Author Archives: drmarkgriffiths

Tat’s my girl: Do tattoos on women make them more attractive?

Although I have already written a few blogs on extreme tattooing (including one on the television show My Tattoo Addiction), I have to admit that I don’t find excessive tattoos attractive in the slightest. I don’t mind one or two discreetly placed tattoos but women that are covered in them are a complete turn off for me. Most scientific studies that I have read on women’s tattoos tend to show that I am in the majority as seeing them negatively. For instance, a 1991 study carried out by Dr. Myrna Armstrong and published in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship surveyed 137 career women all of who had tattoos. The authors reported that:

“Strong support for the tattoo was expressed by the significant person in the woman’s life and friends, while mild support was perceived from mothers, siblings and children. Respondents cited a lack of, or negative response from their fathers, physicians, registered nurses and the general public. Misunderstanding of what a tattoo means to the individual and stereotyping of women with tattoos continues”.

Dr. Daina Hawkes and her colleagues examined students’ attitudes towards female tattoos in a 2004 study in the journal Sex Roles. They examined both size and visibility of the tattoo. Among the sample, 23% of females and 12% of males were tattooed. The results showed that both men and women had more negative attitudes toward a woman with a visible tattoo than those without. The authors also reported that:

“The size of the tattoo was a predictor of evaluation only for men and women who did not have tattoos themselves. Finally, participants with more conservative gender attitudes evaluated all women more negatively, beyond the effects already accounted for by gender differences”.

In a 2002 issue of Psychological Reports, Dr. Douglas Degelman and Dr. Nicole Price examined what people thought about a photograph of a 24-year-old woman with a black tattoo of a dragon on her left upper arm compared to the same woman without the tattoo. Participants were asked to rate the woman on 13 different personal characteristics and results showed that the compared to the control photograph, the tattooed female was rated as less athletic, less attractive, less motivated, less honest, less generous, less religious, less intelligent, and less artistic. A similar 2005 study using the same technique – also in the journal Psychological Reports – by Dr. John Seiter and Dr. Sarah Hatch, found that a female model with a tattoo was rated as less competent and less sociable than the control photograph of the same woman without a tattoo.

Using a different methodology, Dr. Viren Swami and Dr. Adrian Furnham published a paper in a 2007 issue of the journal Body Image and asked their students to rate social and physical perceptions of blonde and brunette females with different degrees of tattooing. The students were asked to rate how physical attractive and sexual promiscuous the women were as in addition to estimating of the number of alcohol units consumed by the women on a typical night out. The authors reported that:

“Tattooed women were rated as less physically attractive, more sexually promiscuous and heavier drinkers than untattooed women, with more negative ratings with increasing number of tattoos…[Additionally] blonde women in general rated more negatively than brunettes”

This latter study interested Dr. Nicolas Guéguen who has carried out many different studies examining what makes women more attractive. In a 2013 study on the effect that female tattoos have on males published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, he made the following observation about the study by Drs. Swami and Furnham:

“On the one hand, Swami and Furnham’s (2007) results showed that such negative evaluation associated with tattooed women would probably decrease their attractiveness for men. On the other hand, if such women are perceived to be more sexually promiscuous, this could lead men to perceive them as having greater sexual intent. Thus, physical cues that inform them regarding the receptivity of a woman are important. Hence, tattoos could lead male observers to infer that a woman may have greater sexual intent, which, in turn, could lead them to approach such a woman more readily…A survey recently conducted by Guéguen (2012b) showed that tattooed and pierced French women experienced early sexual intercourse. However, the study did not show whether early sexual intercourse can be explained by the fact that women reported interest in both sex and tattoos and piercings or whether women wearing tattoos and piercings experienced more sexual solicitations from men, which, in turn, increased the probability to have sex earlier. Thus, one way of evaluating the mechanism associated with this relation is to test whether men’s behavior changes depending on the presence or absence of a tattoo on a woman’s body”.

As a consequence of these studies and observations, Dr. Guéguen carried out an interesting experimental field study on a French beach and predicted that women with tattoos would be more likely to be approached on the beach by men. To do this, Guéguen placed a temporary tattoo on a woman’s lower back (or not in the control condition), and all the women were asked to read a book while lying flat on their stomach on the beach. Guéguen carried out two experiments and reported:

“The first experiment showed that more men (N = 220) approached the tattooed [women] and that the mean latency of their approach was quicker. A second experiment showed that men (N = 440) estimated to have more chances to have a date and to have sex on the first date with tattooed [women]. However, the level of physical attractiveness attributed to the [woman] was not influenced by the tattoo condition”

Despite the significant results, Dr. Guéguen did note that his studies had a number of limitations. Firstly, the women only had one visible tattoo. The study by Swami and Furnham (outlined above) showed that women were rated as increasingly unattractive the more tattoos they had (i.e., attractiveness was negatively correlated with the number of tattoos). Guéguen also noted that the previous experimental studies involving the visible showing of a single tattoo tended to involve the women’s upper arm. Here, the tattoo was on the woman’s lower back which (according to Guéguen) could have made a difference to the men because it “is near the genital area of female bodies”. Dr. Guéguen also went on to note that:

“It would be worth testing whether a tattoo exerts the same sexual attractiveness effect regardless of the body area where it appears. Only one tattoo design was tested in our two experiments, and it would also be worth testing various designs and the height of the surface area occupied by the tattoo. Furthermore, only attractive women confederates participated in these two studies, and researchers might elect to test the effect of tattoos depending on various levels of female attractiveness. Another issue is that the women confederates were not informed about the real objective of the study and previous research on this topic. However, they may have unconsciously behaved differently when wearing a tattoo, which, in turn, influenced the men’s behavior”.

There are clearly many different avenues that research in this area can go. However, this is one area where public perception may significantly change over time (now that tattoos are in the cultural mainstream). Although my own views on tattoos are unlikely to change, that doesn’t mean others won’t.

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

Further reading

Armstrong, M.L. (1991). Career-oriented women with tattoos. IMAGE: Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 23, 215–230.

Degelman, D., & Price, N.D. (2002). Tattoos and ratings of personal characteristics. Psychological Reports, 90, 507–514.

Gueguen, N. (2012). Tattoos, piercings, and alcohol consumption. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 36, 1253–1256.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Tattoos, piercings, and sexual activity. Social Behavior and Personality, 40, 1543–1547.

Guéguen, N. (2013). Effects of a tattoo on men’s behavior and attitudes towards women: An experimental field study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1517-1524.

Hawkes, D., Seen, C.Y. & Thorn, C. (2004). Factors that influence attitudes toward women with tattoos. Sex Roles, 50, 593–604.

Henss, R. (2000). Waist-to-hip ratio and female attractiveness: Evidence From photographic stimuli and methodological considerations. Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 501–513.

Seiter, J.S. & Hatch, S. (2005). Effect of tattoos on perceptions of credibility and attractiveness. Psychological Reports, 96, 1113–1120.

Swami, V., & Furnham, A. (2007). Unattractive, promiscuous, and heavy drinkers: Perceptions of women with tattoos. Body Image, 4, 343–352.

Band aid: A brief look at my ‘Art of Noise’ obsession

“Their sources were scientific, their methods were artistic. They were breaking beats, setting up house, gliding through mental landscapes. They were masked, mechanical and, funnily enough, made up. Their image was daring, anonymous and addictive, and has more than stood the test of time. The music hasn’t just stood the test of time but fed the time that has passed; the Art of Noise are one of the most sampled groups in history” (Salvo Record Label)

“[The Art of Noise track] ‘Moments In Love’ graced a 7 [single]…Almost ambient, it was addictive” (So Many Records, So Little Time website)

[The Art of Noise’s record label ZTT] was a record label inspired by books and the addictive property of ideas as much as music” (from Paul Morley’s sleeve notes in the ZTT Box Set book).

The Art of Noise are one of popular music’s most unusual bands ever. The opening quotes claim both their image and their music is “addictive” and that their record label was inspired by the “addictive property” of ideas.That alone is enough ammunition for me to write a blog on them. And as chance would have it, the Art of Noise also happen to be one of my all time favourite bands as mentioned in my previous blog on record collecting as an addiction and my previous blog on my personal (and somewhat obsessive) record collecting behaviour.

Along with Factory Records (home of Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays), the ZTT label was of one of the most iconic record labels of the 1980s and 1990s (and home of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Propaganda, Seal, 808 State). ZTT Records was founded by the trio of record producer Trevor Horn (ex-lead singer of The Buggles), businesswoman Jill Sinclair (and Horn’s wife), and music journalist Paul Morley. The initials ZTT stand for Zang Tumb Tuum (although some of the record labels said Zang Tuum Tumb) and come from the poem Zang Tumb Tumb by Italian poet (and founder of the artistic and social Futurist Movement) Filippo Tommoso Marinetti.

The Art of Noise were the so-called ‘house band’ of ZTT and have been described by some an “avant-garde synthpop” band (but I would argue that their earliest releases with their original line-up almost defy categorization. The original (and I would argue ‘classic’) line-up comprised ZTT founders Trevor Horn and Paul Morley along with classically trained musician and musical arranger Anne Dudley, the engineer/producer Gary Langan, and programmer J.J. Jeczalik. Although best known worldwide for their collaborations with Duane Eddy (Peter Gunn) and Tom Jones (Kiss) it was their early (primarily) instrumental compositionsthat were the most novel and groundbreaking. The first time I heard ‘Close To The Edit’ on BBC Radio 1 in May 1984 I rushed straight out to my local record shop and bought the 7” vinyl version. That night I played it again and again. It was one of the most unique sounding songs I had ever heard. If there was ever an ‘addictive record’ this was it.If you’ve never heard the Art of Noise’s early recordings it’s hard to describe them as musical recordings as such. As the Wikipedia entry on them notes:

“[The] compositions were novel melodic sound collages based on digital sampler technology, which was new at the time. Inspired by turn-of-the-20th-century revolutions in music, the Art of Noise were initially packaged as a faceless anti- or non-group, blurring the distinction between the art and its creators. The band is noted for innovative use of electronics and computers in pop music and particularly for innovative use of sampling…The technological impetus for the Art of Noise was the advent of the Fairlight CMI sampler, an electronic musical instrument invented in Australia. With the Fairlight, short digital sound recordings called samples could be ‘played’ through a piano-like keyboard, while a computer processor altered such characteristics as pitch and timbre. Music producer Trevor Horn was among the first people to purchase a Fairlight. While some musicians were using samples as adornment in their works, Horn and his colleagues saw the potential to craft entire compositions with the sampler, disrupting the traditional rock aesthetic”.

Before the Art of Noise officially formed in 1983, four of the five ‘classic’ line-up (i.e., everyone bar Morley) were already working together as the production team behind such records as ABC’s The Lexicon of Love (1982) and Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock. However, it was while they were (some would say bizarrely) working on the Yes album 90125 that (while bored) Jeczalik and Langan took a scrapped riff by Yes’ drummer Alan White and sampled it using the Fairlight sequencer (which according to Wikipedia was the first time that an entire drum pattern had been sampled into the machine). Non-musical sounds were then layered on top of the sampled drum riff. Jeczalik and Langan then played their musical creation to Horn and was subsequently released as the ‘Red & Blue Mix’ of Yes’ US No.1 single ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ (which if you’ve never heard it does indeed sound like a Yes-Art of Noise mash-up). Many of the samples originally used on the yes LP ended up on the Art of Noise’s first (9-track) EP in 1983 (Into Battle With The Art of Noise) – a truly wonderful record made even better with the 2011 deluxe reissue expanded into 27 tracks.

Horn loved the new and innovative sound and brought in Morley as the fifth member of the band to develop the concept and marketing strategy, write the press releases, and shape the artistic style of the project’s visual imagery. The Futurism movement not only provided the name of the ZTT record label but also provided the name of the new group. Morley had read Luigi Russolo’s essay (and Futurist manifesto) ‘The Art of Noises’ (dropping the final ‘s’ at the insistence of Jeczalik). In a 2002 article in The Observer Sunday newspaper, Morley wrote:

“I loved the name Art of Noise so much that I forced my way into the group. If over the years people asked me what I did in the group, I replied that I named them, and it was such a great name, that was enough to justify my role. I was the Ringo Starr of Art of Noise. I made the tea. Oh, and I wrote the lyrics to one of the loveliest pieces of pop music ever, Moments in Love”.

One of the things I loved about the Art of Noise was that they were completely faceless and did little promotion outside of the verbose (and arguably pretentious) print advertisements written by Morley. Band photographs never appeared on their records and they never appeared in their own videos. Morley was the “face” of the band but a non-musician. As a teenager still discovering the wonders of music I was transfixed by the group’s [non-]image and the compelling nature of their music. The first album (Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?) was unlike any LP I had ever heard before.

During my first year at university (1985), the original line-up split acrimoniously with Langan, Dudley, and Jeczalik (who kept the Art of Noise name) divorcing themselves from Horn, Morley and the ZTT label. The new Art of Noise line-up made further good albums on the China Records label – In Visible Silence (1986), In No Sense? Nonsense! (1987) and Below The Waste (1989) – but none as compelling as the early recordings. In 1990, the Art of Noise (that since 1987 had been a duo of Dudley and Jeczalik) disbanded.

In 1998, the original line-up (minus Jeczalik and Langan) temporarily reformed (adding the ex-10cc guitarist Lol Crème) and released the critically acclaimed concept LP The Seduction of Claude Debussy back on the ZTT label in 1999. The new line-up then performed some live shows in the UK and US, but disbanded again shortly afterwards. A live CD (Reconstructed) using various performances from these shows was released in 2003.

Despite the group splitting up in the early 2000s, August 2006 saw the release of a 4-CD boxed set of unreleased tracks from the ‘classic’ 1983-1985 period (And What Have You Done with My Body, God?) which was an Art of Noise collector’s Holy Grail. The Art of Noise disciples amongst us lapped it up and it fed our need and obsession for new musical product. Over the last few years more unreleased Art of Noise recordings have surfaced on various compilations and deluxe editions of the early recordings, and there is another boxed set (3CD/1DVD) of unreleased recordings due for issue later this year (Art Of Noise At The End Of A Century). No, I’m not addicted to the Art of Noise, but they’re not a group that I ever want to give up.

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

Further reading

Art of Noise (2014). Art of Noise authorized website. Located at: http://theartofnoiseonline.com/Home.php

Wikipedia (2014). Art of Noise. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_of_Noise

Wikipedia (2014). ZTT Records. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZTT_Records

ZTT records official site (2014). Located at: http://www.ztt.com

The tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth: A brief look at obsessive teeth whitening

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am always prepared to look at any claim of any behaviour being an addiction, compulsion or obsession irrespective of how trivial the behaviour might be perceived. One such behaviour is ‘teeth whitening’ which was included in a list of the ‘World’s Wackiest Addictions’ on the Oddee website. The short article claimed:

“Looks like some people can stop whitening their teeth, so much that it’s being considered a new addiction. Since bleaching is easy and effective, people can really get hooked. Two possible side effects of this addiction are tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. According to a report, in the US alone, people spent almost $1.4 billion on tooth whitening products and procedures in 2006”.

It will probably come as no surprise that there is no empirical research into teeth whitening as an addiction, compulsion or obsession (although there are some academic and clinical studies looking at other aspects of teeth whitening that I’ll return to at the end). However, I was surprised to find the Web MD website – a respected reference resource on all things health-wise – actually had an article on whether teeth whitening can become an addiction. The article noted that:

“Teeth whitening treatments are now the No. 1 requested cosmetic dental procedure, having increased more than 300% since 1996, according to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. At-home teeth whitening treatments have become increasingly popular as well. An array of over-the-counter tooth bleaching kits can be found in most any drugstore, discount store, or even grocery store. But there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. While most would stop short of calling it an addiction, dentists say some people do overdo it in the quest for the perfect smile”.

The same article also quoted Dr. Marty Zase (President of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry) who said: “Yes, there definitely is a tendency of people to overuse [teeth whitening products], although most people don’t”. A number of (populist and non-academic) articles that I read online about obsessive teeth whitening mentioned the behaviour in the context of ‘bleachorexia’ or ‘dentorexia’. (The online Urban Dictionary defined a ‘dentorexic’ as When someone has white teeth but they think that their teeth are yellow so they obsess over brushing their teeth/whitening them. Similar to anorexia but involving an obsession over teeth rather than weight”).

An article on the Farah Queen website examined ‘bleachorexia’ (‘Teeth whitening addiction unraveled’) and claimed that some individuals become obsessed with the process of teeth whitening…[the] repetitive desire to conduct teeth bleaching”. Typical behaviours of bleachorexics included constantly looking in mirrors at one’s own teeth (looking for signs of stains, spots, and discolouration) and a constant feeling of dissatisfaction with the colour of one’s teeth. The article claims that:

“[Bleachorexia is the term] referred to as the addiction with bleaching or teeth whitening to the extent that their oral dental health is already affected. People with bleachorexia don’t have to be admitted to a hospital to be cured, but it does pose multiple oral health risks in the process. The solution is just to accept that the teeth whitening products don’t really whiten the teeth but just remove the stains in their teeth. It is also recommended to avoid as much as possible the factors that causes stains and discoloration of teeth, such as coffee, red tea, soda, etc.”.

The article then goes on to list some of the “symptoms of bleaching addiction”. This includes hypersensitive teeth (due to tooth enamel erosion), oral irritation (affecting gums, palate, and throat), and dizziness (due to accidental swallowing bleaching solutions). This is because bleaching solutions excessively can cause damage to the enamel, or the outer coating of the teeth, which results to sensitivity of your teeth. This appears to be backed up by a US report on ABC News that claimed that when it came to teeth whitening some people simply do not know when to stop, and that excessive teeth whitener use can cause permanent damage to teeth and gums. A New York cosmetic dentist, Dr. Nancy Rosen, said:

“People just want that Hollywood white, bright smile, and they are becoming obsessed with it. When people abuse teeth whitening products, the results aren’t pretty. The edges of your teeth will become bluish-translucent in color, and that is irreversible. Your teeth can become very sensitive. You can harm the gum tissue and burn it away. They don’t see that their teeth are looking translucent,” Rosen said. “They don’t see they have a problem. But a dentist can tell. I think most systems are very safe and effective. If you’re not going to read the directions, any of these products can be dangerous. And there is no product that you can use, and use, and use that won’t harm your teeth. If you are going to bleach your teeth, drink staining liquid through a straw”.

