Pervasive, hard-wired and male: Qualitative study of how UK adolescents view alcohol-related aggression


laboratory, alcohol, adolescence, aggression


Laboratory studies of alcohol-inexperienced adolescents show that aggression can be primed by alcohol-related stimuli, suggesting that alcohol-related aggression is partly socially learned. Script theory proposes that alcohol-related aggression ‘scripts’ for social behaviors are culturally-available and learned by individuals. The purpose of the study was to understand the content and origins of alcohol-related aggression scripts learned by adolescents. This qualitative focus group study of 40 adolescents (ages 14–16 years) examined alcohol-related aggression scripts. Participants believed aggression and severe injury to be pervasive when young people drink. Viewed through a biological lens, participants described aggression as an ‘instinctive’ and ‘hard-wired’ male trait facilitated by intoxication. As such, alcohol-related aggression was not seen as intended or personally controllable and participants did not see it in moral terms. Females were largely viewed as either bystanders of inter-male aggression or potential victims of male sexual aggression. Participants attributed their views on the frequency and nature of alcohol-related aggression to current affairs and reality television, which they felt portrayed a reality of which they had little experience. The origins of the explicitly biological frameworks that participants used seemed to lie in pre-existing beliefs about the nature of gender differences. Perceptions of the pervasiveness of male alcohol-related aggression, and the consequent failure to view alcohol-related aggression in moral terms, could dispose some young people to alcohol-related aggression. Interventions could target (1) the beliefs that alcohol-related aggression is pervasive and uncontrollable in males, and (2) participants’ dysfunctional views of masculinity that underpin those beliefs.

Original Publication Citation

Whitaker, L., Brown, S. L., Young, B., Fereday, R., Coyne, S. M., & Qualter, P. (2018). Pervasive, hard-wired and male: Qualitative study of how UK adolescents view alcohol-related aggression. PLOSOne, 13: e0191269

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


PLoS One




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor