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Environmental influences on risk taking among Hong Kong young dance partygoers.

Attending rave parties or discos (hereafter referred to as "the dance party") has appeared to be a risk factor for drug abuse and other risky behavior by young people (Forsyth & Barnard, 1997). Attendance seems to expose them to influences of certain music and dancing, although they can also have recreational functions (Christenson & Roberts, 1998). While not all genres of music are problematic, those of heavy metal (Singer & Levine 1993), rap (Wingood et al., 2003), and rock (Benjamin, 1999; Kalof, 1999) are particularly notorious for inducing risk in young listeners. It is no surprise that, starting from the onset of the dance party in the late 1980s, it has had a close relationship with the abuse of ecstasy (an illicit psychotropic drug) among partygoers. It has been theorized that engagement in a dance party can produce a trance-like state that stimulates one to take risks (Rietveld, 2004). However, since this view is not based on empirical investigation, research, such as the present study, is necessary to determine if and how the environmental factors of the dance party engender risks for young partygoers.

Risks, in terms of the likelihood of drug abuse, coitus, unprotected coitus, fighting, and high-speed driving, are the criterion variables of the study. Factors related to the dance party include the location (Hong Kong and Mainland China), fees, number of partners, dancers, police inspection, drug supply, drug sales, injuries, coitus, fighting, drug abuse, and environmental factors. The environmental factors are the availability of first aid, fire extinguishing, and drinking water facilities, light and audio effects, ventilation, drug circulation, underage admission, sex partners, fighting, and low-price beer.

Hypothesized Impacts of Factors Related to the Dance Party

A dance party in Mainland China is likely to entail more risk than one in Hong Kong for young partygoers from Hong Kong. Evidence has shown that young people who cross the border from Hong Kong to the mainland are particularly at risk for drug abuse (Lau, 2004). One major contributing factor is the lower price of illicit drugs. Since living standards on the mainland are lower than those in Hong Kong, drugs are cheaper on the mainland. (Becker, 1993; Farrington, 1996). In addition, there is the absence of control from significant others (Bruinsma, 1992; Crutchfield & Pitchford, 1997).

The higher the fee for attending a dance party, the higher the likelihood of risky behavior because there is likely to be more freedom and privacy for partygoers. Thus the partygoer is willing to pay a higher fee in the expectation of getting more in return (Griffiths, 1995).

When the number of persons who attend a dance party together is greater, the likelihood of involvement in risk taking is also greater due to peer influence (Tremblay et al., 2003). Involvement in risky behavior within a crowd is likely to be a result of the depersonalization and diffusion of responsibility that takes place (Akers, 1998). Further, it is cost-effective to provide drugs and thus seduce partygoers to take risks, such as gang fighting (Sato, 1988; Tomison, 2000).

Deterrence from police inspection supposedly serves to reduce partygoers' risk (Teevan & Dryburgh, 2000; van Aswegen, 2000). However, the availability of illicit drugs, either free-of-charge or at a lower price, is likely to facilitate risk taking (Golub & Johnson, 2002; Pentz & Li, 2002). Drugs are also available as prizes. Furthering the use is that selling illicit drugs can be a major source of income for risk-takers (Hagan & McCarthy 1997). The hallucinogenic or narcotic effect of drug use is also likely to be responsible for many other forms of risk taking (Bowman, 1998). Moreover, the partygoers are likely targets for induction into drug use (Okwunnabua & Duryea, 1998; Skiba et al., 2004).

Injury at the dance party is likely to result from risk taking in the partygoer. The violence that caused the injury would reinforce violence and other forms of risk taking through retaliation or other escalation (Hughes & Short, 2005; Lochman et al., 1991). Another important mechanism is the social learning effect (Akers, 1998); the presence of risky behavior would set an example to other partygoers. Further, coitus at the dance party could lead to additional coitus by others (DiMaggio et al., 2001; Hearold, 1986). Violence may stem from competition for the opportunity to engage in coitus--particularly in the case of rape (Malamath et al., 2000).

Hypothesized Impacts of Environmental Factors Related to the Dance Party

The presence of first aid facilities at the dance party would dampen the partygoer's passion for risk taking, since they symbolize the desire of the organizer to ensure safe conditions.

The presence of fire extinguishing and drinking water facilities would serve a similar function.

The availability of special lighting effects may be conducive to risk taking, since they have a stimulating effect (Calvert, 1999). One example is the use of such lighting to promote wagering in casinos. On the other hand, dim lighting may instigate risky behavior by introducing a sense of anonomity and undetectability. Dim lighting can also be conducive to sexual activity.

