to different places. So my advisor there, Kate Carrie had been faculty at Syracuse University with Blair Johnson when he'd been , uh , at Syracuse before coming to UConn. And so I'd been in a meeting with her husband at some point who heard me talking about norms and said, are you looking for a postdoc ? And I was like, no, I'm not right now, I'm at Yale. And so when I was looking to leave Yale, I just reached out to her and said, I think we'd be a really good fit together, any chance that you take a postdoc . And so , uh , we met and it worked out and it was a great experience. It , uh , you know, I'm still doing alcohol work and , uh, some strong in that direction. So it was definitely the right move.

Valerie Earnshaw:

That's such an interesting behind the scenes, like, look at how this happens sometimes. I sometimes give this little professional development talk where I essentially map out all of the places I've worked and how my like mentors and bosses are connected to each other. And people are really, you know, people are really surprised to see like, it's, by the time it's all up there, it's like, it's a super densely connected web, you know? And , and I think that that's like a , that's also a great takeaway of how these, especially post-docs sometimes happen of , they're not always like something is posted. Sometimes it's reaching out and saying, you know, like I think this would be a great fit, what can we think about doing?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. And , you know , and I'll say her first reaction was "no".

Valerie Earnshaw:

Oh okay, How did you turn that around?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

She said, "No, I'm not looking for a p ostdoc". Right. U m, and so I said, oh, you know, I would be willing to apply for funding. You know, is there any, would you be open to that? U h, and then we worked out a way to apply for the funding for it. U m, so yeah, it is. And I think i t's certainly helped right? That I was connected. And I think I have a paper with her husband because he's worked a lot with Blair Johnson on HIV work. So I think, yeah, those, those connections, you cannot underestimate where they will take you, u h, throughout your, throughout your career.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well , I love the story of it more now that she said, it started with a no. And then you were like, "let me -- what if I pay for myself?"

Carly Hill:

Yeah! Cause well, cause that's what I was going to say. Like, yeah. I mean, what's the worst they can do, say no? And it's like, well, yeah, no, actually,

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Exactly. Yeah. And so, you know , to be fair, right. She'd found a postdoc . Right. And so she really wasn't looking for another one, but she was at least open to kind of hearing me out. And I think she might have been a reviewer on my dissertation paper. Um , so I couldn't , yeah. I feel like there was lots of interconnections. Like she, you know, there were lots of reasons she was open to it that were not just "this random person has shown up in my inbox asking to be a post- doc"

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. Yeah. It's funny how these things happen and yeah. How people like learn about your work through all sorts of, you know , funny ways that... Well , Carly and I are super excited to talk to you about your work on alcohol use and students in part, because the university of Delaware has been a number one party school over the years. You may not know this about us,

Dr. Allecia Reid:

I did not know this.

Valerie Earnshaw:

but, and one of the really interesting parts about the University of Delaware that I think is like, is really relevant to a conversation on peer influence is that we have, you know, the university and then we have a downtown and there's a few streets that intersect -- don't worry, this geography lesson has a point. These roads that are in downtown are most, there are a lot of like student rentals and a lot of the houses have these like big porches. And so in the spring time starting, I don't know , even like starting in like when it's way too cold for this to be hot. So like March, February, you go like starting Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, people, those, these like porches are like overrun with students who are drinking. And it's just, it's a very visible, like, you can, you can see it, they're playing drinking games. People are like walking around with coolers. So our drinking culture, I feel like is very visible. Is that how you ... that's how I experienced it as a faculty member. Is that how you experienced it, Carly, as a student? Or.. I had to drive past it everyday on the way home essentially.

