Category Archives: Addiction

Pop psychology: A peek inside the mind of Iggy Pop

I have just come back from a two-week holiday in Portugal and managed to catch up with reading a lot of non-academic books. Two of the books I took with me were Paul Trynka’s biography of Iggy Pop (Open Up and Bleed [2007]) and Brett Callwood’s biography of The Stooges, the band in which Iggy Pop first made his name (The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underworld [2008]). Just before I left to go on holiday I also read Dave Thompson’s book Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (2009). This engrossing reading has been accompanied by me listening to The Stooges almost non-stop for the last month – not just their five studio albums (The Stooges [1969], Fun House [1979], Raw Power [1973], The Weirdness [2007], and Ready To Die [2013]) but loads of official and non-official bootlegs from the 1970-1974 period. In short, it’s my latest music obsession.

Although I say it myself, I have been a bit of an Iggy Pop aficionado for many years. It was through my musical appreciation of both David Bowie and Lou Reed that I found myself enthralled by the music of Iggy Pop. Back in my early 20s, I bought three Iggy Pop albums purely because they were produced by David Bowie (The Idiot [1977], Lust For Life [1977], and Blah Blah Blah [1986]). Thankfully, the albums were great and over time I acquired every studio LP that Iggy has released as a solo artist (and a lot more aside – I hate to think how much money I have spent on the three artists and their respective bands over the years). Unusually, I didn’t get into The Stooges until around 2007 after reading an in-depth article about them in Mojo magazine. Since then I’ve added them to my list of musical obsessions where I have to own every last note they have ever recorded (official and unofficial). When it comes to music I am all-or-nothing. Maybe I’m not that far removed from my musical heroes in that sense. I’m sure my partner would disagree. She says I’m no different to a trainspotter who ticks off lists of numbers.

One thing that connects Pop, Reed and Bowie (in addition to the fact they are all talented egotistical songwriters and performers who got to know each other well in the early 1970s) is their addictions to various drugs (heroin in the case of Pop and Reed, and cocaine in the case of Bowie – although they’ve all had other addictions such as Iggy’s dependence on Quaaludes). This is perhaps not altogether unexpected. As I noted in one of my previous blogs on whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than the general public, I wrote:

“Firstly, when I think about celebrities that have ‘gone off the rails’ and admitted to having addiction problems (Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected”.

Nowhere is this more exemplified than by Iggy Pop. Not only would Iggy take almost every known drug to excess, it seemed to carry over into every part of his lifestyle. For instance, reading about Iggy’s sexual exploits, there appears to be a lot of evidence that he may have also been addicted to sex (although that’s speculation on my part with the only evidence I have is all the alleged stories in the various biographies of him). Another thing that amazes me about Iggy Pop was that he decided to give up taking drugs in the autumn of 1983 and pretty much stuck to it (again mirroring Lou Reed who also decided to clean up his act and go cold turkey on willpower alone). Spontaneous remission after very heavy drug addictions is rare but Iggy appears to have done it. Maybe Iggy gave up his negative addictions for a more positive addiction – in his case playing live. David Bowie went as far as to say that playing live was an obsessive for Iggy. As noted in Paul Trynka’s biography:

“[His touring] was simultaneously impressive and inexplicable. David Bowie used the word’ obsessive’ about Iggy’s compulsion to tour – but there was an internal logic. Jim knew he’d made his best music in the first ten years of his career, and he also believed he’d blown it…but he knew his own excesses or simple lack of psychic stamina were a key reason why the Stooges crashed and burned. Now he had to still prove his stamina, to make up for those weaknesses of three decades ago”.

Iggy Pop is (of course) a stage name. Iggy was born James Newell Osterberg (April 21, 1947). The ‘Iggy’ moniker came from one of the early bands he drummed in (The Iguanas). I mention this because another facet of Iggy Pop’s life that I find psychologically interesting is the many references to ‘Iggy Pop’ being a character created by Jim Osterberg (in much the same way that Bowie created the persona ‘Ziggy Stardust’ – ironically a character that many say is at least partly modeled on Iggy Pop!). Many people that have got to know Jim Osterberg describe him as intelligent, witty, talkative, well read, and excellent social company. Many people that have been in the company of Iggy Pop describe him as sex-crazed, hedonistic, outrageous, a party animal, and a junkie (at least from the late 1960s to the early to mid-1990s). It’s almost as if a real living character was created in which Jim Osterberg could live out an alternative life that he could never do as the person he had become growing up. Iggy Pop became a persona that Jim Osterberg could escape into. When things went horribly wrong (and they often did), it was Iggy’s doing not Osterberg’s. It’s almost as if Osterberg had a kind of multiple personality disorder (now called ‘dissociative identity disorder’ [DID]). One definition notes:

“[Dissociative identity disorder] is a mental disorder on the dissociative spectrum characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately control a person’s behavior, and is accompanied by memory impairment for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness…Diagnosis is often difficult as there is considerable comorbidity with other mental disorders”.

I don’t for one minute believe ‘Jim/Iggy’ suffers from DID but a case could possibly made based on the definition above. Some of the things he did on stage in the name of ‘entertainment’ included gross acts of self-mutilation such as stubbing cigarettes out on his naked body, flagellating himself, cutting his chest open with knives and broken glass bottles. He was a sexual exhibitionist and appeared to love showing his penis to the watching audience. On one infamous occasion, he even dry-humped a large teddy bear live on a British children’s television show. (Maybe Iggy is a secret plushophile? Check out the clip on here on YouTube).

