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Collins, R. Lorraine
Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo-State University of New York
Buffalo, New York, USA


Archer, John
Department of Psychology, Lancashire Polytechnic, Preston, Lancashire, UK

Symposium Abstract

Alcohol’s link to aggression is related to a variety of factors, including the setting in which drinking takes place.  Along with the presence of alcohol, the physical environment of bars (noisy, crowded, poor ventilation) provide a setting for aggressive behavior (Graham et al., 1980; Homel et al., 1992).  Individual differences including demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, age), psychological factors (e.g., personality), and values, also may contribute to aggression in bars.  This symposium examines predictors of bar violence and describes contributors to specific incidents of bar violence.  The presentations by Dr. Parks and Dr. Collins focus on individual differences as predictors of bar violence among community samples of adults.  The presentations by Ms. Wells and Dr. Graham examine specific incidents of aggressive behavior in bars.  Each presenter will integrate the conference theme of prevention and control of aggression into the discussion of her results.  Dr. John Archer will serve as discussant.


Parks, K.A. and Quigley, B.M.
Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo-State University of New York, Buffalo, New York, USA.

Information about alcohol consumption and the public drinking context of bars or taverns among the general population are limited.  Fisher (1982) assessed tavern use among men and women during the late 1970s using the General Social Survey (GSS).  The GSS consists of interviews from a general population sample of individuals over the age of 18 in the USA from1972 through 1998 (Davis & Smith, 1998).  Fisher (1982) found that going to a tavern more frequently was predicted by being younger, male, not married, less religious, and a drinker. Our paper focuses on 5828 men and women who completed the alcohol consumption and public drinking questions of the GSS, between 1983 and 1998.  In addition to the variables Fisher (1982) found predictive of tavern use, we examined other factors that might indicate a less normative or more risky lifestyle.  These additional factors included smoking, number of sexual partners in the past year, and having been hit or threatened with a gun since the age of 18 years.  The majority of the participants were female (57.1%).  The average age was 45 years.  A majority of participants (85.6%) were European American, 11.5 % African American, and the remaining 2.9% another ethnicity.  More than half (56.6%) of the participants were married, 25.3% were divorced, separated or widowed, and 18.1% had never been married.  These participants had an average of 12.6 years of education. Frequency of going to bars was categorized as never, yearly, monthly, or weekly.  Most participants (48%) frequented bars; 21.7% yearly, 16.8% monthly, and 9.6% weekly.  Being younger, male, European-American, never married, educated, a drinker, a smoker, having more sexual partners, and having been hit after the age of 18 accounted for 35% (Adj. R2) of the variance in frequency of going to bars.  A greater percentage of individuals who had been hit or threatened with a weapon since age 18 reported weekly compared with yearly and monthly frequency in a bar.  Thus, it appears that taverns and bars are settings that attract individuals who have greater experience with aggression and a riskier lifestyle in general.


Collins, R.L., Quigley, B.M. and Leonard, K.E.
Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo-State University of New York, Buffalo, New York, USA

Aggression in bars is a significant problem, particularly among young adults. We assessed the self-reported occurrence of bar violence among a sample of 263 young adults (mean age = 21.67 years).  Participants (140 men, 123 women) completed questionnaires to assess psychological characteristics (e.g., personality, anger), substance use (e.g., alcohol/drug use, alcohol problems), and experience of bar violence (modified Conflict Tactics Scale).  More than half (n = 149; 57%) of the participants reported experiencing bar violence during the past year. Most of these participants (60%) reported one or two such incidents, 21% reported three to five incidents, and the remainder reported 6 or more incidents during the past year.  Of those who reported that their most severe violent incident occurred in a bar, 60 participants (men = 40, women = 20) reported being slapped, punched, and kicked; 48 participants (men = 27, women = 21) reported being pushed, grabbed, or shoved; and 8 men reported bar violence involving a weapon. We examined the role of different contributors to the number of incidents of bar violence experienced during the past year. Demographic characteristics, psychological characteristics, and substance use served as predictors in a hierarchical multiple regression. The results indicated that men experienced more bar violence than women.  Extraversion and the expectancy that alcohol would increase aggression and power were significant psychological predictors.  Alcohol use and alcohol problems were significant substance-related predictors. Our results are consistent with previous research on bar violence and expand our understanding of the role of psychological characteristics. Programs to lessen heavy drinking and related negative consequences, particularly among young men, could lessen the occurrence of bar violence.     


