$918,856 Federal Study: Bar Fights Tend to Happen in Darker, Dirtier Bars Frequented by Heavy Drinking, Less Agreeable People

Dan Joseph | October 7, 2010 | 4:42pm EDT
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(Associate Press photo/Toby Talbot)

(CNSNews.com) - The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism paid $918,856 in tax dollars to fund a five-year study of “Alcohol and Bar Violence” that determined, among other things, that bar fights tend to occur in venues that are relatively dark, dirty, noisy, hot, and crowded and that are frequented by a clientele of younger, less agreeable, less conscientious, more impulsive heavy drinkers.

The study also discovered that a woman who gets in a bar fight has consumed on average four times as many drinks as her usual intake.

The $918,856 went to researchers at the Research Institute on Addictions at the State University of New York at Buffalo for a project entitled “Alcohol and Bar Violence.” The project ran from Sept. 25, 1997 to Aug. 31, 2002.

The research was based on two telephone surveys in which a random sample of 1,400 men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 were interviewed. Additional respondents were also recruited through newspaper advertisements. The researchers ultimately derived a sub-sample of 300 respondents who said they had either observed or been involved in aggression in bars. These respondents were interviewed in person. From this group, the researchers derived a group of 92 women who had either initiated or been the recipient of aggression in a bar. The researchers paid these women $50 a piece to fill out a questionnaire and submit to a face-to-face interview.

“Bar characteristics that are related to the occurrence of violence included: smokiness, noise, temperature, dirt, darkness, crowding, poor ventilation, the presence of competitive games (e.g., darts, pool), bouncers, and more male than female employees,” the researchers wrote in a summary of their work published in 2004.

“Individuals who usually visited violent bars were more likely to be younger, to be lower on agreeableness and conscientiousness, to be more impulsive, and more likely to express their anger, to be heavier drinkers, to have alcohol dependence problems, and to be more likely to hold the belief that alcohol makes them aggressive,” the researchers wrote.

In a 2007 article—“Women’s Physical Aggression in Bars: An Event-Based Examination of Precipitants and Predictors of Severity”—the researchers discussed their interviews with 92 women who they paid $50 a piece to discuss acts of aggression they had been involved with in bars where they had been either the initiator or the object of the aggression. The researchers discovered the women had been drinking at a greater rate than usual when they got in the fight.

“Women reported relatively high alcohol intake just before the incident of aggression and the number of drinks consumed in the bar before the incident was related positively to initiating it,” they wrote.

In a summary of their research published by the Research Institute on Addiction in 2008, the researchers (Kenneth E. Leonard, Brian Quigley and Lorraine Collins) said the women who had been in bar fights said they usually would have one drink when they went to a bar, but had consumed an average of four on the day they got in the fight—with the woman who started the fight typically having consumed five and the woman who was the target of the fight typically having consumed three.

“Participants reported that when they typically visited a bar, they would have one alcoholic drink; however, on the day of the bar aggression they reported consuming four drinks in the bar prior to the incident,” said the researchers. “Participants reported initiating the physical aggression 33 percent of the time. They also reported consuming more drinks at the bar (five) when they had initiated the aggression. Participants reported consuming fewer drinks at the bar (three) when the opponent was the initiator.”

The researchers also discovered that when a woman got into a fight with another woman in a bar “rowdy and obnoxious behavior by the other person” and “conflict over or with a romantic partner” were the two most likely causes. When a woman got in a fight with a man, the two most likely causes were “conflict with or over a romantic partner” and “sexual harassment.” 

In a 2003 article in the Journal on Studies of Alcohol—“Characteristics of Violent Bars and Bar Patrons”—the researchers summarized what they had learned about people who get in bar fights and the type of bars where the fights happen.

“Participants' age, alcohol dependence and anger expression differentiated those who frequented violent bars from those who frequented nonviolent bars. The relationship of these individual differences to bar type was mediated by a number of characteristics of the bar itself, including noise, temperature, the presence of bouncers, the gender of the workers, the presence of billiards and illegal activities in the bar,” says the abstract of the article posted on the NIH’s National Library of Medicine website.

