Nightclubs are a pervasive part of our culture, and no matter where you go around the world, each country has adopted the nightclub as the benchmark of their nightlife. They are an excellent social venue and attractive to both genders, as they offer the promise of a wonderful experience on every visit. For women, nightclubs are a great place to dance with your friends and meet guys. The prospect of meeting attractive women is primarily what drives men to nightclubs, and the atmosphere and experience cultivated by a nightclub is designed with these factors in mind.
If you’ve seen this TED talk by Yale Fox, then you may have already had some exposure to dissecting the science of a nightclub. The problem with this talk is that it is full of a lot of confounding ideas, the talk itself doesn’t really arrive at a conclusion of any sorts, and a lot of the science isn’t correct. On Yale’s LinkedIn page, he describes himself as an “an expert in evolution at the Biological, Psychological and Sociological level”.
Mr. Fox has a B.Sc. from Queen’s in Biology, and 2 years of education from U of T in Sociology. For now, let’s ignore the the alarming number of red flags raised by someone with an undergrad degree and no further scientific training labelling themselves as an “expert” in evolution. But later in his biography, he goes on to arrogantly state that he “proved” that the state of the economy is linked to what is popular in music. Any self-respecting scientist knows that one study can not “prove” anything and correlation does not equal causation.
His talk does offer some interesting points and observations, but like most TED talks, it is nothing more than a half-baked theory packaged into a pretty powerpoint presentation. Since Mr. Fox’s TED talk is the foremost piece on nightclub psychology, I’m going to break it down, correct his mistakes, and then add a great deal more of my own research to it to form an actual conclusion.
In the first segment of the video, Mr. Fox talks about the effects of alcohol and how they enhance the more primitive drives of our brain: food, water, sex, and aggression. He incorrectly states that alcohol makes us crave greasy food because we evolved to consume carbohydrates in order to survive. As numerous studies have shown, the reason we eat such terrible food after we’ve been drinking is because alcohol inhibits our sense of feeling full, so we naturally are driven to foods that are going to be more filling. Additionally, a person’s past experiences with food also drive their choices, but nowhere to be found in any of the literature is the notion that evolution drives our drunken hunger.
Aside from food, Mr. Fox states that alcohol enhances our desire for sex and aggression, which is no mystery to anyone who’s ever had a drink in their life. Next, Mr. Fox describes music’s role in the production of oxytocin for listeners at a nightclub. While it is true that music elicits positive emotions and the resulting surge of oxytocin that comes along with that, oxytocin can also amplify fear and anxiety, which is what nightclubs simultaneously manufacture for their benefit.
For every elated person dancing in a nightclub, there is someone there who is afraid and anxious. Why would a nightclub want to make its patrons anxious and afraid? Doesn’t that defeat the message of providing a great experience? While it may seem counterintuitive given the advertised purpose of a nightclub, a great deal of their sales and revenue can be attributed to fear, which I’ve spoken about in previous article as being a powerful marketing tool. First let’s examine how nightclubs manufacture fear and anxiety.
1) Nightclubs are dark.
I don’t know many adults that are afraid of the dark, but this mostly applies to when they’re in their own home. When you put a person into a room packed full of strangers and then turn off most of the lights, you’re going to increase the anxiety and fear of everyone in that room.
2) They’re crowded.
Most nightclubs pack in people as much as fire regulations allow, and the dance floor of a nightclub is prime sexual marketplace real estate, so this is where most of the patrons will be. When you’re in the dark and in a crowded place, your sense of personal comfort decreases and your anxiety increases.
3) They’re loud.
The third way that nightclubs impact your comfort level. A loud atmosphere where you can’t hear anything but the music and a few random snippets of shouted conversation decreases your personal comfort level and increases your anxiety. The human ear was not designed to live in an environment as loud as a nightclub, so even though you might only be in a club for a few hours, this exposure is enough to put you on edge. A loud environment hampers our ability to communicate, which can frustrate us and cause further discomfort.
So, knowing that darkness, close quarters, and excessive noise contribute to fear for visitors at a nightclub, the question now becomes: why do you manufacture fear?
Nightclubs create the problem and then sell you the solution.
Girls go to nightclubs to dance and possibly meet guys. Guys go to nightclubs to meet girls and possibly dance. Since the onus is on guys to approach and meet girls, the pressure on them is much greater. Since alcohol reduces inhibitions, it is the natural choice to boost a guy’s courage towards interactions with the fairer sex.
