Most questionnaires for research assistants do not ask if they have any objections to bartending. But then again, most research projects do not involve building a bar.

As part of his research, psychology professor William Corbin is creating a simulated bar in the basement of Kirtland Hall so he can study the effects of alcohol consumption. This follows his previous work in the subject at the University of Texas at Austin.

Corbin’s study involves testing the effect drinking has on students’ cognitive abilities. He said he wants to see how alcohol consumption influences students’ decision-making and willingness to engage in risky behavior. The research team is building the bar in order to create a realistic environment for the experiment. Corbin said the setting has a direct effect on what a person expects to experience when drinking.

“We’re controlling for the effects of the context,” Corbin said.

The project team has designed the room to look as much like an actual bar as possible. Sofia Jensen ’04, one of Corbin’s research assistants, said in an e-mail that the room will contain “big-screen TVs, mood lighting, and possibly a neon sign or two.”

“We joke in our meetings that we will have to go on a staff field trip around the New Haven bars so we can best match the decor of our lab to that with which Yalies are most familiar,” Jensen said. “We have already stolen a few ideas on glass[ware] from Toad’s.”

Yale’s simulated bar will be the seventh such facility in the country. Corbin worked in a similar lab at the University of Texas at Austin, said Kim Fromme, a professor who worked with Corbin in Texas.

Fromme said she and Corbin studied the effects of an existing alcohol abuse counseling program to see how to make it more effective.

“What we want to know is once individuals go through a prevention program like this, do they make better decisions?” Fromme said.

Data collection for the project at Yale will run from January 2003 until at least December. Corbin plans to use the data to evaluate Yale’s current alcohol abuse prevention programs.

He stressed that his experiment is not designed to encourage overindulgence in alcohol. All of the study’s participants will be social drinkers over the age of 21. No one will be given more than he or she normally drinks, Corbin said.

“We’re really using this as a tool to help us better understand these behaviors so we can intervene,” Corbin said.

Corbin is the third clinical psychology professor brought to Yale in the last two years and the only professor in the department who specializes in substance abuse. He is currently teaching a senior seminar on addictive behaviors that will be offered again next fall. The department is still looking for another clinical psychologist to join its staff, Psychology Department Chairman Peter Salovey said.

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