PhD Oral Exam - Danit Nitka, Psychology
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
Alcohol consumption peaks in university and is tied with numerous and often severe negative alcohol-related consequences (NACs) (e.g., blacking out; unplanned sex). Social anxiety (SA) is highly comorbid with alcohol use disorders in later adulthood, yet during the undergraduate years the link is less clear. On the one hand, those high in SA may use alcohol to relieve tension in anxiety-provoking social situations. On the other, they may be particularly attentive to potential NACs (e.g., saying regretful things) and avoid drinking. This theoretical complexity is reflected by a mixed empirical literature, with evidence for positive, negative, and null associations between SA and problematic drinking. Despite research efforts to elucidate this pathway to problematic drinking, how risk unfolds and who high on SA is at risk remain unclear. The primary goal of this dissertation was to clarify SA risk for problematic drinking. To meet this goal, in-the-moment cognitions and key moderators were incorporated into models of risk. Study 1 sought to investigate the interactive effects of SA, impulsivity, and mood on positive alcohol-related cognitions, as they unfold in-the-moment during a drinking episode. It was hypothesized that when in an anxious (vs. neutral) mood, and following a priming dose of alcohol, those high on SA and impulsivity would activate positive alcohol-related cognitions (i.e., tension reduction, social facilitation). In partial support of hypotheses, following a priming dose of alcohol, those high on SA and impulsivity activated social facilitation and enhancement (but not tension reduction) alcohol-related cognitions. Surprisingly, this effect was observed in the neutral but not anxious mood condition. The second study tested individual subjective evaluations of NACs as moderating SA risk for problematic drinking. It was hypothesized that individuals high on SA who evaluate NACs less negatively would be at risk for experiencing NACs but not drinking heavily. Supporting the hypothesis, those high on SA demonstrated risk for experiencing NACs if they evaluated these consequences to be less negative. The findings contribute to a mixed but evolving picture of SA risk pathways to problematic drinking. In addition to advancing extant theoretical models, results have clinical implications for interventions targeting SA-motivated undergraduate drinking.