Carly Hill:

Yeah. And it's not, you know, I'm someone that , um, grew up on campus too at the University of Delaware. And so just seeing that's how it's always been. To me, growing up, just like, I just thought that was like college in general until I got out and was like, oh no, not all colleges are like this. And I think a lot of it is because, and I think that this has changed also, but when I was growing up, it was really huge and very much like Greek life centered, which I think had a lot to do with it too. Like even I know um like the big thing every year -- And I think this still is true -- They give each other coolers that they've decorated. Just like, that's the big gift that you get in the fraternity or sorority that you're in. Like, so it's just like the drinking is so ingrained in that culture in general, but I just always thought like, oh, that's college. Cause that's what I grew up looking at, you know? And then coming to figure out that, like maybe we take it a little bit harder than, other colleges do over here.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. So Allecia, I was really curious about, you know, it sounds like you've had, you had the interest on peer influence or, you know, and, and health behaviors for a while . So how did, and was it just that this was like a good context to study that, to study these dynamics? Or was there something else about alcohol use that was interesting for you and something that you wanted to study more?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, being an undergrad at UConn, if you haven't, you haven't been to UConn, it does not sound as exciting as Delaware. It's like pretty remote. Uh, yeah. Not, there's not a nice downtown with these intersecting streets where there's like, parties happening, that's, that's not UConn at all, but UConn has also been kind of top of the party school list , um , at points. Uh, and then, you know , Arizona state always has that reputation. Right. Which is, just too bad for Arizona state. But yeah. So I would say having seen it, it just felt like that was a place where I could clearly see how peer influence would , would make a big difference in those types of contacts and even just our perceptions of what others are doing would really matter a lot for the alcohol-use domain. So yes, I would say it's, you know , sort of having, having watched and witnessed it , um, sort of unfolding in various spaces around me that made me interested in studying that , that particular behavior.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And I think, you know, something, I didn't realize when I was an undergraduate, because I also, you know, to backdate I started at Penn state, which is another, so now that we're saying this, I'm like, I feel like every school, you know, at Penn state, then I went to UConn, now I'm at university of Delaware. And I feel like all of those places have been like top drinking schools you know? Like is it following me or ...

Dr. Allecia Reid:

What you were describing. I was like, thinking, "that sounds like Penn State"

Valerie Earnshaw:

It looks alot, actually like Penn State, because Penn State is also super visible. Like there's, there's less of this porch thing, but you know, you can, you just see the undergrads, like walking around in the evenings and they're like, hoards of ... It's just very invisible .

Carly Hill:

Well in UD it used to be way more visible when we were more like Penn state with the tailgating. But we banned that now for the most part. Or made it more difficult. It's not, not like it used to be, but that was like another huge thing. And then you'd see -- if you think like drinking downtown is bad now -- Like people in throws just going to the stadium and stuff. Like it was a totally different world. So I guess, I don't know if that's one of the things that they did to crack down on it. It was like the no tailgating or what the deal with that is. But ...

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah, and I mean, I was going to say one thing that is interesting though, is that when you look nationally, right, and I guess sort of, you know, these kind of hot-spots aside , um, the places where you actually get the most drinking are the small liberal arts colleges.

Valerie Earnshaw:

I never would have guessed that.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah, it's totally opposite of what you would think. Right. And, really it's right. So we go to like the Tailgating, all of those, you know , frats, the very visible things that we can think of at large universities. Um, but large universities, we have commuters, we have kids who live off campus and have, are working their way with jobs and various things whereas typically, you know, the liberal arts are kind of residential environments . Like they're really not leaving that campus community much to drive and , and sort of go places to meet people. And so you do tend to see more drinkers, right? So you get fewer abstainers on those smaller , uh , campuses. And they tend to be a little bit heavier drinking.

Valerie Earnshaw:

I had no idea, but intuitively makes a lot of sense. I mean, you're , this is hanging out in your dorms and everyone's got their bottles of vodka or whatever it is . Their 99 bananas. There's also a resident assistant. So it's my job to like go confiscate alcohol from the 18 year olds. And it was always 99 bananas or like something blue,

Carly Hill:

like the cheap plastic bottle of Burnett's.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. One time , uh, one of my parents, my dad came to visit like on a Sunday morning and I had been on duty the night before. And my, I had, I just hadn't taken the stuff over, like to the commons to drop it off yet. So I had like the hot blue bottle, the pink bottle all lined up anyway,

Carly Hill:

but I am happy that you brought up the idea of heavy drinking. Allecia, can you define for the listeners, like what is heavy drinking when you're going on, you're doing this research for college campuses? Like, what is, how is that defined?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. Well, I'm going to give you the , the American definition. And certainly people in Europe have said, like, "that's not heavy drinking!". I mean, we, so our official definition -- and it's gender specific -- is , um, for men, five or more drinks in a two hour period. Um, and for women, it's four or more drinks , in that two hour period. Since women metabolize alcohol, a little more slowly than men do in practice. In terms of like actual research, I typically have never actually been, you know , measured that period. Right. So it's usually just in one night , um , it's good enough to kind of capture that heavy drinking designation, but still men having five or more drinks in a night and women doing four in a night. And I said the European thing, because sometimes they just sort of like, it doesn't sound that bad to me.