An online article by Dr. Chris Iliades (‘Could you have bleachorexia?’) defined bleachorexia as “an addictive obsession with bleaching their teeth to the point that it’s affecting their dental heath”. However, it did then add that those suffering from it “probably don’t need a 12-step program – [but may] need to set more realistic expectations [about] teeth-whitening products”. Addictive terminology appears in almost every article that I have read on teeth whitening. For instance, an article by Sarah Bernard in the New York Magazine began her article with the following:

Dr. Jennifer Jablow calls them ‘bleaching anorexics’. Dr. Larry Rosenthal prefers ‘bleaching junkies’. Peering into a patient’s mouth, Dr. Jonathan Levine can spot one in eight seconds. Dentists in the city are seeing more and more DIY tooth-whitening addicts who are abusing over-the-counter products…often to the point of pain and permanent damage. Michele Hallivis, 28, a biotech sales executive, began with ordinary whitening toothpaste, then upgraded to strips, paint-on whiteners, and finally a tray-and-gel product (where the solution is squeezed into a retainer like tray and worn for about an hour). She’d marinate her teeth – and inadvertently her gums – in a 6% peroxide solution. And because she kept the solution in too long, her gums became so sensitive”.

Here, the use of the word ‘junkies’ and a case study showing what appears to be tolerance (i.e., the needing of more and more, and stronger and stronger teeth whitening products to get her ‘fix’) implies some kind of addiction. However, I have yet to read any case study (even anecdotally) that fulfils my six criteria for addiction. However, the psychology of some aspects of teeth whitening have been investigated.

A recent 2013 paper in the Journal of Korean Society of Dental Hygiene by Dr. Kyeong-Hee Lee and colleagues examined awareness towards tooth whitening among 395 Koreans. They found that the majority of the participants wanted to whiten their teeth and most (65%) had whitened their teeth because it was easy to do (with 50% having done it themselves). They also reported that smoking and drinking coffee had no significant influence on the intention to whiten teeth either by gender, age, and marital status.

However, having white teeth doesn’t appear to influence attractiveness. A study published in a 2003 issue of the psychology journal Perceptual and Motor Skills by Dr. Alexis Grofosky examined whether having whiter teeth affected people’s perception of attractiveness. In their experiment they manipulated the colour of male and female teeth in photographs. They found that participants in their study found no difference in attractiveness between those with brilliantly white teeth and those that were not brilliantly white. However, they did note that having really white teeth might increase the self-esteem and confidence of those with such teeth (but this was not a variable examined in their study).

This does appear to be the case as a 2013 study by Dr. Corina Cristescu and colleagues in the Journal of Romanian Medical Dentistry assessed dental patients’ attitudes towards dental somatoform disorders damaging facial aesthetics, and how they felt after dental treatment. They surveyed 230 patients (92 females and 138 males; aged 20-63 years). They found that those with a poorer educational background were less preoccupied with their physical and anatomic appearance, and that people felt better about themselves after aesthetic dental treatment (including teeth whitening).

Another area where teeth whitening has been examined from a psychological perspective has been in the area of body dysmorphic disorder (a condtion that I examined in a previous blog). Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychiatric condition that affects about 1-2% of Western populations and in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Dr. M. Pole wrote an awareness-raising paper for orthodontists about the disorder, as it is believed that BDD concerning perceived dental imperfections is on the increase. A recent paper in the journal Behavioral Dentistry by Dr. A De Jongh also made the same point that one of the many types of BDD include those people who feel that their teeth are not white enough and need cosmetic surgery to improve their psychological condition.

A short 2010 article by Dr. M. Ali and colleagues in the British Dental Journal reported that they encounter patients with many psychiatric conditions including dental anxiety and phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, hypochondriasis, psychogenic facial pain, eating disorders, drug and alcohol misuse, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. However, they singled out BDD as an important disorder that dentists should be aware of. They noted:

“From a dental point of view, patients present with disproportionate concerns about relatively minor cosmetic or aesthetic lesions, or the delusion that a normal part of their body is abnormal. A delusion is a fixed, false belief out of keeping with normal cultural and educational values…Such patients are more common than perhaps realised, and are very difficult to treat successfully as their visions of the anticipated results are not always realistic. They often display narcissistic personality traits, and there is a link with depression and anxiety. Often they have had multiple interventions…Patients with BDD may seek conventional dental treatment, for example cosmetic dentistry, implant surgery, [and] tooth whitening”.

However, Dr. A. De Jongh and colleagues published a 2008 study in the British Dental Journal and claimed there ws no reason to assume that BDD plays a significant role in the majority of people who seek cosmetic dental care. They surveyed 879 Dutch citizens for characteristics of BDD. Only one BDD feature (i.e., a preoccupation with a defect of appearance) was reported as a significant predictor of undergoing cosmetic dental treatments. Patients with such preoccupation were nine times more likely to consider tooth whitening, and six times more likely to consider orthodontic treatment. They were also five times more likely to be dissatisfied about their most recent treatment.The authors concluded that a preoccupation with physical appearance was a motivating factor for undergoing certain types of cosmetic dental procedures (including teeth whitening).

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

Further reading

Ali, M., Elrasheed, A., & Cousin, G. C. S. (2010). Dysmorphic disorder. British Dental Journal, 209(5), 198-198.

Cristescu, C., Apostu, A., Virvescu, D., Apintilesei, A., & Burlui, V. Study on the psychological impact of dental somatoform disorders. Journal of Romanian Medical Dentistry, 13, 54-59.

De Jongh, A. (2013). Cosmetic Dentistry: Concerns with Facial Appearance and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Behavioral Dentistry, 109.

De Jongh, A., Oosterink, F.M.D., Van Rood, Y. R., & Aartman, I.H.A. (2008). Preoccupation with one’s appearance: a motivating factor for cosmetic dental treatment? British Dental Journal, 204, 691-695

Grosofsky, A., Adkins, S., Bastholm, R., Meyer, l., Krueger, l., Meyer, J., & Torma, P. (2003). Tooth color: effects on judgments of attractiveness and age. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 96(1), 43-48.

Lee, K-H., Park, C-H., & Kim, S-K. (2013). Awareness and satisfaction on tooth whitening. Journal of Korean society of Dental Hygiene, 13, 605-613

Oddee (2008). World’s Wackiest Addictions. November 5. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_96496.aspx

Polo, M. (2011). Body dysmorphic disorder: A screening guide for orthodontists. American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, 139, 170-173.

Geek or chic? A brief look at video gamer stereotypes

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have spent well over two decades carrying out research into various aspects of video gaming. Online video gaming has become an increasingly popular activity amongst teenagers and adults alike. For numerous reasons, perhaps in part because of its rapid growth, online gaming is also an activity that has become highly stereotyped. That is, it is an activity that has come to be associated in popular culture with a highly specific, caricatured and also negative image. This image is reflected in numerous television shows, print media, news reports, current affairs programs and other sources of popular culture. As Dr. D Williams and his colleagues noted in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Monographs:

“Game players are stereotypically male and young, pale from too much time spent indoors and socially inept. As a new generation of isolated and lonely ‘couch potatoes,’ young male game players are far from aspirational figures”.

Understanding the formation of stereotypes about this group and how they are internalised may help us understand society’s attitudes towards this activity and how its participants are positioned within the status hierarchy. Where the stereotype of the pale teenage gamer came from and whether there is any truth to it are clearly important and interesting questions. Our recent research concerns the extent to which this social stereotype has been transformed into a cognitive stereotype, what form this cognitive stereotype takes, and what this can tell us about society’s attitude toward gaming as an emerging form of social or asocial activity.

Within popular culture, a clear characterisation of online gamers has emerged. Frequently caricatured, this ‘stereotype’ has been disseminated throughout the print media, as well as television and web based programs. One poignant example comes from the popular U.S. animated series South Park. In an episode devoted to the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft, the stereotypical gamer was portrayed as overweight, lazy, isolated, and aggressive. Additionally, the four main characters of the series became increasingly overweight, lazy, and developed acne as their immersion into the game deepened. One of the main characters (Penny) in the U.S. television series The Big Bang Theory also conforms to stereotypic expectations as she becomes obsessive, reclusive and unkempt upon playing a fantasy-based online game.

The highly successful web series, The Guild, took a more comical approach as they followed a group of online gamers who decide to meet each other in the offline world after many months of regular online interaction. In the opening scene of the first episode, the main character is told by her therapist that her online friends do not constitute a genuine support system, and that immersion in an imaginary social environment is stunting her personal growth. Within the first few minutes of this episode, themes of obsession, addiction, reclusiveness, and loneliness arise.

The stereotypical portrayal of an online gamer has also taken more serious forms. In an episode of Law and Order: SVU, a popular U.S. television series, two individuals are arrested and accused of neglecting their child due to their immersion in an online gaming world. In addition to the depiction of the more physical aspects of the stereotype (both suspects are overweight and have poor personal hygiene), the obsessive and addictive qualities of online gaming are implicated in a much more serious context of child neglect.

The problematic and addictive nature of video games is often highlighted by the news media, and a variety of internet websites, magazine articles, and news articles dispense advice for individuals with problematic playing behaviours. Taken together, these media portrayals, news reports, and internet articles present a consistent and negative image of online gaming and its participants. Online gaming is presented as a dangerous activity that may lead to social withdrawal, physical and mental ill health, and even suicide. These concerns are reflected in stereotypical portrayals of online gamers as socially anxious and incompetent, mentally stunted and withdrawn, and physically unhealthy (e.g., overweight, pale). The origins of this stereotypical image are unknown. It may be an extension of pre-existing stereotypes about similar activities (e.g., the violent film or video game and aggression hypothesis), a subtype of a broader ‘nerd’ stereotype, or a general cynicism about a new and rapidly spreading form of social activity and interaction. The social, psychological and historical factors that led to this stereotype are clearly interesting and worth exploring.