Both the sound and lyrics of the music at the dance party are likely to instigate risk-taking behavior among partygoers. Rock (Benjamin, 1999) rap (Wingood et al., 2003), and heavy metal (Singer & Levine, 1993) are good examples. In particular, it is the lyrics which explicitly encourage the listener to take risks (Verhagen et al., 2002); Christenson & Roberts, 1998; Miranda & Claes, 2004). Even many pop songs evoke sexual behavior (Christenson & Roberts, 1998). Young people are particularly susceptible to the influence of music (Janssen & Dechesne, 1999). Many pop songs that appeal to youngsters are alienating, violent, and sexually sensational (Ballard & Dodson, 1999). Young listeners are susceptible due to social learning (Christenson & Roberts, 1998); and the irony is that the more schools suppress what they consider harmful pop songs, the more intensely are youngsters attracted to those songs (Christenson & Roberts, 1988). The influence of music has been found to be a prominent influence at the dance party (St. John, 2004).

Ventilation is another risk factor. Research has shown the effect of temperature on aggression (Hipp et al., 2004; Rotton & Cohn, 2004). Accordingly, since temperature is an arousing factor, provoking aggression, taking risks is a way to escape the stress of heat. It follows that lowering the temperature, would reduce aggressiveness and the related risks.

The admission to a dance party of underage patrons, is an indication that the party sponsor is not concerned with safety regulations.

Availability of sex partners at the dance party increases partygoers' risks. For example, partygoers may engage in risky activities in order to please their sexual partners, and those partners may be the center of disputes among rivals. Further, all too often, violence is used to force sex on partners (Jarjoura, 1996).

The availability of low-price beer would also increase risk (Cutler et al., 2001; Barkin et al., 2001; Hawkins et al., 2002; Little & Rankin, 2001: Parker & Auerhaha 1998). One possibility of the positive effect of alcohol use on drug abuse is the use of drugs as a substitute for alcohol when it is unavailable (Helzer & Canino, 1992). Since the availability of beer may indicate permissiveness by sponsors of a dance party, there is a greater possibility of the availability of drugs as well--thus increasing the potential for risk taking.


Three hundred partygoers, aged 14 to 28 years, responded to a survey between September 2004 and March 2005. Their average age was 19.3 years (see Table 1). Nearly half (48.5%) of them responded to the survey which took place in the street. A substantial proportion (39.2%) of them responded to the survey at dance party venues, which relied on social workers' to solicit dance partygoers responses; 90% completed the survey.

Some notable background characteristics of the young people involved are as follows: 25.1% had divorced parents, 48.7% were employees, 26.2% were unemployed, and 48.0% were female (see Table 1).

The risks referred to in the survey were the likelihood of drug abuse, coitus, unprotected sex, fighting, and high-speed driving expected to occur in the coming six months. A five-point rating scale was used to capture the likelihood from "none" (a score of 0) to "very likely" (a score of 100). Attendance at dance parties was determined by the number of times attended. The measures of experiences with the dance party were the number of times per visit. Environmental factors also entailed five-point rating scales. A score of 100 indicated that the measure was very likely to occur at a dance party and a score of 0 indicated that the measure was absent.

A linear regression analysis of the data was performed to estimate the effects of related factors on risk, after controlling for all background characteristics. The first step was to analyze the effects of attending dance parties in Hong Kong as compared with Mainland China. The next step entered the specific experiences and environmental factors to be considered. As such, the introduction of specific factors would not interfere with the estimation of the impact of the general factors in the first step. Moreover, a stepwise selection procedure embedded in the regression analysis served to screen significant factors related to drug abuse. This procedure was necessary due to the interrelationships among drug abuse factors--the abuse of one drug had a close relationship with the abuse of another drug. It therefore avoided the introduction of redundant drug abuse factors into the regression model.


The highest risk, among the five assessed, expected among dance partygoers was drug abuse (M = 49.8; see Table 2). This finding supports the association of the risk of drug abuse with attending dance parties (Forsyth & Barnard, 1997; Grob, 2000). On the other hand, variation among young people in the risk of drug abuse was quite large (SD = 30.0). Thus, young partygoers were not overly at risk for drug abuse. Next to drug abuse, coitus was relatively likely (M = 41.3). Nevertheless, unprotected sex was the least likely (M = 16.2). High-speed driving was also very unlikely (M = 16.8). Its variations among the risks was lowest (SD = 21.8. Fighting was somewhat unlikely (M = 28.1).

