Assistant Professor of Psychology Robert Wickham and a group of Elizabethtown College students recently had a study published in Psychology and Neuroscience, an American Psychological Association journal. The students Wickham collaborated with include Makenzie Lehr ‘20, Lauryn Mitchell ‘20, Lauren Kerr ‘21, and Kaylee Kline ‘21.

Their paper, “Comparing taste preference for menthol stereoisomers in adolescent Sprague–Dawley Rats,” details experiments they completed that compare the chemosensory effects of L- and D-menthol in rats. It shows that L-menthol and D-menthol produce similar aversion in obsolescent rats, regardless of sex. Wickham and his students chose to focus on this topic partly because of his personal connection to it.

“Mentholated tobacco products have always been in my life,” said Wickham. “My mom was a menthol smoker, and it took her about 30 years to quit. The science right now says that mentholated tobacco products have higher addictive potential than their nonmenthol counterparts. One way in which menthol makes these products more dangerous is that it can mask much of the aversive sensory properties experienced during smoking. We wanted to see if the specific kind of menthol (L-versus D-menthol) had any difference in taste, and we find that they do not.”

Kline, who assisted mainly with data-keeping and animal husbandry, says this paper helped her narrow down her career choices.

“Before beginning this research project, I was unsure what part of psychology I wanted to pursue,” said Kline. “After working with rats, I have found that I want to continue working with animals. I have decided to pursue a career in comparative psychology, which is the study of animal behaviors and mental processes.”

Wickham enjoyed working with the four students to publish this paper and says he has always enjoyed collaborating with students.

“I always find that I get a fresh perspective on the topic when working with students,” said Wickham. “That helps me frame the problem in a new light.”