The present study of 145 children and their mothers aimed to determine whether children's responses to the odors of alcoholic beverages were related to their mothers' reasons for drinking. Mothers completed a series of questionnaires to describe the emotional context in which they drink and whether they use alcohol to "escape" by changing their state of mind and reducing feelings of dysphoria. Children participated in two age-appropriate tasks that focused on the most salient psychological attribute of an odor, its perceived hedonic valence. To this aim, we determined children's liking, reaction times, and identification of individual odors including beer and whiskey in Task 1, and their preference for beer relative to odors that differed in hedonic valence in Task 2. The type of task and behavioral measure revealed different aspects of children's responses, to alcohol odors. In Task 1, verbally identifying an odor was a more difficult task than deciding whether they liked the odor. Although there were few group differences in liking for individual odors, children of Escape drinkers took significantly longer to determine whether they liked the odors. In Task 2, children of Escape drinkers preferred beer less often, particularly when it was compared with less pleasant odors. They preferred coffee to beer odors and, if their mothers did not smoke cigarettes, preferred the odors of cigarette smoke and pyridine to beer. These children experienced the odor of alcohol more frequently and in the context of mood disturbed mothers who felt guilty and worried about their drinking. Whether children who associate the odor of alcohol with such emotional contexts display a trajectory toward or against using alcohol to escape remains unknown.
Journal Article URL
Mennella, Julie A. and Forestell, Catherine A., Children's hedonic responses to the odors of alcoholic beverages: A window to emotions (2008). Alcohol, 42(4), 249-260.