“The results indicate that individuals having certain personality characteristics are attracted to bar environments that promote antinormative behaviors such as violence,” says the abstract. “However, it seems to be the characteristics of the bars that are the strongest predictors of violence.”

The researchers also summarized these results in their 2007 article in Aggressive Behavior. “As described most recently by Quigley et al., bars in which aggression occurred tended to be ‘smokier, more crowded, dirtier, darker, noisier and warmer and to have poorer ventilation,’” they wrote. “They also were more likely to have lower cost drinks, a younger clientele, illegal activities, bouncers, pool tables, dancing, and the staff tended to be predominantly male.”

Interestingly, although bar fights tended to occur in darker, dirtier bars, the researchers found that when it was women who got in a fight in such an environment the surroundings tended to lessen the severity of their aggression—as opposed to having consumed more drinks, or facing off against another woman (as opposed to a male opponent0, which were factors that tended to increase the severity of their aggression.

“Results showed that severity of aggression [by a woman] was significantly and positively associated with the respondent initiating the physical aggression and with having a female opponent,” the researchers wrote in their 2007 article on “Women’s Physical Aggression in Bars.”

“The bar’s physical environment was a significant predictor of the severity of aggression by the respondent, but the relationship was unexpectedly in a negative direction,” they wrote. “The results suggested that bars that were darker, warmer, dirtier, and more crowded were associated with less severe physical aggression by the [female] respondent.”

“The gender of the opponent also was significantly and negatively related to the severity of the opponent’s acts, suggesting that women received more severe aggression from other women,” the researchers wrote. “The number of drinks the respondents consumed at the bar was a marginally significant positive predictor and the bars’ physical environment was a marginally significant negative predictor of the severity of the acts of aggression by the opponents. As with the predictors of aggression by the respondent, these results suggest that the women exhibited less severe aggression in bars that had riskier environments.”

When asked by CNSNews.com why a specific focus had been put on women in the study, researcher Kenneth Leonard emphasized that the main focus of the overall study was on men.

“There was a small group of women that was included and that’s because we know very little, first of all about how women are assaulted and what the factors are involved in them being assaulted or them being aggressive,” Leonard said. “The focus of that one article was on the few number of women who were involved in these episodes. But the focus of the study itself was on violence that occurred in the social context and in detail on violence that occurred in and around bars.”

CNS News asked Lorraine Collins how she would explain to the average American mom and dad--who make $52,000 per year, according to the Census Bureau--that taxing them to pay for this grant was justified.

“I think that all research is justified to the extent that it provides us with information that can be used to address public health problems,” said Collins. “I would think that many parents of males and females who are young and using alcohol might want us to understand what’s going on with their behavior.”

“The way that we tend to see research is that to the extent that we understand problem behaviors that we might be able to intervene to change those behaviors.”

CNSNews.com also asked the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism how it would justify the $918,856 in tax dollars spent on this grant to the average family earning $52,000 per year.

“Problems related to the excessive consumption of alcohol cost U.S. society an estimated $235 billion annually,” said NIAAA Spokesman John Bowersox. “Alcohol use, the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. is responsible for approximately 80,000 deaths annually.

“Alcohol-related violence is an important social and public health problem, and a substantial proportion of alcohol-related violence and injury occurs in licensed premises,” said Bowersox. “Analyses of aggression in bars will allow us to better u nderstand the alcohol-aggression relationship and identify specific aspects of barroom aggression for targeting prevention programs.”

In concluding their Aggressive Behavior article on women’s aggression in bars, the researchers recommended that additional research be done on the subject.

“Future research should examine gender and other differences in the antecedents and correlates of aggression in different types of bars as well as in other drinking settings,” they wrote. “The use of a wider range of predictors and larger and more diverse samples also would add to knowledge. For now, this study complements and expands upon the dearth of research that has examined women’s aggression in bars and suggests the need for more research on women’s roles as perpetrators and victims of such aggression.”

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