Author Archives: drmarkgriffiths

No lady luck: A case study of adolescent female slot machine addiction

Based on research into adolescent slot machine playing, all British research has found that most adolescent slot machine players are male and that very few female adolescent slot machine addicts have ever been identified in the literature. The main findings relating to adolescent female slot machine players were published in papers by Dr. Sue Fisher and myself (mostly in the 1990s). In 1993, Dr. Fisher reported the existence of teenage females with no playing skills and little interest in acquiring them, and who gamble on slot machines primarily to gain access to the arcade venue where they can socialize with their friends (calling them ‘Rent-a-Spacers’). Their preferred role is one of ‘spectator’. In an earlier published (1991) study in the Journal of Applied and Community Psychology, I observed that arcades were a meeting place for adolescent social groups in which playing activity was predominantly male-oriented with girls looking on in ‘cheerleader’ roles. In 2003, I published a rare case study of an adolescent female slot machine addict (who I called ‘Jo’) and thought I would share some of the things I found from that study in today’s blog

During a nine-month period, I interviewed Jo three times formally and also maintained regular contact with her on an informal basis. She was confirmed as a probable pathological gambler using the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV criteria for pathological gambling.

Jo was brought up as an only child in a seaside town in the South West of England. She described her parents as “comfortable, middle class and loving”. However, she also made reference to the fact that there were reasonably strict rules in the house. Her father was an insurance salesman and her mother was a schoolteacher. She went to a mixed school, and up to the age of 13 years she had good school reports and was in the top 10% of her class academically. She was also very good at sports (and was an active member of the school athletics club) and described herself as “physically stronger” than most of her peers. Jo claims she did not really relate to the other girls in her school and often got into playground fights with them. During her early adolescence she made a few good friends although these were mostly boys of her own age or a little older. She herself described her adolescent years as a “tomboy”. Educationally, she left school when she was 16 years old and got an office job working as an administrative assistant.

Jo started playing slot machines at a young age because they were so abundant in the town where she lived. She described them as “being part of the wallpaper”. To some extent, her parents encouraged her gambling. Like a lot of “seaside parents”, they often took Jo to the amusement arcades as a child for “a weekend treat”. Like many families, they did not see anything wrong with going to the seaside arcade because they felt it was “harmless fun and didn’t cost much.” However, these early experiences coupled with exposure to slot machines in her peer group were instrumental factors in Jo’s acquisition of slot machine playing. Living in a seaside town, access to the machines was widespread, and the main place for “hanging out” was at the local arcades. There were four or five of them because the town was a popular tourist attraction. Arcades provided a meeting point for her friends. She was part of a gang in which hanging around the arcades was one of the few activities that the group could engage in.

At 13 years old, she mainly used to just watch her male friends play on the slot machines and video games. However, within a year, she was playing on slot machines as much as her peers. The arcade was where Jo “felt safe and protected”. She liked it that everyone who worked there knew who she was. In the arcade she was a ‘somebody’ rather than a ‘nobody’. In essence, the arcade provided a medium where Jo’s self-esteem was raised.

Jo gave a number of insights into her motivations for slot machine playing. Skill did not appear to be a motivating factor for continued play. She played to win money (to further her playing rather than fuel any winning fantasies) and did not see the machines as particularly skilful. Although most of Jo’s (male) friends claimed that slot machine playing was very skillful if you were good at it, Jo always believed that slot machines were not like video games and that “winning big” had a lot of luck to it. Knowing her way round a slot machine while helpful, didn’t make her feel as though she was especially skilful except when complete novices would play. Also, being female, the older age women who played on the simple machines would talk to her (unlike the adolescent males who would be shunned by this clientele). This made her feel wanted and needed. However, between the ages of 14 and 15 years, Jo’s slot machine playing became all encompassing. As she explains:

“There was a period in my life between the ages of 15 and 17 where the machines became the most important thing in my life. I didn’t worry about money. I just believed I would win it back or that money would come from somewhere because it always had. I was forever chasing my losses. I would always tell myself that after a bad loss, the arcade was only ‘borrowing’ my money and that they would have to ‘pay it back’ next time I was in there. Of course, that rarely happened but once I was playing again, money worries and losses went out of the window. Gambling became my primary means of escape. On the positive side, at least it helped me to give up smoking and drinking. I simply couldn’t afford to buy nicotine or alcohol – or anything else for that matter. I never believed that gambling would make me rich – I just thought it would help me clear my debts.”

Jo didn’t acknowledge that she had a problem – even when she started to go down to the arcade on her own and using all her disposable income to fund her slot machine playing. However, in retrospect, she realized a problem was developing.

“I used to spend every penny I had on the (slot) machines. It was a good job I wasn’t into clothes like the other girls at school. I couldn’t have afforded to buy anything as I lost everything I had in the long run. I used to wear the same pair of jeans for months. I don’t even think I washed them”.

When Jo was 15 years old, a telephone call from the school headmaster alerted Jo’s mother that her daughter might be having some problems in her life. The headmaster phoned to say that Jo’s attendance had been very poor during the previous three months and that she had stopped attending athletics practice. When confronted, Jo admitted that she had not been attending school but said that all the girls in her class hated her. To some extent this was true (she didn’t get on with any of the girls at her school) but was not the reason she was truanting. Instead of going to school she had been spending her time in the local arcades. For a few weeks she tried to stop her gambling. Now that her parents knew there were problems, she thought this would be the ideal time to give up. However, after 17 days without gambling, her boyfriend split up with her and she relapsed by gambling again. This then carried on for almost two years.

Jo’s parents were very understanding and looked for alternatives to help their daughter. They considered moving classes within the school and moving schools completely. Jo simply said she would try to integrate more. At no stage did Jo’s parents ever suspect that her erratic behaviour was linked to anything other than the problems of adolescent mixing. Jo managed to successfully hide her problem for a further two years before everything came out into the open.

As an only child it was difficult for Jo’s parents to know whether their experience was normal. They hardly saw Jo. At the age of 16 years, Jo upset her parents not only by leaving school but also by leaving home. They knew there was little that they could do. When Jo left home, she assumed that all her problems would disappear. However, she got into more and more trouble and was unable to make ends meet. She lived from hand to mouth. She began to steal from friends, from work and from anyone she met. On two occasions she met males she had never met before that moment, went back to their houses, and then stole their money and/or valuables.

Over this period of nearly two years Jo became more and more withdrawn, lost her friends and ended up resorting to stealing from her place of work. Eventually she was sacked (for taking the petty cash) although her employers were unaware that her problem was gambling (or that she even had a problem). They assumed she wanted more money to supplement her very modest wages. Although she lost her job, the company did not instigate criminal charges.

The first major turning point was being sacked from her first job for theft of the petty cash. She had nowhere else to go but back home. Her parents were a tremendous support although were surprised that slot machines were the heart of the problem. Jo claimed her mother didn’t believe her at first. They wondered how someone could get addicted to a machine. Jo claimed it would have been easier for her mother to accept if she had a drug or alcohol problem rather than a gambling problem.

The cessation of her gambling began when Jo (with her parents’ help) got another job in a remote village in Cornwall (in South West England). There was no arcade, no slot machines in the local pub, and no slot machine within a four-mile radius. She did not drive a car and it was too far to walk to the nearest town. In essence, the lack of access to a slot machine forced her to stop playing. She still got the cravings but there was nothing she could do. She also claimed to have a number of serious self-reported withdrawal symptoms. At work she was short-tempered, irritable with colleagues, and constantly moody. Physically, she had trouble sleeping, and occasionally had stomach cramps, and felt nauseous through lack of play.

Jo eventually joined a local Gamblers Anonymous (GA) that her parents drove her to every week. She only attended a handful of times and stopped attending because she was the only female in the group, the only slot machine player, and also the youngest. Despite the opportunity to share her experiences with eleven or twelve people in a similar position to herself, she felt psychologically isolated. Being able to talk about the problem with people she could trust (i.e., her parents) was a great help. In addition, with her desire to stop and with no access to slot machines, Jo managed to curtail her gambling. She claims she “wasted four years of her adolescence” due to slot machine playing – and she doesn’t want to waste any more of her life. However, there is no certainty that Jo is ‘cured’ – Jo feels a number of triggers could set her off again (like rejection of someone close to her). Talking to people has been Jo’s “salvation” as she calls it. She had always thought that slot machine playing couldn’t be a problem and therefore found it hard that people would accept the “addiction” she had. Other people’s acceptance that she suffered something akin to alcoholism or drug addiction has helped her recovery.

From my own personal research experience, Jo’ account is fairly typical of slot machine addicts. This is an individual who began playing slot machines socially, steadily gambled more and more over time, spent every last penny on gambling and resorted to the cycle of using their own money, borrowing money, and then finally stealing money, just to fund their gambling habit. Criminal proceedings could have occurred but fortunately (for Jo), she was punished by losing her job. The one major difference between this and all other accounts is that Jo happens to be female.

The major limitation of a study such as this is that it relied totally on retrospective self-report. Not only do I have to take Jo’s account as true but it is also subject to the fallibility of human memory. There is also the major limitation that the findings here are based on one person only and there is little that can be said about generalizability.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Fisher, S. E. (1992). Measuring pathological gambling in children: The case of fruit machines in the U.K. Journal of Gambling Studies, 8, 263-285.