In 1975, Iggy was admitted to the Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI) and underwent treatment (including psychoanalysis) under the care of American psychiatrist Dr. Murray Zucker. After he had completely detoxed all the drugs in his body, Iggy was diagnosed with hypomania (a mental affliction also affecting another of my musical heroes, Adam Ant). This condition was described by Iggy’s biographer Paul Trynka:

“Bipolar disorder [is] characterised by episodes of euphoric or overexcited and irrational behaviour, succeeded by depression. Hypomanics are often described as euphoric, charismatic, energetic, prone to grandiosity, hypersexual, and unrealistic in their ambitions – all of which sounded like a checklist of Iggy’s character traits”.

Dr. Zucker later told Paul Trynka that hypomania tends to get worse with age and it hadn’t with Iggy and therefore the diagnosis of a bipolar disorder may have been wrong. Dr. Zucker now wonders whether “the talent, intensity, perceptiveness, and behavioural extremes” of Iggy were who he truly was “and not a disease…that Jim’s behaviour was simply him enjoying the range of his brain, playing with it, exploring different personae, until it got to the point of not knowing what was up and what was down’. In short, Dr. Zucker (who maintained professional contact with Iggy during the 1980s) claimed Iggy was perhaps “someone who went to the brink of madness just to see what it was like”. Dr. Zucker also claimed that Iggy (like many in the entertainment industry) was a narcissist (“excessive for the average individual” but “unsurprising in a singer…this unending emotional neediness for attention, that’s never enough”). In fact, Iggy went on to write the song ‘I Need More‘ (and was also the title of his autobiography) which pretty much sums him up many of his pychological motivations (at least when he was younger).

It’s clear that Iggy has been drug-free and fit for many years now although many would say that all of his best musical work came about when he was jumping from one addiction to another – particularly during the decade from 1968 to 1978. This raises the question as to whether musicians and songwriters are more creative under the influences of psychoactive substances (but I will leave that for another blog – I’ve just begun some research on creativity and substance abuse with some of my Hungarian research colleagues). I’ll leave the last word with Dr. Zucker (who unlike me) had Iggy as a patient:

“I always got the feeling [Iggy] enjoyed his brain so much he would play with it to the point of himself not knowing what was up and what was down. At times, he seemed to have complete control of turning this on and that on, playing with different personas, out-Bowie-ing David Bowie, as a display of the range of his brain. But then at other times you get the feeling he wasn’t in control – he was just bouncing around with it. It wasn’t just lack of discipline, it wasn’t necessarily bipolar, it was God knows what”.

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

Further reading

Ambrose, J. (2008). Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop. London: Omnibus Press.

Callwood, B. (2008). The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underworld. London: Independent Music Press.

Pop, I. & Wehrer, A, (1982). I Need More. New York: Karz-Cohl Publishing.

Thompson, D. (2009). Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. London: Backbeat Books.

Trynka, P. (2007). Open Up and Bleed. London: Sphere.

Wikipedia (2014). Iggy Pop. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iggy_Pop

Winning runs? Another look at exercise addiction

Research appears to indicate that at times of psychological and/or emotional hardship, some habitual exercisers engage in such activity as a form of escape. The reliance on exercise as a means of coping with adversity has the potential become obsessive as well as compulsive. Associated with increased tolerance, over-exercising may lead to physical injuries, and (in extreme cases) irreversible health consequences, and mortality. Over-exercising to the point where a person loses control over the exercise routine has been termed ‘exercise addiction’ or ‘exercise dependence’. Due to the multidisciplinary nature of the literature regarding problematic exercise, different screening instruments have been formulated to assess the problem. In a 2013 issue of the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, I and a team of Hungarian researchers published the first ever national study of exercise addiction, and compared two different screening instruments (i.e., the Exercise Addiction Inventory [EAI] and the Exercise Dependence Scale [EDS]).

We made the assumption that these two instruments attempt to assess the same phenomenon. We also published a comprehensive review examining the literature on problematic exercise in a 2012 issue of Substance Use and Misuse and came to the conclusion that the most appropriate term to use is ‘exercise addiction’ because it incorporates both ‘dependence’ and ‘compulsion’. However, most researchers in the field use the terms ‘exercise addiction’, ‘exercise dependence’ and ‘compulsive exercise’ to mean the same thing.

These six core components of addictive behaviour that I outlined in my very first blog served the theoretical foundation for the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI). The EAI is a short, psychometrically validated questionnaire that comprises only six statements, each corresponding to one of the symptoms in the ‘components’ model of addiction. However, the cut-off points for exercise addiction were never tested psychometrically. The Exercise Dependence Scale (EDS) was based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder-IV criteria for substance dependence. The higher the score, the higher is the risk for addiction.

The EAI and the EDS are perhaps the most recent and most widely used screening tools in the research area of exercise addiction, primarily because of their superior psychometric properties in contrast to other instruments, and secondarily because of their theoretical underpinning. However, until our recently published study, these two tools had never been used in a nationally representative study. We assessed exercise addiction within the framework of the National Survey on Addiction Problems in Hungary (NSAPH).