Valerie Earnshaw:

You did a Fulbright . Maybe I know, hopefully we'll get to this later, but you did a Fulbright. So was that when you were, you were doing your Fulbright in the UK, was that also the heavy drinking or was there like a different marker for what have you drinking would be there?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Oh goodness. They do have a different marker. They also measure alcohol differently than we do since most things come in pints. And then they differentiate between like regular versus strong lagers. So I can't even give you the sort of definition means

Valerie Earnshaw:

A substantial barrier to international research.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

It is actually, there's some things we've been working on with a meta analysis that spans multiple countries where we'd like to bring in, like "what's the per capita alcohol consumption?". Right. And then we're like, wait, but I don't even, how do we get to that number when we're talking about 12 ounces in the US versus a pint in the UK and they're differentiating how much alcohol is in it and it's kind of a nightmare, but whatever we're going to get there eventually.

Valerie Earnshaw:

So interesting. I've never even like, never even thought about that. So, okay. And like, to me now, as somebody who is not a college student and hasn't been for a long time... Four drinks in two hours I would be unconscious. Like I would be down, like, it does actually, as you get older, I think it sounds especially like that's a , "I'm going to be in trouble the next day" with four drinks in two hours. So it does sound like a healthy amount of drinks in a night to me.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah, For sure. For sure. And , and , you know, I think we have to remember students are often building up their tolerance for better and worse over time, right? So presumably for you or I, at this point, four drinks even spread out over a whole day would be like this tomorrow . Not going to be a pleasant day for me , you know, but if you've been drinking in that way, then you don't respond quite as negatively to it.

Valerie Earnshaw:

That's a great flag. I didn't even, I hadn't even thought about the issues around tolerance. Like I have mentioned reading a bunch of your articles and, you know, being excited to talk to you. And a lot of them start with some of the stats on like injuries and health issues associated with alcohol use among college students. So some of the stuff that you cite is a surprising number of deaths, like 2000 deaths a year among college students, almost 600,000 injuries, almost 700,000 assaults every year, and then almost a hundred thousand sexual assaults among college students every year. So there really is like, there's these health under these health issues that are associated with this heavy drinking that college students are experiencing. And especially, you know, when you bear in mind that isn't an injury, like one of the top like risks of death and health issues that college students, or people of that age span, even like experience? Like we really do need to pay attention to people injuring themselves.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah, no, that's true. Right. Because we often think of injuries being a minor. Like I twisted my ankle while playing soccer or something. Right. But yeah, absolutely. There's injury related deaths or , you know, very, they're not prevalent. Right. But that is the, typically the leading cause of death for young adults or till we get into kind of that older life lifetime. But yeah. You know, and again, I've had conversations with friends in Europe who sort of say like, oh, it was like college students. "That's just what they do and they're going to grow out of it." But I think that the issues they are presenting with, like they are avoidable, especially when you hear about those deaths happening on college campuses due to excessive alcohol use that are completely avoidable. Right. That we, I think we want to impress upon people. You know, we typically take a harm reduction approach, right. So it's not, don't drink, but it's, let's get you to a place of moderate drinking go out and have fun, enjoy your time with your friends, but not to a place where you're blacked out vomiting , um, you know, getting into sort of risk of death due to the amount of alcohol you're consuming. So , um, I , I certainly think it's worthwhile. Uh , and I think, and I AAA , uh , continues to fund that work because they are concerned about, you know, risk of deaths and injuries and all those things among college students.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, I remember as a college student, you know, people who died and like, you know, people who there's often a lot of construction on campuses. And so people who fell into construction sites, I mean, Penn state has 40,000 students there. So statistically, I bet like every weekend someone was getting injured. And I remember, you know, 21st birthdays are big things for people to go out and have like 21 drinks, which is completely bananas. And then, so anyway, while I was an undergrad, they were trying to just not have people get alcohol poisoning on their 21st birthday by being like, Hey, 21 drinks today is not a good idea.

