Inebriated Insights: Human Behavior Under the Influence of Alcohol

Dr. McMullinSara McMullen, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in Webster’s Psychology Department, where she also earned her BA. She earned her PhD and MS in Experimental Psychology with concentrations in Cognitive Neuroscience and Quantitative Methods from Saint Louis University.

While completing her postdoctoral fellowship at Mizzou, McMullin was excited to hear that her alma mater was hiring a faculty member in the Psychology Department and did not hesitate to apply for the position. The day after her interview for the position, the Research Across Disciplines (RAD) conference was being held to spotlight student research and projects on campus. She recalls being impressed with the student research projects that were happening on campus and was hopeful that she would be part of that journey for Webster students in the future.

“As an undergraduate student at Webster, getting involved in research was a transformative experience for me. Doing research helped me build necessary skills for the workforce, but it also helped me become more confident in myself while doing work I genuinely cared about," McMullin Said.

Webster’s focus on providing high-impact learning experiences to undergraduate students is what drew her here.

“The thing that I really enjoy about Webster is that I really get to work one-on-one with students with whatever their goals are, and because of my interest in doing research, a lot of the students also approach me. My decision also just stemmed from the experience that I had while I was a student here. I really felt welcomed, grew a lot, and the people here were great and showed that they care,” McMullin said.

When asked what got her fascinated about quantitative cognitive neuroscience specifically, McMullin said that she wanted to understand certain behaviors and try to find ways to intervene and help people engage in healthier behaviors. She wanted to apply different statistical techniques because a lot of the statistical tools most often used aren't very precise.

“I enjoy getting in the weeds with certain statistical techniques that allow me to understand people on an individual level," McMullin said.

McMullin has been researching how people make decisions while they are intoxicated.

“We brought people into the lab, got them drunk, and then we asked them questions. In some other studies that I helped with we loaded an app onto a person's phone, and then we asked them questions while they were just out drinking in their normal daily life. Because that is just getting closer to understanding human behavior within the context that person is drinking in. Because not everyone goes into a lab to go drink alcohol, right? I really enjoyed doing that work and applying those methods where I can assess people while they are already out in their own habitat,” McMullin said.

By studying how people make decisions while under the influence of alcohol, McMullin aims to understand how alcohol impacts people's decision-making ability and how it impacts their behavior overall. She hopes that her research can contribute to improving people's lives by preventing fatalities in alcohol-related accidents.

McMullin's greatest achievement at Webster University so far is contributing to the submission of an S-STEM grant to the National Science Foundation as a Co-Principal Investigator that funds low-income students pursuing a Psychological Science degree. If funded, this grant would provide scholarships to over a dozen low-income students for all four years of their time at

Webster, as well as improve access to resources and experiences on campus. It is the first large, governmental grant the Psychology Department has ever submitted, and one of the largest for the College of Science and Health. This grant helps build off the currently funded S-STEM grant in the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Department.

“Be patient with yourselves. Webster students set very high expectations for themselves and they always want to do the best they can, which is great, but perfectionism can make it hard to grapple with challenges or even failure. There will be times when you are wrong, when you struggle, or when learning does not come easily. The learning process can be full of challenges, but that should not deter you from doing what you genuinely care about," McMullin said when asked to offer advice to students. 

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