Fisher, S. (1993). The pull of the fruit machine: A sociological typology of young players. Sociological Review, 41, 446-474.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The observational analysis of adolescent gambling in UK amusement arcades. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 1, 309-320.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London : Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Fruit machine addiction in females: A case study. Journal of Gambling Issues, 8. Located at: http://jgi.camh.net/doi/full/10.4309/jgi.2003.8.6

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein(Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011).A typology of UK slot machine gamblers: A longitudinal observational and interview study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 606-626.

Heat strokes: A brief look at radiator sex

The words ‘sex’ and ‘radiator’ probably don’t appear in the same sentence too often but today’s blog is the result of a bet I made with a good friend of mine who – knowing some of the weird topics and behaviours that I have covered in my blog – wagered that I couldn’t write a blog on ‘radiator sex’ (whatever that is). Obviously there is no academic literature on such a topic and the sources that I have used in this article are far from being scientific and empirical. But being a Professor of Gambling Studies, a bet is a bet.

In a previous blog I examined objectophilia (or ‘objectum sexuality’ [OS] as it is known within the scientific and sexology community). OS refers to those individuals who develop deep emotional and/or romantic attachments to (and have relationships with) specific inanimate objects or structures. Such objectophiles express a loving and/or sexual preference and commitment to particular items or structures. Such individuals rarely (if ever) have sex with humans and they develop strong emotional fixations to the object or structure. Unlike sexual fetishism, the object or structure is viewed as an equal partner in the relationship and is not used to enhance or facilitate sexual behaviour. Some objectophiles even believe that their feelings are reciprocated by the object of their desire.

In my previous OS blog, I briefly recounted the story of 41-year-old Joachim A. from Germany, a man who self-admittedly fell head over heels “into an emotionally and physically very complex and deep relationship, which lasted for years.” His partner as a teenager was a Hammond organ. He now claims to have been in a steady relationship for years with a steam locomotive The reason I mention this case was that Joachim A. was interviewed by the German magazine Der Spiegel and was reported as saying:

“We’re by no means just straightforward fetishists…For some people, their car becomes a fetish which they use to put themselves in the limelight. For the objectum-sexual, on the other hand, the car itself – and nothing else – is the desired sexual partner, and all sexual fantasies and emotions are focused on it…A love affair could very well begin with a broken radiator…You can reveal yourself to an object partner in an intimate way, in a way that you would never reveal yourself to any other person [including the desire to] experience sexuality together”.

Obviously the reference to a love affair for an objectophile beginning with the “broken radiator” was probably hypothetical on Joachim’s part (although there’s always the possibility he was speaking from personal experience). Whether actual or hypothetical, the fact that an objectophile gave the example of possible love and sex with a radiator suggests there might be a few individuals out there who are sexually attracted to radiators. My next (predictable) course of action was to type ‘radiator fetish’ into Google. On one website I came across the following post written by a woman entitled ‘Hot sex fetish (very weird)’ that if true (and I can’t prove it is but it appears genuine) appears to suggest that ‘radiator fetishism’ exists:

“I’m about to buy a house and be locked into it for the next 15-20 years because I have a radiator fetish. What can I do? It started way back in school. i had got my first period and was whisked off to the gym’s changing rooms with my friend. Blood in my panties and it had started to show on my trousers as well. So [I] had a shower, washed out my panties and give my trousers a bit of a scrub. Now half naked with just spare towel around me I cuddled against the radiator next to my clothes in an attempt to dry them and keep warm so I didn’t have to wear the lost property. [I then talked to one of my friends]. We just chatted for about 20 minutes about random stuff until the topic got on to the subject of boys and sex…At this point, I have to say I’ve never even kissed a boy, never mind sex…but my friend was telling me how hot a penis feels and started to rub herself up the corner of the radiator saying this feels like him on top of you and it just kinda started from there.

Throughout my teenage years I’d leave my homework until last moment and copy other girls, just so I could do it [in] the break before class. I’d stay in the hall way out of sight of the teachers and other students and lean over a radiator onto the shelf while I [copied the] work, rubbing myself (making it look like I was tapping my feet as I was rushing, in case anyone caught me) until I mostly [reached orgasm] and then off to class I’d trot, happy and red face glowing. Later on, I needed that ‘warm’ feeling all the time to orgasm. It’s now 15 years later and I still masturbate while sitting on a hot radiator, the smell of the heat or just catching an unexpected glimpse of a radiator gets me wet. Not any radiator will do though, they have to be the old cast iron, column ones like I had at school. I’ve had sex in more pubs then I’d like to remember, but mostly because they commonly have the cast iron type that I can get pushed up against or layback on.

My fetish has escalated to the point its out control now. I have a really nice boyfriend who doesn’t know about my fetish. I just tell him I like Victorian features, hot water bottles are for period cramps, etc. We’re just about to get a mortgage on a house because [it has] a bay window with a large cast iron radiator in the middle. We’ve already had sex over one like it several times before (yes I told you it was out of control) from a house I rented a few years back… and can’t wait for winter when the heating will be set to max. What do I do to stop this weird fetish? Do I embrace it or stop it? Very confused”

To me, this story sounds very believable and fits the adolescent development pattern of other accounts of how other fetishes often develop (i.e., through early associative pairing and classical conditioning). I also came across another online snippet that bore similarities with the story above:

“There used to be a picture (maybe there still is) on a DJ Black hard drive of three girls bending over a radiator to look out a window with their bare bottoms showing…You have to wonder if there is a fetish about radiators. At school the girls used to sit on the radiators that teachers had to start handing out detentions like sweeties to keep them off them. Okay so this is tenuous, but a while back there was a brief discussion on one of the boards about who got the cane and why. One of the women said she had got the cane for ‘persistently sitting on school radiators’. Being 16, at the time she thought the worst thing was being teased about sitting and punishments fitting the crime. That is until she was 18 and ended up at the school leaving do with some friends and beers in the head’s office. One of the kids went through his files and pulled out her school record. There in black and white were the words ‘caned, six strokes, deterrent against sitting on school radiators.’ You have got to wonder if she ever looked at a radiator the same way again”

Again, this observation suggests that a few females may have developed a strong liking for sitting on warm radiators because they produce a warm sexual feeling that leads to repetitive behaviour. Another person claimed to be turned on by a radiator on the Intimate Medicine website (but provided no details)

The only other type of sexual behaviour that I have come across (where radiators are part of the sexual act) are within sadomasochistic acts where individuals handcuff their sexual partners (consensually or non-consensually) to old style radiators (like the examples described above). Fictionally, there are a number of examples of people being handcuffed to radiators that have sexual connotations. Perhaps the most infamous recent example is in the film Black Snake Moan where Samuel L. Jackson’s character chains a skeletal Christina Ricci to his radiator in an attempt to “cure her of promiscuity”. The New York Times noted it their review of the film that:

No doubt ‘Black Snake Moan’ is a provocative title, but a more accurate one might be ‘Chaining Miss Daisy to the Radiator in Her Underwear’”

A more real-life example was reported in a 2011 Daily Mail story. A judge, Patricia DiMango declared that sadomasochism can be criminal even if it’s consensual. The ruling occurred during the trial of 45-year old New York man John Hopkins, a self-confessed sex-slave master accused of raping a 27-year-old female sex slave from Wisconsin “who would be flogged and chained to a radiator if she disobeyed his rules”. Hopkins pleaded not guilty to all charges claimed that they were a couple into sadomasochistic role-playing. DiMango was quoted as saying:

“In these types of situations, with the facts presented by both sides, both the consensual and criminal can co-exist. At some point, it can change to a situation where no means no. There comes a time when they’re not playful fun any more and they become dangerous – criminally dangerous”.

I’ll end today’s blog (and win my bet) by briefly recounting another radiator sex story that appeared in many news outlets (and arguably has some similarities with the infamous Gimp scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction). Viktor Jasinski, a Russian man broke into Olga Zajac’s hair salon looking for cash but instead of calling the police (and using her black belt martial arts expertise), the salon owner beat up the Russian, tied him to a radiator with a hair dryer cord in the salon’s back room, and kept him as a sex slave for three days (using Viagra against the man’s will) before letting him go.

My brief examination of sexual radiator use hopefully shows that radiator fetishism may exist (and that it appears to be more female-based than male-based), that it’s theoretically possible for a human being to fall in love with a radiator (and have sexual relationship should they so wish), and that sadomasochistic practitioners may use radiators as part of their sexual role-playing games (either consensually or by coercion).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Daily Mail (2011). S&M can be ‘criminal even if it’s consensual’ says judge in Craigslist sex-slave case. March 12. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365531/S-M-criminal-consensual-says-judge-Craigslist-sex-slave-case.html

Marsh, A. (2010). Love among the objectum sexuals. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 13, March 1. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume13/ObjSexuals.htm

Moylan, B. Robber beat up by hair salon owner and kept as sex slave. The Gawker, July 12. Located at: http://gawker.com/5820419/robber-beat-up-by-hair-salon-owner-and-kept-as-sex-slave

Stopera, M. (2010). The 15 hottest objectum-sexual relationships. Buzz Feed. Located at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-15-hottest-objectum-sexual-relationships

Thadeusz, F. (2007). Objectophilia, Fetishism and Neo-Sexuality: Falling in Love with Things. Der Spiegel, November 5. Located at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,482192,00.html

At the cutting edge: A brief look at voluntary self-amputation

It was only very recently that I finally watched the film 127 Hours, the 2010 film directed by Danny Boyle based on the true story Aron Ralston, the canyoneer who cut off his own right forearm to free himself after it was trapped by a large boulder while rock climbing in Blue John Canyon (Utah, US). Apart from the early scenes in the film that were somewhat fictionalized, Ralston said the rest of the film was “so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama”. The act of self-amputation is known as autotomy (from the Greek ‘auto’ – meaning ‘self’ and ‘tomy’ meaning ‘severing’) but the term is used more widely in the animal kingdom and usually refers to animals that self-sever as a self-defence mechanism (often to escape a predator). Arguably Ralston’s case was also a self-defence mechanism as a way of escaping his own death.