Frequency of attendance at dance parties in Hong Kong was high (mean times = 17.8 in the past three months (see Table 3). As such, the partygoer attended almost 1.3 times a week. In addition, the partygoer attended a dance party in Mainland China an average of 2.8 times in the past three months. Thus, cross-border party-going accounted for 13.6% of all the party attendance. The average entrance fee was HK$4.1, which is relatively inexpensive. Notably, 46.6% of partygoers, consisting of equal numbers of boys and girls, entered the dance party free of charge. Nevertheless, variation in the entrance fee was high (SD = 106.5). The numbers of partners and dancers at the average dance party were large (M = 4.1 & 94.9). Hence, the partygoer usually attended with many partners. Police inspection was the most likely experience (39.4%) at the dance party, among those under examination. However, experiences of drug availability (33.3%) and sales (35.8%) were roughly as likely as police inspection. Thus, the level of drug circulation was moderately high (M = 63.4. Worse than this, the abuse of illicit drugs such as ecstasy (M = 68.8%), ketamine (M = 57.5%), marijuana (M = 34.7%), and the blue gremlin (M = 28.0%) was common. Notably, 54.1% of the partygoers used ecstasy every time they attended a dance party and 9% used it at least once in two visits. Ecstasy abuse was obviously a regular feature of dance party attendance; even frequent police inspection does not eliminate availability and circulation. It also fails to eliminate fighting, the average level of which was (M = 49.5).

Among the environmental factors, audio effect was rated highest (M = 70.1), followed by lighting effect (M = 67.2). In contrast, first aid facilities (M = 24.7), low-price beer (M = 29.8), fire extinguishing facilities (M = 30.9), drinking water facilities (M = 35.6), and ventilation (M = 37.5) were at low levels. In addition, although underage admission (M = 44.3) and sex partners (M = 40.8) approached modest levels, they were not conspicuous features of the dance party. All the environmental factors showed substantial variation among partygoers (SD > 24).

Predicting Risk

Linear regression analysis that controlled for background factors showed that frequency of attendance at dance parties in Hong Kong and in Mainland China had no significant effect on the five risks. However, entrance fee showed a significant effect ([beta] = .134; see Table 4) on the risk of unprotected sex; the number of partners had a significant effect ([beta] = .098) on the risk of fighting; having someone offer illicit drugs free of chage had a significant effect ([beta] = .099) on the risk of high-speed driving; having drugs for sale generated a significant effect ([beta] = .098) on the risk of unprotected coitus; and having coitus had a significant effect on additional risks of coitus ([beta] = .130) and unprotected sex ([beta] = .162). Thus, all these experiences tended to raise the partygoer's risks in all aspects except the risk of drug abuse. On the other hand, experiences of police inspection, injury, and fighting did not show significant effects on the risks.

The regression analysis further revealed that special lighting effects tended to elevate the risk of coitus ([beta] = .146) Audio-sound effects tended to reduce the risk of coitus ([beta] = -.199) and unprotected sex ([beta] = -.283). Drug use tended to increase the risk of drug abuse ([beta] = .155). Admission of underage partygoers tended to result in a lower risk of drug abuse ([beta] = -.148) but a higher risk of unprotected sex ([beta] = .123) and high-speed driving ([beta] = .112). The presence of sex partners tended to increase the risk of drug abuse ([beta] = .172). The availability of low-priced beer tended to raise the risk of coitus ([beta] = .091) and unprotected sex ([beta] = .094). On the other hand, the presence of first-aid, fire extinguishing, drinking water facilities, and ventilation did not have a significant effect on risk taking.

Drug abuse had a significant effect on risk taking. An exception was the negative effect of the abuse of heroin ([beta] = -.124) and depressants ([beta] = -.121) on the risk of unprotected sex. Another exception was the absence of a drug abuse effect on the risk of coitus.


Results mostly lend support to the hypothesized effects of experiential and environmental factors on partygoers' risk taking. Mechanisms such as social learning, exchange, opportunity or lack of regulation may explain some of the impacts. Despite the findings supportive of the hypotheses, some factors related to the dance party did not generate significant effects opposite to those hypothesized. These factors include the times of attending the dance party, police inspection, fighting, facilities, audio-sound effect, ventilation, and underage admission. Another unexpected finding was the negative effect of drug abuse on the risk of unprotected sex.

It was found that frequency of attendance at dance parties in Hong Kong and Mainland China had no significant effect on risk taking. Since participants in the study had already been partygoers, the frequency of attending had no impact. However, the content related to experiences and environmental factors were relevant factors.