The final sample comprised 2,170 people, stratified according to geographical location, degree of urbanization, and age. Those in this sample who engaged in regular exercise at least on a weekly basis (17.5%) were invited to complete the EAI and the EDS and comprised 474 participants (270 males and 204 females). In line with our assumptions, there was a high correlation between the two exercise addiction/dependence measures. On the basis of results we obtained, we reported that 0.3-0.5% of population is involved in addictive exercise (and equates to 1.9% to 3.2% of weekly regular exercisers).

As mentioned above, our study is the first national study ever to assess the prevalence of exercise addiction in a representative national sample and therefore there are no studies to compare our national findings of the study to. Our study provides primary benchmark data that subsequent national studies will need to be compared to. It is also the first ever study to compare the psychometric properties of (arguably) the two most widely used screening instruments that assess exercise dependence/addiction.

Based on the results of our study, it appears that both of the tools we examined (i.e., EAI and EDS) can reliably be applied in the future for both scientific research in the exercise addiction field, and as a screening instrument in non-research settings. For instance, the short, 6-item EAI could be used as a screening instrument in empirical surveys as a way of combating questionnaire fatigue. It could also be used as a ‘quick and easy’ tool that can be used by health practitioners (such as GPs with their patients) in screening for exercise addiction. The EDS also appears to be suitable for acquiring a more detailed and greater empirical insight to the problem in future studies.

However, there were also a number of limitations to our study. Owing to the sampling method, it was financially impractical to use observational data on physical activity and/or face-to-face clinical interviewing, and therefore we had to base our analysis solely on the basis of self-reports. Self-report data is also prone to the weaknesses of survey methodologies more generally including factors such as recall bias and social desirability. Another limitation was the cross-sectional nature of the dataset, therefore the causality inferences are limited, although further research may identify trends in exercise behaviours and provide models to determine the changes in exercise addiction. Another important question is the generalizability of these results to other countries. However, this question cannot be answered in a reliable way. Though the prevalence of regular exercise is lower in Hungary than in most of the other countries of the European Union, this result, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean that prevalence of excessive exercise is lower as well. It is also possible that though the prevalence of regular exercise is lower than in other countries, prevalence of exercise addiction among the exercisers is higher.

Our results indicate that while optimal regular exercising is a key component of preserving and improving physical and mental health, in case of a small proportion of the population, excessive exercise can generate significant problems. Both the EDS and EAI are adequate screening solutions to assessing exercise dependence/addiction within target populations. While the seven-factor EDS might give a more complex picture on the problem, the short, 6-item EAI has the added advantage of providing anyone who uses the instrument with an estimation of problems with exercise very quickly. Nevertheless, clinical validation of these assessment tools needs to be further targeted and scrutinized by future research.

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

Further reading

Allegre, B., Souville, M., Therme, P., & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Definitions and measures of exercise dependence, Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 631-646.

Allegre, B., Therme, P., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). Individual factors and the context of physical activity in exercise dependence: A prospective study of ‘ultra-marathoners’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 233-243.

Berczik, K., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M. D., Kurimay, T., Kun, B., Urbán, R., & Demetrovics, Z. (2012). Exercise addiction: symptoms, diagnosis, epidemiology, and etiology. Substance Use and Misuse, 47, 403-417.

Downs, D. S., Hausenblas, H. A., & Nigg, C. R. (2004). Factorial validity and psychomaetric examination of the Exercise Dependence Scale-Revised. Measurement in Phisical Education and Exercise Science, 8, 183-201.

Griffiths, M. (1997). Exercise addiction: A case study. Addiction Research, 5, 161-168.

Griffiths, M. D., Szabo, A., & Terry, A. (2005). The exercise addiction inventory: a quick and easy screening tool for health practitioners. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, e30-31.

Hausenblas H. A., & Downs, S. D. (2002a) Exercise dependence: a systematic review. Psychology of Sport Exercise, 3, 89-123.

Hausenblas, H. A., & Downs, S. D. (2002). How much is too much? The development and validation of the exercise dependence scale. Psychology and Health, 17, 387-404.

Mónok, K., Berczik, K., Urbán, R., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Farkas, J., Magi, A., Eisinger, A., Kurimay, T., Kökönyei, G., Kun, B., Paksi, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2012). Psychometric properties and concurrent validity of two exercise addiction measures: A population wide study in Hungary. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 739-746.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

Szabo, A. (2000). Physical activity as a source of psychological dysfunction. In S. J. Biddle, K. R. Fox & S. H. Boutcher (Eds.), Physical Activity and Psychological Well-Being (pp. 130-153). London: Routledge.

Szabo, A., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). Exercise addiction in British sport science students. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 25-28.

Terry, A., Szabo, A., & Griffiths, M. (2004). The exercise addiction inventory: a new brief screening tool. Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 489-499.

Inter-bet gambling: The psychology of online sports betting

Until the early 2000s, there appeared to be a commonly held perception that consumers viewed the Internet as an information gathering tool rather than a place to spend money. The explosive growth in online gambling and betting shows this is no longer true. For me, one of the interesting questions is how gaming companies use the psychology of people who like to gamble on sports events to get them to access sports betting sites (especially if it is done in a socially responsible way that enhances the punter’s experience rather than exploits them).