In previous blogs I have looked at cases of people who have cut off their own limbs because they were sexually aroused by the thought of being an amputee (i.e., apotemnophilia) and those who have cut off their own limbs because they believe the limb doesn’t belong to their own body (i.e., Body Integrity Identity Disorder, also known as ‘amputee identity disorder’ and xenomelia). However, today’s blog looks at some cases of those who have self-amputated to survive. Such cases are incredibly rare and almost always occur when the person becomes trapped in deserted environments with no means of contacting anyone and little chance of rescues (as was the case of Ralston). Here are a few other infamous cases:

  • With his pocket knife, Al Hill, a 66-year old man from California, had to cut off his own left leg just below the knee after it got stuck beneath a fallen tree he was cutting (2007). He was all alone in a forest for 11 hours and decided that the only way he was going to survive was to cut off his own leg with his pocket knives. However, despite cutting himself free, Hill was unable to move as he was in constant agony. Thankfully, Eric Bockey one of Hill’s neighbours heard his screams and Hill, was eventually rescued by the fire brigade.
  • A South Carolina farmer Sampson Parker cut off his own arm after it got stuck in a corn harvester. Parker spotted a piece of cornstalk stuck in a farm but on trying to get it out, his hand got stuck in the machine. After an hour of being stuck and calling for help no-one came, and Parker’s arm became completely numb. He then used his John Deere pocket knife to start cutting his fingers off. However, a fire broke out and the only way he could save his life was to cut off his right arm as fast as he could. Once he had cut off his arm he drove himself to a nearby rode and got help from the local fire brigade. In a television interview, Parker said: “My skin was melting. It was dripping off my arm like plastic, plastic melting. I realized I was in trouble. I just told myself, ‘I’m not going to die here. I just kept fighting, kept praying. And then when I did get loose, I jumped up running, I had blood squirting from my arm. It was pretty scary there for a while. I could feel the nerves as I was cutting my arm off. It really wasn’t the corn picker’s fault. It was my fault. It was just a mistake I made”.
  • While driving a front-end loader deep underground, Colin Jones (a 43-year old Australian miner) became trapped when the vehicle overturned when it hit a pothole while turning a corner. Fearing the vehicle would catch fire because diesel was leaking from the loader, Jones quickly cut off his own right arm below his elbow with his Stanley knife. However, Jones was a little premature because the emergency services arrived early enough to save the arm but by then he had already amputated his arm. Unfortunately, the severed arm was too badly crushed to be re-attached to his body.
  • One of the most bizarre amputations concerned a 30-year old Polish farmer (Krystof Azninski). In 1995, Azninski was playing some Polish drinking games drinking with friends when someone in his social group said they should play some “men’s games”. As one report noted: “Initially they hit each other over the head with frozen turnips, but then one man upped the ante by seizing a chainsaw and cutting off the end of his foot. Not to be outdone, Azninski grabbed the saw and, shouting ‘Watch this then’, he swung at his own head and chopped it off”. The report also claimed that by amputating his own head, Azninski could arguably lay claim to be the “most macho man in Europe”. Most of us reading this would probably say he was the most stupid.
  • An 18-year old male construction worker (Ramlan) from Padang trapped in the rubble of a building that collapsed during the September 2009 Indonesian earthquake escaped after sawing off his own leg. Ramlan tried to pull his leg free but was unable to. Using a nearby garden hoe he tried to hack off his own leg but the hoe’s blade was far too blunt to penetrate his leg bone. Using his mobile phone (that was still working following the building’s collapse) he phoned a friend (33-year old Eman) who came to the rescue of Ramlan. Eman found another garden implement – a trowel – and gave it to Ramlan who again tried to hack off the trapped leg. Finally, Eman found a saw and handed it to Ramlan. However, half way through sawing his leg off, Ramlan became too exhausted to continue and Eman finished sawing off Ramlan’s leg. Eman then carried Ramlan to Yos Sudarso hospital. The surgeons then performed a proper amputation a little higher up his leg.

The motivation in all of these cases was obviously survival but there are other rarer cases where self-amputation has been performed for criminal or political purposes. For instance, in the late 1950s/early 1960s, around 50 people from Vernon (Florida, USA; population 780) performed self-amputations in an attempt to claim ‘loss-of-limb’ accident insurance. In fact around two-thirds of all loss-of-limb insurance claims in the whole of the USA at the time came from Vernon. John J. Healy, insurance investigator was quoted as saying: “Vernon’s second-largest occupation was watching hound dogs mating in the town square, its largest was self-mutilation for monetary gain”. An online article on the six most horrifying ways to get rich reported:

“L.W. Burdeshaw, an insurance agent, told the St. Petersburg Times in 1982 that his list of policyholders included a man who sawed off his left hand at work, a man who shot off his foot while protecting chickens, a man who lost his hand while supposedly trying to shoot a hawk, a man who somehow lost two limbs in an accident involving a rifle and a tractor, and a man who bought a policy and then, less than 12 hours later, shot off his foot while aiming at a squirrel. Insurance agents, probably disillusioned by the whole Belle Gunness affair, were a little suspicious. Cutting your hand at work may be possible. Sawing off your entire hand at work really takes some amount of sustained effort…No one in the town was ever convicted of fraud, and it’s not easy to find out just how much they got away with. What we know is that one farmer took out policies with 38 different companies before, in some no doubt comical accident, he lost his left foot. Luckily, the particular day of the “accident” he happened to be driving his wife’s automatic, since if he’d been driving his own stick shift he would have needed the left foot to use the clutch. He also happened to have a tourniquet in his pocket (in case of snake bites, he insisted). He could be telling the truth, right? Well, it turned out he’d taken out so much insurance that he was paying premiums that cost more than his total income. He collected more than $1 million from all the companies. The insurance companies fought it but conceded, ‘it was hard to make a jury believe a man would shoot off his own foot’”.

Another infamous case concerned Daniel Rudolph, the oldest brother of the Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Olympics bomber who on March 7, 1998, videotaped himself cutting off one of his own hands with an electric saw at his home in Ladson (a suburb in Charleston, USA) to “send a message to the FBI and the media”. An FBI statement said they had “followed standard procedures in conducting the search for Eric Robert Rudolph, a fugitive charged with a fatal abortion clinic bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, including interviewing his brother Daniel Rudolph. Daniel Rudolph’s decision to maim himself is regrettable and totally unexpected, given the nature of the contacts between the FBI and himself”.

Finally, in Figueira da Foz (Portugal), Orico Silva cut off one of his fingers in court in an “act of despair” after the presiding judge refused his offer to settle a €170,000 debt and ordered that part of his farm had to be sold. While in court, Silva took some bank papers from his briefcase and noticed a butcher’s knife that he’d recently bought at a market. On impulse he cut off his index finger and cut it into three (using a court table as an impromptu chopping board).

Unless self-amputations are sexually motivated or as a result of Body Integrity Identity Disorder, it would appear that self-amputation is rarely discussed and/or researched in the academic literature. The cases highlighted here show that there are many other reasons for self-amputation that are not the result of any kind of mental illness including the necessary (for survival reasons), the unnecessary (criminal or political reasons), or the downright bizarre (as an act of macho bravado).

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

CNN Interactive (1998). Bombing suspect’s brother cuts hand off with saw. March 9. Located at: http://www-cgi.cnn.com/US/9803/09/briefs.pm/rudolph.amputation/

Elst, M. (2010). 10 unbelievable amputation stories. Oddee.com, February 22. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_96982.aspx#vSieTkGlGQrmjjcI.99

Fox News (2007). Farmer cuts off right arm with pocket knife to save life. November 26. Located at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/11/26/farmer-cuts-off-right-arm-with-pocket-knife-to-save-life/

Gabbatt, A. (2009). Indonesian man survives quake by sawing off own leg. The Guardian, October 9. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/oct/09/indonesian-earthquake-survivor-saws-leg

Harkins, D. (2008). The 6 most horrifying ways anyone ever got rich. Cracked.com. September 22. Located at: http://www.cracked.com/article_16633_the-6-most-horrifying-ways-anyone-ever-got-rich_p2.html

Kennedy, J.M. (2003). CMU grad describes cutting off his arm to save his life. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 9. Located at: http://old.post-gazette.com/nation/20030509climbernat2.asp

Reuters (2009). Man cuts off finger in court over debt. January 16. Located at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/01/17/us-finger-idUSTRE50F5D420090117?feedType=RSS&feedName=oddlyEnoughNews&rpc=69

Smith, A., Cornford, P. & Maguire, P. (2003). Arm trapped a fearing fire, tough miner knew what to do.Sydney Morning Herald. June 30. Located at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/06/29/1056825279321.htm

Wikipedia (2013). Amputation. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amputation

Press to play: Is gaming as addictive as heroin?