The occurrences of the cultural stereotype described are largely examples of the stereotype of an MMORPG player, rather than online gamers more generally. MMORPG players appear to be the prototype of online gamers, as caricatured by numerous television and web-based programs. In a study published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, Dr. Rachel Kowert, Dr. Julian Oldmeadow and myself collected some data on video gamer stereotypes. We asked our participants (both gamers and non-gamers) to indicate what most other people think online gamers are like. To the extent that stereotypical portrayals of online gaming and gamers have given rise to shared trait associations, there should be strong agreement across both gamers and non-gamers with regards to how gamers are perceived by others in general. A further aim of our study was to examine the extent to which these trait associations about gamers have been internalised as personal beliefs. A total of 342 participants completed our online survey in which they rated how applicable each of a list of traits was to the group of online gamers. Ratings were made for both personal beliefs (how participants themselves see gamers) and stereotypical beliefs (how most others see gamers). While these beliefs were highly consensual as stereotypes, personal beliefs varied suggesting that the cultural portrayal of online gamers is beginning to shift into cognitive associations.

Participants were asked to evaluate the list of adjectives and rate each one in terms of how applicable they believed the trait to be of online gamers. Responses were given on a 7-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (“not at all applicable”) to 7 (“very applicable”). Participants were first asked questions relating to basic demographic information, as well as information about their online gaming habits (which games they play or had played, frequency of play, and whether they consider themselves a gamer). They were then asked to rate each of the 30 adjectives according to how they personally perceived online gamers (stereotype endorsement), and how they thought other people perceive online gamers (stereotype). The tasks were presented in this order to maximise the independence between personal and stereotypical ratings.

Even though online gamers are a relatively new social category within society, our results demonstrated that a collective stereotype about this population has emerged. All our participants showed an awareness of a shared stereotype that is in accordance with the anecdotal characterisations commonly portrayed by popular media. Stereotype ratings were consistent across gamers and non-gamers, suggesting that these beliefs are widely shared within society. Based on the results of this study, we concluded that the current stereotype of online gamers is largely negative, based on the traits of popularity, attractiveness, idleness, and social competence. Online gamers were stereotypically viewed as unpopular, unattractive, idle, and socially incompetent, a characterisation that seems to match common stereotypical portrayals in the media, television, and internet articles.

As this investigation was largely exploratory, care needs to be taken in interpreting the results and further research is needed to confirm the factors that emerged here. For instance, it is uncertain if the results found here are reflective of the generalized stereotype of gamers (including online gamers more generally) or the popularized prototype of the MMORPG gamer. While some have found that MMORPG gamers are viewed more negatively than the generalized construct of the online gamer, future research is needed to further examine the general stereotype in relation to the subgroups contained within it. This will hopefully provide clarification into the stereotypical differences amongst the broad categorization of online gamers as compared to more specific subgroups, such as MMORPG gamers or casual online gamers (e.g., individuals who play online games that require no major time commitment or special set of skills to complete, such as the highly popular Zynga game, Farmville). Future research may provide further insight into the progression of the shared beliefs about online gamers ‘out there’ developing into internalised cognitive associations ‘in here’. Somewhat fortuitously, the stereotype of online gamers is still undergoing formation within society, providing researchers with the unique opportunity to study this characterisation as it continues to evolve.

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

Additional input: Dr. Rachel Kowert and Dr. Julian Oldmeadow

Further reading

Cole, H., & Griffiths, M. (2007). Social Interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10(4), 575 – 583.

Griffiths, M., Davies, M., & Chappell, D. (2003). Breaking the stereotype: the case of online gaming. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6(1), 81 – 91.

Kowert, R., Griffiths, M.D. & Oldmeadow, J. (2012). Geek or Chic? Emerging stereotypes of online gamers. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 32, 371-379.

Kowert, R., & Oldmeadow, J. (2012). The stereotype of online gamers: new characterization or recycled prototype. Paper presented at the Nordic DiGRA, Tampere, Finland.

Lucas, K., & Sherry, J. (2004). Sex differences in video game play: a communication-based explanation. Communication Research, 31(5), 499 – 523.

Ogletree, S., & Drake, R. (2007). College students’ video game participation and perceptions: gender differences and implications. Sex Roles, 56, 537 – 542.

Williams, D., Yee, N., & Caplan, S. (2008). Who plays, how much, and why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Monographs, 13(4), 993 – 1018.

Yee, N. (2006). The demographics, motivations, and derived experiences of users of massively-multi-user online graphical environments. Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15(3), 309 – 329

Blame it on the boogie: A brief look at dancing as frotteurism

In a previous blogs I have examined both choreophilia (sexual arousal from dancing) and frotteurism (sexual arousal (sexual arousal from non-consensually rubbing up against other people). However, while researching these previous blogs I came across a number of academic papers on ‘dancing frottuerism’. For instance, in a book chapter on frotteurism by Dr. Richard Krueger and Dr. Meg Kaplan, they outlined four case studies of frotteurs in treatment, one of which was a 58-year old male that had engaged in various types of frotteuristic behaviour over a 40-year period (estimated 20,000 acts of frotteurism). This included “dirty dancing” where he would go to nightclubs and deliberately rub himself up against women while dancing with them. He estimated that he engaged in this type of frotteuristic behaviour on approximately 100 nights of the year (compared to other frotteuristic behaviour such as rubbing himself against women on buses and in train subways approximately 200 days a year).

In a short online article concerning frotteurism on the Anxiety Zone website, the term ‘dry humping’ (aka ‘grinding’) is viewed as a form of modern dancing style. The same article also notes that frotteurism may not always be non-consensual:

“Frotteurism carries a connotation of ‘anonymous and discreet rubbing’ in a public place – like on a crowded train. The contact may be mutual or a one-way perpetration…As with most other sexual practices, frottage with a non-consenting person is regarded as a form of sexual assault in most jurisdictions…Frot is a term used among homosexual men to refer to penis to penis rubbing in a conventional private context. It is also known as ‘phrot’, ‘swordfighting’, ‘cockrub’, ‘penis fencing’, ‘bumping dicks’, ‘frication’ and ‘the Princeton rub’. Advocates of this practice represent it as a safer and more erotic alternative to anal sex. Two people engaging in clothed frottage in a manner that simulates intercourse is known in the vernacular as ‘dry humping’. A modern dancing style which involves partners rubbing their clothed bodies on one another is called grinding”

The online Encyclopedia Dramatica also appears to concur, and notes in its article on frotteurism that sometimes, bump and grind dancing in clubs is also thought of as being frottage”. Frotteurism in the form of dancing appears to be an accepted part of leisure life in the Caribbean. According to a short online article (‘Frottage and Frotteurism in the Caribbean’), dancing frotteurism occurs when couples are dancing (“typically with the man behind the woman. It is something like freak dancing in the US except that nobody is scandalised by it and it is not restricted to teenagers. In Jamaica there are dance events called ‘rubs’ where pelvic thrusting is meant to happen”).

However, some academics do not see this Caribbean practice as socially acceptable. For instance, Dr. Hari Maharajh published a 2010 book chapter entitled ‘Dancing frotteurism or rubbing at the Carnival celebrations in Trinidad’. (Although this appears to be based on an earlier paper published in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Chinese Clinical Medicine). Dr. Maharajh noted that Trinidad and Tobago had been influenced by a variety of cultures that finds its greatest expression during the Carnival season. More specifically, it was reported that:

“During this [Carnival time] a local dance form of wining with suggestible sexual movements is pervasive. It is associated with distortions of normal courtship behavior with paraphilic disturbances. In a case presentation, a young male is presented showing paraphilic disturbances touching, holding, rubbing and coercive sex. This behavior of frotteurism and other paraphilias are common occurrences at carnival in Trinidad and Tobago and are considered to be cultural normative practices”.

The Carnival occurs on many Caribbean islands (not just Trinidad and Tobago) and is celebrated just before Lent. Dr. Maharajh’s case study attempted to identify a number of sexual paraphilias such as “toucherism, frotteurism and preferential rape” during the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival celebration and then looked at some of the legal ramifications of such behaviour. Similar observations were also made in a 2013 paper by Annette George et Darlington Richards in the online journal Études Caribéennes.They noted that two specific behaviors continue to be of concern during the Carnival: (i) the high levels of alcohol consumption during the Carnival’s festivities and, (ii) the erotic dancing and wining expressed by the Carnival participants. They wrote that:

“[In addition to the amount of alcohol consumed during the Carnival, the] second major concern of the celebrations is the dancing or wining. Wining, a term used to describe sensuous pelvic gyrations of the hips and waist, is considered to be suggestive and sexually stimulating not only to the revelers but also to on-lookers (Maharajh & Konings, 2007; Miller, 1991). It is also considered expressions of enjoyment, happiness and freedom…Similarly, Miller (1991) reports that wining between men and women during Carnival, is clearly a sexual expression that encourages rape”.

Maharajh also concurred that excessive alcohol consumption is a key feature of the Carnival and that it is seen as a “time to free up, break away and get on bad” including promiscuity and other “immoral and inexcusable” behaviours. George and Darlington argue that for these reasons, the Trinidadians as a group have a ‘carnival mentality’ that equates to a never-ending all year-round ‘party mentality’. Maharajh claims that in Trinidad, sex is a “comparative performance for both men and women”, and that an activity such as wining “is viewed as either a form of ‘virtual sex’ or as an expression of sexuality”.  Citing the work of Dr. C.L. Green (2007), George and Darlington note that the “Carnival is nothing more than an orgy of sexuality and hedonism appealing to the fetishistic fantasies of the potential tourist”, George and Darlington then go on to claim that:

“This contextual, if tantalizing environment for the ‘carnival spirit’ for the locals have an equal, if not more, tantalizing allure for the tourists. The prevailing environment of social, and cultural permissiveness and intermingling, allows for the indulgent tourist to be part of the rascality and the attendant exposure”.