Trust and reliability: Let’s look at sports betting from an individual level. A sports fan has logged on to the Internet and is in the process of deciding which online sports betting website to make a beeline for. What kinds of things influence their decision? A recommendation from one of their friends? Advice from a gambling portal? An advert they saw in a magazine? From a psychological perspective, research on how and why people access particular commercial websites indicates that one of the most important factors is trust. If people know and trust the name, they are more likely to use that service. Reliability is also a related key factor. Research shows that many people (including sports bettors) still have concerns about Internet security and may not be happy about putting their personal details online. But if there is a reliable offline branch nearby, it gives them an added sense of security (i.e., a psychological safety net). For some people, trust and security issues will continue to be important inhibitors of online gambling. Punters need assurance and compelling value propositions from trusted gaming operators and operators to overcome these concerns.

Personalization: One of the growth areas in e-commerce has been personalization and most online commercial organisations now have a personalization strategy as part of its business plan. However, this practice is a double-edged sword that can prove to be a large logistical problem for companies who use such a strategy. Tracking every move for marketing purposes is one thing. Using these data for personalization purposes can sometimes prove troublesome. The amount of data is potentially enormous. Producing personalized pages for everyone is also logistically difficult and may even turn potential punters away. The key is knowing what to ask the punter. Those in the gaming industry have to think intelligently and creatively about what to ask their customers in a way that the information gained can be used effectively. Attracting customers and providing recommendations relies on the those in the gaming industry putting punters first. Integration can also be a factor here. The industry has to think of creative ways to make the website experience more personal.

Imprinting: One of the most important marketing strategies that companies engage in is “imprinting” new customers. Online punters quickly adopt predictable Internet usage patterns and evidence suggests that they don’t switch online allegiances easily. Smart gaming operators will work at becoming a starting point for the novice gambler and capitalize on this opportunity for capturing player loyalty. The emerging post-teenage market is a key consideration although from a social responsibility perspective thought needs to be given so that teenagers are not exploited. There is a whole Internet generation of people coming through who have a positive outlook on online commercial activities. They may be happier to enter credit card details online and/or meet others online. This has the potential to lead to major clientele changes as the profiles of these people may be radically different from previous punters. The problem is that the young don’t tend to have much disposable income and are less likely to own credit cards. Therefore, another market segment that operators need to target to are the over-50s who are starting to use the Internet for shopping and entertainment use. Early retirees have both time and money. This is why gaming operators need to strategically target the ‘grey pound.’

Contextual commerce: So what can operators do next? Contextual commerce may be one avenue that gaming operators will need to go down. In most retail outlets, shoppers notice what other people are buying and this may influence the purchaser’s choice. Companies are now using software that allows customers to do this online including interacting with other like-minded people. Seeing what everyone else is betting on may influence the decision process. There is also the potential to bring in techniques used on home television shopping channels. Presenters tell viewers how much of a product has been sold with viewers to instil a sense of urgency into the buying process, along with an element of peer review. This could be applied by gaming operators if people are gambling as part of a sports betting community.

Getting the balance right on the chance-skill dimension: All forms of gambling lie on a chance-skill dimension. Neither games of pure skill nor games of pure chance are particularly attractive to sports gamblers. Games of chance (like lotteries) offer no significant edge to sports gamblers and are unlikely to be gambled upon. While games of skill provide a significant edge for the gambler, serious gamblers need more than an edge – they often need an opponent who can be exploited (which helps explain the popularity of online poker). Serious gamblers gravitate towards types of gambling that provide an appropriate mix of chance and skill. This is one of the reasons why sports betting – and in particular activities like horse race betting – is so popular for gamblers. The edge available in horse race gambling can be sufficient to fully support professional gamblers as they bring their wide range of knowledge to the activity. There is the complex interplay of factors that contributes to the final outcome of the race.

Inter-gambler competition and the exercise of skill: Over the last few years I have often been asked by the media about the increasing popularity of online sports betting, particularly in relation to betting exchanges. Psychologists claim that male gamblers are attracted to sports betting because they love competitiveness. Sports bettors clearly feel that gambling via betting exchanges provides value for money and an opportunity to exercise their skill. Another important factor that I feel is really important in the rise of sports betting is not just the inherent competiveness but also the inter-gambler competition. Obviously there is an overlap between competitiveness and skill but they are certainly not the same and operators need to show how the sites they recommend feed into the psychological needs and desires of the sports bettor.

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). However, I hope that some of what I had to offer in the rest of this blog was more than just common sense.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Online betting exchanges: A brief overview. Youth Gambling International, 5(2), 1-2.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Social responsibility in gambling: The implications of real-time behavioural tracking. Casino and Gaming International, 5(3), 99-104.

Griffiths, M.D. & Whitty, M.W. (2010). Online behavioural tracking in Internet gambling research: Ethical and methodological issues. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3, 104-117.

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. & 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.

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.

Artifical dissemination? Aca-media and psychological research

Over the past decade, academics have been increasingly pushed by their research funders to disseminate their work outside of academic circles. One way in which this can be done is for academics to use the print and broadcast media (something that I termed as ‘aca-media’ back in 1995). Ever since I was a PhD student I have been happy to talk to the media about my research. Occasionally things go wrong and my work is misquoted and/or taken out of context but I have written many articles outlining the many advantages of academics interacting with the media.

I passionately believe that psychological research should be communicated to the public. However, I have also argued in some of my writings about ‘pop’ psychology and aca-media that psychologists who communicate their work to the public (e.g., non-academic books, magazine and newspaper articles, radio and television programmes) are sometimes ridiculed by their peers and/or told that such activities are of little use for progression in their career.

