London University's Mock Pub Sounds Like a Lame Saturday Night

A real pub in Birmingham, England.
A real pub in Birmingham, England.

A London university has forked over $33,000 to build a pub for students. Unfortunately, the school isn't trying to make excessive drinking easier for students. The pub is a wooden bar in a brightly lit converted study room in the psychology department. Its operators are not grizzled barkeeps but instead vested researchers. The pub's aim is not to turn South Bank University into a destination for brainy drunks. The psychology department plans to use the "mock pub" as the site of an investigation into why people choose to drink to excess as well as the behavior choices they're inclined to make when under the influence.

Not every customer will receive a genuine alcoholic drink at the mock pub. While all drinks are free, some merely smell of ethanol, containing nothing that should actually loosen one's tongue and render dance steps clumsy yet enthusiastic. Concealed microphones and cameras will record customers' actions, presumably giving those researchers clues about the human propensity for chemical-fueled idiocy.

It's not entirely clear why the psychology department couldn't infiltrate an actual bar instead of constructing a simulation of the bar experience. The researchers wanted more control over the environment, apparently, but aren't the "distractions" present at real bars connected to the relationship people have with alcohol?

A good jukebox, comfortable seating, dim red lights, a bartender with character, the opportunity to mingle and maybe make out - don't these factors play a role in keeping people at the bar and ordering shots? Wouldn't the "test subjects" clinking glasses at the "mock pub" be self-conscious? We'd feel like we were at an awkward office party, the fluorescent lights bathing all the nervous patter in a hospital glow

This isn't like the Stanford Prison Experiment in which a fake prison was simulated and test subjects were immersed in it. People may not uniformly know much about the experience of being either a prisoner or a prison guard, but most of us know what bars are like. You cannot replicate the White Horse in a study room. The test subjects will not reveal an accurate relationship to alcohol in that setting.

Los Angeles, of course, would be a great setting for a mock pub concept. We have plenty of set designers, costuming gurus and graphics wizards. Let's get some cut-rate C.G.I. into the mix!

Thirty-three thousand smackers could go a long way toward getting a participant to really suspend his disbelief and think: "I am in a bar. I am drinking something that smells quite strong. I should do the dumb stuff here that I did last weekend." Thus, the aggressive romantic solicitations, brawls, and teary proclamations would ensue, and the grad students monitoring the cameras and microphones might actually have something real to work with.

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