Ethology Study

Students were tasked with employing two ethology techniques discussed in class (focal sampling and scan sampling) on people trying to hook up. The choice of research setting was up to the discretion of the investigator, some examples include bars, restaurants, coffee shops, the Quad, The Ferguson Center, the Rec, etc.

For those who may not be familiar with focal and scan sampling, these are two of the tools ethologists and anthropologists use to collect data. The main distinction between ethology and anthropology is the former is interested in strict observation from the outside (one might call this an etic approach), and the latter often engages in what’s known as participant observation (an emic approach).

Focal sampling focuses on a fixed individual or point in space and all of the observations taking place within a pre-determined time frame (15-30 minutes for the purposes of this assignment) are recorded. Scan sampling scans the environment at predetermined intervals and all of the observations are recorded.

Each sampling technique has its pros and cons, it was up to the student to decide which was most practical.


Below are two submissions by students in the Spring 2014 ANT 208 Anthropology of Sex class.

From Hannah Tytus:

I arrived on fraternity row at 10:30, the perfect hour of twilight where uncomfortably sober meets

riotously drunk.  Entering a frat house, I see two sectioned areas for social interaction: the first is

a noisy band room with musicians playing on stage, and the second was an open courtyard

where people could mingle. The entire place smelled like warm nati light and camel cigarettes.

Being no novice to the srat scene, I breathed through my mouth and started bravely into the


I brought along an assistant, Ashley, who is very good at attracting guys without saying anything

of the slightest importance. I figured she might be a good back­up if our “guy” ran out of women

to interact with.

Now, Lets get started.

Since the party had between two or three hundred people present, I decided to scan the scene in

groups by room. I divided the place into three areas: band room, courtyard, and upstairs. The

courtyard, the most open atmosphere, was the least populated at the beginning of the night.

While people were still sober and socially awkward, they made a beeline for the blaring music in

the band room. Meanwhile, in the courtyard, the atmosphere was quieter­­but that doesn’t mean

it was calmer. Everyone was on edge: boys substituted smoking for feeling uncomfortable, and

girls grouped together and pretended to be talking about something important (for reference,

when we do that we’re only ever actually talking about A) finding liquor, B) the hot guy in the

corner who we want to come over to us, or C) finding more liquor.) But the most important social

crutch of all? The cell phone. Almost everyone was texting at the beginning of the evening,

signalling their discomfort. As the scans and beers progressed, the texting decreased.

Nonetheless, this was notably more of a “transitional area” where people could mingle or get the

number of the guy/girl they had been dancing with 5 minutes ago.

In the dancing room, it was smoky, loud, and dense the whole time. While the courtyard had

been awkward and tense, in this room every interaction was sexualized. Bodies were extremely

close to each other, where they had been multiple feet apart outside. Because of the music, it

made conversations impossible, so people could only rely on their bodies and nonverbal

communication in order to court. And using solely body language at the beginning of courtship,

instead of making smalltalk, was what was working for these fellows that night.

My final destination was the upstairs, and I’ll let you know right off the bat that there are only two

types of people who hang around upstairs: There are those who are close friends of the hosts,

and there are those who are currently in the bedroom sleeping with the host. Essentially, its

where the courting victors of the night go to claim their lady­prize.

For the focal study, I’ve selected is the kingpin of all things “frat daddy­esque”. He is clad in the

traditional garb of his people; he sports a not­so­discrete Ralph Lauren baseball hat, a southern

tides T­shirt, and crocs’ abhorrent cousin: the Chaco sandal. Now our guy here, “Rick” is quite

the chatterbox. He’s surrounded by four females and two males, who are presumably acting as

his wingmen. I learned a little bit about ol’ Rick when two girls over my shoulder mentioned that

not only was he not in his own frat house, but that he was also known to be quite a player. He

stirred up even more gossip when the girls learned that although he was wearing an Old Row

shirt, he was definitely New Row. Things weren’t looking good for our boy Ricky.

But then, hallelujah! A beer bong has arrived on scene! I see light fill Rick’s eyes as he puts his

arm around one of the girls, and has his buddy pour two natis down the funnel. Rick, foaming at

the mouth, looks to the girl to see if she approves of his display of manhood, and­­tragically­­she

is unimpressed. Hurt by this rejection, Rick’s shoulders slump ever so slightly, and he shifts his

body towards the other males in the circle. He chuckles and makes broad movements, letting

his arms fill the silent gap between him and the ladies. Although the group continues to chat,

Rick has retreated further towards his bros for support, and he touches his face once or twice in


After a short rally of spirits, a change comes over Ricky. He puffs out his chest, and puts his

arms around the two boys on either side of him, hanging on them in a true sign of brotherhood,

thus signalling to the females that he is important and well­connected. He makes another

flirtatious attempt, this time at another girl in the circle who is maybe more easily intrigued, but

before she can respond to his advances, a fight breaks out behind her, and a boy is thrown onto

the ground. Things are too heated up! There’s pepper spray everywhere! Someone has a black

eye! Call for help! Make haste!

And so it was, that poor Ricky did not get laid that night.


An Analysis…

I sometimes saw the five stages, but it depended highly on the room or environment that the

couple was in. The most chronological succession of the stages takes place in the courtyard,

where people can court in the traditional sense. But in rooms like the band room, the stages

went all out the window. In the band room, it was only 1­get attention (aka tap or grab a partner)

and 2­touch (aka, rubbing your pelvices together vigorously in public.) The only problems I had in

observations was upstairs, because I can’t observe couples that have already gotten to stage

five and are having sex in the bedroom. If I did this assignment again, I would want to compare

heterosexual courtship rituals and homosexual courtship rituals, and see how they differ.

Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough time for that much experimentation.

From Lucas Lowry:

Entered a UA Spectrum hosted event at approximately 7:15 PM in the private room at Glory Bound downtown on Friday night. The event was not extensively lit as in other rooms in the establishment, but neither was it dark and smoky. Present at the event were primarily members of the LGBT community, many of them seemed to have friend groups present and ventured out with intent to flirt.


Focal Point:

Subject was an African American male about 5’ 11” wearing tight fitting Express brand jeans and t-shirt, apparently appealing to name brand recognition. Subject seemed to employ a strategy known among Greek organizations as “mingle-mingle-base” wherein the subject seemed to periodically return to a group the subject seemed to feel more at home after meeting knew people than the others in attendance. When the subject introduced himself to a new group attention was given primarily to males in conversation, and didn’t seem to give preference to African American or Caucasian males when selecting conversation partners during the observational period. Towards the end of the observation, there was a noted lingering of the subject on one group in particular. Following eye movements the deduction could be made that he was attempting recognition, but recognition had not been established by the end of observation.


Other presumed members of the LGBT community seemed to display some sense of a home pack in a less organized manner than the focal point subject. Groups ranged in size from 2-6 people, and exhibited few if any noticeable tendencies in female/male ratios. Various stages of the Fischer outline were observed with decreasing frequency the further up the sequence of stages. One gay couple exhibited stage five body mimicry tendencies, but was the only such example. Most people didn’t seem to advance much further past recognition without a sense of who the target of their efforts was beforehand. The phrase “eating with your eyes” came to mind, as groups occasionally convened and popped their heads up like prairie-dogs to look in the

direction of the person who was assumedly the point of discussion. Assumedly after assessing the statement, they would reconvene with input for they who brought up the person in question.