Understanding behaviour in the Australian and New Zealand night-time economies

Understanding behaviour in the Australian and New Zealand night-time economies

Wednesday 4 March, 2015: Prominent UK anthropologist, Dr Anne Fox, today launched an important paper investigating the underlying causes of violence and anti-social behavior in the night-time economies of Australia and New Zealand.

Drawing on extensive field research in both countries and more than 20 years studying drinking cultures and human behaviour, Dr Fox delivers compelling new insights and suggests a range of practical measures to change culture and reduce harms.

Dr Fox said: “In a nutshell, the central point of my report is that it’s the wider culture that determines the behaviour whilst drinking, not just the drinking.

“I use a range of international examples, demonstrating without question that violence and anti-social behaviour are not the inevitable consequences of a vibrant night-time economy.

“Cultural attitudes and norms play a defining role. Only by understanding these underlying drivers can a community hope to make lasting improvements to the way people behave when they are out at night”.

Key findings from Dr Fox’s report (download the report here)

Dr Fox’s report contains four central themes:

1. It’s the wider culture that determines the behaviour whilst drinking, not just the drinking

Different societies with comparable levels and patterns of alcohol consumption experience very different levels of anti-social and violent behaviour in their night-time economies. Most of the differences can be explained by social and cultural factors and, with concerted effort, they can be influenced.

2. The physical effects of alcohol do not determine a behavioural response.

In layman’s terms, Dr. Fox’s research suggests that while alcohol has a very definite physical effect, it doesn’t hijack your moral compass.

Dr Fox says: “Certainly alcohol carries very definite physiological effects. At high doses, the point at which alcohol enters the brain stem, it is easy to see that the physical effects of alcohol can incapacitate all drinkers equally, regardless of cultural differences.

“But just because alcohol relaxes and reduces anxiety does not mean it causes inexplicable changes in behaviour or character or blocks impulse control. There are a couple of very simple observations we can all make that support this conclusion. First, the very same person on the same dose of alcohol can react in myriad different ways on different occasions and in different settings. This simply would not happen if we were talking about a purely physiological response.

“Second, morphologically similar humans in different cultures react completely differently to being ‘under the influence’. Some cultures see very little violence and anti-social behaviour, despite similar levels and patterns of consumption to other nations with high levels of such harm.

“The conclusion of my research, and many previous studies, is that alcohol can, in certain cultures and situations, be a facilitator of aggression if aggression is there to begin with, both in the individual and in the cultural environment. It does not produce it where it doesn’t already exist.”

3. Violent individuals, a violence-reinforcing culture and violent situations are the three interlinked drivers of anti-social behaviour and violence in the night-time economy

Dr Fox makes a number of recommendations to address each of these drivers, with some examples provided below:

  • Violent individuals: Australia and New Zealand needs to ensure effective identification and direct intervention to tackle the behaviour of the minority exhibiting a pre-disposition to violence.
  • Violent situations: We need to work to reduce situational cues – like poor facilities and transport options – that trigger poor behaviour. We also need to change perceptions of what behaviour is socially acceptable while intoxicated and create a genuine fear of stigma for breaking the rules – as has been achieved with drink driving. Realistic consequences such as fines and other sanctions for bad behaviour are needed.
  • Violence-reinforcing-cultures: Australia and New Zealand must address the cultural reinforcers of violence, misogyny, and aggressive masculinity in all its cultural expressions from schoolyards to sports fields, politics and pubs, movies and media. Young men need to be taught that responding with violence is a failure in self-control, not a symbol of masculinity.

4. A dispassionate review of alcohol education is needed.

With over 20 years’ experience delivering alcohol education programs, Dr Fox’s insights are a valuable input into the development of local programs.

Dr Fox says: “Much substance-misuse education, especially that directed at young people, focuses exclusively on risks, dangers and consequences. Educators are often surprised that this information does not result in behaviour change.

“In theory, if we can convince people that the threats are real and that they are susceptible to them, they will change their evil ways. This is the origin of the ‘scare the living daylights out of them’ method of alcohol education.

“Unfortunately, it does not work, no matter how horrendous we make drinking out to be. Why? Because many people perceive the benefits of drinking to outweigh the harms. Alcohol education therefore must refocus on what people perceive to be the benefits and assist them to achieve these largely social goals without harming themselves in the process.

“Despite a desire for practical information on how to drink and stay safe, young adults in our focus groups exhibited very little understanding of the basic facts about alcohol. Appropriate alcohol and drug education must begin before experimentation starts and must focus on accurate, not exaggerated, information, as well as social and personal skills training.

“The child with high self-esteem, good reasoning skills, personal ambition, self-awareness and sound knowledge of drugs and alcohol will be more resistant to peer pressure and the lure of risk-laden thrills. All education must include a very clear message that self-control over behaviour is always possible, even when very drunk,” Dr Fox concluded.

Where to find the full paper:

Dr Fox’s full paper, titled ‘Understanding behaviour in the Australian and New Zealand night-time-economies, an anthropological study,’ is available here

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