Please note: The following blog was first published earlier today on the GamaSutra website. The original article can be found here.

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Last week I appeared in loads of news stories following a double page spread in The Sun newspaper under the headline “Gaming as addictive as heroin”. Before the story went to press, I was asked by The Sun’s gaming editor – Lee Price – if I would provide a set of questions to help readers determine if they had a possible gaming addiction. (I’ve reproduced the ten questions at the end of this blog). I’ve written a number of articles for The Sun over the years and have always been happy to contribute to education concerning gaming issues. In fact, my previous article with The Sun was one published last year under the headline Video games make us better people”. The gaming editor shared some of the text he was planning to publish and I was asked if I would like to add anything to his main article. The text I submitted for inclusion in the article read:

“Gaming addiction has become a real issue for the psychologists and medics over the last decade. The good news is that playing excessively doesn’t necessarily mean someone is addicted – the difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life whereas addiction takes away from it”.

This quote I provided did not appear anywhere on the double-page spread (probably because it didn’t fit the main thrust of the article). The headline “Gaming as addictive as heroin” (almost certainly provided by someone other than the Gaming Editor) was arguably more sensationalist that the article itself. Any regular readers of my blog will know that I believe gaming addictions exist but that the number of gamers that are genuinely addicted comprises a small minority. The Sun’s story began by claiming that: “Britain is in the grip of a gaming addiction which poses as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse”. The article also alleged that a London-based clinic claimed it was receiving 5,000 calls a year from parents seeking help for their child’s gaming addiction (I myself get around 2-3 calls or emails a month). It also featured a number of case studies claiming they were addicted to social networking games (like Candy Crush) and online multiplayer games (like League of Legends). There were also a number of references to alleged gaming-related deaths including the recent story that a coroner had linked three male suicides to playing the game Call of Duty.

On the day The Sun article was published, I was contacted by a journalist from Eurogamer for my comments on the piece. The resulting article was basically my interview with the journalist (which then formed the basis of countless stories that appeared in the online gaming press including the Tech Times, The FixDigital Spy, Polygon, Kotaku, etc.). I was asked if I thought gaming was as addictive as heroin. I responded by saying:

“It depends how you define addiction in the first place. I’ve spent my whole career trying to say if you’re going to call something an addiction it has to be similar right across the board. The criteria I use for video game addiction would be exactly the same as in heroin addiction in the sense that this is an activity that becomes the most important thing in your life, it compromises everything else in your life including your relationship, work and hobbies. It’s something you use as a way of modifying your mood. It’s something that builds up tolerance over time, so you need more and more. It’s something where you get withdrawal symptoms if you’re unable to engage in it. And it’s something that if you do manage to give up for a short time when you do the activity again you relapse. The good news from my perspective is on those particular criteria, the number of genuine video game addicts is few and far between. If we’re talking about genuine video game addiction, it doesn’t matter what the activity is if we’re using the same criteria. It’s a bit like that trick question my physics teacher used to give us, which was, if you’ve got a ton of feathers and a ton of lead, which weighs heavier? Most kids put down a ton of feathers, but the whole point is it’s a ton. It’s quite clear that some, whether it’s kids or young adults, have some problems around the fact they seem to be unable to control the amount of time they spend gaming, and maybe it’s impacting other areas of their life. But just because there are some addictive-like components there it doesn’t mean they’re genuinely addicted”.

I also told the journalist that to be genuinely addicted to a behaviour (like gaming) that I would expect to see conflict in every area of the person’s life – their relationships, their work and/or education, their other social activities. The Sun also claimed that: “Britain is in the grip of a gaming addiction”. I was asked by Eurogamer whether I thought this to be the case and I said that in my view this was “incorrect”. I then went on to say:

“I’ve spent well over 25 years studying video game addiction. If we’re going to use the word ‘addiction’ we have to use the same concepts, signs and symptoms we find in other more traditional addictions, like withdrawal and tolerance. By doing that the number of people who end up being addicted by my criteria are actually few and far between. The [ten questions] I did for The Sun is actually based on real criteria I use in my research. The number of people who would score seven out of 10 of those items I put in The Sun today, I’d find it very hard to believe there would be more than a handful of people out there that would score high on all those things. You’d probably get a lot of people who might endorse three or four of them, but that doesn’t mean they’re addicted. That might be somebody who has problems with it. Most kids can afford to play three hours a day without it impacting on their education, their physical education and their social networks. Yes, I believe video game addiction exists, and if it is a genuine addiction it may well be as addictive as other more traditional things in terms of signs, symptoms and components. But the good news is it is a very tiny minority who are genuinely addicted to video games…There is no evidence the country is in ‘the grip of addiction’. Yes, we have various studies showing a small minority have problematic gaming. But problematic gaming doesn’t necessarily mean gaming addiction. They’re two very separate things. Yet the media seem to put them as the same…Every time I do a piece of research, if it’s something that’s negative, 90 per cent of the press cover it. If it’s something positive, 10 per cent of the press cover it. Bad news stories sell”.

Speaking to the press (and writing journalistic articles for the press) is something that I do on an almost daily basis and I will not stop doing it as I believe that we as academics have a public duty to disseminate our research findings outside of academia and to the general public. As I noted in a previous blog, I’ve had a few horror stories when what I’ve said is taken out of context but a few bad experiences are never going to be enough to put me off sharing my work with the mass media.

Finally – and as promised above – here are ten simple ‘yes/no’ questions about gaming that I had published in The Sun. If you answer ‘yes’ to seven or more of them, in my view, you may have a gaming addiction.

  • Do you think gaming has become the most important thing in your daily life?
  • Have you jeopardised your job or education because of your gaming activity?
  • Have you experienced relationship problems (with your partner, children or friends) because of your gaming?
  • Do you feel irritable, anxious or sad when you try to cut down or stop gaming?
  • Do you play games as a way of making your mood feel better?
  • Have you lost interests in other hobbies and leisure activities because of gaming?
  • When trying to cut down or stop your gaming, do you feel that you can’t?
  • Do you feel totally preoccupied with gaming (for example, even if you are not actually gaming you are thinking about it)?
  • Have you lied to anyone because the amount of time you spend gaming?
  • Have you spent an increasing amount of time gaming every day over the last six months?

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online video gaming: What should educational psychologists know? Educational Psychology in Practice, 26(1), 35-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Video games make us better people. The Sun, February 1, p.8.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 1-4.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). The psychological study of video game players: Methodological challenges and practical advice. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7, 555-562.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of structural characteristics in problem video game playing: A review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace. Located at: http://www.cyberpsychology.eu/view.php?cisloclanku=2010041401&article=6.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Cognitive behavioural therapy for problematic video game players: Conceptual considerations and practice issues. Journal of CyberTherapy and Rehabilitstion, 3, 261-273.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Clinical interventions for technology-based problems: Excessive Internet and video game use. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26, 43-56.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-behavioural approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 68, 1185-1195.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S. &, Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Psychometric assessment of pathological video-gaming:A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Coming a part of the themes: The psychology of familiarity in gambling

Have you seen slot machines featuring Spiderman? Or the ones based on the Monopoly board game? Or the slots that have pictures of Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video game? Most gaming operators will appreciate that all of these images have a strong brand presence, and that it is one of the main reasons for themed games. However, a more basic marketing tactic is being used here – the psychology of familiarity. This is used throughout the gaming industry but is most common on slot machines, online games, and scratchcards. For instance, Camelot’s scratchcards in the UK have featured film tie-ins (e.g., James Bond, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars), and popular games (e.g., Connect Four).

But this wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 1980s I did some research on the names that gaming designers and operators gave their slot machines. One of the more interesting findings I reported in one of my academic papers was that over 50% of all machine names that I came across in amusement arcades had some reference to money on them (such as ‘Cashpoint’, ‘Cashline’, ‘Action Bank’, Piggy Bank’, ‘Money Belt’ etc.). Psychologically, all of these machine names gave the impression that this was where a player could get money from – not where they would lose it! Other categories of machine names included those with some reference to skill on them (‘Fruitskill’, ‘Skillchance’) suggesting that machine playing was a skillful activity and that gamblers could perhaps beat the machine. Other machines had what I called “acoustically attractive” names (Nifty Fifty, Naughty But Nice) or puns (Reel Fun, Reel Money). Since making these observations, I have always been interested in the subtle techniques that the gaming industry uses in getting the punter to play on their products. The psychology of gambling – or rather the psychology of gambling marketing – has come a long way in the last decade.

As I’ve already said, one of the techniques that the gaming industry uses (whether they realise it or not) is the psychology of familiarity. Gaming operators and marketers have realised that one weapon in their marketing armory is to design products which appear familiar before a player has ever even played on them – something that can partly be achieved through the name or theme of the slot machine. The examples I gave above showed that the names of slot machines appear to be important in impression formation. It is highly unlikely that the names of slot machines have any influence on gambling behaviour per se. However, when tied in with recent research on the psychology of familiarity, the names of machines do seem to be critically important – particularly in terms of gambling acquisition (that is, getting people to gamble in the first place).