As a backdrop to any debate concerning whether sexual dancing is a legitimate form of frotteurism, it is clear that appropriate sexual behaviours depend on the surrounding context (cultural and/or social) including the time and the place of where the behaviour occurs. Some sexual behaviours that may be unacceptable under most circumstances (e.g., being nude in public, sexual contact between individual dancers) appears as though they are encouraged during celebrations like Mardi Gras or the Carnival.

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

Further reading

Anxiety Zone (2013). Frotteurism. Located at: http://www.anxietyzone.com/conditions/frotteurism.html

Encyclopedia Dramatica (2012). Frottage. Located at: https://encyclopediadramatica.es/Frottage

George, A. A., & Richards, D. (2013). Tourism in Trinidad and Tobago: The evolving attitudes and behaviors and its implications in an era of HIV/AIDS epidemic. Études Caribéennes, 19. Located at: http://etudescaribeennes.revues.org/5314

Green, G.L. (2007). ‘Come to life’: Authenticity, value, and the carnival as cultural commodity in Trinidad and Tobago. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 14, 203-224.

Krueger, R.B., & Kaplan, M. S. (1999). Evaluation and treatment of sexual disorders: frottage. Innovations in Clinical Practice: A Source Book, 18, 185-197.

Maharajh, H.D. (2010). Dancing frotteurism or rubbing at the carnival celebrations in Trinidad. In: Maharajh, H.D., Merrick, J., Social and cultural psychiatry experience from the Caribbean Region. (pp.117-122) New York, Nova Science Publishers Inc.

Maharajh, H. D., & Konings, M. (2007). Dancing frotteurism and courtship disorder in Trinidad and Tobago. Journal of Chinese Clinical Medicine, 2(7), 407-411.

Miller, D. (1991). Absolutely freedom in Trinidad. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Man, New Series, 26(2), 323-341.

Fanable Collector: A personal insight into the psychology of a record-collecting completist

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have described myself as a music obsessive and that I am an avid record and CD collector. When I get into a particular band or artist I try to track down every song that artist has ever done – irrespective of whether I actually like the song or not. I have to own every recording. Once I have collected every official recording I then start tracking down unofficially released recordings via bootlegs and fan websites. I have my own books and printed lists (i.e., complete discographies by specific bands and solo artists) that I meticulously tick off with yellow highlighter pen. (In some ways, I am no different to a trainspotter that ticks off train numbers in a book).

I wouldn’t say I am a particularly materialistic person but I love knowing (and feeling) that I have every official recorded output by my favourite musicians. My hobby can sometimes cost me a lot of money (I am a sucker for deluxe box sets) although most of the time I can track down secondhand items and bargains on eBay and Amazon relatively cheaply (plus I have downloaded thousands of bootleg albums for free from the internet). Tracking down an obscure release is as much fun as the listening of the record or CD (i.e., the ‘thrill of the chase’). Almost every record I have bought over the last decade is in mint condition and unplayed (as many records now come with a code to download the record bought as a set of MP3s).

As a record collector, one of the things that make the hobby both fun and (at the same time somewhat) infuriating is the number of different versions of a particular song that can end up being released. As a collector I have an almost compulsive need to own every version of a song that an artist has committed to vinyl, CD, tape or MP3. However, I am grateful that I am not the type of collector that tries to own every physical record/CD released in every country. (My love of The Beatles would mean I would be bankrupt). I only buy releases in other countries if it contains music that is exclusive to that country (e.g., many Japanese CD releases contain one or two tracks that may not be initially released in any other country).

For most artists that I collect from the 1960s to early 1980s, it is fairly easy to collect every officially released song. Artists like The Beatles may have up three to four official versions of a particular song (the single version, the album version, a demo version, a version from another country with a different edit, etc.). With bootleg recordings, the number of versions might escalate to 30 or 40 versions by including live versions, every studio take, etc.). It can become almost endless if you start to collect bootleg recordings of every gig by your favourite artists. (I know this from personal experience).

It was during my avid record buying days in the early 1980s that the ‘completist’ in me started to take hold. Some of you reading this may recall that in 1984, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (FGTH) became only the second band ever to reach the UK No.1 with their first three singles – ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power of Love’ (the first band being – not The Beatles, but their Liverpool friends and rivals – Gerry and The Pacemakers). One of the reasons that FGTH got to (and stayed for weeks at) number one was there were thousands of people like me that bought countless different versions of every variation of every single released. For instance, not only did I buy the standard 7”, 12”, cassettes, and picture discs of both ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’, I bought every new mix that FGTH producer Trevor Horn put out.

Every week, all of the money that I earned from my Saturday job working in Irene’s Pantry would go on buying records from Castle Records in Loughborough. I didn’t care about clothes, sweets, books, etc. All I cared about outside of school was music. Some of my hard earned money went on buying the NME (New Musical Express) every Thursday along with buying other music weeklies if my favourite bands were featured (Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Sounds and Smash Hits to name just a few).

When I got to university to study Psychology at the University of Bradford, my love of music and record buying increased. Not only did I discover other like-minded people but Bradford had a great music scene. One of the first things I did when I got to university was become a journalist for the student magazine (Fleece). Within seven months I was one of the three Fleece editors and I was in control of all the arts and entertainment coverage. The perks of my (non-paid) job was that (a) I got to go to every gig at Bradford University for free, (b) I was sent lots of free records to review for the magazine (all of which I kept and some of which I still have), and (c) I got to see every film for free in return for writing a review. I couldn’t believe my luck.

During this time (1984-1987) my three favourite artists were The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and (my guilty pleasure) Adam Ant. I devoured everything they released (especially The Smiths). As a record collector I not only loved the Smiths music but I loved the record covers, the messages scratched on the vinyl run-out grooves, and Morrissey’s interviews in the music press. It was also during this period that I discovered other bands that later went onto become some of my favourite bands of all time (Propaganda and The Art of Noise being the two that most spring to mind). As a Depeche Mode fan, collecting every track they have ever done has become harder and harder (and more expensive) as they were arguably one of the pioneers of the remix. Although Trevor Horn and the ZTT label took remixing singles to a new level for record collectors, it was Depeche Mode that arguably carried on the baton into the 1990s.

During 1987-1990, my record buying subsided through financial necessity. I was doing my PhD at the University of Exeter and the little money I had went on food, rent, and travel (to see my then girlfriend who lived over 300 miles away). I simply didn’t have the money to buy and collect records the way I had before. Buying singles stopped but I would still buy the occasional album. This was the only period in my life that I didn’t really buy music magazines. (My thinking was that if I didn’t know what was being released I couldn’t feel bad about not buying it).

In the summer of 1990 I landed my first proper job as a Lecturer in Psychology at Plymouth University. For the first time in my life I had a healthy disposable income. My first purchase with my first pay cheque was an expensive turntable and CD player. I also bought loads of CD albums on my growing wish list. What I loved about my hobby was that I could do it simultaneously with my job (i.e., I could listen to my favourite bands at the same time as preparing my lectures or writing my research papers – something that I still do to this day).

When CD singles became popular in the 1990s I became a voracious buyer of music again. Typically bands would release a single across multiple formats with each format containing tracks exclusive to the record, CD and/or cassette. Artists like Oasis and Morrissey (two of my favourites during the 1990s) would release singles in three or four formats (7” vinyl, 10”/12” vinyl, CD single, and cassette single) and I would buy all formats (and to some extent I still do). It was a collector’s paradise but I could afford it. In fact, not only could I afford to buy all the music I wanted, I could buy all the monthly music magazines at the time (Vox, Select, Record Collector, Q, and then a little later Uncut and Mojo), and I could go to gigs and still have money left over.

Since the mid-1990s only one thing has really changed in relation to my music-buying habits and that is there are less and less new bands that I have become a fan of. I still buy lots of new music but I don’t tend to collect the work of contemporary bands. However, the music industry has realized there are huge amounts of money to be made from their back catalogues. I am the type of music buyer that will happily buy a ‘classic’ album again as long as it has an extra disc or two of demo versions, rarities, remixes, and obscure B-sides, that will help me extend and/or complete music collections by the bands I love. Over this year I have already bought box sets by The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Throbbing Gristle, and David Bowie (to name just four). I have become a retro-buyer but I still crave “new” music by my favourite artists. Yes, I love music and it takes up a lot of my life. However, I am not addicted. My obsessive love of music adds to my life rather than detracts from it – and on that criterion alone I will happily be a music collector until the day that I die.

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

Further reading

Belk, R.W. (1995). Collecting as luxury consumption: Effects on individuals and households. Journal of Economic Psychology, 16(3), 477-490.

Belk, R.W. (2001). Collecting in a Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.

Moist, K. (2008). “To renew the Old World”: Record collecting as cultural production. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(1), 99-122.

Pearce, S. (1993). Museums, Objects, and Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Pearce, S. (1998). Contemporary Collecting in Britain. London: Sage.

Reynolds, S. (2004). Lost in music: Obsessive music collecting. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (pp.289-307). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The schlocky horror show: Why do we like watching scary films?

Regular readers of my blog will know that I love horror films (based on articles I have written such as the psychology of Hannibal Lecter). Although I am not a great fan of the archetypal ‘slasher’ movies (franchises such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.), I do like a bit of ‘schlock horror’ (such as the David Cronenberg’s films Scanners and The Fly) as well as ‘psychological horror’ (such as Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan). But why do we love to watch scary films? Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht (and for who I have written book chapters on various aspects of video game play) in a 2013 interview for IGN (formerly Imagine Games Network) was quoted as saying:

“People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects…[Horror films must] provide a just resolution in the end. The bad guy gets it. Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people have the ability to pay attention as much or as little as they care to in order to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise”.

