Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.

Department (Legacy)

Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology

Committee Chair

Hardesty, Patrick H.

Author's Keywords

An immediate survival focus; Dual process models; Life history theory; Cognition and evolution; Substance abuse; Addiction


Substance abuse; Survival--Psychological aspects


In the United States substance abuse takes a toll that is costly in both economic and human terms. In 2005 we paid 467.7 billion dollars to address the consequences of substance abuse, and each year we have lost an estimated 537,000 of our fellows to substance abuse related causes. It is important that we identify and intervene upon the mechanisms translating risk factors for substance abuse into the related behaviors. This study synthesized life history theory and dual process models of cognition to produce an adaptive and cognitive framework for explaining substance abuse. An immediate survival focus was proposed as a construct representing reliance on implicit cognitive processing for the purpose of quick evaluation and short-term strategy use in dangerous or unpredictable environments. This immediate survival focus was suggested as contributing to false positives in the detection of resources and threats critical to survival (i.e., irrational beliefs), and thus vulnerability to substance abuse. This study tested for an immediate survival focus and produced results consistent with the existence of the construct. A factor theorized to represent the ISF was extracted from constructs known to rely on implicit cognitive processing, and this factor was positively associated with both substance abuse and neighborhood danger, as predicted by the adaptive and cognitive framework advanced. In addition, this construct was negatively associated with prosocial behavior, which is known to operate to the relative exclusion of implicit cognitive processes. The strength of the relationships between the ISF and the study's constructs was substantial for both sexes, though its relative importance to substance abuse was less for females. For the sample as a whole, the ISF accounted for 38% of the variance in substance abuse, therefore representing an important construct in efforts to learn about, treat, and prevent substance abuse.