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The Behavioral Economics of the Bottomless Cup: The Effects of Alcohol Cup Price on Consumption in College Students

College students have been known for their excessive alcohol consumption. This use may in part is due to readily available alcohol off-campus at lower costs. Previous research has used hypothetical purchase tasks (HPTs) to study demand for alcohol. The current study pilots a new HPT called the Cup-Price Purchase Task to assess the probability of purchasing a refillable cup and the number of times the cup is refilled at a house party.

The final sample of college students over the age of 18 was 131 with 79% being female. The first task given to the participants was the Alcohol Purchase Task. This task asked participants to say how many drinks they would buy at different set prices. The price values were between $0.00 and $30.00. The second task given was the Cup-Price Purchase Task (CPPT). This asked the participants if they would purchase a cup at different prices and how many times they would refill the cup with an alcoholic beverage to drink themselves. The cup was a 16-ounce refillable red “Solo” cup and the prices ranged from $0.00 and $60.00.  Participants also completed the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test, Daily Drinking Questionnaire, and Brief Young-Adult Alcohol consequences Questionnaire. 

Results showed that around 82% reported going to an off-campus party with over half saying they paid to enter the party and received a refillable cup. Analysis showed that students had higher consumption of drinks at lower prices along with higher probability of purchasing the cup at lower prices. 30 of the participants said they would refill the cup more as the cup price increased. Overall, this information shows that college students are highly likely to buy a cheap refillable cup and that as the price of the cup increases, the more alcohol they are likely to consume. The researchers indicate that college campuses may benefit from banning “all-you-can drink” alcohol specials.

Take Away: This study pilots a hypothetical purchase task (HPT) called the Cup-Price Purchase Task to assess the probability of purchasing a refillable cup and the number of times the cup is refilled at a house party. The final sample of college students over the age of 18 was 131 and they completed the Alcohol Purchase Task along with the new HPT. These asked about probabilities of purchasing drinks along with a refillable cup at different prices. Results showed that around 82% reported going to an off-campus party with over half saying they paid to enter the party and received a refillable cup. Overall, the results showed college students are highly likely to buy a cheap refillable cup and that as the price of the cup increases, the more alcohol they are likely to consume. The researchers indicate that college campuses may benefit from banning “all-you-can drink” alcohol specials.

Morrell, M. N., Reed, D. D., & Martinetti, M. P. (2020). The behavioral economics of the bottomless cup: The effects of alcohol cup price on consumption in college students. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. doi:10.1037/pha0000360

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