Why do young people binge drink?

This is a useful podcast from Thinking Allowed which explores the role and meaning of both alcohol and drugs in human life with three academics – Professors James Mills, Fiona Measham and Chris Hackley.

This post just focusses on one aspect of the research (there are many more covered!) – The topic of why young people drink excessively, with some interesting findings based on semi-structured interviews with 18-25 year olds (roughly 5 mins in)

What this method yielded were the respondents own stories about their binging and events relayed included such things as falling asleep at the table in a pub, blacking out, vomiting, and getting into fights.

One thing that surprised the researchers was the enthusiasm and energy with which the respondents conveyed stories even though they weren’t necessarily pleasurable, and sometimes even dangerous.

Interepretation by the researchers was that the ‘binge drinking ritual’ had the following functions – Most of which are not actually necessarily about enjoying yourself.

  • Firstly, drinking to excess transported the group of friends to a fantasy land of shared interest taking them away from the mundane tedium of daily life, providing an opportunity in which ordinary social norms could be transgressed more easily because of being drunk.
  • Secondly, the drinking enabled individuals to forget themselves for a while. The researchers argued this is implicit in the way binge drinking is talked about in which phrases such as ‘getting wasted’ or ‘getting annihilated’ are commonly used.
  • Thirdly there was quite often an element of risk present which necessitated looking out for eachother, which tested boundaries of friendship and facilitated group bonding .

This research also demonstrates the usefulness of the unstructured interview method to this particular topic – which is the only method that allows the researcher to observe things such as enthusiasm as the respondents tell their own stories. This wouldn’t be possible with more structured interviews or questionnaires, or even observations of the events.  What you get with this method is the sense that the respondents are very happy to reflect on these drinking events. They have a long memory, long after the drinking has taken place.

All in all this is a useful counterweight to moral panic reporting about increases in binge drinking amongst youth today, which suggests that rather than being an end in itself, much binge drinking today is merely part of youth culture with broader and temporary life-stage specific functions.

Video Sources for teaching Research Methods

This post is simply a list of good videos for teaching and revising research methods

Social Surveys

Doing Sociological Research – If you can get over the desperate attempt to be ‘down with the kids’, then the section on survey research in education offers a very useful explanation of sampling and operationalising concepts such as social class.


Milgram’s obedience experiments (youtube) – Link takes you to a contemporary version of Milgram’s experiment, which reveals depressingly similar results to the original.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (youtube)

A good example of a field experiment measuring how the public respond differently to differnt ethnicities engaged in stealing a bike.

This is a second field experiment measuring how the public respond differently to differnt ethnicities engaged in vandalising a car from the everyday sociology blog (videos removed but a good explanation on the blog)

Unstructured and Semi-Structured Interviews

Many episodes of Louis Theroux are good for unstructured interviews – I especially recommend the following –

America’s Medicated Kids (Youtube) – Louis even talks about ‘being a T.V. interviewer in the introduction. Also it should be fairly obvious why ‘unstructured interviews’ are suitable for researching these children.

Louis Theroux Behind Bars (Youtube) In which Louis interviews a man sentenced to over 500 years in jail

This is an interview with Louis Theroux (Youtube) talking about why he likes ‘unstructured interviews’ – about 1.13 in

OK – It’s not a video, it’s a podcast – but from about 5 minutes in there are some interesting results from research based on interviews with 18-25 year olds on the question of ‘why they drink to excess’. Their insights tell you much more than stats ever can about youth binge drinking today.

Participant Observation

Tribe with Bruce Parry is a good, basic introduction to the advantages and Limitations of using Overt PO to research traditional societies in remote rural settings. I especially recommend the episode on the Suri in Ethopia.

For Covert Participant Observation, the standard ‘classic video’ from the late 1990s is Donal Macintyre’s research with the Chelsea Headhunters (link is to college’s estream and requires password)

Another ‘covert classic’ is the Secret Policeman – College estream link (needs password)

Official Statistics

The Office for National Statistics has a huge array of videos on youtube. Some of the most interesting include – (1) Immigration Stats (2) Household Wealth (3) Cohabitation in the UK (4) The Latest on the Labour Market, including unemployment stats

Secondary Qualitative Data

The Freedom Writers – (link to college estream, requires pass word) A film based on a true life story of a teacher who gets her disinterested English literature students to tell their own stories using diaries

The BBC’s who do you think you are is an accessible way to introduce the usefulness of secondary qualitative data. This is a link to one episode on estream (password required)

TED Talk – what we learned from 5 million books – using google ngrams to quantify the content of books

Longitudinal Studies 

The Marshmallow Experiment (Youtube)  – Measures deferred gratification in children and then tracks the children through childhood to see the effects of deferred gratification on future test scores in education.

Another classic is 7 Up – This is the original 1964 documentary and the trailer for 56 up 

Other Videos

It’s a bit long winded, and it is a cartoon – but this is a good xtranormal video (link to youtube) that goes over the pros and cons of quantitative versus qualitative research – using the topic of researching children with ADD as an example.