Wells, S. and Graham, K.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, London, Ontario, Canada

The purpose of the present study is to increase understanding of naturally-occurring aggression among young adults who drink in bars.  We used naturalistic observation and semi-structured interviews to document the characteristics of aggressive incidents in bars, such as the number and gender of participants, level of aggression, and the role of third party patrons and security staff. Of the 117 observed and 52 interview incidents included in the analysis, most involved only males (74.0%) and at least moderate physical aggression (i.e., pushing, shoving, slapping, 68.0%). Incidents tended to cluster in high traffic areas of the bar and many started or continued outside the bar (31.3%). Of those incidents for which the reason for aggression could be identified (about 50% of observed incidents and 86% of interview incidents), the following types of conflict were identified: conflict with staff (17.3%), bar activities such as “moshing” or slam dancing (17.3%), trouble making and offensive behavior (42.3%), and interpersonal or relationship issues (23.1%).  Incidents with more than two participants were common, with 35.5% involving five or more patrons. A significant correlation was found between the number of participants and the severity of aggression. Almost half of the incidents included third party involvement by other patrons, including non-aggressive third parties (i.e., people trying to break up the fight) and aggressive third parties (i.e., people “jumping in” to join an ongoing fight). Over 60% of incidents involved security staff whose behavior varied considerably, ranging from preventing aggression through reducing provocative behavior to being physically violent themselves. These findings suggest avenues for prevention and control of aggression.  They include changes in bar layout and training staff in intervening early and preventing incidents from escalating due to third party involvement. The large proportion of incidents that started or continued outside the bar suggest that more effective prevention inside the bar could lessen aggression outside the bar.


Graham, K. and Wells, S.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, London, Ontario, Canada

Durham police arrested a 22-year-old man yesterday in connection with a bar fight that may have led to the death of an Ajax man  The fight began inside the bar between two groups of friends, but then moved outside to the parking lot  One of the men hit Lebar in the head. Lebar then collapsed and hit his head on the pavement. (Toronto Star, December 15, 1996)

Young men are particularly at risk for aggression in barroom settings (Marsh & Kibby, 1992; Pernanen, 1991; Tomsen, 1997). The present study used qualitative analysis of 21 incidents of barroom aggression described by men aged 20-24 in telephone interviews. Common themes that emerged from these descriptions included: a contributing role of alcohol in making one or more participants less aware of risks, more courageous or willing to take risks, more stimulated, more emotional or just generally more aggressive; a role of the environment in that many incidents were directly related to crowding or lack of effective intervention by bar staff and often occurred in bars in which aggression was considered to be a common event; a role of the male experience that barroom fighting is generally rewarded in terms of feelings of righteousness and group solidarity, while counteracting punishments for aggression are rare. Descriptions of incidents were examined to assess support for four general explanations of aggression: male honor and face saving (Archer, 1994; Felson, 1982), addressing a grievance (Tedeschi & Felson, 1994), emotional arousal (Berkowitz, 1986) and fighting for fun (Tomsen, 1997). Although some support was found for all four explanations, the predominant themes of the incidents were fighting for fun and issues related to male honor. Although alcohol intoxication was seen as contributing to aggression, values and attitudes defining barroom aggression as positive and appropriate behavior seemed to be the primary reason for most incidents. Environmental approaches to prevention are also called for, including reducing environmental risks that elicit or provoke aggression, training staff to be more effective in dealing with aggressive behavior and developing policies that encourage bar owners to apply sanctions (e.g., banning) to individuals who repeatedly become involved in fights.