In a situation where the three major anxiety and fear inducing factors are taken away, say at an outdoor barbecue, a guy may still need a few drinks to muster up the courage to speak to a hot girl. Factor in an environment of increased anxiety and discomfort, and you amplify the need for alcohol, which is why binge drinking has become so commonplace at nightclubs now. I won’t even begin to touch on the influx of MDMA, and now cocaine, in recent years, but essentially, music alone doesn’t produce enough of an emotional high, so many people are now pushing it to the extreme with these drugs.
In addition to providing alcohol, nightclubs first lure in male clientele with the premise of meeting beautiful women there. Promotional photos seen on the nightclub’s website or Facebook page are all filtered: the bulk of them are of attractive girls at the club, with a few pictures of groups of guys having fun or guys posing with the girls there.
Higher profile nightclubs even hire attractive girls to simply go to the nightclubs to increase the quality of women there; these women are essentially plants in the crowd working to get guys there to purchase more drinks and drive drink sales by flirting with them. And it works wonders: no motivating factor sells more than sex does, but fear is a close second. Combine the two, and you have a potent combination, so it’s no wonder why the nightclub business is booming.
The reason why nightclubs are so successful is because of an economics principle I spoke of in an earlier article. The Pareto Principle (more commonly known as the 80/20 rule) is a tool that can be applied to a variety of large sample sizes. Essentially it boils down to this: 20% of x is responsible for 80% of y. For example, many businesses find that 20% of their customers are responsible for 80% of their business. Why do you think virtually every major retail or fast food company tries to push a loyalty program? They want to add you to their 20% of regular customers so that they maximize the amount of business they receive from you. This same principle can be applied to a nightclub, and more specifically, hookup culture.
Think of your group of friends extended. Let’s say you’re moderately popular at school and have about 50 people you consider friends, or at least drinking buddies. How many of them routinely hook up with girls? How many occasionally do? How many almost never do? If you happen to roll with a group of guys who are all tall, handsome, and confident, your results may be skewed. Now if you were to increase your sample size to a more statistically relevant level, say, your entire campus, you would actually find that 20% of the guys are responsible for 80% of the hookups. This means that the remaining 80% of guys on campus are left to scrap over 20% of the total hookups that will occur.
Quite a shocking revelation, but when you apply the math and put on your nightclub owner’s hat, it makes perfect sense. Eighty percent of your male clientele are likely lacking with their current sex lives, so 80% of the guys walking the streets at night are actively buying what you’re selling: a chance to hook up with an attractive girl. And due to the Pareto Principle, no amount of alcohol, cologne, or cheesy pick up lines is going to radically shift that, so the majority of the guys walking through your doors will also leave empty handed that night. Many will be bitter because of that, but sex is a powerful motivator, and most guys will be back next week to try again.
If you came here looking for secrets to hooking up with girls at nightclubs, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that simply is not my place in the world. Due to the explosion of hookup culture and the general acceptance of casual sex in the 18-35 demographic, the pickup artist industry is booming right now. Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point where any guy who has read The Game now thinks he’s now an expert at picking up girls. Recently, a group of self-proclaimed “pickup-artists” stormed the Eaton Centre and started approaching girls there en masse, which prompted security to remove them from the premises. The industry and movement has become dishonest, abstract, and downright creepy.
What most people forget is that there are hundreds of factors that go into successfully hooking up with someone, and most are not in your control. No matter what you read on the internet or whatever bro science/pseudo evolutionary biology jargon you come across (just like the aforementioned TED talk by Mr. Fox), remember that the best thing you can do is play the best hand with the cards you’re dealt. Despite what is being pitched to you by a lot of these pickup artist snake oil salesmen, the only thing that you can control is yourself.
There are more important things in life than sleeping with hot girls, and while we may place our sexual experiences on a pedestal when we’re young, over time we should grow to realize that we can find pleasure in simple things in life, too. For now, go out, enjoy your times out at the club, but don’t get drawn into the fear trap that these places create. Focus on having fun for yourself, and stop putting so much pressure on yourself to hook up with somebody. If it happens, great, if not, work to become emotionally mature enough that you can still go to sleep happy that night. Your value as a human should not solely based on your ability to hook up with somebody.