Many academic psychologists may not want a relationship with the media because of the perception that the media will somehow trivialize and/or misrepresent serious research. However, psychology is media-friendly and very popular. This is evidenced by the fact that:

  • Popular psychology books are often found in the best selling book lists;
  • Magazines like Psychology Today and Psychologies sell in large quantities;
  • Many magazines reveal a high percentage of articles dealing with some aspect of psychological concern;
  • Radio and television programmes appear to be featuring more and more psychologists.

The media can play a beneficial role in psychological research, and that a lot of good things can come out of it. Back in the late 1990s, I argued in an issue of The Psychologist that the media performs a useful service for psychologists who carry out primary research. More specifically I argued that the media can (i) stimulate research into cutting edge topics. (ii) provide publicity for the psychologist, the research, the discipline and the psychologist’s institution, (iii) provide immediate rewards, and (iv) help feed back into the academic process.

In his book Psychology Observed or The Emperor’s New Clothes, Professor Paul Kline argued that the content of print media provides a useful indicant of human behaviour. Newspapers and magazines indicate what people actually do, and they indicate what editors believe people like to read about (and is one of the reasons I try to feature topics in my blog that I think the general public would be interested in reading). On these criteria, Professor Kline argued that murder, sex, the Royal Family, wars, disasters, rape, crime, astrology, parapsychology, the occult, drugs, and violence are all of psychological significance. In fact, Kline went as far as to argue that much of scientific psychology ignores the real world setting in which we live and barely seems to touch on the subjects outlined above. Kline explained why this might be the case by outlining a number of propositions relating to the scientific method:

  • Psychology studies trivial topics because of its reliance on the scientific method
  • The scientific method is unsuited to some important problems in psychology
  • The scientific method is adhered to because of the (i) high prestige of science which is funded better than the arts, (ii) emphasis on intellect rather than feelings, and (iii) better promotion prospects (i.e. the scientific method allows rapid publication on currently fashionable topics)
  • Much of psychology is pure hermeneutics, (i.e., the study of tasks invented and elaborated by those who study them).

If Kline is right, then those psychologists who do not adhere to the scientific method will actually be left behind in the system. I have also argued in some of my articles that if psychology does not provide the information on the topics that people want to know about, then ‘pop’ psychologists will step in – people who may not even be eligible for chartered psychologist status.

Therefore, it would appear that some (maybe even most) psychologists want their research to be communicated to the general public but they appear to want someone else, preferably a non-psychologist, to do it. But what happens when someone else does do it? The main problem is that many people, both those reporting and those reading the original research, fail to interpret research findings of psychologists accurately or use the findings in a biased and/or selective manner. Such observations may provide reasons why there appears to be an increasing number of psychologists (like myself) who are popularizing their own work themselves (i.e., they do not want their work misunderstood, distorted and trivialized). However, if disseminating to the public is not valued by peers, there is little incentive for the psychologist to do so.

Many of my own research ideas have come from newspapers, magazines and other media. Quite often, these outlets will come up with an idea that has no empirical support but looks true and/or is psychologically interesting. This can provide a spur for me to some research on that topic or area. The fact that it has reached media outlets before empirical research has been done suggests that it is newsworthy. One activity I try to do is read one publication each week that I would not normally read. The idea is that such an activity might not lead immediately to a new research idea or avenue, but it could change a view of the world in some way and impact on future research. I am fortunate in the fact that every week I get numerous calls from the media asking me to comment on something. Occasionally they come up with something that stirs my imagination and which gets me thinking that their story is about a really interesting topic. Occasionally whole new lines of research have emerged on the basis of a media enquiry. The most notable examples in my own research include my work on scratchcard gambling and internet addiction.

There is no doubt that some research is more likely to be noted, reported and commented upon by the mass media than is other equally sound or important work. Research into problem solving and learning will almost always be given less media coverage, than say astrology or parapsychology, because experimental psychologists (i) deem these areas as trivial or unimportant, (ii) its subject matter not appropriate for study using the scientific method, and/or (iii) unhelpful for career progression. Professor Kline argued that research that adheres to the scientific method carries a lot of weight in the academic community and enables academics to quickly progress up the career ladder. This is not the case with dissemination of psychological research to non-specialist audiences. Many may consider the education and dissemination of psychological knowledge is important yet popularizing psychology appears to have no distinct advantages inside the academic system (although I would like to think this is changing a little).

However, one thing that is highly irritating to academics is how slow the research dissemination process is. Sometimes waiting over a year or two for a paper to be published is not a psychologist’s idea of a quick reward. At least in the media, the rewards can come quickly. If a psychologist publishes something in a newspaper or a magazine (or even on their own blog), it can be out within days and sometimes even hours. If a psychologist records something for the radio or television, again the result is often quite quick – and if it is live then at least it goes out there and then.

Many psychologists may take the line that it is not their job to generate publicity. However, media exposure can provide publicity for the psychologist, their research, the discipline, and the psychologist’s organization. Furthermore, media publicity can help an individual’s research in particular ways. Media coverage can aid a psychologist’s own self-standing and it can also help in getting a psychologist’s research known to various funding agencies. Media publicity can also be used for direct research purposes – most noticeably in participant recruitment. Although there are ethical questions to consider, news items and features in all forms of the media can help in either the recruitment of participants both in general calls for help in research and in terms of unsolicited responses. I have found this particularly useful in obtaining case studies for various behavioural addictions that I have been researching into (e.g. exercise addiction, gambling addiction, internet addiction, etc.). (For instance, my case study on eproctophilia published last year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior came about because of one of the blogs I published on the topic).