Nowadays, slot machines are often named after a famous person (the Elvis Presley machines appear very popular in one of my local casinos), place, event, video game, board game, television show or film. Not only is this something that is familiar to the gambler but may also be something that the potential gamblers might like or affiliate themselves with (such as James Bond). This is different from a simple naming effect in that the machine’s theme may encompass the whole play of the machine, including its features, the sound effects (e.g., the theme tune to popular television programmes like Coronation Street or Eastenders), and light/colour effects. By using well-known and common themes, gamblers may be more likely to spend time and money playing them.

Some of the most popular UK slot machines are those that feature The Simpsons. There are many possible reasons why a gambler might be more likely to play on a Simpsons’ machine. The Simpsons have mass appeal and popularity across all ages and across gender. The machines are celebrity-endorsed and players may place trust in a ‘quality’ brand like The Simpsons. Gamblers may also hope that knowledge of the characters will help in the playing of the game. On a basic level, it might simply be that the game play of The Simpsons is more exciting, and that the sound effects and features are novel, cute and/or more humorous than other machines. There are many cases similar to this one where it could be speculated that the slot machine becomes so much more inducing because it represents something that is familiar and/or special to the gambler.

Familiarity is a very important psychological aspect of why themed slot machines have been more prominent over the last decade. Familiar themes have the capacity to induce a ‘psycho-structural interaction’ between the gambler and the gambling activity. This is where the gambler’s own psychology interacts with the machine’s structural characteristics and produces different consequences for each person depending upon what the feature means to them personally. If the themes are increasingly familiar, a gambler might be more likely to persevere with the complexities of a machine. Gamblers may find it more enjoyable because they can easily interact with recognizable images they experience. Therefore, the use of familiar themes may have a very persuasive effect, leading to an increase in the number of people using them, and the money they spend. Whilst there are many other aspects that influence an individual’s decision to gamble, the possible persuasive nature of the themes should not be underestimated.

As you may have already gathered, there is a strong overlap between the psychology of familiarity, branding, and the psychology of persuasion. In very simple terms, a gambler must be exposed to the product and be aware of its presence before they can even make the decision to gamble. This is relatively easy to achieve given the ubiquity of slot machines and the fact that current machines will use any number of techniques to grab a potential player’s attention. These include television or film theme tunes, bright flashing lights, and/or pictures or voices of celebrities. Once a gambler’s attention has been gained, the product must be likeable and familiar enough for them to think about gambling and wanting to interact with the machine further. Immediately familiar images and sounds are likely to lead to a much quicker decision to gamble. All which goes to show – the gaming industry knows what it is doing!

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty.Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dunbar, D. (1997). The role of familiarity in fruit machine gambling. Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter, 29, 15-20.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292).New York: Prometheus Books.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies (pp.211-243). New York: Elsevier.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D., Chappell, D. & Davies, M.N.O. (2004). The structural characteristics of video games: A psycho-structural analysis. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 1-10.

Deerly beloved: Animal tissue as a masturbatory aid

A couple of weeks ago I bought a secondhand copy of The Fortean Times Book of Weird Sex by Steve Moore (mainly because it cost me only one pence at an online book store). One of the stories (on pp.96-97) concerned a bizarre story of an autoerotic death involving an adolescent boy. I checked out the reference list at the back off the book to see where the story had originated and the source was listed as an Associated Press story from Knoxville (Maryland, USA). It didn’t take me too long to track down the press release on the internet. The report said:

“A 16-year old boy in Knoxville was found dead in his bedroom in what police describe as a gruesome, horrifying death. Firefighters were called to the scene Monday morning by a neighbor who smelled something burning. When the firemen found the remains of the teenager they called the police in to investigate. At first investigators believed that they were dealing with a ritualistic murder. Posters of heavy metal rock and roll groups covered his bedroom walls, groups which are often connected with satanic worship and rituals. According to a firefighter who was on the scene, the boy was found nude, with the remains of a cow’s heart attached to his genitals. Wires had been attached to the heart and plugged into a wall socket. The boy died from electrocution, then the electricity literally cooked his remains. Investigating Officer Hardaway dismissed the ritual murder theory when detectives found several underground pornographic magazines under the boy’s mattress. One of the magazines, called ‘Ovid Now’, describes a sexual ‘toy’ that can be made from the fresh heart of a cow, a simple electrical circuit, and some batteries. This deviancy is apparently gaining limited popularity in the rural South. Practitioners get the dead heart to beat, and then use the beating organ for sexual perversions. ‘This is one of the most gruesome things I have ever seen. I can’t believe that there are people who actually enjoy this sort of thing’ Hardaway commented. The boy’s parents are currently on vacation in Florida, where they were contacted and informed about the tragedy. They were unavailable for comment”.

As I have already written a previous blog on electrophilia and published an article on the ten strangest autoerotic deaths (in the magazine Bizarre) I thought it would make the basis for a good blog. However, after a bit more investigation I discovered the story to be a fake. The Snopes.com website (also know as the Urban Legends Reference Pages) investigated the story and showed it to be completely false. The author of the article (Barbara Mikkelson) wrote:

“The [cow heart masturbation story] isn’t a bona fide Associated Press article. No such death has been recorded, let alone been reported on by the Associated Press. What we have here is a work of fiction, an inventive leg-pull. Pranksters are everywhere, both on-line and off-line. In this case, someone took his best shot at presenting a gruesomely salacious story as a news item by dressing it up to mimic the style he assumed wire service copy adhered to, resulting in a laughable Associated Press pastiche”.

The same article also reported another fictitious tale of masturbatory death by animal (in this case a lobster). Here, the story was that a women had masturbated using a live lobster and that the lobster had defecated into her vagina, implanting brine shrimp eggs that then hatched inside her. Additionally, there are a few fictional cases in literature, the most infamous being the use of an animal liver as a masturbatory aid in Philip Roth’s 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint. The novel is basically the monologue of (as Wikipedia describes) “a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor who confesses to his psychoanalyst in intimate, shameful detail, and coarse, abusive language”. In my previous blog on sitophilia (sexual arousal from food), I did note that processed animal tissue has been used as a masturbatory aid (the most notable being botulinonia that involves the sexual use of sausages).

However, there is one case report in the scientific literature that is definitely true. It was published in a 1990 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology by Dr. Barry Randall, Dr. Richard Vance, and Dr. Timothy McAlmont and was simply titled ‘Xenolingual eroticism’. The paper described the case of a 29-year old female that presented at an abortion clinic saying that she had missed her periods and that she had a possible pregnancy that required termination. She was given a D&C (dilatation and curettage) and a muscular “pale grey tissue mass” measuring seven centimetres in length and 3 centimetres in diameter was found inside her vaginal passage. The object removed from her vagina turned out to be a deer tongue that the woman has been using as a masturbatory aid. At the time their case study was published, Dr. Randall and colleagues reviewed all the relevant literature on masturbatory practices in the Index Medicus database and found 42 papers (of which 27 detailed autoerotic deaths and 14 describing the psychology of autoeroticism). They then noted that:

“Only one reference reviewed various nonlethal autoerotic practices. Over a 42-year period, Aliabadi et al. recorded 18 patients, only three of whom were women, who presented with foreign body insertion for erotic purposes. All three women had inserted foreign bodies into the urinary tract. Acts of autoeroticism involving vaginal masturbation with foreign objects are perhaps more common. None to our knowledge have been reported because these do not result in death or injury, and typically would not come to medical attention. The literature discloses examples of foreign bodies extracted from the male and female lower urinary tract because objects of small diameter may be retracted by natural muscular impulses into the proximal urethra and/or bladder. Indeed, according to Kinsey and others >90% of foreign bodies found in the female bladder or urethra are there as a result of masturbation. Also, large objects retrieved from the vagina are found mostly in married women aged 17-30 [years]. However, these objects, most commonly bananas, cucumbers, and other large vegetables, rarely come to surgical attention. The medical literature reveals only seven references to bestiality. None of them deals with the issue of using nonviable animal tissue for autoerotic purposes. This report is presented so that xenoerotic objects may be placed on the list of possible masturbatory tools that may come to the attention of medical personnel”.

As far as I am aware, the case study by Dr. Randall and colleagues is the only academic paper on the use of animal tissue as a masturbatory aid. I did actually cite this study in a previous blog in relation to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2011 typology of zoophiles in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. The case cited by Randall and colleagues could be classed as a fetishistic zoophile. According to Dr. Aggrawal, these individuals keep various animal parts (especially fur) that they then use as an erotic stimulus as a crucial part of their sexual activity. Obviously the use of a deer tongue is rare but appears to fit the definition of a fetishistic zoophile.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.

Aliabadi, H., Cass, A.S., Gleich, P., & Johnson, C.F. (1985). Self-Inflicted foreign bodies involving lower urinary tract and male genitals. Urology, 26, 12-16.

Brown, S. (1995). The Fortean Times Book of Weird Sex. London: John Brown Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Dying for it: Autoerotic deaths. Bizarre, 24, 62-65.

Mikkelson, B. (2006). Cowboy heart. Snopes.com, May 13. Located at: http://www.snopes.com/risque/kinky/cowheart.asp

Randall, M. B., Vance, R. P., & McCalmont, T. H. (1990). Xenolingual autoeroticism. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 11, 89-92.

