Alcohol lab tests rats to gage effects of price on consumption

By Alex Prontniki

In the current competitive climate for college graduates seeking higher degrees, research opportunities at the College can help make a résumé stand out. One research lab offered through the psychology department is the Alcohol Lab, and while this research is especially relevant to pre-medical and biopsychology students, it may be appealing to students of any major.

The Alcohol Lab studies patterns of alcohol abuse in animal subjects. Students accepted into the lab are trained by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) as well as experienced lab members in handling the animals, which are rats bred from Indiana University, as well as making solutions, running experimental sessions, recording data and eventually training new students.

According to Dr. Martinetti, associate professor of psychology, since last fall, the Alcohol Lab has been conducting a study that was designed by Jessica Perkel, senior psychology major, for her Senior Honors Thesis. The experiment studies “impulsivity” in animals, which is detected by whether or not the rats choose a smaller reward sooner or wait for a larger reward after a more extensive period of time.

Perkel is interested in determining if the “P” (alcohol preferring) rats are more impulsive than the “NP” (non-alcohol preferring) rats. Trained using sugar solutions, the animals will eventually be rewarded with alcohol after learning the delay task, in which they must wait for the solution after pressing a lever.

This study is based off the paradigm of behavioral economics, or the study of the effects of price on consumption, Martinetti said. The model is often used in drug abuse, such as when the price of cigarettes increases to the point where many cigarette smokers decide to quit. For rat studies, it has been found that once prices (i.e. lever presses) increase too much, even P (alcohol preferring) rats will decrease their consumption for alcohol.

While alcohol consumption is an issue among college students, it is due to ethical reasons why the Alcohol Lab does not specifically conduct human studies as not all College students are of legal drinking age.

The Lab has done some exploratory studies, like a hypothetical alcohol purchase task, in which participants indicated the quantity of drinks they would consume at a variety of prices. Aside from the benefit of the implications of these studies for college students, benefits in participating in the lab include the ability to pursue a senior thesis, opportunities to train other lab members and acquisition of research skills that have prepared former Alcohol Lab members who matriculated into grad programs at Yale University, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Rutgers University and University of California.

The Alcohol Lab welcomes students of all majors who have taken a few introductory Psychology courses. Students have the option of participating in the lab as a PSY 390, 492 or a senior thesis. (For more information, interested students can visit the lab website, or contact Dr. Martinetti at