University 'bar' where the drinks are free but all the customers must take a test...

21 Mar 2024

The University of Winchester has one bar where the drinks are always on the house - but the customers’ alcohol consumption is closely monitored, controlled, and recorded. 

Winchester is one of the few UK universities to have a ‘bar lab’ where experiments on the effects of alcohol on human behaviour can be monitored in a convivial atmosphere. 

Until recently it was more like a lab than bar, but a makeover has seen the clinical surroundings transformed into a cosy venue renamed Wendy’s – in honour of the Psychology Department’s first alcohol researcher Dr Wendy Kneller. 

To create an authentic atmosphere Wendy’s has twinkling lights, bar optics, piped-in background chatter and club music. 

The chief bar tender is Dr Debbie Crossland, who leads the University’s Psychology with Criminology programme, and co-convenes the Centre for Forensic and Investigative Psychology.  

With her speciality cocktail of ethanol with lemonade and/or orange juice, Debbie conducted much of her PhD research in the old-look bar.

She now continues the important work of studying the effects of alcohol on eyewitness memory, by providing a consenting bar customer with alcohol – up to the drink drive limit – and then showing the drinker a video of a crime. 

The mock witness is then tested on their recall of the events they have just seen. Whilst you might assume that intoxicated witnesses are unreliable, Debbie’s studies have found that after a few drinks (above the drink drive limit) witnesses remember fewer details than a sober witness, although these recollections remained as accurate.  

Those below the drink drive limit, however, were just as accurate and remembered just as many details as a sober witness. Debbie’s previous research in the old bar has even informed the Ministry of Justice’s most recent Achieving Best Evidence Guidelines for police officers. 

“The refurbishment of the bar lab gives us what we call ‘ecological validity’,” explained Debbie. “We need the drinking environment to as closely resemble real life as possible, to ensure the reliability of our findings, and to further inform police practice.” 

The old bar lab ran for about 15 years before Covid called time on the breathalyser and the experiments. But Wendy’s more realistic feel means that the bar is back open and the research is flowing.

Not only are Forensic Master’s students using the bar to conduct their dissertation research, but with Psychology undergraduates as research assistants, student Sophie Cawley has begun her own PhD journey in Wendy’s, exploring the effects of alcohol on deception along with her supervisors Dr Jackie Hillman and Dr Debbie Crossland. 

Rules of the House; 

‘Customers’ at Wendy’s must: 

To find out more about Psychology course at the University of Winchester visit Psychology - University of Winchester where you will also find a series of new videos focusing on research including one in which Dr Debbie Crossland talks about the bar lab.

Pictured (from left) Dr Jackie Hillman, student Sophie Cawley, and Dr Debbie Crossland at Wendy's.

Back to media centre