Snopes (2000). Lobster love. Snopes.com, January 26. Located at: http://www.snopes.com/risque/juvenile/lobster.asp

Snopes (2006). Deerly beloved. Snopes.com, February 26. Located at: http://www.snopes.com/risque/animals/deertongue.asp

List watch: A brief look at glazomania

“Real happiness consists in not what we actually accomplish, but what we think we accomplish” (Charles Green Shaw, American abstract artist)

Ever since I can remember I have always been someone that compiled lists. Back in my youth it was lists of my favourite pop groups, film stars, sports stars, etc. I still make loads of lists but these days they are more likely to be long ‘to do’ lists (in fact, I’ve even written articles on getting the most out of ‘to do’ lists and being organized – see ‘Further reading’ below) or writing articles in the form of lists (in fact, I used to write what I called ‘psychol-lists’ for the British Psychological Society’s in-house magazine The Psychologist). When I make lists I feel more productive, and they are often the spurs to get things done (as long as I actually do the things on the list).

Obviously, list making can be an important activity in the organizational skills of many working individuals. Based on my own observations, most people make lists so they (i) don’t forget things, (ii) don’t procrastinate, (iii) feel in control and focused in what they are doing, (iv) can relieve stress, and (v) can cross things off the list and feel a sense of accomplishment. However, for a minority of people, making lists appears to be obsessive and a mental health issue. In short, there may be a fine line between being organized and being neurotic. From my own personal experience, I know that writing lists can be related to perfectionism. But life isn’t perfect and not completing activities on ‘to do’ lists can raise stress and worry levels. Ironically, the only way some people can deal with this is to make even more lists of things to do.

Obsessive list making is sometimes referred to as glazomania (check out the ‘Manias’ page at The Scorpio Tales website). Online dictionaries tend to define glazomania as either a passion for list makingor an unusual fascination with making lists”. However, the term ‘glazomania’ doesn’t appear to be used much academically. I did come across one recent paper in Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, by Dr. Urs Staeheli that mentioned it:

“Recently, quite a number of coffee-table books have been published that collect different sorts of everyday lists. Some authors even speak of a ‘glazomania‘ (Cagen 2007) – that is, an uncontrolled urge to produce lists and a fascination with list-making”

However, there was no other information provided. I managed to track down the 2007 reference to Sasha Cagen’s book (To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us). The book includes creative list-making exercises with the aim of helping individuals to “get in touch with their passion for life, inside and out of work, and refocus them on what brings them alive”. Cagen now makes a living on writing and giving workshops on the benefits of list making (one of her major clients being Google)

Although the term ‘glazomania’ is seldom used academically or clinically, obsessive list making is often mentioned as one of the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. As one online admission I came across noted:

“I have OCD, and recently my OCD flares up in the form of compulsive list making. This behavior totally affects my ability to be productive because I am constantly afraid of forgetting something and of spending time doing the wrong thing. Does anyone have any tips on how to break the cycle?”

The Wikipedia entry on obsessive-compulsive personality disorder notes that the main symptoms are “preoccupation with remembering and paying attention to minute details and facts, following rules and regulations, compulsion to make lists and schedules, as well as rigidity/inflexibility of beliefs or showing perfectionism that interferes with task-completion. Symptoms may cause extreme distress and interfere with a person’s occupational and social functioning” (my emphasis)

Psychologically, an argument could be made that obsessive list makers are simply trying to create an illusion of control in otherwise chaotic lives. The reason whyindividuals with OCD make lists compulsively is that they often afraid (in some cases, to the point of being phobic) that they will forget something important (even though research shows they do not have memory problems). These (arguably unnecessary) lists provide a reminder to carry out daily activities (i.e. brushing teeth, making breakfast, etc.). As with other OCD-type behaviours, the action of making a list helps the individual to feel psychologically better (albeit temporarily). The etiological roots may lie in the fact that the sufferer may at some point in their past history have been reprimanded severely, or repeatedly, by others for innocently forgetting things that were important. The OCD Types website adds:

“They never learn that they do not need the list to remember things. People with OCD may also make lists to remember things that may be contaminated to later wash or avoid, which also contributes to the OCD process. List-making can be in writing or verbalized aloud”.

In 2010, the BBC reported an exhibition at the Archives of American Art in Washington featuring lists made by eminent artists (everything from “scribbled on scraps of paper” to the “elaborately illustrated” including lists by Pablo Picasso, Alfred Konrad, Oscar Bluemner, Eerp Saarinen and Harry Bertoia). Bluemner even kept lists of lists. The curator of the exhibition (Liza Kirwin) told the BBC that:

“In trying to give order to his life, [Bluemner] obscures the clarity of the inventory of his work. He’s completely obsessed with this type of record keeping…This very mundane and ubiquitous form of documentation can tell you a great deal about somebody’s personal biography, where they’ve been and where they’re going. People can relate to this form of documentation because so many people are list keepers and organise their lives this way”.

In the same article, the BBC interviewed the US psychoanalyst Dr. Michael Maccoby who claimed that there are various types of list makers. However, there was little detail and the only quote in relation to types of list makers claimed: “The extreme is the obsessive who has to make lists of everything. These are people who have an unconscious fear that everything is going to be out of control if they don’t make a list”. As far as I am aware, there is no published empirical research on personality types and list making although there is some psychological literature showing that list making – as part of time management practices – appears to have some beneficial effects on both student grade point averages and workplace productivity.

Finally, a few months ago, an online article by Dr. Carrie Barron at the Psychology Today website provided a brief summary of why making lists is psychologically good for people. I’m not sure about the empirical basis of her claims but they seem to have reasonable face validity. I’ll leave you with her reasons (her verbatim list of “six great benefits”!). In summary, Barron believes that lists:

  • “Provide a positive psychological process whereby questions and confusions can be worked through.
  • Foster a capacity to select and prioritize. This is useful for an information-overload situation.
  • Separate minutia from what matters, which is good for identity as well as achievement.
  • Help determine the steps needed. That which resonates informs direction and plan.
  • Combat avoidance. Taking abstract to concrete sets the stage for commitment and action. Especially if you add self-imposed deadlines.
  • Organize and contain a sense of inner chaos, which can make your load feel more manageable”.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

 

Further reading

 

Barron, C. (2014). How making lists can quell anxiety and breed creativity. Psychology Today, March 9. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-creativity-cure/201403/how-making-lists-can-quell-anxiety-and-breed-creativity

 

Cagen, S. (2007). To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Chicago: Touchstone.

 

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Psycholo-lists. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 240.

 

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). More psycholo-lists. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 9, 384.

 

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Tips on…To do lists. British Medical Journal Careers, 332, 215.

 

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Tips on…’To do’ lists. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 68, 27-28.

 

O’Brien, J. (2010). The art of list-making. BBC News, March 3. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8537856.stm

 

OCD Types (2014). About obsessive-compulsive disorder. Located at: http://www.ocdtypes.com/unusual-compulsions.php

 

Staeheli, U. (2012). Listing the global: Dis/connectivity beyond representation? Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 13(3), 233-246.

 

Wikipedia (2014). Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive–compulsive_personality_disorder

 

Term warfare: ‘Problem gambling’ and ‘gambling addiction’ are not the same

Throughout my career, I have constantly pointed out that I met very few people that are genuinely addicted to playing weekly or bi-weekly Lotto games. When stating this, some people counter my assertion that they know people who spend far too much money on buying Lotto tickets and that it is areal problem in their life. However, this is a classic instance of confusing ‘problem gambling’ with ‘gambling addiction’. These two terms are not inter-changeable. When I give lectures on gambling addiction I always point out that “all gambling addicts are problem gamblers but not all problem gamblers are gambling addicts”.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the print and broadcast media. For instance, I have been one of the co-authors on the last two British Gambling Prevalence Surveys (published in 2007 and 2011). In these surveys we assessed the rate of problem gambling using two different problem gambling screens. Neither of these screens assesses ‘gambling addiction’ and problem gambling is operationally defined according to the number of criteria endorsed on each screen. For instance, in both studies we used the criteria of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) to estimate the prevalence of problem gambling. Anyone that endorsed three or more items (out of ten) was classed as a problem gambler. Anyone that endorsed five or more items was classed as a pathological gambler. Pathological gambling is more akin to gambling addiction but we found only a tiny percentage of our national participants could be classed as such. What we did report was that 0.9% of our sample were problem gamblers (i.e., they scored three or more on the DSM-IV criteria).

What we didn’t say (and never have said) was that 0.9% of British adults (approximately 500,000 people) are addicted to gambling. However, many stories in the British media when they talk about problem gambling will claim ‘half a million adults in Great Britain are gambling addicts’ (or words to that effect). I am not trying to downplay the issue of gambling addiction. I know only too well the pain and suffering it can bring to individuals and their families. Also, just because I may not define a problem gambler as being genuinely addicted (by my own criteria as outlined in a previous blog), that doesn’t mean that their problem gambling might not be impacting in major negatively detrimental ways on their life (e.g., relationship problems, financial problems, work problems, etc.).

However, returning to the issue of being ‘addicted’ to Lotto games I have always stated in many of my published papers on both addiction and (more specifically) gambling addiction, that addictions rely on constant rewards. A person cannot be genuinely addicted unless they are receiving constant rewards (i.e., their behaviour being reinforced). Playing a Lotto game in which the result of the gamble is only given once or twice a week is not something that can provide constant rewards. A person can only be rewarded (i.e., reinforced) once or twice a week. Basically, Lotto games are discontinuous and have a very low event frequency (once or twice a week). Continuous gambling activities (like the playing of a slot machine) have very high event frequencies (e.g., a typical pub slot machine in the UK has an event frequency of 10-12 times a minute). Gambling activities with high event frequencies tend to have higher associations with problem gambling, and are more likely to be associated with genuine gambling addictions.

