Substance Use Prevalence and Experiences in Relationships Laboratory
The focus of the SUPER lab is to investigate the intersection of gender-based violence (GBV), substance use, and sexual and reproductive health. Our externally and internally funded research program aims to reduce GBV by:
(1) identifying the individual-, dyadic, and event-level risk and protective factors for perpetrating GBV;
(2) identifying the risk and resiliency factor that contribute to recovery and healing after experiencing GBV victimization; and
(3) informing intervention and prevention programming
Dr. Neilson’s program of research uses different methodologies, including laboratory, survey, and longitudinal, to study different forms of GBV toward various targets and in different contexts, such as acute alcohol intoxication, sexualized-drinking contexts. Dr. Neilson will be accepting a doctoral student to begin their training in August 2023.
Gender-based violence (GBV) refers to any act that is perpetrated against another person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships. Unequal power relationships refer to interpersonal and societal dynamics that maintain systemic gender inequality. These relationships disempower women, girls, and individuals whose gender identity and/or expression do not conform to prescribed gender roles and expectations.
GBV includes psychological, physical, and sexual violence, harassment and stalking, economic abuse, as well as threats of violence and harm. It can also include reproductive coercion, which includes behaviors intended to create or maintain power and control related to reproductive health within a relationship (e.g., interfering with contraceptive methods, controlling the outcomes of a pregnancy). It can also include the denial of resources, such as food and shelter, or access to services, such as education. GBV is pervasive around the world, and can impact anyone regardless of where they live, their socio-economic background, race, religion, sexuality, or gender identity. While GBV disproportionately affects women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities, cisgender boys and men are also victims of GBV.
Worldwide, it is estimated that 1 in 3 women will experience GBV at some point in her life. At least one in five women in the United States will experience an attempted or completed rape, and those rates are estimated using the most conservative definitions of sexual assault. Women of color, particularly those from Indigenous communities, are disproportionately likely to experience GBV victimization. The very nature of GBV discourages men from disclosing their experience, thus estimates of men’s victimization are less well-known than women’s. However, at least 1 in 10 men will experience GBV at some point in his life. It is well-documented that gender and sexual minorities experience GBV at significantly higher rates than cisgender and/or heterosexual individuals. Because perpetrators are solely responsible for GBV, the SUPER lab predominantly focuses on identifying and intervening on risk factors for GBV perpetration.
 World Health Organization, 2013
 Black et al., 2011
 Muehlenhard et al., 2017
 Juraska et al., 2014
 French et al., 2011
Alcohol and GBV Perpetration
It is well-established in the research literature that alcohol contributes to the perpetration of GBV. At least half of all sexual assaults and instances of intimate partner violence occur when the perpetrator has been drinking. However, the role of alcohol in GBV perpetration is complex; not all individuals become violent after consuming alcohol.
To further understand for whom and under what circumstances alcohol is associated with GBV perpetration, the SUPER lab seeks to identify the individual and situational variables that increase or decrease the likelihood that alcohol intoxication is involved in GBV perpetration. We integrate alcohol myopia theory as a theoretical framework and the existing literature on the neurobiological effects of alcohol intoxication to inform our research in examining potential risk and protective factors. Ultimately, it is our mission to inform intervention programming by illuminating risk and protective factors in alcohol-involved GBV. To that end, the SUPER lab is currently examining emotion-related factors, such as emotional arousal and emotion regulation, as contributing factors of sexual aggression perpetration in an alcohol administration paradigm.
Gender-Based Violence Victimization
The negative effects of GBV victimization are myriad and well-established. Survivors of GBV report immediate and long-term difficulties with physical and mental health, academic and occupational functioning, and interpersonal relationships. Among the many domains in which GBV can affect the health and well-being of the individual, the estimated annual economic impact of sexual assault, one form of GBV, within the United States is over $921 billion.
The SUPER lab is particularly interested in the short- and long-term effects of GBV on substance use, sexual decision-making, and reproductive health. We seek to identify the social-cognitive factors that facilitate recovery from GBV. Through these investigations, we hope to inform and create evidence-based intervention programming to create a more comprehensive and supportive response to GBV victimization.
It is important to note that much of the existing research and intervention programming has been based upon the experiences of cisgender women. The SUPER lab is interested in the experiences of GBV within sexual and gender minority communities. Consistent with our lab’s goal to create more survivor-supportive communities while eradicating GBV, we have several ongoing research projects examining risk and resiliency factors that promote healing from GBV within sexual and gender minority communities. We also seek to ground our research in an intersectional perspective and examine GBV in partnership with communities that have historically been ignored or exploited by researchers, including, but not exclusive to, communities of color, communities of different ability, and rural communities.