According to a 2004 paper in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters, the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism. Walters made reference to a number of psychological studies to support his argument. For instance:

“Haidt, McCauley, and Rozin (1994), in conducting research on disgust, exposed college students to three documentary videos depicting real-life horrors.  One clip showed cows being stunned, killed, and butchered in a slaughterhouse; a second clip pictured a live monkey being struck in the head with a hammer, having its skull cracked opened, and its brain served as dessert; a third clip depicted a child’s facial skin being turned inside out in preparation for surgery.  Ninety percent of the students turned the video off before it reached the end.  Even the majority of individuals who watched the tape in its entirety found the images disturbing. Yet many of these same individuals would think nothing of paying money to attend the premiere of a new horror film with much more blood and gore than was present in the documentaries that most of them found repugnant.  McCauley (1998) posed the logical question of why these students found the documentary film so unpleasant when most had sat through horror pictures that were appreciably more violent and bloody.  The answer that McCauley came up with was that the fictional nature of horror films affordsviewers a sense of control by placing psychological distance between them and the violent acts they have witnessed. Most people who view horror movies understand that the filmed events are unreal, which furnishes them with psychological distance from the horror portrayed in the film. In fact, there is evidence that young viewers who perceive greater realism in horror films are more negatively affected by their exposure to horror films than viewers who perceive the film as unreal (Hoekstra, Harris, & Helmick, 1999)”.

According to research published by Dr. Deirdre Johnston in a 1995 issue of Human Communication Research into motivations for viewing graphic horror, there are four main different reasons for why we (or at the very least a small sample of 220 American adolescents) like watching horror movies (gore watching, thrill watching, independent watching and problem watching). These four reasons were also discussed in relation to various dispositional characteristics such as fearfulness, empathy, and sensation seeking. Dr. Johnston reported that: “The four viewing motivations are found to be related to viewers’ cognitive and affective responses to horror films, as well as viewers’ tendency to identify with either the killers or victims in these films”. More specifically she reported (i) gore watchers typically had low empathy, high sensation seeking, and [among males only] a strong identification with the killer, (ii) thrill watchers typically had both high empathy and sensation seeking, identified themselves more with the victims, and liked the suspense of the film, (iii) independent watchers typically had a high empathy for the victim along with a high positive effect for overcoming fear, and (iv) problem watchers typically had high empathy for the victim but were characterized by negative effect (particularly a sense of helplessness).

A really good article on the psychology of scary films by John Hess on the Filmmaker IQ website claimed there were many theories on why we love to watch horror films. I wasn’t able to check out all of the original sources (as there was no reference list) but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the theories outlined. For instance, the psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung believed horror films “tapped into primordial archetypes buried deep in our collective subconscious – images like shadow and mother play important role in the horror genre”. However, as with almost all psychoanalytic theorizing, such notions are hard to empirically test. Another psychoanalytic theory – although arguably dating back to Aristotle – is the notion of catharsis (i.e., that we watch violent and frightening films as a way of purging negative emotions and/or as a way to relieve pent-up aggression (an argument also proposed as a reason as to why some people love to play violent video games). Dr. Dolf Zillman’s Excitation Transfer theory (ETT) is arguably an extension of catharsis theory. Hess’ summary of ETT notes:

“Negative feelings created by horror movies actually intensify the positive feelings when the hero triumphs in the end. But what about movies where the hero doesn’t triumph? And even in some small studies have show that people’s enjoyment was actually higher during the scary parts of a horror film than it was after”.

Hess then goes onto outline the thoughts of Noël Carroll (a film scholar) who claimed that horror films are played out outside everyday normal behaviour, and comprise curiosity and fascination. Hess writes:

“Studies by [researchers such as Zillman] have shown that there is a significant correlation between people who are accepting of norm-violating behavior and interest in horror movies. But that doesn’t explain why some viewers respond positively when the norm violators such as the sexual promiscuous teenage couple, the criminal, the adulterer – are punished and killed by the movie monster. This ‘enjoyment’ of the punishment of those that deserves it makes up the Dispositional Alignment Theory. We like horror movies because the people on screen getting killed deserve it. But this may give us insight into who the audiences want to see eat it but it’s not a clear picture of why horror films are popular in the first place. Another theory put forth by Marvin Zuckerman in 1979 proposed that people who scored high in theSensation Seeking Scale often reported a greater interest in exciting things like rollercasters, bungee jumping and horror films. Researchers have found correlation but it isn’t always significant. Even Zuckerman noted that picking only one trait misses the fact that there are lots of things that draw people to horror films”.

Dolf Zillmann (along with James Weaver, Norbert Mundorf and Charles Aust) put forward The Gender Socialization theory in a 1996 issue the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (and sometimes referred to as the ‘Snuggle Theory’). Zillman and his colleagues exposed 36 male and 36 female undergraduates to a horror movie in the presence of a same-age, opposite-gender companion of low or high initial appeal who expressed mastery, affective indifference, or distress. They reported that men enjoyed the film most in the company of a distressed woman and least in the company of a mastering woman. Women enjoyed the movie most in the company of a mastering man and least in the company of a distressed man. Hess says these findings don’t explain why some people go to horror films alone or what happens after adolescence. Finally, cultural historian David Skal has argued that horror films are simply reflect our societal fears. As Hess notes:

“Looking at the history of horror you have mutant monsters rising in 50s from our fear of the nuclear bogeyman, Zombies in the 60s with Vietnam, Nightmare on Elm Street as a mistrust in authority figures stemming from the Watergate scandals and Zombies again in the 2000s as a reflection of viral pandemic fears. But for as many horror cycles that fit the theory, there are many that don’t. And horror films work on a universal level crossing national boundaries while still working in different cultures”.

Basically, none of these theories fully explain why we love watching scary films. Different people like watching for different reasons and no theory has been put forward that explains everyone’s motives and reasoning. I will continue to enjoy watching even though I don’t fully understand my own motives.

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

Further reading

Haidt, J., McCauley, C., & Rozin, P. (1994). Individual differences in sensitivity to disgust: A scale sampling seven domains of disgust elicitors. Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 701-713.

Hess, J.P. (2010). The psychology of scary movies. Filmmaker IQ. Located at: http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/the-psychology-of-scary-movies/

Hoekstra, S. J., Harris, R. J., & Helmick, A. L. (1999). Autobiographical memories about the experience of seeing frightening movies in childhood. Media Psychology, 1, 117-140.

Johnston, D.D. (1995). Adolescents’ motivations for viewing graphic horror. Human Communication Research, 21(4), 522-552.

McCauley, C. (1998). When screen violence is not attractive. In J. Goldstein (Ed.), Why we watch: The attractions of violent entertainment (pp. 144-162). New York: Oxford.

O’Brien, L. (2013). The curious appeal of horror movies: Why do we like to feel scared? IGN, September 9. Located at: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2013/09/09/the-curious-appeal-of-horror-movies

Walthers, G.D. (2004). Understanding the popular appeal of horror cinema: An integrated-interactive model. Journal of Media Psychology, 9(2). Located at: http://web.calstatela.edu/faculty/sfischo/horrormoviesRev2.htm

Zillmann, D., Weaver, J. B., Mundorf, N., & Aust, C. F. (1986). Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(3), 586-594.

All consuming desires: Another look at vorarephilia

In a previous blog, I examined vorarephilia (usually shortened to ‘vore’) – a sexual paraphilia in which people are sexually aroused by (i) the idea of being eaten, (ii) eating another person, and/or (iii) observing this process for sexual gratification. A few weeks ago, the Archives of Sexual Behavior published an interesting paper by Dr. Amy Lykins and Dr. James Cantor entitled ‘Vorarephilia: A case study in masochism and erotic consumption’. The authors presented a new case study accompanied by a brief overview of the previous literature including some cases that I had never come across (because the material was in non-academic texts and/or not listed in the academic databases that I usually search). They also referenced the same academic sources as I did in my previous blog on the topic – particularly the papers by Dr Friedemann Pfafflin (also in the Archives of Sexual Behavior). For instance, they wrote that:

“Pfafflin (2008) commented on the many phrases that exist in the English language to relate sex/love and consumption, including referring to someone as ‘looking good enough to eat’, ’that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’, and describing a sexually appealing person as ‘sweet’, ‘juicy’, ‘appetizing’, or ‘tasty’. Christian religions even sanction metaphorical cannibalism through their sacrament rituals, during which participants consume bread or wafers meant to represent the ‘body of Christ’ and wine intended to represent the ‘blood of Christ’ – a show of Jesus’s love of his people and, in turn, their love for him, by sharing in his ‘blood’ and ‘flesh’. This act was intended to ‘merge as one’ the divine and the mortal”.

Lykin and Cantor also made reference to two case studies in Katharine Gates’ book Deviant Desires. One of the cases was a man that allegedly fantasized that the witch in the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale both cooked and ate him. The other case involved ‘The Turkey Man’. In Lykins and Cantor’s version:

“The Turkey Man was a travelling businessman who regularly hired a dominatrix to meet him in his hotel room to ‘cook’ him. He had designed a facsimile of an oven from a cardboard box, including rudimentary knobs and a door that could be opened and closed. He would lie down in this box, on his back, wearing only socks, while the dominatrix would describe in great detail the process of his body being cooked and eaten by her. The Turkey Man could become so aroused by this fantasy that he was able to orgasm without any physical stimulation of his penis”.