That doesn’t mean people can’t spend too much money buying lottery tickets. Buying ticket after ticket can indeed lead people to have a gambling problem with Lotto. However, I know of no addiction criterion that relates to the amount of money spent engaging in an activity. Obviously the lack of money can lead to some signs of problematic and/or addictive behaviour (such as committing criminal activity in order to get money the person hasn’t got to gamble) but this is a consequence of the behaviour not a criterion in itself. In most of the behavioural addictions that I carry out research into (exercise addiction, sex addiction, video game addiction, etc.), there is little money spent but some of these behaviours for a small minority of people are genuinely addictions.

One of the reasons I felt the need to write this article was a press release I saw the other day from the Salvation Army in New Zealand. The story basically said that for some people, playing Lotto was an addictive activity. Here are some of the things the press release said:

“The Salvation Army Problem Gambling service is seeing an increase in the number of clients for whom Lotto products has become a problem for them and their families. ‘When it becomes an addiction, gambling creates havoc in people’s lives’, says Commissioner Alistair Herring, National Director of Addiction Services. ‘The gambling of some of our clients has led to criminal offending, domestic violence, loss of the family home, and – most commonly – children going without food and other basic needs. Regrettably, some people are unable to buy a simple product like a Lotto ticket without it leading to harm for themselves and others. A Lotto ticket can seem harmless but once their purchase becomes an addiction the results can be devastating’…In the past year, The Salvation Army problem gambling programme assisted over 1400 clients most of whom used Lotto. Fifty-seven clients said Lotto was the most significant aspect of their gambling problem. ‘This sort of sales promotion without fully understanding the damage the product can have on an individual and their family is irresponsible. New Zealand is moving toward food labelling that identifies additives dangerous to health. Yet Lotto tickets are sold without any warning that they can lead to health dangers through addiction’. One of the results of Lotteries Commission activity is that Countdown supermarkets recently started selling Lotto tickets at the checkout”.

Many of you reading this may think I am being a little pedantic but while I don’t doubt that buying too many Lotto tickets can be problematic if the person buying them simply can’t afford it, the resulting behaviour is ‘problem gambling’ not ‘gambling addiction’. In relation to my own criteria for addiction, the only way someone could be addicted to Lotto was if they were actually addicted to the buying of the tickets rather than the outcome of the gamble itself. This is not as bizarre as it sounds as some research that I carried out in the late 1990s and early 2000s with Dr. Richard Wood appeared to show that a small proportion of adolescents (aged 11 to 15 years) were addicted to playing both Lotto and scratchcard lottery games.

While it is theoretically possible for kids to be hooked on lottery scratchcards (as you can play again and again and again if you have the time, money, and opportunity), we found it strange that adolescents should have ‘addiction’ problems with Lotto. However, in follow-up qualitative focus groups, some adolescents reported that they actually got a buzz from the buying of Lotto tickets and scratchcards because it was an illegal activity for them (i.e., only those aged 16 years or older can play lottery games in the UK so the buying of tickets below this age is a criminal offence). Basically, there was a small minority of kids that were getting a buzz or high from the illegality of buying a lottery ticket rather than the gambling itself.

Along with Michael Auer, I published a paper in the journal Frontiers in Psychology where we argued game type was actually irrelevant in the development of gambling problems. We provided two examples that demonstrate that it is the structural characteristics rather than the game type that is critical in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem and pathological gambling for those who are vulnerable and/or susceptible. A ‘safe’ slot machine could be designed in which no-one would ever develop a gambling problem. The simplest way to do this would be to ensure that whoever was playing the machine could not press the ‘play button’ or pull the lever more than once a week. An enforced structural characteristic of an event frequency of once a week would almost guarantee that players could not develop a gambling problem. Alternatively, a risky form of lottery game could be designed where instead of the draw taking place weekly, bi-weekly or daily, it would be designed to take place once every few minutes. Such an example is not hypothetical and resembles lottery games that already exist in the form of rapid-draw lottery games like keno.

Although many people (including those that work in the print media) may still use the terms ‘problem gambling’ and ‘gambling addiction’ interchangeably, hopefully I have demonstrated in this article that there is a need to think of these terms as being on a continuum in which ‘gambling addiction’ is at the extreme end of the scale and that ‘problem gambling’ (while still of major concern) doesn’t necessarily lead to problems in every area of a person’s life.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2013). The irrelevancy of game-type in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem gambling. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 621. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00621.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Leino, T., Torsheim, T., Blaszczynski, A., Griffiths, M.D., Mentzoni, R., Pallesen, S. & Molde, H. (2014). The relationship between structural characteristics and gambling behavior: A population based study. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.

McCormack, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A scoping study of the structural and situational characteristics of internet gambling. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 29-49.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies (pp.211-243). New York: Elsevier.

Salvation Army (2014). Buying Lotto…Winning a gambling addiction. July 2. Located at: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU1407/S00032/buying-lotto-winning-a-gambling-addiction.htm

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011). British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M.D., Constantine, R. & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: The Stationery Office.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (1998). The acquisition, development and maintenance of lottery and scratchcard gambling in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 21, 265-273.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Adolescent perceptions of the National Lottery and scratchcards: A qualitative study using group interviews. Journal of Adolescence, 25/6, 655 – 668.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Adolescent lottery and scratchcard players: Do their attitudes influence their gambling behaviour? Journal of Adolescence, 27, 467-475.

Built from kicks and water: A brief look at scuba fetishism

“[Question] Is it normal to have a scuba fetish about scuba diving and snorkeling and having scuba diving gear on and walking around in public for every one to see? [Response] I have a fetish of scuba diving and snorkeling and I feel really good about it” (Is It Normal? website).

In a previous blog I looked at aquaphilia (a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from water and/or watery environments including bathtubs or swimming pools – and sometimes referred to as hydrophilia). However, I recently came across a sub-type of aquaphilia (i.e., scuba fetishism) where according to an article in The Gazette on the ‘world’s freakiest fetishes’ are where individuals are sexually aroused by scuba diving, snorkeling, or the wearing of diving equipment. Scuba fetishism may also have some psychosexual crossover with athyphilia (a sexual paraphilia where individuals get sexually aroused by depth or deep water). The most detailed article that examines scuba fetishes is that on the Nation Master website. The article claims that:

“There are many aspects to the scuba fetish which attract fetishists. First, there is the sensual pleasure of being in a liquid environment. One is weightless and free to move in three dimensions which allows for a wider variety of sexual positions. Often, the sexual arousal comes in the form of wearing wetsuits, swim caps, and other rubber articles which serve as a second skin [i.e., rubber fetishism]. For many, the arousal comes from the wearing of face masks; this is related to fetishes involving gas masks, hazmat suits, and decorative masks [i.e., mask fetishism]. Other fetishists are aroused by other diving gear such as swim fins, snorkels, regulators, and technical diving equipment”.

The article also makes reference to various ‘scubaphile’ websites and in the name of ‘research’ I felt duty bound to check them out. The sites I visited included HapWater (that specialises in scuba diving-related fetish photography featuring beautiful frogwomen in classic SCUBA gear”), Atlantis Bizarre (a subsection of the fashion fetish site Jazzy Fashion where individuals can buy scuba-related fetish wear), Underwater Fans (a web portal with many links to other underwater fetish websites such as Aqua Maidens), and Rub Aqua Girl who begins her blog by letting readers know:

“Me? I’m just a rubber lover who likes being underwater…holding my breath.I’ve always loved rubber but after finding out my partner was into the water thing, I tried it. This was as much a surprise to me as it was to him coz I’ve been frightened of water since nearly drowning when I was younger. Now you can’t keep me out of it – the feeling of being rubber-clad and underwater is indescribable!”

There are many other scuba fetish websites including some that also feature ‘drowning fetishes’ such as that at the Aqua Entertainment website (please be warned that this and the other sites mentioned are sexually explicit). As far as I can ascertain there is no academic research on scuba fetishism so everything in this blog is (at best) anecdotal. The Nation Master article claims that in relation to scuba fetishism:

“As with other fetishes, actually living out fantasies with a partner is the exception rather than the rule. Not only is it predominantly a male fetish, but the sole fact that not everyone has a large enough indoor pool often enough prohibits living out fantasies with a partner. Some may develop an emphasis on the scuba gear and any clothing involved, so unlike with aquaphilia, water, or actual scuba diving is not a strict requirement. Often enough this merely adds to the thrill. Thrill often is a keyword here as well. People by and large tend to associate fun and adventure with scuba diving so a prospective partner who actually does scuba diving may appear more attractive anyway, but to a scubaphile who actually does scuba diving him or herself this will almost be a requirement. To have a partner who is geared for fun and adventure just seems more promising and the ability to spend vacations on live aboards or in tourist resortsthat offer scuba diving in order to share the passion for scuba diving with each other will certainly be of concern”.