Carly Hill:

We'll need your stomach pumped. Don't do that.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Not a good way to bring i n that new year. Well, I was just g oing t o turn in the direction of some of your research on whether, and how, peers do influence drinking. C ause I know that you've had some sort of nice papers asking, you know, do peers i nfluence drinking? And then how does that occur if it does occur? So I was gonna ask you about your findings in that area.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah sure, so, short answer yes, they do influence drinking. Uh, and so I think, you know, one paper you might be pointing to is a recent one where we were using Alcohol EDU's national data set to look at, to what extent does attending a campus with more heavy drinkers, increase your risk of becoming a heavy drinker in the first semester of college. And so Alcohol EDU, you do this computer delivered program that colleges pay a lot of money , um, to use. Uh , I think it starts at about $15,000 and sort of goes up depending on how many students on your campus are going to take part. Um, so they, people are paying lots and lots of money to use this program. Um, but what's nice is they will let researchers also use the data they're collecting to kind of ask interesting research questions. So , um, what we were able to do there was, you know, and again, because colleges are paying for it, they usually mandate that students actually complete the program. Um, so you have pretty much a full look at what every student in a first year class is doing in terms of their alcohol use , uh , both before they get to campus and then after they arrived there , um, which is pretty nice .

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah that's um , your ideal longitudinal data that you would want to study this.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah, Exactly. I mean, it's, it's s hort t erm longitudinal in the sense t hat by the time we see them that second time point t hey're a month or two into their college career. So, you know, i t'd be nice if we could get them sort of towards the end, but y eah, it is what it is. I'll take it. U h, b ut i t w as a d ata s et with 300,000 students I 'm on 2 50 campuses across the u s, which, you know, for those of us who do research, that's like a g old m ine of

Valerie Earnshaw:

That's amazing. That's wow. Okay.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. So, so yeah, so short takeaway, there was, it was the case that , um, students who had been abstainers or moderate drinkers , uh, before they arrived on campus were significantly more likely to become heavy drinkers if they were attending a campus with a higher percentage of heavy drinking students. Um, so that's the sort of like, yes, does it happen? Um, and then on the how that's , and that's a great question. So, you know , we did a couple of studies , um , one that was looking at what we would call sort of be psychological mediators. So you're trying to capture , um, is it that I'm around heavy drinking peers and that's getting internalized in my own attitudes. So I see heavy drinking as a good thing, or I see the norms as favoring, heavy drinking , um , or I feel low self-efficacy so low confidence to kind of resist , um, heavy drinking. And so, you know, we did find some evidence that it was operating through people's attitudes that, you know, being in a heavy drinking peer group led to them having more positive attitudes towards heavy drinking themselves. And that pathway was there, but not massive. Um, at all it was, it was a pretty small mediational pathway through attitudes . So it was like, it's really not, it's really not it.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah. Interesting. Yeah,

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Go ahead. I'll let you ask a follow-up question cause you seem like you have one .

Valerie Earnshaw:

Well, I was just going to ask, what do you think is going on then ? I mean one . Okay, so just big picture. One of the interesting things about using some of these data sets, not all -- because I know you also do your own data collection -- but when you're analyzing the data, you know, of a program that's been conducted or something else, you're sort of like limited in the questions that you can ask by, what are the things that they decided to ask. So, you know, with that in mind, you may have ideas about why peers or peer influence might lead to more drinking behavior, but haven't been able to test it or maybe you have with other, you know, data that you've , that you've collected. So if it's not necessarily, you know, this change of attitudes or some of these other things that you've tested, do you ever like, do you have a sense of what it is or what it might be?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah, that's a, that's a great question. And so I think, you know, in some more recent work, which sort of stems from my Fulbright time in the UK , um, we've shifted to looking at this and these kinds of experimental contexts where we bring people into the lab , uh , match them up with someone who they think is just another participant, but is really , um, you know, part of the research team and we've trained them to display either high or low alcohol consumption during the interaction. Um, so it's a fun study. Uh, they're fun to talk about, fun to run. Um, time-consuming , but fun. And so, you know, it sort of switched over in there to looking at mimicry. So, so trying to get a sense of if I'm in the presence of someone engaging in heavy drinking, how often is it the case that simply after they've taken a sip and kind of lifted the cup to their lips, like, am I mimicking that direct behavior of, you know , just lifting the cup and taking a sip without even thinking about it? Um , and so in that study, we did see a huge pathway operating through mimicry that , uh, being in the presence of a heavy drinker led to more mimicry than being with the light drinker. And , um, yeah, and that effect on alcohol consumption was about, like, 95% operating through mimicry. I mean, it was massive.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Gosh, you never see that in our work. Wow. Okay.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