Lykins and Cantor also noted the difference between vorarephilia and cannibalism:

In most cases [of vorarephilia], the victim is swallowed whole – in fact, several requests for fantasies included a specific ban on the chewing of the victim. This is an important aspect that separates persons interested in vore versus those interested in sexual cannibalism – in vore, the victim is swallowed whole, while still alive. Though consumption most often occurred through the mouth, it also occurred through the vagina, the anus, or the breasts (through the nipples) of the consumer”.

Lykins and Cantor then went on to describe in vivid detail a case study of a middle-aged male (who they called ‘Stephen’) who had multiple sexual paraphilias including vorarephilia. Stephen described himself as heterosexual with little or no problems sexually during his teenage years. At the time that Stephen was assessed he had experience of three female sexual partners but masturbation was his current sexual outlet (two to three times weekly. The authors conducted phallometric testing and the results confirmed that Stephen had a “clear sexual preference for adult females” rather than any other age or group of people. Back in 2002 he had sought psychiatric help for two specific fetishistic sexual behaviours (i.e., analingus and podophilia [foot fetishism]). He also reported that he engaged in voyeurism (but was not wanting treatment for it). More recently he sought help for more unusual sexual fantasies. The authors’ reported that Stephen had developed an intense “interest in ‘being’ a woman’s anus”. In fact, he appeared to have some kind of anal fixation as it was reported that:

“Stephen described an intense sexual interest in analingus. He reported this interest to have begun around age 13–15, during which he reported having performed analingus on five to ten children (both male and female, ranging in age from 3 to 1 years). He described having done this when the children were asleep and he stated he believed they were unaware of what he had done. He reported experiencing sexual arousal both during those events and subsequently during masturbation, despite experiencing significant guilt and distress about having engaged in the behavior, and he denied any specific interest in children as sexual partners…Stephen’s interest in analingus crossed over into sexual arousal associated with coprophilia and seemed also to be related to his vorarephilic interests. He described fantasizing about being consumed and destroyed by a very large, dominating woman, who would later defecate him as her feces. He often fantasized about being feces or semen and being expelled by a person. Stephen reported having stuck his hand in human fecal matter, smelling it on several occasions, and having eaten feces out of a toilet on two occasions. On one occasion, he reported feeling traumatized and distraught about an unexpected negative event: To cope with those feelings, he went into the woods and masturbated while eating cow feces. Consistent with his previous assessment, Stephen reported sexual arousal associated with the thought of being someone’s anus…Following the assessment, we diagnosed Stephen on DSMIV-TR Axis I with Paraphilia [Not Otherwise Specified] NOS (partialism for women’s feet), Paraphilia NOS (vorarephilia), and Sexual Masochism, with a prior diagnosis of Dysthymic Disorder, a rule-out diagnosis of Social Phobia, and diagnosis deferred on Axis II.2”

Although a lot of what Lykins and Cantor reported could arguably be viewed as coprophilic, the coprophilic elements are clearly symptomatic of the vorarephilic primary sexual fantasy (i.e., being eaten by a large, female dominatrix and then being defecated by her). Dying was not part of the fantasy – what he really wanted was to be ‘‘taken in and then expelled (as feces)”. Stephen had no desire himself to eat anyone (fantasy or otherwise) and only became sexually aroused when he thought of himself in his vore fantasy as the victim. Lykins and Cantor then went on to speculate that:

“Stephen’s reported fantasies highlighted the focus on both the act and the result of consumption – total destruction of being and personhood – and his sexual arousal associated with such acts. Consistent with fantasies produced by the vore community, Stephen reported no interest in cannibalism (having his flesh eaten or chewed). It seems possible that Stephen’s interest in feces and anal play may relate to the most tangible outcome of the possibility of having acted out these behaviors, specifically human waste and its immediate sources. Alternatively, it also seems reasonable to posit the reverse: that his interest in feces and anal play may have led him to vorarephilic fantasy. This directionality remains difficult to ascertain. Stephen’s fantasies were not entirely consistent with the typical vore fantasy, in that he appeared to be much more focused on the end result (himself as feces) than the majority of the fantasies found in online vore erotica…It is interesting to speculate whether the set of interests Stephen experienced represent a cluster of multiple interests or a single interest which happens to overlap or only superficially resemble multiple, more common categories…Stephen’s case suggests itself as an example of a progression in paraphilic interests. It is unfortunate Stephen ceased clinical contact again after the latter interview. Although some individuals refer to a very specific episode in early life in which they first experienced a fascination with a stimulus that later served as their erotic focus, Stephen may have experienced a slower progression over the course of adulthood”.

The authors also claimed that many features reported by Stephen had never before appeared in the academic, clinical or popular literature. More specifically, they claimed that “sexual arousal to the idea of actually being body parts (e.g., an anus) and bodily products (e.g., feces, semen)” had – to their knowledge –never appeared in print before. The authors concluded in the hope that their published case study would be a good “starting point in the exploration of this unusual paraphilia”.

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

Further reading

Adams, C. (2004). Eat or be eaten: Is cannibalism a pathology as listed in the DSM-IV?The Straight Dope, July 2. Located at: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2515/eat-or-be-eaten

Beier, K. (2008). Comment on Pfafflin’s (2008) “Good enough to eat”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 164-165.

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant desires: Incredibly strange sex. New York: Juno Books.

Lykins, A.D., & Cantor, J.M. (2014). Vorarephilia: A case study in masochism and erotic consumption. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 181-186.

Pfafflin, F. (2008). Good enough to eat. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 286-293.

Pfafflin, F. (2009). Reply to Beier (2009). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 166-167.

Punter gatherer: What is the role of competitiveness in gambling and problem gambling?

Over the last decade, I have been asked by the mass media on countless occasions about the increasing popularity of online gambling. The two biggest successes appear to be the use of betting exchanges and online poker. Gamblers clearly feel these types of gambling provide value and an opportunity to exercise their skill. This is coupled with increasingly sophisticated gaming software, integrated e-cash systems, increased realism (in the shape of “real” gambling via webcams, or player and dealer avatars) are all inter-linked facilitating factors. However, another factor that I feel is really important in the rise of online gambling is the inter-gambler competition. Obviously there is an overlap between competitiveness and skill but they are certainly not the same. What’s more recent research has suggested that being highly competitive may not necessarily be good for the gambler.

I’m sure many people’s view of psychology is that it is little more than common sense (and to be honest, some of it is). For instance, psychologists claim that male gamblers are attracted to sports betting because they love competitiveness. There has also been North American research examining the high participation in US college basketball. The researchers found that above anything else, males were attracted to the competitiveness of betting on teams and games. Professor Howard Shaffer, a psychologist at Harvard University, claims that men are more likely to develop problematic gambling behaviour because of their conventionally high levels of aggression, impulsivity and competitiveness. Clearly, the idea of the competitiveness of the activity being one of the primary motivations to gamble is well supported.

Based on the fact that so little research has systematically examined the links between gambling and competitiveness, my own research unit published some research into this area in the journal Addiction Research and Theory. Dr. Adrian Parke and myself speculated that a gambler who is highly competitive would experience more arousal and stimulation, and be drawn to gambling as an outlet to release competitive instincts and drives. We also speculated that competitiveness may be linked to problem gambling. For instance, being highly competitive may help in explaining why in the face of negative and damaging consequences, problem gamblers persist in their potentially self-destructive habit. Psychological research in other areas has consistently shown that highly competitive individuals are more sensitive to social comparison with peers regarding their task performance. Applying this to a gambling situation, it is reasonable to suggest that competitive gamblers may be reluctant to stop gambling until they are in a positive state in relation to opposing gamblers, perhaps explaining why excessive gambling can sometimes occur.

Psychology is not the only discipline to suggest that competitiveness levels can be associated with problem gambling. Sociologists have speculated that factors of the human instinctual expressive needs, such as competition, can be temporarily satisfied when engaging in gambling activities. Evidence exists supporting gambling as an instrumental outlet for expressing competitive instinctual urges. The US sociologist Erving Goffman developed what he called the ‘deprivation-compensation’ theory to explain the relationship between gambling and competitiveness. He suggested that the stability of modern society no longer creates situations where competitive instincts are tested. Therefore, gambling is an artificial, self-imposed situation of instability that can be instrumental in creating an opportunity to test competitive capabilities.

In the published research study that we carried out, we hypothesised that problem gamblers would possess higher levels of competitiveness than non-problem gamblers. Using a competitiveness scale, gamblers were asked to rate statements about competitive reasons for gambling (such as ‘I like to gamble to show others how good I am at it’, ‘I like to gamble to beat the system’, ‘I like to gamble to see how good I am at it’) and general competitive tendencies (such as ‘I am competitive’, ‘I enjoy taking risks’, ‘I am abitious’). We found that problem gamblers scored significantly higher on the competitiveness scale. Put simply, we concluded that having a highly competitive streak may in fact be a potential risk factor for problem gambling.

It is not hard to see how a highly competitive person would be attracted to gambling by the competitive and challenging nature of the behaviour. However, why are competitive people at particular risk of developing pathological gambling behaviour? It could be the case that highly competitive gamblers are less inclined to ‘throw the towel in’ or accept a loss, and, as a result are more prone to chasing behaviour. Chasing behaviour – that is, increasing frequency and stake of bets in an attempt to recoup losses – is self-perpetuating. When gamblers chase losses it is highly probable they will lose more and the need to recoup losses increases as time passes. What’s more, chasing losses has been shown to be a major risk factor in the development of gambling problems. At the other end of spectrum, winning is potentially more rewarding for a competitive gambler as they are more inclined to perceive gambling as an internal and external challenge than a non-competitive gambler. In addition, winning will be much more rewarding after incurring losses. Put very simply, the competitive person feels greater triumph by defeating unlikely odds and emerging from what appeared a hopeless situation.

