Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 376–387 | Cite as

Media as a “Super Peer”: How Adolescents Interpret Media Messages Predicts Their Perception of Alcohol and Tobacco Use Norms

  • Kristen C. ElmoreEmail author
  • Tracy M. Scull
  • Janis B. Kupersmidt
Empirical Research


Adolescents’ media environment offers information about who uses substances and what happens as a result—how youth interpret these messages likely determines their impact on normative beliefs about alcohol and tobacco use. The Message Interpretation Processing (MIP) theory predicts that substance use norms are influenced by cognitions associated with the interpretation of media messages. This cross-sectional study examined whether high school adolescents’ (n = 817, 48 % female, 64 % white) media-related cognitions (i.e., similarity, realism, desirability, identification) were related to their perceptions of substance use norms. Results revealed that adolescents’ media-related cognitions explained a significant amount of variance in perceived social approval for and estimated prevalence of peer alcohol and tobacco use, above and beyond previous use and demographic covariates. Compared to prevalence norms, social approval norms were more closely related to adolescents’ media-related cognitions. Results suggest that critical thinking about media messages can inhibit normative perceptions that are likely to increase adolescents’ interest in alcohol and tobacco use.


Media Message processing Adolescents Norms Alcohol Tobacco 



The authors want to thank the teachers and students who participated in this study.

Authors’ Contributions

KE conceived of the study, performed the statistical analyses, and drafted the manuscript; TMS conceived of the study, coordinated the data collection, participated in the design of the analyses and interpretation of the data, and helped to draft the manuscript; JBK conceived of the study, participated in the design of the analyses and interpretation of the data, and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This study was supported in part by funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Award Number R44DA018495) to Dr. Kupersmidt.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristen C. Elmore
    • 1
    Email author
  • Tracy M. Scull
    • 2
  • Janis B. Kupersmidt
    • 2
  1. 1.Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Innovation Research & TrainingDurhamUSA

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