You know, and so that's of course, a small , uh , lab experimental study, right. Where, you know , people are coming in and doing this with someone they've never met before, but I do sort of have the feeling that, you know, just being around other people, we're not, we're not thinking about our attitudes towards alcohol or, you know, any of those things in the moment, we're just sort of potentially mimicking that action of this person's drinking. So I'm drinking. Right. And we also know from social psych that mimicry has all sorts of positive benefits, right? Like I like the person more, if they're mimicking me, we have a more coordinated flowing conversation if we're mimicking each other. And so I think those are just the sort of natural things that we do to get along well with others in the environment. But, you know, that can lead to heavy drinking , uh , potentially in these kinds of places where we might not want to engage in heavy drinking.

Valerie Earnshaw:

This is so super interesting. I mean, when I read that you had done your Fulbright and you went, you were like focusing on mimicry. I don't think I really, like, I didn't really understand it, just reading about it, but the description of like, I take a drink, you take a drink. Like I'm like, oh, of course. And it is like, it's like a social lubricant even over, like, I notice it for myself a lot. And actually my husband picks up on this for me. He's like, cause I mimic like words that people use. Like I'll pick up on their words or, you know, over zoom, you can see it. Like if someone's sitting there with like their fist under their chin or something, then like the other person on zoom or like people like use the same body language. So I always fire back at the husband just telling him that I just like have innately very evolved social skills and get people to like me. But that makes total sense to me then that like, you know, who knows what the factors are, maybe, to get you to the drinking situation or to get the first drink in your hand -- But once it's there, like if you're at a table that yeah, People would be mimicking that, that particular behavior and that the , and that the drinking could escalate. That's really a neat finding. Yeah.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. No . And I think, I mean, we do it in all sorts of contexts. So, you know, one of the guys I work with in England, he's actually really an eating researcher. Right. And so these conformity, mimicry studies thinking about food consumption and sort of eating snack foods when with other people and sort of that thing. Right. And so again, I think it's just one of those natural things we do to kind of, you know, ease social situations to help them go well also because we already like the person. Right. And so you mimic people when you like them. And it's probably typically okay in the eating context, of course, unless we're talking about eating Snickers bars, right. Like eating a whole bunch of Snickers bars, but you know, again, in the alcohol context, but I do think it results in problems and you hit on one thing that is absolutely true. Right. There's a selection versus socialization issues. Right. So selection is like, what gets the person into this group in the first place? Because even at this point in our lives, none of us want to be in a heavy drinking cohort of people. It just doesn't feel like that we want to be, but maybe in our earlier years that felt , uh , enticing. Right. And so different people are going to be drawn to those environments to begin with. So I think, yeah, you , you absolutely hit that nail on the head, but I think once they're there, right. That those mimicry issues do come into play.

