Skip to main content

Psychology team presents findings in New Orleans

| Denise Olson

Binge drinking is a concern on college campuses across the nation, and the jury is still out regarding the best way to combat the issue. UW-Eau Claire has traditionally taken a harm reduction approach in programming and education related to alcohol use, equipping students with facts and practical tips to help reduce excessive social drinking.  One psychology research team has completed a research study aimed at examining how gender and personal history with alcohol can impact a tendency to binge drink.

During the 2015-16 academic year, a collaborative research team led by Dr. Doug Matthews conducted research examining the interaction of a person's personal history with alcohol and their gender and how this influence the amount of fluid poured in a simulated alcohol free pouring task, and the project took the team to New Orleans to present their findings.

Senior psychology major Charles Bakalars was one of the three student researchers on Matthews' team, and he gives the following summary of the research and findings.

"The  participants completed a survey that measures their demographics along with their impulsivity, an alcohol use time line, and a measure of their personal history with alcohol measured with the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT test). Then participants are instructed to pour what they believe to be one standard drink into 6 glass mugs (3 fl oz) for both themselves and the experimenter. We found that the number of days a student drinks, and days binge drinking are highly correlated with an increased personal history with alcohol along with increased impulsive behaviors.

Most importantly, we found a significant interaction with AUDIT score and gender when looking at the difference between low and high scorers on the AUDIT test. More specifically, Female participants in the low AUDIT score category pour significantly less fluid in the simulated pouring task, compared to men in the low audit category. On top of that, if we take gender out of the situation, and look at just amount of fluid poured for the researcher, people with a low AUDIT score (so little history with alcohol use) poured significantly less fluid for the researcher compared to those in the high or elevated AUDIT category (those who have a high or prevalent history with alcohol)."

Junior researcher Meredith Watson, also a psychology major, was pleased to be part of a team examining this important topic. "Binge drinking is a serious health concern and in the state of Wisconsin, where the rates are higher than anywhere else in the country, and for college students the rates of binge drinking are even higher," Watson stated.

This research was presented by the team in June 2016, at the annual Research Society on Alcoholism (RSOA) held in New Orleans. "Presenting at the RSOA was an amazing experience, but for me served a unique purpose in solidifying what I hoped to pursue after my time in Eau Claire. The lab was my favorite thing to be a part of — I was learning so much and truly enjoying the competitive, fast paced environment that Dr. Matthews had created," said Watson.

As a recent national award for undergraduate research can attest, collaborative student-faculty research is a cornerstone of the Blugold undergraduate educational experience. Close to half of all students take part in some form of in-depth scholarly research before graduating, which includes such things as funded projects, research-based coursework, or presentation of findings at professional conferences or at CERCA, UW-Eau Claire’s annual Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity.

Department chair and research mentor on this project, Doug Matthews points out, "In the psychology department, we believe that the best way to learn a discipline is to actually do the discipline. UW-Eau Claire is steeped in a tradition of facilitating student opportunities to be and do in the field of psychology."