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Study Description

Spit for Science™ is a university-wide research opportunity with the scientific goal of understanding how genetic and environmental factors come together to influence substance use and emotional health across the college years and beyond. To address this goal, we have comprehensively and longitudinally studied eligible incoming freshmen (18 years or older) from a diverse urban university, assessing a wide range of risk and protective factors, including both biological susceptibility and environmental risk, and a variety of outcome measures, particularly alcohol use and other substances, and difficulties with emotional health. Our goal is to assess how risk and protective factors dynamically interact to contribute to behavior health outcomes over time and plan to use findings from the project to inform prevention and intervention efforts and aid in university policy and programming in ways that can support and promote student success.

Methods: In the fall of their freshman year, first-time college students over the age of 18 are invited to complete an online survey containing broad questions about personality and behavior, as well as family, friends, and experiences growing up. Students can also provide a saliva sample and participate in the DNA component of the project (participation in the DNA component is not a requirement for participation in the survey). Each subsequent spring students are asked to complete a follow-up survey, enabling researchers to study patterns of substance use and emotional health across the college years.

Authorized Access
Publicly Available Data (Public ftp)
Study Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria


  • 18 years old or older
  • First-time freshman
  • Full-time student


  • Under 18 years of age
  • Previous college experience
  • Part-time student

Study History

The first cohort of Spit for Science was enrolled with incoming freshmen in fall of 2011. We enrolled three additional cohorts in the falls of 2012-2014, and fifth cohort in 2017. In total, we have enrolled 12,365 participants across the first five cohorts (Cohort 1, N=2707; Cohort 2, N=2481, Cohort 3, N=2391, Cohort 4, N=2310 and cohort 5, N=2476) with an average cohort size of N=2473, and participation rate remarkably consistent at 66-68% enrollment of all incoming eligible freshmen. When participants pick up survey compensation, they are given the option of providing a DNA sample. Of the 12,365 participants that completed the survey, 93% pick up compensation (N=11,491). 97% of the participants who pick up compensation provided a DNA sample during their freshman year (N=11,147).

Selected Publications
Diseases/Traits Related to Study (MeSH terms)
Links to Related Resources
Authorized Data Access Requests
See research articles citing use of the data from this study
Study Attribution
  • Principal Investigator
    • Danielle Dick, PhD. Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA.
  • Funding Source
    • R37AA011408. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.