Understanding drinking behaviour: affordances and an ecological approach to cognition

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Alcohol misuse is a public health concern. Many social cognition models explain drinking behaviour using a limited representational model of cognition. Gibson’s Ecological approach does not require representation. Meaning exists at the interplay of brain, body and environment in terms of affordances. Contemporary ideas about Ecological psychology and affordances could be used to understand how individual-environment relations extend and constrain opportunities for consuming alcohol. This research programme comprised three studies: i. Affordances for Drinking Behaviour: A Non-Participant Observation Study in Licensed Premises. A functional, affordance-based approach was used to identify the array of affordances, or action opportunities, observed to be relevant to alcohol consumption in seven UK licensed premises. This study illustrated the normative and functional qualities of these drinking environments for drinking behaviour from the perspective of an independent observer. ii. Individual Perceptions of Alcohol-Related Affordances: Photo-Elicitation Interviews and Phenomenology. Twelve students viewed fifty photographs of a range of licensed premises, describing the function that occurrences had for their drinking behaviour. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis provided an insight into first-person drinking experiences, supporting the alcohol-related affordances identified by the first study and providing an insight into why these were taken up by participants. iii. Alcohol-Related Affordances and Group Subjectivities: A Q-Methodology Approach. 40 students participated in a Q-Methodology study which combined statements from the previous two studies. Four patterns of subjectivity were uncovered. Most participants were aware of alcohol-related affordances, but believed their drinking behaviour to be autonomous. Others were conscious of influences, but compliant to these effects. Some were unaware, acting unanimously with the group, while others were concerned with carrying out behaviour considerate for the context. The findings of this research programme have implications for psychology and, as a global theory of behaviour, provide a more robust theoretical perspective on behavioural determinants for a range of health behaviours.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorMichael Pilling (Supervisor) & David R Foxcroft (Supervisor)

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