The most alarming finding was that police inspection had no significant deterrent effect on any of the risks. This echoes the finding that drug circulation and abuse were prevalent at the dance party, despite frequent police inspections. This finding is similar to that on the ineffectiveness of police in controlling gang activities in other countries (Baker et al., 1992). Collective crime and delinquency tend to be especially difficult to tackle. Conceivably, partygoers help each other evade police inspection. Also, partygoers may resist control as part of the rave culture (Wilson, 2002). They may even deliberately commit illegal acts as a way of showing defiance to police control.

Fighting at the dance party does not appear to lead to the risk of its occurrence along with other risks in the future. One reason is that fighting may result from situational factors rather than careful planning (Hughes & Short, 2005). Similarly, even the experience of injury failed to predict risk taking significantly.

Whereas lighting effects tend to foment risks, audio effects seem to diminish the risks of coitus and unprotected sex. It would seem that enjoyment of the audio effects or music tends to be a substitute for sexual gratification, rather than a motivator. This explanation reflects the satiation effect, which suggests that the satisfied person would not seek alternative sources of sensation (Akers, 1998).

The availability of first-aid, fire extinguishing, and drinking water facilities, and ventilation had no significant effect in diminishing the partygoers' risk taking even though they help negate the harm of risky activities.

The abuse of heroin or depressants appeared to reduce unprotected coitus, although the abuse of any drug did not significantly diminish the risk of coitus. Apparently, the drug abuser enjoys protected sex, probably since he or she has already found ample gratification in drug abuse. Thus, the satiation effect would seem to apply. On the other hand, drug abuse can lead to the risks of fighting and high-speed driving. In this case, seems to whet the abuser's appetite for taking these types of risks.

Further Research

Additional research is necessary to extend and substantiate the present study, providing the specifics of the risk-taking behaviors. Further, it is important to determine what deviant acts ensue after the experience of dance partygoing. That behavior is valuable for examination especially since it may occur when it is not expected; much delinquent behavior is unplanned (Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990). In addition, this study can be extended by recruiting larger and more varied samples, using in-depth interviews to collect qualitative data.

Further research particularly needs to examine police inspection and other experiential and environmental factors more closely through evaluating the mediating mechanisms involved; collective action, accomplice support, crowding, depersonalization, diffusion of responsibility, reaction to police control, and satiation. Thus it is important to find ways to make police inspection more effective.


Potential preventive education interventions should be explored. Many of the young dance partygoers interviewed showed interest in harm-reduction approaches to drug use and other risky behavior. Efforts are required to enhance existing strategies which target dance-party youth and help develop new organizations through private and public funding. Human services professionals have a responsibility not only to prevent risk through primary prevention efforts, but to minimize harm caused by risky behavior among young dance partygoers.


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Steven Sek-yum Ngai, Associate Professor; Ngan-pun Ngai, Professor; Chau-kiu Cheung, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

This work is supported by the Direct Grant for Research of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Reprint requests should be sent to Steven S. Y. Ngai, Associate Professor, Department of Social Work. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, New Territories, Hong Kong.
Table 1: Means and standard deviations of background

Variable Scale M SD

Parents married % 70.2 45.8
Parents divorced % 25.1 43.4
Parents widowed % 4.7 21.3
No religious faith % 65.5 47.6
Protestant % 12.8 33.5
Catholic % 2.7 16.2
Buddhist % 10.1 30.2
Daoist % 1.4 11.6
Born in Bong Kong % 87.7 32.9
Born in Mainland China % 9.7 29.6
Born in another place % 2.7 16.1
Employee % 48.7 50.1
Employer % 2.0 14.1
Self-employed % 4.4 20.5
Not working % 1.0 10.0
Unemployed % 26.2 44.0
Student % 17.8 38.3
Father as an employee % 53.4 50.0
Father as an employer % 10.1 30.1
Father self-employed % 12.8 33.4
Father not working % 1.0 10.0
Father unemployed % 6.7 25.1
Father status unknown % 16.1 36.8
Mother as an employee % 54.9 49.8
Mother as an employer % 3.7 18.9
Mother self-employed % 11.4 31.9
Mother not working % 10.4 30.6
Mother unemployed % 10.4 30.6
Mother status unknown % 9.1 28.8
Cohabiting % 9.9 29.9
Married % 3.7 19.0
Unmarried % 83.3 37.3
Divorced/separated % 2.0 14.2
Widowed % 1.0 10.1
Interviewed at the party venue % 39.2 48.9
Interviewed in the street % 48.5 50.1
Interviewed in the social center % 12.3 32.9
Interviewed at home % 0.0 0.0
Interviewed at another site % 0.0 0.0
Duration of residence in Hong Kong years 18.4 4.3
Education 0~100 41.8 18.0
Father education 0~100 18.6 21.8
Mother education 0~100 18.2 20.6
Income HK$ 5224.2 5444.1
Age years 19.3 2.7
Female % 48.0 50.0
Acquiescence 0~100 45.7 7.4

