Halloween: Candy, costumes, and….. data collection?

October 30, 2014 10:40 AM | Shannon Claxton

Halloween is tomorrow, which means an onslaught of witches, goblins, and Frozen costumes (not to mention dogs dressed up as superheroes) is right around the corner. The idea of Halloween generally conjures up images of candy corn, jack-o-lanterns, haunted houses, and ghosts. One thing that may not come to mind when you think of Halloween is research. However, behaviors around Halloween can provide helpful insight for researchers.  

Halloween is a particularly sexualized holiday, which makes it an interesting holiday for researchers interested in sexuality. One look at this list of unnecessarily sexy Halloween costumes reveals that many Halloween costumes (for females in particular) are designed to be more racy than scary. Furthermore, past years suggest that Halloween celebrations often involve individuals consuming large amounts of alcohol and partying hard

Research supports these characterizations.  Research has found links between dressing in costume and alcohol use (Miller, Jasper, & Hill, 1993). Additionally, field studies suggest associations between celebrating Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day and higher levels of intoxication (e.g., Glindemann, Wiegand, & Geller, 2007). In this study, those wearing a costume for Halloween had higher BAC levels than individuals not in costume, and individuals who reported a celebratory motive on St. Patrick’s Day (i.e., that they were out to celebrate St. Patrick’s day or another occasion such as a birthday) had higher BAC levels than individuals who were not out celebrating. Others have found associations between student-constructed holidays and alcohol use and crime rates (e.g., Lefkowitz et al., 2012).

In view of these findings, Halloween (and other high alcohol consumption holidays or celebrations) may be a particularly interesting time to collect data. In particular, given potentially higher rates of alcohol use and sexual behavior, Halloween may provide information about behaviors that have lower base rates (e.g., casual sex). For example, in the Interpersonal Relationships and Developmental Psychopathology lab at Kent State University we have used the days surrounding Halloween to collect data using a daily-diary format. Specifically, we have collected data about affect, casual sexual behavior, alcohol use, and, yes, even costume choice. This type of event-based data collection allows us to examine how costume choice is associated with sexual behavior. Additionally, we are able to examine individuals’ more immediate responses to casual sexual relationships/ experiences. 

Although less research has addressed them to date, there are likely other holidays and events that are associated with elevated levels of drinking and sexual behavior, such as New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. Overall, data collection around holidays/celebrations can provide information that may not be as easily gleaned during the rest of the year.

What do you think? Does the idea of data collection on Halloween sound like a real treat or is it hair raising? 

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