Snow Day work due to school closure…

Whatever work you set your students this snow day, this is probably how most of them will interpret it –  

Work is as follows –
  1. Lay in (as if you haven’t already done that)
  2. Buy sledge
  3. Go sledging
  4. Don’t break leg
  5. or anyone elses
  6. Have snowball fight with random people – must be random
  7. just make sure you pick people that look like they fancy a snowball fight (no ‘moany old bears)  
  8. Build snowman
  9. not a ‘rude’ snowman -that’s way too crude
  10. Go home, eat cake
  11. Engage in audio visual entertainment of your choice
  12. Make sure you watch the news reports about all those poor people that had to go to work today.

Using twitter to research sexism

Just stumbled across an interesting use of twitter – I’m not sure exactly what time it started but sometime today (the first tweets originate from 8 Hrs ago, so it must have started circa 12.00 GMT) @EverydaySexism (website here) facilitated a TWITTER CHAT on Street Harassment on the #ShoutingBack encouraging users to tweet their experiences of harassment.
This post lists some of the responses and then discusses methods
A selection of tweets on #shoutingback
Most responses relayed experiences on the street and in bars. Some of the most shocking/ retweeted include – (NB – These are in no particular order, my twitter analysis skills aren’t up to that!)

Abi OAbi O@ashke50at 15, with friends on train, group of boys blocking our path and asking if they “made us wet”.

EverydaySexismRT TheAfricanHippy Walking home in the afternoon.Drunk guy says: If I knew where you lived, I’d follow you home and rape you

Emma AmatoEmma Amato ‏@emmatronic – A van that blocks you while cycling so the driver can tell you he wants to be your saddle

Rachel BichenerRachel Bichener ‏@rachelwaxinglyr – chased by a bin lorry full of jeering men for a mile while on my bike, aged 18. Never rode again until 32.

chillerchiller ‏@chiller – If I wrote down all the assaults & verbal harassment experienced since age 12 I’d be here for a month.

ylhlhrylhlhr ‏@stopgrinning – complaining about street harassment or harassment in general, being told by others you should feel ‘flattered’.

Dancing MisanthropeDancing Misanthrope ‏@DaMisanthrope – People shocked by India rape reports as if it’s a foreign problem, check your own backyard

Roxanna BennettRoxanna Bennett@roxannabennett – Male friends told me it was disgusting I was breast feeding and that’s not what tits are for

Natasha ViannaNatasha Vianna ‏@NatashaVianna – Clubs are the worst! How many times have I felt stiff penis on my back while dancing? Too many.

Ellie ThomasEllie Thomas ‏@EleanorMThomas – Friend and I trying to take down tent at festival without bending over, due to shouts of “legs” and “boobs”

Tarah STarah S ‏@tarahfied –  going out to a club. guys decide to dance&touch w/o asking, get offended when you push them away or say no.


I also quite liked this response…

Hollaback Girl ‏@hollabackgrrrl – Man in bar repeatedly groped me, used homophobic/sexist slurs. I yelled at him the first 3 times. The fourth I broke his nose.

So what are the strengths and limitations of this as a method for finding out about street harassment? 


  • Firstly on a practical note  it’s very easy to set up, free, and accessible
  • Secondly, it’s hopefully empowering for the women using it – I like to think of women reading thinking ‘I’m not the only one’ – quite a few tweets with ‘solidarity’
  • Thirdly, on the concept of validity – it’s giving users the freedom to define sexual harrassment, useful for facilitating debate around the issue.
  • Fourthly, it’s giving us an idea of the range of experiences of sexual harassment – could be a useful basis for operationalising a questionnaire with a more representative sampling frame.
Now to the limitations
  • Firstly and most obviously, the sample will be biased in the extreme – limited to twitter users, and to users who follow @Everydaysexism and happen to be on twitter at the opportune moment, so this research is useless as a quantitative study.
  • Secondly, we always have to question the validity of what’s being said and it is very difficult to validate the truth of what these women are saying. I am not saying these women are lying, just that it is practically impossible to verify what they are saying.  Having said this, I personally wouldn’t have thought there is that much motivation to lie on twitter about such experiences given that ‘coming out with them’ is probably accompanied by negative emotions.
Find out More 

If you want to find out more about the extent of street harassment – then check out the collective action for safe spaces blog (U.S based)

This Guardian Article suggests 40% of women have experienced sexual harassment – based on a yougov poll

Hollaback – a depressing but useful site in which women in Birmingham share their experiences of harassment, has the potential to expand into more areas!


Do women really only want to date hot guys?

Plenty of Fish is one of the world’s most popular dating sites. There’s an interesting thread of videos on youtube consisting of disgruntled guys who have used this site moaning about their lack of responses from girls.

One ex-user of the site (Steve Sanders) even conducted what can be termed a ‘layman’s field experiments’ to establish why he was getting zero response from POF women.