Many researchers spend a lot of time and money handing out recruitment brochures in appropriate places promising small remunerations. However, these typically attract very few people into participating and generate low response rates. Therefore, the media can be used as a creative recruitment tactic that works effectively to attract research participants. Advertisements for participants to “tell us your story” in newspapers can be a successful way of obtaining participants. However, there are likely to be some biases in terms of the background, but it is possible to get a good cross section.

Use of contacts in the media is an option but will be very selective. Talk shows and the local news are the most two obvious areas of television or radio that can be harnessed by psychologists. Telephoning popular local (and sometimes national) radio talk shows to ask for people to come forward is one possible idea. Radio shows can be very good for this. From my own personal experience, a good response can be had from being on late at night or even early Sunday morning.

Another way to generate participants is to turn a research recruitment drive into a news story. Newspapers are in the business of telling stories. To get the media’s attention, a press release must respond to that priority. Unless a psychologist is making news, by being the first to do something, they will not see your material as ‘news’.  Psychologists need to tell the media a story that their readership will be interested in. In 2005, I was at a British Association for the Advancement of Science conference, where Tim Radford, the former science correspondent of The Guardian claimed that “the media is inherently lazy…they are likely pick up a story if you do the work”. That means providing the media with background facts and figures, creating context, simple key messages, lining up experts, and most importantly giving them a story. Psychologists can then tie their need (i.e., finding participants for further research) into that story. It is important to lead with a human-interest story and then add the need for research.

The key is to devise a short one-page media release (long ones will simply be passed over). The media release should have a ‘hook’ so that a journalist, when reading a release, asks “What’s new?” There are other strategies that can work for catching the attention of the media. Psychologists can tie their media releases into a news event that is already happening. For example, on Mother’s Day, a psychologist could lead with a story that links their research area to mothers.

Building ongoing relationships with the media is important and it takes time. If academic psychologists wants to get media attention, they need to support the media as well.  This can be helped by making responding to media requests a high priority. If a reporter calls, help them with their story. Unfortunately their deadlines are always short so this can be a challenge. Reporters will remember the psychologist and add you to their roster of available experts. Writing ‘Letters to the Editor’ also help in getting psychologists onto media radar screens (something that I used to the point of excess and – some might say – overkill).

My guess is that many psychologists shy away from aca-media due to fears about trivialisation, misinterpretation and misrepresentation. However, if they realised what the average media journalist has to go through to get their story, perhaps they would not be so dismissive. Psychologists would perhaps appreciate the high degree of professionalism that is involved. It could be argued that the most common source of misinterpretation by the media is the psychologist communicating their research or ideas poorly to the journalist. Journalists cannot and should not be blamed for the poor communication skills of the psychologist. What I have tried to argue here is that the aca-media can be good for psychologist, and that the media can be used to help the psychologist’s research and career – something that (I hope) my own career is good evidence of.

References

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). ‘Pop’ psychology. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 455-457.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Pop psychology and “aca-media”: A reply to Mitchell. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 537-538.

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Psychology and the media. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 11, 4-5.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). A moral obligation in aca-media? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 14, 460.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Why I believe letter writing can improve your career prospects. Times Higher Education Supplement, January 5, p.14.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Other publication outlets: Is there life after refereed journals? In P. Hills (Ed.), Publish or Perish (pp.117-130). Dereham: Peter Francis Publishing.

Kline, P. (1988). Psychology Observed or The Emperor’s New Clothes. London: Routledge.

Radford, T. (2005, September). Comments made in a panel discussion by science journalists at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, University College, Dublin.

Career ache: Is workaholism a genuine addiction?

Please note: The following article is an extended version of an article that was recently published on Rehabs.com

The term ‘workaholism’ has been around over 40 years since the publication of Wayne Oates’ book Confessions of a Workaholic in 1971. Despite increasing research into workaholism, there is still no single definition or conceptualization of this phenomenon. In my own research into the topic, I claimed that the definitions used by other researchers didn’t really conceptualise workaholism as an addiction or if they did conceptualise it as an addiction, the criteria were different to those used when examining other behavioral addictions such as gambling addiction, Internet addiction, sex addiction, exercise addiction, and video game addiction.

Some people view workaholics as hyper-performers whereas others view workaholics as unhappy and obsessive individuals who do not perform well in their jobs. Others claim workaholism arises when a person prefers to work as a way of stopping the person thinking about their emotional and personal lives and/or are over concerned with their work and neglect other areas of their lives. Various researchers differentiate between positive and negative forms of workaholism. For instance, some view workaholism as both a negative and complex process that eventually affects the person’s ability to function properly. Others highlight the workaholics who are totally achievement oriented and have perfectionist and compulsive-dependent traits.

The most widely employed empirical approach to workaholism proposes three underlying dimensions: (i) work involvement, (ii) drive, and (iii) work enjoyment. Researchers have claimed that workaholism can be deadly and dangerous with an onset (e.g., busyness), a progression (e.g., loss of productivity, relationship breakdowns, etc.), and a conclusion (e.g., hospitalization or death from a heart attack). Psychological research has also shown links between workaholism and personality types including those with Type A Behavior Patterns (i.e., competitive, achievement-oriented individuals) and those with obsessive-compulsive traits. The condition is generally characterized by the number of hours spent on work, and the inability to detach psychologically from work.

