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Psychology and the Social Effect of Alcohol Consumption: The Latest ‘Sociology of Markets’ Seminar Held at HSE University

Psychology and the Social Effect of Alcohol Consumption: The Latest ‘Sociology of Markets’ Seminar Held at HSE University

© Alexander Popov / Unsplash

Experts from the Laboratory for Labour Market Studies presented a report entitled ‘The Impact of Non-Cognitive Characteristics on Alcohol Consumption’ at HSE University. They talked about how different character traits affect the degree of dependence on alcohol.

The ‘Sociology of Markets’ Seminar is a regular event held by the Laboratory for Studies in Economic Sociology, (LSES, HSE University). Previous topics for discussion have included new models of food consumption, road wars, the social capital of Russians, the online job market for freelance designers etc. This time, the seminar, which took place in mid-October, was devoted to a report revealing the relationship between non-cognitive personality characteristics and alcohol consumption. Its authors are Yana Roshchina, Associate Professor, Department of Economic Sociology, Senior Research Fellow at LSES, HSE University, Ksenia Rozhkova, Junior Research Fellow at the Laboratory for Labour Market Studies and Sergey Roshchin, Vice Rector at HSE University and Head of the Laboratory for Labour Market Studies.

Ksenia Rozhkova noted that the topic of this report is especially interesting in the Russian context. ‘First, our country is known for its high level of alcohol consumption. Yes, the rate is declining and young people consume less alcohol, but alcohol abuse is still prevalent among both men and women. Second, the problem of family alcoholism is quite widespread in Russia: the inheritance of problems associated with alcohol consumption from parents to children’. According to her, non-cognitive factors, since they are partly predetermined genetically and partly formed as a result of a person's primary socialisation, can serve as a mechanism that links the consumption of alcohol by parents and children, adding ‘That is why these factors are increasingly relevant for educational policy.'

Sergey Roshchin, Vice Rector, HSE University, Associate Professor of the Department of Applied Economics, Head of Laboratory for Labour Market Studies

Sergey Roshchin, Vice Rector, HSE University, Associate Professor of the Department of Applied Economics, Head of Laboratory for Labour Market Studies

Economists' interest in studing non-cognitive skills is mainly related to the dissatisfaction with policies aimed at increasing human capital, thereby changing social behaviour and social attitudes. For sixty years we have been living in the paradigm of human capital, so many countries, including the USA, have invested a great deal into education, and despite this, something hasn’t worked out. James Heckman raised this question: investment into education has not yet solved the problem, because there are still characteristics of people that are related to early socialisation or originate from biological sources. And this is a problem not only for the USA, but for Russia as well. In other words, the problem is that in the early stages of socialisation the skills related to communication, perseverance etc are not being formed. The question is what to do, how to build an appropriate policy and what to influence, because otherwise huge investments into human capital (education) fail to give the desired result. This is how the topic of the report arose.

The authors described how the study of non-cognitive factors in the socio-economic sphere of life came to be analysed in an economic context, and assessed the relationship between these factors and alcohol consumption.

As noted in the report, there is quite a lot of research experience between the ‘big five’ (conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience and friendliness) and alcohol consumption. The most important characteristics of ‘conscientiousness’—adherence to social norms, hard work, healthy habits — are negatively correlated with alcohol consumption, the authors of the study say. Extraversion is positively correlated with alcohol consumption, since for very sociable people, alcohol is an element of communication. For neurotics, alcohol is a search for the solution to their problems, while openness to experience does not significantly affect consumption’.

In general, the results of the research conducted by HSE University scientists corroborate the theoretical data.

We can see a positive relationship between abstaining from alcohol and conscientiousness and a negative relationship with extraversion (which is a fairly predictable result). As for the volume of consumption, we see a positive relationship between alcohol volume and a higher level of neuroticism (the effect is more pronounced for women than for men) and for men we observe a negative relationship with openness.

After the speakers’ presentation, the seminar participants shared their comments: Vadim Radaev, First Vice Rector, HSE University, Head of LSES and Valerya Kondratenko, an intern-researcher, LSES, HSE University.

Vadim Radaev, First Vice Rector, HSE University, Head of LSES

Vadim Radaev, First Vice Rector, HSE University, Head of LSES

The psychological features of a person develop not by themselves but through social factors. Why is conscientiousness affected? Because it means following social norms. Why is extroversion affected? Because extroverts tend to socialise, and parties are still associated with alcohol consumption. Meanwhile, neuroticism is, to a certain extent, the attitude of others towards you. So, they affect people not by themselves, but through social influence. This is how it can be explained.

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