London South Bank University's research pub
Outside the fake bar. Photo: Supplied
In a Big Brother-style bar nestled in the heart of London, hidden cameras transmit patrons' every movement to people in adjoining rooms, bar staff aren't who they appear to be and punters will never know for sure whether their drinks are actually alcoholic.
The faux pub is the result of a $37,000 makeover of a London South Bank University lab, where psychology-students-turned-bartenders are researching the effect of alcohol on behaviour, and how and why people drink.
Pre-recorded background noise, fake beer taps and alcohol-rubbed drinking glasses (for hiding placebo drinks in) all went into making the lab as realistic as possible.
London South Bank University's head of psychology Dr Tony Moss said they were trying to simulate, with a greater deal of control, the environment in which people found themselves drinking.
"This is somewhere in between being able to do research in the real world in a bar — where we have very little control over what is going on — and in a lab cubicle, which is nothing like the way people are drinking in the real world," Dr Moss said.
While the research was likely to produce some interesting insights into how drinkers interact with one another, and pressure each other, it would be "limited" by the lab's confines, Curtin University psychology lecturer Dr David Keatley said.
"My first thoughts were that it's going to give limited research answers," Dr Keatley said.
"They're in a very forced setting, so participants will act differently.
"They're going to know it's being filmed because even if they're not told they'll hear it in the media."
Dr Keatley said the research would only give a limited overview on the causes of binge drinking, a growing problem in Western Australia, because the UK drinking culture was vastly different.
He said his previous studies in WA had found binge drinking was mostly to do with social peer pressure and the practice of "pre-drinking", which wasn't as big an issue in the UK, where people "just meet at the pub because it's about the same price as going to the supermarket."
The university lab bar will have a gambling machine to test risk-taking behaviour, another game to test coordination and researchers plan to add a juke box to test which kinds of music encourage alcohol consumption.
Google Glass-style trackers will check whether study participants take notice of responsible drinking signs.
"People, especially students, will be looking for little things to catch the researchers out, find the cameras and see how realistic it is," Dr Keatley said.
"Down the local pub people don't look at the paintings on the wall because they're there for their friends or the experience.
"People can be very poor at paying attention but people [in the study] will be extra aware."
The amount of alcohol, supplied free to the patrons, will be carefully controlled by bartenders in accordance with ethical requirements.
"By making it freely available people will be reminded it's not a real setting," Dr Keatley said.
"I don't want to be too critical because it does have advantages - it's a novel way of trying to research the area.
"But when participants enter the scenario they know they have to be kept safe for ethical reasons - a big concern for females [is usually] what could happen at the end of the night if they get too drunk, what about violence, people are [usually] conscious of staying in control."
The facility is designed for use by students and Dr Keatley said the research was limited in that it was only likely to attract a particular type of person.
"You're far more likely to get a more extroverted person because it's being recorded," he said.
"They'll have their reactions, body language scrutinised.
"Shy people aren't going to want to be a part of that.
"You'll only see a small subset of social drinkers."
Dr Keatley said he'd prefer "messier research" in a real bar, over the controlled scenario.
"There's a chasm in psychology because if we do it in the real world we lose control," he said.
"There are also ethical issues.
"The benefit is you get a very realistic scenario of what happens.
"The minute you try and control the environment you change everything about the way they interact."
Anne Foster, spokeswoman for Drinkaware, a charity that promotes responsible drinking, said they were particularly interested in understanding the psychology behind consumer behaviour, so being able to conduct experiments in the pub environment was going to be hugely valuable.