It struck me that this is a great way to introduce some of the limitations of the experimental method in the social sciences (it’s a pretty bad experiment!) Teachers can cut and paste the questions onto a worksheet if they have the time… 

Watch the details of the experiment below – Answers below… (NB – You only need watch up to about 4 minutes in, then you can skip to just before 6 mins to get the conclusions)



Q1 What hypothesis does he start off with?

  • ‘Girls will only respond to hot guys’ on plenty of fish

Q2 What does  Steve do in order to test his hypothesis?

  • He set up an alternative profile with the same details as his, but with a picture of a hot guy rather than a
  • He then emailed 6 women from each account – from his own he sent a ‘well crafted email’ and from the fake ‘hot guy’ account, he sent a basic email saying only ‘hey girl, want to party’

Q3 In what ways did Steve stratify his sample?

  • He split them into with and without children and then into three different age groups.
  • In fairness to Steve, this is actually a good example of a ‘stratified sampling’ technique that enhances representativeness

Q4 What did all of the women in his sample have in common?

  • They all stated in their profiles that they wanted a relationship

Q5 What were the results of Steve’s experiment? 

  • The hot guy received 4/6 return emails, and dozens of unsolicited emails
  • Steve using his original email received only 1 reply

Q6: What conclusion does Steve draw from the results of his experiment? (about 6 minutes in)

  • Plenty of fish girls only look for hot guys

Q7: What further conclusions does he draw?

  • Because all of the women in his sample say they are looking for a relationship yet respond to a guy who says he only wants to party he concludes that ‘women are idiots’
  • He goes on to say that if you’re a hot guy, you should go on Plenty of Fish because you can get laid every night because ‘women are fucking idiots’, although this is somewhat contradiced by his opening frame (1 second in) which claims that ‘Plenty of Fish Girls are whores’.

Q8: In the light of this experiment are Steve’s conclusions valid?

There are a few limitations of Steve’s field experiment

  • A more sensible conclusion (other than all women are fucking idiots) would be that the women in his sample do want a relationship, but they also want sex with hot guys too.
  • There may be other reasons why Steve gets no responses – He may just be very ugly, and a ‘well crafted’ email from a 4/10 rather than a 1/10 may get as many responses as the hot guy.
  • He is quite a bitter individual, this may come across in his emails – he may think he’s writing a ‘well crafted’ email, but it in fact it could come across as creepy.
  • Obviously the sample size is too small to generalize from.
  • And are these ‘girls’ or ‘women’???


Oh and one final thing, Steve, I’m sorry to tell you that not all women on POF are ‘fucking idiots’. I met* a fearsomely attractive, intelligent woman through POF just this week in fact, so maybe there are some ‘whores’ on the site, but there’s some precious gems too.

(*Mind you, I am pretty hot, so maybe that’s to be expected!)

Good Sociology Videos

My top four video ‘hub sites’ – These sites are what I believe to be the best for finding up-to-date information about contemporary sociological video resources.

1 – Top Documentary Films

An excellent site for documentaries relevant to Sociology as well as just for general interest too. The site features mainly American and British documentaries, but there are also plenty from around the world too, all organised into useful categories such as ‘society’ and ‘economics’, with short summaries and embedded links to the videos if they are available online, which most are, although some have been removed due to copy right reasons, which can be frustrating. There are thousands of documentaries, all of which are hosted on other sites such as YouTube or Google video, but what makes this site so useful is the categorisation system – you can browse very easily by category

2 – The Sociological Cinema – Teaching and Learning Sociology through Video

This site is designed to help sociology instructors incorporate videos into their classes. I t does have a somewhat American focus, but it is still very useable for many topics in Britain, most obviously if you teach global development

Each post consists of a brief summary of the relevant film or documentary and, if available a link to the film or short excerpt. Many of the entries are, in fact, short excerpts, which are fine for teaching many issues.

To give you an example of how up to date and potentially useful the site is – check out their globalisation category: there are about a dozen entries from 2012 alone.

3 – TED Talks

TED stands for Technology, Education and Design, and some of these talks are ‘jaw dropping’ – which is actually one of the categories you can search via. Although the subject material ranges far beyond the scope of Sociology, there is much of Sociological relevance here – to find talks on specific topics use this tag page. They also have playlists – but many of these are just celebrities pointing to their ‘favourite talks’ so these lists probably won’t be that useful to most people.

4. – RSA Videos (Royal Sociological Association Videos)

Videos here are organised into three basic categories – Lectures/ discussions, RSA shorts (although these are a bit thin) and the excellent RSA animate videos which introduce fairly complex topics in 10 minute animations.

I really like the simplicity of the mission of the RSA – Which is to continually reinvent the Enlightenment project for the 21st century through developing and promoting new ways of thinking about human fulfilment and social progress. OK the site isn’t really for your average A level student, but the RSA is ‘real sociology’ as far as I’m concerned – It cuts across disciplines – looking at politics, society, economics and psychology, and if you ever need an example of a reflexive organisation – look no further than the RSA! Oh, it’s also British, so this biases the RSA up the rankings too. The RSA also has a YouTube channel where you can access the videos