Research Methods: Mixing alcohol with energy drinks might increase your desire to drink

A Research Methods context for AS or A2 Psychology

Thanks to a Tweet from the BPS Research Digest (@researchdigest) I came across a study investigating whether drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks increases an individuals likelihood of  drinking more alcohol than drinking just alcohol. As Britain’s “binge drinking culture” and it’s impact on individuals and society is constantly in the press, this study provides a topical hook for some Research Methods (for AS or A2 depending on how you want to use it).

The study

The abstract of the paper concerned is available online (“Mixing an energy drink with an alcoholic beverage increases motivation fir more alcohol in college students; first published online 22/07/2012 then in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research) and provides sufficient details of the design features to stimulate discussion surrounding the Research Methods employed suitable for A Level students (BPS members can access the full paper online).

Findings, conclusions and implications

The study found that participants were more likely to want another alcoholic drink if they had been randomly assigned the alcohol plus energy drink beverage rather than just alcohol, just an energy drink or a a placebo drink. Given that there is a current trend for mixing alcohol with energy drinks (e.g. Vodka and Red Bull) this finding is worth considering in the context of concerns about binge drinking and the impact of alcohol on health and personal safety.

As the article is published in a journal focussing on alcoholism, students may like to discuss how the “alcohol priming” described by the authors might contribute to a broader dependency on alcohol. They might also like to discuss whether drinks companies and pubs/bars/clubs have a responsibly to play a role in reducing alcoholism. This would also be an appropriate context to ask students to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviours relating to alcohol in a way that feels more relevant and less imposing than a contrived PSHE lesson on attitudes to alcohol.

AS Psychology: The validity and reliability of self report measures

The study uses self report measures to assess whether the individuals “fancied” another drink or not rather than assessing whether they helped themselves to another available drink or choosing to buy another drink in a pub/club.  Saying you might do something and actually doing it can be rather different, so students might like to discuss this and why the researchers chose to use self report measures (e.g. ethics).

Experimental procedures

Presumably participants would have been unaware which condition they were in which could lead into a discussion of single and double blind procedures for increased validity.

A2 Psychology: data analysis

To consolidate understanding of levels of data (or levels levels of measurement) and the selection of appropriate inferential tests, students could be asked to speculate on the statistical techniques that might have been employed in this study.

For example, students should be able to identify that if participants simply indicated they would or would not like another drink this would make the data nominal. As the groups were independent a Chi Squared test would be appropriate and comparison of the frequency of those who wanted another drink could be easily represented descriptively in a bar chart.

Equally A2 students should be able to consider that asking participants to rate the likelihood they would have another drink would be ordinal (in this study the participants would have obtained a score on the “Desire for drug” questionnaire and as such this can be treated as ordinal) a Mann Whitney test would be appropriate to test for significance.

Recognising that level of data influences the choice of test is best achieved through exposing students to lots of examples and lots of novel contexts to which they can apply their knowledge. Real research reported in a simple and accessible manner, like this study, provide the perfect context for this sort of meaningful exam preparation.

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