Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.Sc.)




Paul Kieffaber

Committee Member

Cheryl Dickter

Committee Member

Adrian Bravo


Alcohol and cannabis are some of the most ubiquitous substances on college campuses. While the reason for use varies between each individual, from social lubricant to sleeping aid, nearly half of higher-education students endorse alcohol and/or cannabis use in the last month. Despite this popularity, there is still a deeply ingrained level of stigma around substance use and substance use disorders and people who use substances or struggle with substance use disorders are subject to a litany of damaging perceptions, such as being deemed violent, unpredictable, weak, and untrustworthy.. Most research on the stereotypic thinking surrounding substance use focuses on explicit judgements about the moral character of users. However, to the best of our knowledge, there is little information about the implicit judgements and perceptions of people who use substances. Humans glean vast amounts of information just from looking at another person’s face and the fluency of that processing often leads to fallible judgments. Do you know what a person with substance use disorder looks like? Are there characteristics in a person’s appearance that may lend themselves to being identified as a user or nonuser of substances? The purpose of this study is to determine the implicit visual characteristics that are part of the implicit perceptual biases regarding substance use — the primary aims being (1) create proxies of the mental representations of alcohol and cannabis users in a reverse correlation paradigm and (2) determine if there are common properties within the images generated that can be used to discriminate between substance type and use status. The results revealed that implicit perceptual biases regarding substance were rooted in gender differences with masculinity being strongly associated with substance use. Interestingly, the implicit perceptual biases related to the type of drug used (alcohol or cannabis) was less rooted in gender biases but defined more by dimensions of race and personality. These findings confirm that there are implicit biases related to substance use and demonstrate that these biases may be unique to different substance types.



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