Valerie Earnshaw:

The other thing that's really interesting to me about this just with like my scientist hat on, which is always on. So I'm not sure why I pointed that out, but you know, that the methods really matter for studying this, right? So like some of your work and like all of us who do health behavior research is really based on like surveys and asking people about their perceptions or, you know, you have this really great work asking people about, I really liked your accuracy work, where you tried to see like, do people actually know how much their friends are drinking and we can come back to that just in a moment. But what's really interesting to me is that if you were someone who just stays like in the survey lane or you just use one methodology and you don't branch out and use other methodologies, you're not going to find the big medium. Like you're not going to find the big pathway or the big reason why peer influence might be impacting alcohol use. And that that's super interesting to me because a lot of people will spend their whole careers, like just doing like survey data analysis or something like that.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. And I think, you know, I bounced quite a bit, like, as you've noted, I've done some with like the large existing data sets that are out there and then collected my own data , um, with survey correlational approaches and then made this pretty deliberate shift of like, I wanted this experimental piece , um, as a part of the type of work I was doing. Um, and so, you know, reached out to folks in England to be able to do that work. But yeah, I think, I mean, I think it's good to come at things from all different angles, right. To sort of shape your thinking, because I think you're right. If you stay in that sort of -- we can't measure mimicry, right?

Valerie Earnshaw:

That's the price!

Dr. Allecia Reid:

I can't give you a [inaudible] So some of those are those things that you just need to get people in a room and see what's happening, u m, in order to kind of the feel of what's going on in those interactions.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Carly Hill:

That's fascinating.

Valerie Earnshaw:

So you mentioned that you're using the it's you said it's like alcohol.edu , this , um, that's like the educational intervention. Okay. So some of your work has also looked at like intervention strategies and what works and Carly, actually, we were chatting before this and she was like, she actually talked about alcoholic.edu .

Carly Hill:

Like, so we had to take that test and that's what, you know, I I'm always the one that's like, okay. So like, but what can we do? Like, what do -- you know, that's just how my brain works. And so I was thinking to myself though, like, I think, you know, UDS approach was the alcohol EDU course and like all the freshmen had to take that. And, you know, I can say with pretty high levels of certainty, that there was not a moment in my social circle where any of us thought, "you know what though, I'm going to put this beer down because alcohol EDU said" like, and "I should stop after, you know, three or four." So it's like, you know, we , we know all these things. It's just like, how, what in your head What's like the ideal, best case intervention? Like what's really going to solve it in this perfect world?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. I mean, I think you're right. So I'm not going to bash Alcohol.edu Since they've been very kind to me, but , Alchol.edu um , they do seem to do better than sort of no intervention in that first semester. But I think by the second semester is when you see the , um, effects really dissipate. I mean, at least when they've done randomized control trials, it does seem like it has some benefit over kind of no intervention at all. But you know, to me thinking about the intervention strategies that are really actually working, I mean, I'm going to say norms. It's like what we see in the literature at least is that , uh, knowing what the social norms are on your campus , um, having an accurate representation of those is usually effective, efficacious, to some extent in reducing alcohol use. Sorry, I'm , I'm thinking just because we're talking about these first year students and thinking about, has norms ever been applied to incoming first year students? I imagine it has it's often, It's just much more often used with students who have already been on campus. Right. So they have this view of here's what I think is going on in , you know, at UD and then they find out no people aren't drinking 36 drinks a week. It's really like nine, you know, that's , that's a pretty common like,

Valerie Earnshaw:

That is actually my story. So I was at Penn State, I had this like really overblown idea of how much people were drinking, b ecause what you see is the people who are totally drunk and outside. And I was like a third. I was i n my third or fourth year. And they started putting u p these posters around. That was like the average Penn state student has like, think it was like three drinks a night or something. And I saw that I actually was so blown over by the statistic that I remember exactly where I was, I was in a bathroom, and I just was like, it was tremendously lower than what I thought that it was. And so, but you're totally right. In that that's kind of backwards because those posters were definitely a health behavior intervention to try to change norms. But I didn't see it until I was a third year student. I did alcohol E DU my first year. And then I, like, I had this really inflated perception of the drinking norms on my campus. And then third or fourth year it's being changed.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. And that's, it's interesting because in the past, I don't know where alcohol EDU is now, but norms were kind of the one thing that they weren't including in alcohol EDU, so unusual, all that it was like of all of the things you could do with the intervention literature, it's unusual that you were missing this like pretty critical piece that the literature says is the one thing that seems to be working. So yeah, so they hadn't, but hopefully they've added it in more recent years , um , to their intervention approach. Um, you know , but there's certainly other things, right. I think I've been really interested in how we teach people about protective behavioral strategies they can use while drinking. So, you know , if you find yourself in a heavy drinking situation, right, but maybe you don't want to be hung over tomorrow or, you know, you know, you're pushing into a place where you'd rather not be , um, what are the things that you could be doing, like alternating your alcoholic beverage with water, or if someone offers you a drink and you don't want to be the person who says like, no, I'm going to pass on this one. Right. You could take it and set it down somewhere or pretend to drink it, or, you know, all those sorts of things that sometimes when you say to students, they're like, I never thought of that, you know, that they can use to manage these drinking situations if they don't want to drink quite as much in that environment.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Love it. It's like a harm reduction approach. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. That's really interesting. Cause we think a lot about harm reduction in the context of, you know , heroin, opioid use disorders , things like that. Like people are going to continue in this behavior and what is it that we can do to like minimize the harms associated or minimize use maybe or something like that. And so this is a really interesting approach. Like you're a member of this fraternity, I don't know you're going to go to this party. Like what can we do while we're there? And it's also interesting to introduce those strategies, like to younger people, like now I know like exactly which friends, you know, the parties I go to but who are like sneaking a seltzer into there , but you know, like they're drinking a seltzer in a way that you would never know it because they don't really want anyone to know what they're drinking or not, but they're kind of like they're doing some of these behaviors and kind of a low key way, but they learnt they'd been drinking for 15 years . You know, it's been 15 years since they are 20 years that they've turned 21 and they've picked up those strategies along the way. Right ? Yeah, yeah,

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. No, absolutely. I mean, and I've even used some of these strategies in recent years, right? I'm like, this is not where I want to be tomorrow. I want to sort of keep myself away from that bad place. I'm going to get a water or like dilute the drink or, you know, whatever it is. but still be in the environment and having fun. Right. It's sort of probably reached the limit of where I need to go .

Valerie Earnshaw:

Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. All right . So I wanted to ask just briefly before we let you go off and, you know , continue with your end of semester stuff about your Fulbright experience quickly because we've alluded to it a couple of times. And to be honest, I just have a very romantic idea of what a Fulbright experience would be like, just hanging out in another country, like thinking deep thoughts and building, like, building networks or something. So I just want to ask you a little bit about your experience and listening to you talk, it sounds like it was pretty great. I mean, I know you spent a year in the UK and it sounds like you were able to like immerse yourself in this mimicry , like, research and learn a bit about that, but how has the experience for you and, and is that, is that perception accurate, was it very romantic thoughts ?

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Well, that's a good question. Okay. So l et's say, u h, the experience was amazing. U m, I would highly recommend everyone if they have the opportunity go, go abroad on a sabbatical, take that time and sort of get out of the US a nd do something different for a bit. I, you know, the thing that's interesting about Fulbright is that at least in the UK, u m, they give you this money. It was 15,000 pounds, u m, at the time, and it's not necessarily designated for research, right. So, you know, and some people have different, u m, sabbatical situations, I think I was funded at 80% f rom my college. So I still felt comfortable with, u m, you know, living expenses. U m, so I was able to use some of that money towards the actual research, but it they're not, you know, they're actually not you to do the research. So I think that's the trickiness of it, of the study wasn't cheap to run, right? L ike we had to pay participants, we had to buy alcohol and breathalyzer tubes a nd, you know, all sorts of things that you have to have on hand to actually do the work. U m, and I still had some, some money f rom my college that helped to, to do that. So I think it would depend on how much deep pondering you're doing. The work would depend on like what your funding situation is. Right. U m, so I think it would just vary, but yeah, no, it was, it was really amazing. And I'm still sort of collaborating with the guys in England. U m, t hey worked with, we submitted a grant together pre pandemic to continue this work, u m, where we were going to be looking at conformity and mimicry. And to what extent different interventions might reduce the tendency to engage in that behavior, you know, then the pandemic hit and it was like, yeah, no, no, we're not going to bring two people into a small windowless room and let them drink together. Y eah.