As mentioned above, there appear to be psychological and behavioural overlaps between scuba fetishism and other types of fetishism. The Latex Wiki website claims that:

“[Scuba fetishism is] usually appreciated as one of the forerunners of the latex fetish and gas masks enthusiasts as these were the earliest full body rubber suits designed and obtainable. However, as they were highly expensive, few had the money to purchase such suits. In the later era of early mass production, full rubber suits were purchased more easily…Today, many latex fetishists prefer the more form-flattering sheet pressed latex costuming (usually referred to ‘drywear’ indicating that it is not really meant to be worn in or under water due to the pressure on the suit from the water) as opposed to the thick rubber or neoprone suits that divers actually use in underwater travel (‘wetwear’ which usually refers to a suit that is specifically designed to resist the pressures of water when submerged). However, some still prefer the thick containing format of scuba-like suits or actual scuba suits on such models and performers and themselves. Scuba fetishism has many fans; some are turned on because of the tight clothing, others because of the water environment, others because of the masks and also breathplayers (although those last two are few and rare)”.

It is hard for me to either confirm or disconfirm any of the assertions made in this online article but personally I think the claims made have good face validity. I certainly came across other online references supporting the things claimed here (especially the relationship and overlap between scuba fetish and ‘breathplay’ (i.e., hypoxyphilia: the restriction of breathing, usually during sex, to gain erotic satisfaction). For instance, one person writing at the Answers.Yahoo.com website stated:

“I think that you might find that [scuba fetish is] a fairly specialised fetish and not overly common. However, someone who is into breath-play might find it appealing. It would be interesting to be bound by the feet to the bottom of a body of water so that you cannot rise to the surface and are trapped underwater with your air supply controlled by another person”.

Although scuba divers sometimes wear nappies (i.e. diapers) because they are in the water so long, there is little to suggest that this particular type of fetishism is related to ‘diaper fetishism’. An article on adult babies at the Odd Sex website reports that:

“Those who wear diapers because of incontinence are probably not [Adult Babies/Diaper Lovers]. While they may wear and use diapers, they aren’t necessarily doing it to express an alternate self-image or indulge a fetish. This also applies to those who use diapers for practical reasons, such as astronauts and scuba divers. Finally, there are some who start wearing diapers as a ‘new kink’”.

As with other rare sexual behaviours that I have examined in my blog, I can’t see scuba fetishism ever becoming an area of scientific research although the occasional case may make its way into the forensic literature if things go tragically wrong (i.e., accidental death from asphyxiation). However, as I noted in my previous blog on aquaphilia, there have only been two autoerotic water-related deaths published in the medical forensic literature (see ‘Further reading’ below) but neither of these involved the use of scuba gear.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Gamotin, D. (2009). World’s freakiest fetishes. The Gazette, February 14. Located at: http://www.gazette.uwo.ca/article.cfm?section=Campus&articleID=288&month=2&day=14&year=2007

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Nation Master (2013). Scuba fetishism. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Scuba-fetishism

Sauvageau, A. & Racette, S. (2006). Aqua-eroticum: An unusual autoerotic fatality in a lake involving a home-made diving apparatus. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 51(1), 137–39.

Sivaloganathan, S. (1984). Aqua-eroticum – A case of auto-erotic drowning. Medicine, Science and the Law, 24, 300–302.

Chewing it over: Luis Suárez and the psychology of biting

Last week I was one of the millions of football fans that watched the Uruguayan footballer Luis Suárez sink his teeth into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini during the Uruguay versus Italy World Cup match. Straight after the match I jokingly tweeted a link to one of my previous blogs on the psychology of sexual biting (known as odaxelagnia). My tweet simply said “Maybe Luis Suárez has an undiagnosed odaxelagnia disorder” followed by a link to my article. The next day, I got a call from a journalist from Daily Telegraph newspaper (Harry Wallop) who was writing an article on why we find the act of biting so shocking.

I’m admittedly no expert on biting but I spent 15 minutes talking to the Telegraph about some of the possible psychological reasons and explanations for human biting in adults. The journalist specifically wanted to know why the act of biting was so shocking. Very little of what I said made it into the published Telegraph article. In fact, the only quotes attributed to me were embedded within a section involving Freudian explanations for biting:

“Suárez may not be found to have committed an offence. But it is clear that an adult biting another in public is much more disturbing than throwing a punch, even if both might be criminal assault. Dr Mark Griffiths, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, says: ‘How many times in football have we seen fisticuffs, elbowing, even headbutting? All these things are awful, but they have become almost part and parcel of the game. But biting is so rare, that is one of the reasons why it is so shocking’. Also, psychologists explain, biting shocks us because it involves using an intimate and soft body part that one normally associates with pleasure. And here we touch on a basic tenet of Freudianism. According to the founding father of psychoanalysis, all sexual pleasure and anxieties are rooted in different periods of childhood, the first of which is the oral stage, when babies explore the world through their mouths. Toddlers often then go on to bite to attract attention and will continue doing so until a parent teaches them otherwise. Behaviour learnt in the oral stage of development is the explanation, Freudians believe, for everything from a predilection for chewing pencils all the way to full-blown vampirism. It is no coincidence that Freud wrote his seminal work on psychosexual theories within a decade of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The vampire, spreading fear in a sexually repressed society, is a powerful metaphor”.

Anyone that knows me knows that I am no fan of Freudian theory. I find him interesting to read but many of his theories can’t be falsified using the scientific method. If his theories can’t be empirically tested then I have little time to take his theories seriously. (For instance, in my main field of gambling addiction, Signund Freud speculated that gambling was unconscious substitute for masturbation and an act of psychic masochism). However, I do believe that many people have unconscious thoughts and desires and that sometimes people simply do not know why they did what they did. Maybe Suárez’ most recent biting incident was no different. Maybe there was no premeditation and that his bite into Chiellini’s shoulder was simply instinctive. Maybe it was a classically conditioned response going back to his childhood.

One of the most surprising aspects in the aftermath of the whole incident is how Suárez’ teammates, his manager, and even the Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, defended his actions. If an England player had done the same thing, I can’t imagine David Cameron welcoming him back to the country. My partner (who is also a psychologist) and I were talking with our children about Suárez’ actions after the game as they both kept asking about why Suárez would bite someone during a game. We speculated that because Suárez has been great footballer all his life, biting incidents that occurred during his childhood may not have been treated and acted upon in the same way in someone not quite so talented. In short, maybe his biting behaviour was tolerated rather than being punished because he was always told what a gifted individual he was.

While being interviewed by the Telegraph, I also speculated that Suárez’ biting may have been some kind of a stress-based reaction. At the time of the bite in the match, Uruguay were heading out of the tournament (as Italy only needed a draw to progress and the score was 0-0). Maybe Suárez’ felt Uruguay were being pushed into a psychological corner by Italy and the biting was symptomatic of feeling under stress. Although rare, Suárez is not the first sportsman to bite an opponent. Many people will recall Mike Tyson biting a piece out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Less high profile cases include the rugby union players Johan Le Roux (of South Africa) and Dylan Hartley (England). These other cases somehow seem less shocking than that of Suárez. In the Telegraph article, other psychologists were interviewed. Professor David Wilson (Birmingham City University) was quoted as saying:

“To bite someone, you have to get very close, you have to put your head – the place you want to protect the most in a conflict – right up against them…Think about what this does. It literally marks your partner as belonging to you. In evolutionary terms, there are many animals who bite their mates as a way of controlling them before engaging with them sexually. Try as we might, it is hard to escape the sexual nature of biting. It is sometimes even used as a method of attack during sexual crimes…It is nearly always a form of sadism. Often I’d be looking at children who had been bitten by a paedophile or women who had been bitten on their sexual organs. I really don’t want to over-egg it, but Suárez has a mild psychological issue”.

Dr. Saima Latif wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph and asserted that Suárez needs psychological help (i.e., anger management therapy). He (like I) speculated as to why Suárez had bitten Giorgio Chiellini although Latif’s angle was more Freudian and psychodynamic. He wrote:

“Biting is an act borne of frustration, stress and loss of control. Luis Suárez is likely to have felt humiliated and put down in some way that he wanted to get one over on his opponent…Research shows that the most violent period of our lives is when we are between three and four years old. That is the most aggressive stage of development, because if we don’t get what we want, we fight and lash out. It’s also the stage when the Id takes over; a basic instinct when we can’t control our temperament. It’s a possibility that Suárez thought his provocation would lead to his opponent retaliating and then being sent off. However, given that he may also be sent off for biting, this reasoning is slightly more remote.Perhaps his biting started in childhood and was triggered by something, perhaps he was bitten in turn. To get to the root of the problem and address it effectively he does require psychological therapy which looks at the more deep-seated issues that might be of concern”.

Watching Suárez being interviewed after the game, I’m still amazed how trivial he thought the incident to be (“these things happen in football”). He believed he had done nothing wrong and like a child that has been caught doing something wrong he tried to deflect the blame elsewhere. As Dr. Latif noted:

“Most children, when they are confronted with something they have done, will immediately take recourse in lying. The fact that this is a repeated action shows that it is habitual, rather than pathological. It is his particular technique, which makes you wonder how many time’s he’s done it off the pitch”.

Maybe we’ll never know why biting an opponent is part of Suárez’ non-footballing behavioural repertoire on the field. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop hypothesizing about what caused the behaviour in the first place.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Latif, S. (2014). Luis Suarez needs therapy to overcome urge to bite. Daily Telegraph, June 25. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/players/luis-suarez/10925060/Luis-Suarez-needs-therapy-to-overcome-urge-to-bite.html

Wallop, H. (2014). Luis Suárez and the Bite. Daily Telegraph, June 26. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/players/luis-suarez/10925858/Luis-Suarez-and-the-Bite.html

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