Setting the research bar high

Assistant psychology professor Dr. Amy Bacon is creating a “bar laboratory” in Bradley Hall to conduct research on college students and drinking habits.

March 11, 2013

By Rebecca Bartels ’13

Assistant psychology professor Dr. Amy Bacon is creating a “bar laboratory” on campus to investigate the drinking habits of college students and the factors that influence their behavior.

As a clinical psychologist, Dr. Bacon studies patterns in behavior as well as the development and treatment of abnormal behaviors. One of her goals for the bar laboratory is to better understand why and how college students drink and how to improve treatments for destructive drinking behaviors. The research should also help identify students who will struggle with drinking issues after college.

Healthy college students, 21 years and older, can participate in Dr. Bacon’s experiments. Dr. Bacon is also training six psychology students to facilitate her study so that the simulated bar experience feels genuine, while also being safe and comfortable for student participants.

“Is there a way to predict who those students are going to be? And what are some of the factors that might go into that?” Dr. Bacon asked. “Perhaps we can reduce long-term problems after they leave college. But, we also want to reduce short-term problems while they’re here.”

The bar lab is located in the basement of Bradley Hall in the psychology department and is set-up like an actual bar, carefully designed by Dr. Bacon to feel realistic and promote an environment tailored to her research. Considering the rarity of alcohol bar labs and the size of Bradley, the room is a unique and innovative setting for psychology research.

Dr. Bacon’s interest in the drinking habits and behaviors of young people began when she worked in an alcohol bar lab as an undergraduate at the University of Texas. Afterwards, she continued her work on drinking habits in college students.

Through her research, she has sought to answer questions like what do students expect to gain from drinking, why do they tend to binge drink and what can officials do to help people drink more responsibly?

“I am really interested in broader pictures about … the things that cause students to drink alcohol,” Dr. Bacon said.

Dr. Bacon hopes that her scientific research can provide information and aid to students struggling with drinking at Bradley and across the country. Not opposed to those who drink alcohol legally and responsibly, Dr. Bacon said she wants to help students drink more responsibly.