Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

The hazards of psychological research

Edited by Jill Wright,

There's something quite arresting about the latest post in the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog, which details the results of research carried out by Michael Parks, R.B. Felsom, D.K. Osgood and K. Graham from Penn State University's Department of Sociology and Criminology into the precise conditions under which bystanders were likely to intervene in bar-room brawls.

The team trained dozens of observers who analysed 860 aggressive incidents across 503 nights in 87 large clubs and bars in Toronto, Canada ... which suggests that these researchers literally went looking for trouble.

One can only hope that the training program included a few sessions on the art of self-defence, because the trouble they were looking for was defined as anything from a verbal insult or unwanted physical contact to a punch or kick.

And this is not the first time Osgood and Graham have put themselves and their trained observers in harm's way, exploring the seedy world of booze and biffo in the interests of science.

We unearthed a 2006 study in which they trained another team who recorded 1025 incidents of aggression during 1334 nights of observation in 118 bars and clubs in Toronto, and came up with the not particularly earth-shattering finding that "both level of intoxication of the crowd during the visit as well as mean level of intoxication at the bar level significantly predicted frequency of aggression".

That's precisely why we stay out of bars and clubs in Melbourne, or anywhere else for that matter.

Thanks to further work by Osgood and Graham, we could be a little more discriminating in future, as a result of one of their studies last year which identified hotspots for aggression in licensed drinking venues "in order to better understand the social context of barroom aggression".

We can report that the most common location for aggression was the dance floor (20.0% of incidents) or near the dance floor (11.5%), followed by near the serving bar (15.7%), at tables (13.1%), aisles, hallways and other areas of movement (6.2%), entrance (4.5%) and the pool playing area (4.1%). That possibly means that one could feel comparatively safe if one enjoyed a quiet drink while locked in a lavatory.

We bring this to your attention simply to alert you to the fact that the practice of psychology can be adventurous, at times, even, umm, terrifying.


About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the APS Victorian branch Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.

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