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

Further reading

Goffman, I. (1972). Where the action is. In: Interaction Ritual (pp.149–270). Allen Lane, London.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment (pp. 91-111). New York: Wiley.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). What differentiates professional poker players from recreational poker players? A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 243-257.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Poker gambling virtual communities: The use of Computer-Mediated Communication to develop cognitive poker gambling skills. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(2), 31-44.

Parke, A., Griffiths, M.D. & Irwing, P. (2004). Personality traits in pathological gambling: Sensation seeking, deferment of gratification and competitiveness as risk factors, Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 201-212.

Parke, A., Griffiths, M., & Parke, J. (2005) Can playing poker be good for you? Poker as a transferable skill. Journal of Gambling Issues, 14.

Recher, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory qualitative study of online poker professional players. Social Psychological Review, 14(2), 13-25.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths. M.D. (2008).Why Swedish people play online poker and factors that can increase or decrease trust in poker websites: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Gambling Issues, 21, 80-97.

The write stuff: Diary writing and psychological wellbeing

Since my first day as a university student back in October 1984, I have kept a diary. What started out as my attempt to write a real-life Secret Diary of Adrian Mole has turned into 30 years of detailed journals where my whole life has been detailed and catalogued in 400-500 words every single day. Sometimes I wish I could stop as they have certainly got me into trouble (as a number of my ex-girlfriends will testify). But I won’t. The advantages of writing about my day-to-day life far outweigh the disadvantages. Even though I have never published any research on diary writing, I did appear on Radio 4’s All In The Mind radio programme where I was given free reign to speculate on why people write diaries.

Writing a diary is nothing new. Millions of people do it. A 2011 article in The Times of India on ‘Why we keep diaries’ noted that being able to keep a diary over a long period is not easy to do as it takes time, effort, patience, and most of all discipline (something that I can vouch for). Nalini Nair, a psychologist interviewed by the newspaper claimed that writing diaries is a form of catharsis (i.e., a process of cleansing or purging our emotions out on paper). She was quoted as saying:

“We relieve our emotional tension through several outlets like art, music and writing a diary is one of them. People who record daily events and jot down everything that they feel are more in touch with their inner emotions”.

A number of psychologists have done studies showing that diary writing is far more than writing for posterity. Some – such as Dr. James Pennebaker in his 2004 book Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering from Trauma and Emotional Upheaval – have gone as far as to say that writing down your feelings is psychologically good for you (something I’ve known personally for years). His research has demonstrated that those who spend time writing about emotionally bad feelings visit their GP less than those that write about non-emotional feelings. More generally, Dr. Pennebaker’s research has found people that benefit the most from expressive diary writing typically use more causal analysis and express more emotion while writing. Therefore, expressive diary writing may be helping individuals simplify and organize their fragmented memories. A summary of Pennebaker’s research on the General Psychology website reported:

“Pennebaker surmised that the Theory of Catharsis can be applied to writing as well. (Sigmund Freud’s theory of catharsis states that people find relief from emotional distress and consequent psychological symptoms by simply expressing their emotions to a trained listener)…He found that college students who wrote about their upsetting and traumatic experiences, along with the associated emotions, reduced their illness visits to the student health center. They were significantly healthier than those students who wrote objectively (without emotions) about negative life events, and those who wrote about topics unrelated from their experiences. Follow-up studies supported Pennebaker’s findings. Pennebaker, Riecolt-Glaser and Glaser (1988) tested the blood samples of the participants and found that cathartic writing boosts the immune system. Additionally, Pennebaker, Spera and Buhrfeind (1994) found that cathartic writing among middle-aged engineers, who were fired after 30 years of service in a company, lead them to overcome their frustration and find alternative employment, compared to those who did not and remained angry and unemployed. This and other success stories strongly suggest that the theory of catharsis can be modified to include writing as a means to improve physical health and psychological wellbeing”.

In 2009, research presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science by US psychologist Professor Matthew Leiberman claimed that keeping a diary makes people happier (and termed ‘The Bridget Jones Effect’). Although I have been unable to track down the original conference paper, the research findings were reported in countless newspapers around the world. In the UK, The Guardian reported that:

“Brain scans on volunteers showed that putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in [the amygdala] which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions. Psychologists who discovered the ‘Bridget Jones Effect’ said it worked whether people elaborated on their feelings in a diary, penned lines of poetry, or even jotted down song lyrics to express their negative emotions. When people wrote about their feelings, medical scans showed that their brain activity matched that seen in volunteers who were consciously trying to control their emotions…The psychologists investigated the effect by inviting volunteers to visit the lab for a brain scan before asking them to write for 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Half of the participants wrote about a recent emotional experience, while the other half wrote about a neutral experience.Those who wrote about an emotional experience showed more activity in [the] right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which in turn dampened down neural activity linked to strong emotional feelings.Men seemed to benefit from writing about their feelings more than women, and writing by hand had a bigger effect than typing…The study showed that writing about emotions in an abstract sense was more calming than describing them in vivid language, which could make people feel more upset by reactivating their original feelings. The findings suggest that keeping a diary, making up poetry and scribbling down song lyrics can help people get over emotional distress”

Another study published by Dr. Kitty Klein and Dr. Adriel Boals in a 2001 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology (General) examined expressive diary writing and found that it increased working memory capacity. They did two experiments with their students. In their first study, undergraduates were asked to write about their thoughts and feelings about coming to college. The researchers found that when compared to a control group that were asked to write on a trivial topic, the experimental group showed larger working memory gains when tested seven weeks later. In their second study (and compared to students that wrote about a positive experience and students that wrote about a trivial topic), undergraduates that wrote about a negative personal experience showed (i) greater improvements in working memory, and (ii) greater declines in intrusive thinking. The researchers believed that the improvements in working memory may help free up cognitive resources for other mental activities, including the ability to cope more effectively with stress. Talking to the press, Dr. Boals said:

“[The results] hint at a way to short-circuit that destructive process. They suggest that at least for fairly minor life problems, something as simple as writing about the problem for 20 minutes can yield important effects not only in terms of physical health and mental health, but also in terms of cognitive abilities”.

In a 2008 issue of the British Journal of Health Psychology (BJHP), a study led by Dr. Y. Seih examined the benefits of psychological displacement in diary writing. Their study investigated a new emotional writing paradigm called ‘psychological displacement paradigm in diary-writing’ (PDDP). The authors wrote that:

“PDDP instructs participants to write diary in first-person pronoun first, and then narrate the same event from a different perspective using second-person pronoun. Finally, the participants write it again with third-person pronoun from yet another perspective. These three narrations were to be written in a consecutive sequential order. Results demonstrated that diary writers indeed benefited from features of PDDP. It also showed that highly anxious people received most long-term therapeutic effect from PDDP”.

The authors argued that PDDP enacts the needed mechanism to balance psychological distance prolonging and self-disclosure making in emotional writing. Some of the authors of the BJHP paper followed up this study and published a paper in a recent 2013 issue of the Journal of Happiness Studies. In this latest study (led this time by Dr. Jen-Ho Chang), the researchers attempted to investigate whether the PDPD had both immediate and short-term psychological benefits. Individuals in either a PDPD group or comparison group were randomly assigned to write about their recent negative life experiences twice a week for two weeks. Results showed that the PDPD group showed a decrease in negative emotion and an increase in positive emotion immediately after each diary writing session. The PDPD group also showed an increase in psychological wellbeing relative to the control group for at least two weeks.

Interestingly, there appears to be more research on why writing diaries are good for people rather than on why people write diaries in the first place. As the article in The Times of India concludes:

“Keeping diaries have always been a mystery. Why we keep them and why we record them is something worth probing into. Years later, you can always flip through these diaries and see what you were. The kind of person you evolved from. Perhaps that will give you a better clarity to life on the whole”.

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

Further reading

Chang, J.H., Huang, C.L., & Lin, Y.C. (2013). The psychological displacement paradigm in diary-writing (PDPD) and its psychological benefits. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 155-167.

General Psychology (2013). How can writing improve your health? Located at: http://general-psychology.weebly.com/how-can-writing-improve-your-health.html

Grey, J. (2009). 8 benefits of writing in a journal or diary. Located at: http://hubpages.com/hub/10-Benefits-of-Keeping-a-Journal

Hiemstra, R. (2001). Uses and benefits of journal writing. In L. M. English & M. A. Gillen, (Eds.), Promoting journal writing in adult education (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 90, pp. 19-26). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (Located at: http://www-distance.syr.edu/journal1.html)

Kareem, R.A. (2011). Why we keep diaries. The Times of India, August 25. Located at: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-08-25/man-woman/29926572_1_diaries-anne-frank-emotions

Klein, K., & Boals, A. (2001). Expressive writing can increase working memory capacity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130, 520-533.

Pennebaker, J.W. (2004). Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering From Trauma and Emotional Upheaval. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.

Sample, I. (2009). Keeping a diary makes you happier. The Guardian, February 15. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/15/psychology-usa

Seih, Y. T., Lin, Y. C., Huang, C. L., Peng, C. W., & Huang, S. P. (2008). The benefits of psychological displacement in diary writing when using different pronouns. British Journal of Health Psychology, 13(1), 39-41.

Whitbourne, S.K. (2009). Tracking your travels through time: The benefits of writing in diaries. Psychology Today, December 16. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/200912/tracking-your-travels-through-time-the-benefits-writing-in-diaries

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