Reliable statistics on the prevalence of workaholism are hard to come by although a review that I published with some colleagues in 2011 based on all published studies up to that point estimated a prevalence rate of about 10% in most countries that had carried out empirical studies. Whether or not workaholism is a bona fide addiction all depends on the operational definition that is used. In one of my papers, I argued the only way of determining whether non-chemical (i.e., behavioral) addictions (such as workaholism) are addictive in a non-metaphorical sense is to compare them against clinical criteria for other established drug-ingested addictions. However, most people researching in the field have failed to do this. I operationally define addictive behavior as any behavior that features what I believe are the six core components of addiction (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict and relapse). Any behavior (e.g., work) that fulfils these six criteria would be operationally defined as an addiction. In relation to workaholism, the six components would be:

  • Salience – This occurs when work becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behavior (deterioration of socialized behavior). For instance, even if the person is not actually working they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with work).
  • Mood modification – This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of working and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).
  • Tolerance – This is the process whereby increasing amounts of work are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in work, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend working every day.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when the person is unable to work because they are ill, on holiday, etc.
  • Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time working.
  • Relapse – This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive work to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical of the height of excessive working to be quickly restored after periods of control.

Using these components, I and some of my Norwegian colleagues at the University of Bergen developed a new ‘work addiction scale’. We believe the scale may add value to work addiction research and practice, particularly when it comes to facilitating treatment and estimating prevalence of work addiction in the general population worldwide. The scale has been psychometrically validated and comprises seven simple questions (see end of article). We recently used this scale on a nationally representative Norwegian sample and found that 8% of our participants were addicted to work using this new instrument.

It’s also worth noting that some academics view workaholism as much a ‘system addiction’ as an individual one. Although the manifestations of workaholism are at the level of the individual, workaholic behavior is socially acceptable and even encouraged by major organizations. For employees, an organization can provide the structure and/or the mechanisms and dynamics for both the addictive substance (e.g., adrenalin) and/or the process (i.e., work itself).

Addictions always result from an interaction and interplay between many factors including the person’s biological and/or genetic predisposition, their psychological constitution (e.g. personality factors, unconscious motivations, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, etc.), their social environment (i.e. situational characteristics) and the nature of the activity itself (i.e. structural characteristics). This could be described as a ‘global model’ of addiction that goes beyond an individual biopsychosocial approach. Each of these three general sets of influences (i.e. individual, structural and situational) can be subdivided much further depending on the type of addiction, and can also be applied to workaholism.

For instance, the structural characteristics of work can include such things as the type of work (e.g., manual or non-manual; proactive or reactive; stimulating or non-stimulating), the familiarity of the work (e.g., novel or repetitive), number of hours per day or week spent doing the work, the flexibility of how the work fits into the daily and/or weekly routine of the worker, and direct and/or indirect financial rewards (e.g., amount of salary, medical insurance, pension, bonus payments, etc.). There are also the individual and idiosyncratic rewards of the job. The situational characteristics of work can include the organization’s work ethos and policies, the relationship dynamics between co-workers (e.g., the amount of collegiality between the workers and their line managers and/or fellow colleagues), social facilitation effects (i.e., working alone or working with others), the esthetics of the work environment (e.g., lighting, décor, colour in workspace), and the physical comfort and surroundings of workspaces (e.g., ‘heating, seating and eating’ facilities). The situational and cultural infrastructure of the workplace setting may therefore contribute and facilitate excessive working that in some individuals may lead to a genuine addiction.

It would appear that the integration of the three sets of characteristics (individual, situational and structural) combine to produce a variety of reinforcers such as financial rewards, social rewards, physiological rewards, and psychological rewards. One or more of these has the potential to induce addictive behavior as the basis of all addictive behavior is habitual reward and reinforcement. It is very clear that many contemporary research paradigms are insular and inadequate in explaining addiction to work.

Workaholism is a multifaceted behavior that is strongly influenced by contextual and structural factors that cannot be encompassed by any single theoretical perspective. These factors include variations in behavioral work involvement and motivation across different demographic groups, structural characteristics of work activities, and the developmental or temporal nature of addictive work behavior. Therefore, research into, and clinical interventions for workaholism, are best served by a biopsychosocial approach. More specifically, addictions (including workaholism) do not occur in a vacuum and successful interventions for workaholics have to take into account not just biological and/or genetic predispostions, psychological constitution (including attitudes, expectations and personality factors), and psychosocial factors, but also the social environment of where the work takes place, and the inherent structurally rewarding properties of work itself.

The Bergen Work Addiction Scale (BWAS)

The BWAS uses just seven basic criteria to identify work addiction, where all items are scored on the following scale: (1)=Never, (2)=Rarely, (3)=Sometimes, (4)=Often, and (5)=Always. The seven items are:

- You think of how you can free up more time to work
– You spend much more time working than initially intended
– You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression
– You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them
– You become stressed if you are prohibited from working
– You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work
– You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health

If you respond ‘often’ or ‘always’ on at least four of the seven items it may be indicative of being a workaholic. Although there are other ‘workaholism’ scales that have been developed, this is the first scale to use core concepts of addiction found in other more traditional addictions.

