The tendency of young adults to feel invulnerable mixed with the power of social media has led to Neknominations taking the world by storm, leaving a few casualties in its wake.
Originating in Australia, neknominations started out as a seemingly harmless internet dare — downing a pint of beer in one go before challenging two friends to do the same within 24 hours, all while filming the feat then uploading it to the internet.
However, the challenge quickly escalated to nominees consuming greater amounts of alcohol or of greater potencies while partaking in increasingly dangerous behavior.
British media has attributed neknominations to the deaths of three young men in the United Kingdom — Isaac Richardson, Stephen Brooks and Bradley Eames — and two men from Ireland — Jonny Byrne and Ross Cummings. All but Brooks, who was 29, were between the ages of 19 and 22.
Richardson collapsed at the hostel where he was working after drinking a lethal combination of whisky, vodka, wine and beer. Brooks died in his sleep after drinking a pint of vodka while Eames was found dead four days after he drank two pints of tea infused gin. Cummings’ roommates found him dead after a night of drinking where he had participated in a neknomination and Byrne drowned in a river after drinking a pint of beer and jumping off a bridge for his nomination.
Patti McDougall, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Saskatchewan said between late adolescence and mid-twenties young adults are in a phase of life where they often experience “perceptions of invulnerability” and lack concern for future outcomes. The two together make for what McDougall calls a “potent combination.”
However, McDougall said that research has shown that this age group is quite capable of appraising risk and it’s only when young adults find themselves among their peers or friends that their ability to properly judge situations decreases substantially.
“Feeling like you’re invulnerable, not caring about the consequences and putting someone in with a group of friends all of a sudden, you’ll set aside reason,” she said.
On top of these three factors, McDougall noted that alcohol and drugs immediately affect a person’s judgement.
Risky behaviour and drinking are nothing new, McDougall said. The new aspect to these activities is the way that people are posting them on the internet, often using social media, for all the world to see.
McDougall said opening up to the public creates an entirely new setting with neknominations where the act now transcends the privacy of being among close friends.
“What’s new for me is the profile increases and the danger increases alongside of that,” she said.
More often seeing men participate in neknominations, McDougall attributes this trend to males on average valuing dominance, being more competitive than females and having their social structures organized in a hierarchy from a very early age.
Impulsivity is another factor where McDougall said people acting on a whim are not thinking clearly and do not have a good sense of judgement.
On the other hand, females can be equally competitive but usually in other domains than men, McDougall said.
Second-year law student Meghan Vanderkuur said neknominations have been going around her peer group and that everyone — men and women alike — have been participating in a responsible manner.
“I think everyone kind of kept it under control from what I saw. I think some people tried to make their videos a little unique but it never seemed like a real challenge in terms of outdrinking another person,” Vanderkuur said.
Vanderkuur did her neknomination with a friend — sitting on his shoulders drinking a beer. She said having friends present made her more comfortable while doing the nomination.
Vanderkuur’s video is not widely available on the internet because she has restricted privacy settings on Facebook. She said she only did the nomination because she was sure of being able to control who would see the video.
Carly Dineen, another law student, said her friends aren’t taking neknominations seriously and just use them for a good time. For Dineen’s nomination, she stood on a speaker and drank a beer.
“We aren’t taking the game seriously. Theres nothing on the line if you don’t one up someone or if you don’t participate at all,” Dineen said.
Although being in a group can be comforting, McDougall said peer activities often influence what an individual will do — especially if they think it is normal.
“It’s a concern when we watch these kinds of things that are shocking because they’re so dangerous and so over the top; it’s a concern when we get desensitized. It’s just like watching violence on TV, right? If we get desensitized and then that can affect our own behaviour as well and that keeps escalating,” McDougall said.
Graphic: Stephanie Mah