Interviewing underage teenage boys about drinking needed the full approval of local hospital ethical committees overseeing the research at the eight centres in the UK, Ireland, France and Germany.
The boys were recruited from local high schools and were promised complete anonymity. Even their parents, who had to give their approval, were not allowed to see the boys’ answers to the researchers’ questionnaires.
The boys were also asked to give samples of DNA for genetic analysis, which revealed which variations of the RASGRF-2 “thrill seeking” gene they carried. Their patterns of brain activity were monitored by hospital MRI scanners to see which parts of the brain were activated in the presence of certain stimuli that simulated the anticipation of a reward.
The scientists also asked the parents of the boys to complete questionnaires to assess their own attitudes to alcohol use, which could be used to see whether there was a family history of heavy drinking. Some of the questionnaires were completed on-line, some during face-to-face interviews with the researchers.