 World Health Organization, 2013
 Black et al., 2011
 Muehlenhard et al., 2017
 Juraska et al., 2014
 French et al., 2011
 NCAVP, 2015
 Abbey, 2002; Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1998
 Bryan & McNaughton-Cassill et al.,2013; Kilpatrick, 2000; Nickerson et al., 2013; Testa et al., 2011
 Waechter & Ma, 2015
 Neilson et al., 2014; Neilson et al., 2019
Research Paradigms Using Alcohol
Laboratory-based studies examining alcohol in humans have been utilized since the end of Prohibition. Decades of research in experimental methods have led to the utilization of alcohol administration paradigms, which allow researchers to directly study the effects of acute alcohol intoxication in a laboratory context. The scientific utility of alcohol administration paradigms cannot be overstated. Alcohol administration paradigms have been used to understand the mechanisms underlying alcohol use, alcohol use disorders, and craving. Alcohol administration paradigms have been utilized to better understand human responses under the context of alcohol intoxication, including the effects of alcohol on driving, social interactions, and impulsive decision-making. Results of alcohol administration paradigms have been used to inform state and federal policies, such as limitations on the legal limit for driving and the Federal Drug Administration’s regulations on alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol administration paradigms involve the deliberate and consensual ingestion of alcohol under the supervision and direction of qualified and trained research staff. In an alcohol administration paradigm, an adult participant of legal drinking age is provided with an individually-tailored dose of alcohol and instructed to consume the alcohol under strictly timed procedures. The dosage of alcohol is determined by body weight and enables researchers to induce a specific Breath Alcohol Concentration (BrAC). The participant is then observed for a period of time until their BrAC arrives at the specified level. Participants are then asked to engage in a series of tasks, including completing surveys, computerized tasks, or engaging in social interactions. After completion of the laboratory tasks, participants are provided with food and entertainment until their BrAC return to a level wherein they would not be a danger to themselves or others.
To ensure the safety of participants who participate in alcohol administration studies, participants are screened through thorough and standardized procedures as required by the National Institutes of Health. Further, all alcohol administration studies are required to obtain approval from their institution’s human subjects review board. All potential participants are required to answer questions about their medical history and current medications, history of alcohol use, and any past negative reactions to alcohol, and current usage patterns. It is required that all participants regularly consume alcohol at a level that they have safely self-administered the same dosage of alcohol they would be receiving in the laboratory. Potential participants who do not consume alcohol or who consume alcohol at levels suggesting past or current alcohol use disorder or risk of alcohol use disorder are not permitted to participate. Further, all participants must follow careful pre-study guidelines on the day of the study to ensure their safety. As a result of these procedures, alcohol administration is considered a lower risk by the scientific community.
The SUPER lab seeks to utilize alcohol administration paradigms to better understand the in-the-moment processes in which alcohol contributes to GBV perpetration. Because the association between acute alcohol intoxication and GBV is nuanced, alcohol administration experiments offer one of the most scientifically rigorous ways to augment our understanding of the processes that occur prior to perpetration. While under acute intoxication in the described rigorous procedures, participants engage in proxy tasks that allow us to measure intentions to perpetrate as well as other GBV risk factors. It is through these procedures that we are able to further an enhanced understanding of GBV and are thus able to prevent and intervene to eradicate it.
 For a more thorough review of the history of human laboratory paradigms in alcohol research, please see the fascinating manuscript by Plebani and colleagues (2012).
 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2005
 Wood & Sheer, 2000
Statement on Laboratory Culture
In an ideal world, science would be objective. However, much of science is historically built on a small subset of privileged voices. Injustice and violence against communities, including but not exclusive to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, individuals who are sexual minorities and/or transgender and/or gender expansive, individuals who are immigrants to the United States, and those of differing abilities is a continued symptom of inequity and oppression that we as a nation have built into our daily lives and institutions, including scientific research. Dr. Neilson would like to create a learning environment for the students that supports a diversity of thoughts, perspectives, and experiences, and honors their intersecting identities (including but not exclusive to race, gender, gender expression, class, sexuality, religion, region, and ability). As individuals and as a group, the SUPER lab is committed to reflecting on our own biases, examining the ways in which we can use our privileged voices to help elevate and amplify the oppressed voices in our communities, nation, and the world, upholding and enacting principles of democracy in our lab and society at large, and continuing to take concrete and effective steps toward applying a social justice lens in our research and practice. (Note: This statement draws heavily from the IMPACT Lab at Washington State University, and their contribution must be noted.)