Table 2: Means and standard deviations of risk

Variable Scale M SD

Drug abuse 0-100 49.8 30.0
Coitus 0-100 41.3 27.4
Protected sex 0-100 61.1 33.8
Unprotected sex 0-100 16.2 21.8
Fighting 0-100 28.1 27.1
Speedy driving 0-100 16.8 25.1
Rave dancing 0-100 58.1 27.5

Table 3: Means and standard deviations of dancing party

Variable Scale M SD

Attending in Hong Kong in the past 3 months Times 17.8 28.7
Attending in Mainland in the past 3 months Times 2.8 7.0
Fee (geometric mean) HK$ 4.1 34.1
Partners (geometric mean) number 6.5 2.7
Dancers (geometric mean) number 94.9 7.1
Police inspection % 39.4 35.8
Drug supply % 33.3 37.6
Drug sales % 35.8 40.2
Injury % 2.8 13.6
Heroin % 2.8 15.9
Marijuana % 34.7 44.6
Solvent % 3.1 17.2
Tranquillizer: librium % 8.1 26.0
Tranquillizer: blue gremlin % 28.0 42.4
Tranquillizer: cross % 9.2 28.0
Stimulant: ice % 14.9 34.9
Stimulant: ecstasy % 68.8 43.4
Stimulant: cocaine % 10.2 29.4
Stimulant: amphetamine % 4.9 20.7
Depressant % 4.7 20.5
Narcotic % 5.4 21.7
Ketamine % 61.5 44.9
Wine % 57.5 47.5
Coitus % 7.2 19.1
Fighting % 5.2 18.4
First aid facilities 100 24.7 24.7
Fire extinguishing facilities 100 30.9 26.1
Drinking water facilities 0-100 35.6 33.8
Lighting effect 0-100 67.2 25.8
Audio effect 100 70.1 27.3
Ventilation 0-100 37.5 26.4
Drug circulation 0-100 63.4 30.9
Underage admitted 100 44.3 34.0
Sex partners 0-100 40.8 30.5
Fighting 100 49.5 32.3
Low-price beer 0-100 29.8 27.6

Table 4: Standardized regression coefficients of dance party
characteristics for predicting risk

 Predictor Drug Coitus Unprotected
 abuse sex

Attending in Hong Kong .084 .069 .044
Attending in Mainland .078 .068 .020


Fee -.083 .044 .134 *
Partners -.021 -.008 .075
Dancers -.026 .088 .033
Police inspection -.012 -.064 -.060
Drug supply -.010 -.033 -.043
Drug selling .027 .012 .098 (#)
Injury -.118 .005 -.044
Coitus -.050 .130 * .162 *
Fighting .059 .014 -.010


First aid facilities -.057 -.029 -.031
Fire extinguishing facilities -.015 .008 .123
Drinking water facilities .097 -.058 .016
Lighting effect -.157 .146 (#) .123
Audio effect -.034 -.199 * -.283 **
Ventilation -.053 .072 .070
Drug circulation .155 * -.002 .043
Underage admitted -.148 * -.090 .123 (#)
Sex partners .172 ** .097 -.007
Fighting -.089 -.012 -.034
Low-price beer -.003 .091 (#) .094 (#)

 Drug abuse

Heroin -.124*
Tranquillizer .112 *
Ecstasy .138 *
Depressant -.121 *

[R.sup.2] .333 .037 .406

 Predictor Fighting Speedy

Attending in Hong Kong .068 -.006
Attending in Mainland .058 .077


Fee .020 .086
Partners .098 * -.002
Dancers -.039 -.024
Police inspection -.053 .012
Drug supply .069 .099 (#)
Drug selling -.050 -.026
Injury -.004 .094
Coitus -.004 -.011
Fighting .073 -.004


First aid facilities .055 -.040
Fire extinguishing facilities -.037 .070
Drinking water facilities .045 -.029
Lighting effect -.008 -.075
Audio effect -.009 .086
Ventilation .006 .001
Drug circulation -.058 -.095
Underage admitted -.024 .112 (#)
Sex partners -.052 -.049
Fighting .067 .077
Low-price beer .014 -.005

 Drug abuse

Marijuana .102 *
Solvent .149 ** .184 **

[R.sup.2] .600 .272

*: p < .05; **: p < .01; ***: p < .001; #: p < .10
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Author:Ngai, Steven Sek-Yum; Ngai, Ngan-pun; Cheung, Chau-kiu
Geographic Code:9HONG
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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