Spring Break Blown Out Of Proportion Says Study
January 17, 2013

Spring Break May Not Be So Wild After All Says New Study

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Researchers say that the popular opinion regarding what exactly spring break entails for college students may actually be exaggerated by the media.

The team analyzed studies on spring break from 1980 to 2010 and found that scholars are divided on whether college students actually increase extreme behaviors during the break. They said that the activities at spring break locations may not differ much from what would be seen as typical weekend behavior on most college campuses.

"The more you are part of the party atmosphere in the university, the more likely you are to engage in those behaviors during spring break," said Benjamin Hickerson, Assistant Professor of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management at Penn State. "You probably won't completely deviate from your campus behaviors, and those behaviors are a very good predictor of how you'll behave on spring break."

Hickerson said that the media portrayal of spring break as well as most current scholarship on the subject may not give the complete picture of the experience.

Nuno Ribeiro, whose doctoral thesis focused on spring break culture and is a post-doctoral fellow at the Indigenous Peoples' Health Research Centre (IPHRC) at the University of Regina, said that while some studies show that substance abuse and promiscuity increase during spring break, other reports indicate that there is little change between behaviors on spring break and ℠normal´ behavior on campus.

The team wrote in the journal Tourism Review International that since much of the research is based on data derived from self-reporting, students may skew their actual behaviors.

"Most of the data in the studies were self-reported, which could lead to a certain pressure for the subjects to conform," Ribeiro said in the release. "In males, for example, that means they may overstate and, for females, they tend to underestimate those behaviors." Ribeiro thinks researchers should conduct more objective and quantitative studies, as well as qualitative studies, on spring break participants to add more depth to the findings.

He said that there is little agreement between scholars currently, and that this leaves a great deal of room for future research.

The students focused on particular party spots that may also over-emphasize the amount of hedonistic self-indulgence that actually takes place in most places during spring break, according to the researchers. Ribeiro points out that most research on the spring break phenomenon ignores alternative types of spring-break trips for college students, such as missions work, service trips and study abroad programs.

The spring break experience changes over time for students, and risky behaviors tend to peak in the first year as students experiment with drugs, alcohol and sex. After this year, these behaviors tend to decrease as students find their limits. However, Ribeiro says that their behaviors rise again in the last year of school for students, which he has tagged the “last hurrah” effect.

"The variety of spring break experiences is huge," Ribeiro said in the release. "In certain spots and in certain cases, the stereotypes of spring break excesses are correct, but in other areas it's not as extreme as the media seem to present."

According to Hickerson, while the spring break phenomenon is relatively new, researchers have focused attention on student motivation and behaviors during these trips. The team reviewed 29 articles on spring break tourism as well as media coverage, conference presentations, books and dissertations.