Valerie Earnshaw:

You couldn't get that past your ethics board.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

Yeah. I'm hoping to resubmit it, but you know, l ike when during the pandemic it just s eemed like there's no work around for this. So we're just g oing t o hold off until, until t hat happens. U m, yeah. But you know, I would say it's like in the moments moving to another country is not easy, right? Like there was, there were these, u h, things that had to happen. A nd I took my husband and my two small children. U m, my son was a k indergarten at that time. So we had to get h im into school in the UK, which is entirely different educational system. We have, like, it's not like t he, just show up and enroll in school. It's, there's a whole application process that happens like way before the start of the school year. So that was a nightmare. I t hink there's just things about moving to another country, even a n English speaking country, where there's just going to be disconnects. W here yeah, it was, I was thinking and thinking about this l ittle earlier today, i t's like, t here was definitely the day where I was standing in the copy room almost in tears b ecause I just couldn't, I couldn't find a stapler. I couldn't eat, you know, w hatever that l ike minor thing is t hat finally like triggers you because you're j ust overwhelmed by this new situation. But, u m, all in all though, great experience, wouldn't ... so glad that we did it, wouldn't have traded it for the world.

Valerie Earnshaw:

And that's really neat that the collaboration has continued because my impression is that that's just part of, you know , the goal of the program is not thinking deep thoughts and interesting places, but that the goal of the program is to like facilitate international collaboration and connection between folks internationally. And so it sounds like this was a , a good investment from Fulbright because you're still doing the work and you still have these connections. So that's true. Absolutely.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

I feel like they, like, they directly ask you, like, "how will you foster the special relationship between..." U m, but yes, that is a big focus is, like, you know not just this six months or a year that you s pend there, but how do you keep this going? And so I took that pretty seriously, but also like wrote another paper with the group that I was in. U m, and so, yeah, so I think we just worked really well together. I respect them a lot and appreciate like, you know, t heir, their outlook on things. So I appreciate working with them and then other great things that happened while I was there is t here's also a, they've now left the EU, but there was an EU Fulbright component where you could be invited to another EU country to give a talk. U m, and Fulbright would like pay for some of those costs for you to do that. And so there were some folks who did some similar work in the Netherlands who l ike, thought about going to work with, but decided that the UK was going to be a better fit. U m, so I went out, gave a talk to them and I, you know, have done conference presentations with that group, u h, have another paper in the works with them. So a lot of good things, you know, collaborations and connections came from that year. For sure.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Awesome. All right. Well, keep it in the radar then I'm just like Southern France, Fulbright sabbatical, you know , decade. I don't know . That's that's ...

Dr. Allecia Reid:

I mean, and there was also , you know, there was, there was lovely , uh, drinking and pubs and , uh,

Carly Hill:

you have to eat a sausage roll or two , you can't let them, you can't let them go to waste.

Valerie Earnshaw:

I man , next time we're at a conference, I'm worried that we're going to not worried . I'm excited to go get a drink with you maybe, and then just, we can just watch each other mimic each other. I know. We're just going to be,

Dr. Allecia Reid:

They're going well, if we're mimicking each other. So yeah. Yeah, there we go.

Valerie Earnshaw:

It means to be like each other. Okay. Well, Allecia reading up on your work, like to prep for this, but it's just such a pleasure and such a treat because not only do I think that the topics that you're studying are super interesting and important, but just like we've been talking about through this episode, the methods and the data analytics strategies that you apply to your work, are, like, are so smart and interesting. Like every time I would read a paper, I would be like, "oh wow!" Like this is a really innovative and neat approach. And I think it's hard for people who are like, as prolific as you are, to each time you're doing a study, to take that new and interesting approach. Like I think people fall into like, you know, I'm going to do this type of analysis again and again and again and again with the same data set. So I am just so impressed. It was such a treat to read about it and, you know, thank you so much for coming on today and talking with us about your work.

Carly Hill:

Yeah. Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

Dr. Allecia Reid:

And thanks to both of you for having me. It's was super fun. I thought it was going to be scary, but it was fun.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Thanks to the Stigma and Health Inequities Lab at the University of Delaware for their help in the podcast, including Sarah Lopez, Molly Marine, James Wallace, and Ashley Roberts.

Carly Hill:

Thanks to city girl for the music. As always be sure to check us out on Instagram @sexdrugsscience, and stay up to date on new episodes by clicking subscribe.

Valerie Earnshaw:

Thanks to all of you for listening. [inaudible] .