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

Further reading

Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Hetland, J. & Pallesen, S. (2012). Development of a Work Addiction Scale. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 53, 265-272.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Workaholism is still a useful construct. Addiction Research and Theory, 13, 97-100.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.

Matuska, K.M. (2010). Workaholism, life balance, and well-being: A comparative analysis. Journal of Occupational Science, 17, 104-111.

Schaufeli, W.B., Taris, T.W., & Bakker, A.B. (2006). Doctor Jekyll or Mr Hyde? On the differences between work engagement and workaholism. In R. Burke (Ed.), Workaholism and long working hours (pp. 193-217). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

van Beek, I., T.W., Taris, & Schaufeli, W.B. (2011). Workaholic and work engaged employees: Dead ringers or worlds apart? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16, 468-482.

Thriller killer: A brief look at BASE jumping

According to (the perhaps appropriately named Dr. Matt Pain and his colleague Matthew Pain in a 2005 issue of The Lancet), extreme sports are continuing to grow in popularity. I recounted my own experiences of bungee jumping in a previous blog but even that is tame compared to BASE jumping. A fairly recent 2012 paper by Erik Monasterio, Roger Mulder, Christopher Frampton and Omer Mei-Dan examined the personality characteristics of BASE Jumpers in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (and on which my blog today is based).

According to Monasterio and colleagues, BASE jumping developed from skydiving (using specially adapted parachutes to jump from fixed objects). The acronym ‘B.A.S.E.’ was coined in the late 1970s by filmmaker Carl Boenish, his wife Jean Boenish, Phil Smith, and Phil Mayfield, and comprises the fixed objects that such individuals can jump off (i.e., Building, Antenna, Span [arch, bridge, or dome], and Earth (a natural formation such as a cliff). According to the Zero P website, there are only about 1,000-1,500 active BASE jumpers and less than 10,000 people have ever even made a BASE jump.  Currently there are just over 1,000 people worldwide that have a BASE number. According to the Wikipedia entry, death rates from BASE jumping are high:

“BASE jumping as of 2006 has an overall fatality rate estimated at about one fatality per sixty participants. A study of 20,850 BASE jumps from the same site (the Kjerag Massif in Norway) reported 9 fatalities over the 11-year period from 1995 to 2005, or 1 in every 2,317 jumps. However, at that site, 1 in every 254 jumps over that period resulted in a nonfatal accident. BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous recreational activities in the world, with a fatality and injury rate 43 times higher than parachuting from a plane. As of 29 March 2014 the ‘BASE Fatality List’ maintained by ‘Blincmagazine.com’ records 228 deaths for BASE jumping since April 1981”.

Erk Monasterio and Omer Mei-Dan published a previous paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal and noted that BASE jumping was associated with a five- to 16-fold risk for death or injury when compared with skydiving. Monasterio and colleagues also reported that 72% of experienced BASE jumpers “had witnessed the death or serious injury of other participants in the sport in which 76% had at least one-near miss incident and only 6% had not sustained an injury, near-miss or witnessed a fatality from BASE jumping”. Consequently they argued that it was unsurprising widespread belief that “BASE jumpers are in some way unusual”.

Given how dangerous the sport is, Monasterio and his colleagues carried out the first ever research study into the personalities of BASE jumpers, and whether such personality factors play any contributing role in why BASE jumpers do what they do. Previous research into personality and extreme sports was summarized. Below is Monasterio et al’s summary with all but two of the academic papers cited removed:

“A number of studies have investigated the relationship between personality traits and participation in high-risk physical sports; sensation-seeking is by far the most consistently studied personality factor in the literature. Most of these studies have found that participants in high-risk sports tend to score higher on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking (SS) Scale compared to low risk sports participants and control groups. Zuckerman (1983) defines sensation seeking as ‘the need for varied, novel and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience’. In addition, a smaller number of studies have also considered other personality variables such as neuroticism, extraversion and conscientiousness. Castanier et al. (2010) investigated 302 men involved in high-risk sports (downhill skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, paragliding, and skydiving) and found that personality types with a configuration of low conscientiousness combined with high extraversion and/or high neuroticism were greater risk-takers”.

What the majority of research studies examining relationships between extreme risk-taking sports and personality have done is investigate the role of sensation seeking. In Monasterio and colleagues’ view, the research carried out to date is “far too narrow as it only provides information about one aspect of personality and ignores other important personality factors that may contribute to participation in risk-taking sports and help to understand the motivation for sports risk-taking behavior in general”. Therefore, the aim of their study was to explore the possible psychobiological contribution to BASE jumping using the temperament and character inventory (TCI) developed by Dr. Robert Cloninger and colleagues in 1994.

For those of you that don’t know, the TCI is a self-report personality questionnaire that assesses both normal and abnormal variation in temperament and character. Monasterio and colleagues assessed their sample of BASE jumpers using the TCI-235 (a self-report questionnaire with 235 items assessing seven basic dimensions of temperament and character). The following text about the seven dimensions and definitions of temperament and character are taken verbatim from the paper:

“Temperament refers to the automatic emotional responses that are thought to be moderately heritable, independent, genetically homogenous and stable over time. There are four temperament dimensions:

  • Novelty seeking (a tendency to activate or initiate new behaviors with a propensity to seek out new or novel experiences, impulsive decision-making, extravagance, quick loss of temper, and active avoidance of frustration).
  • Harm avoidance (a tendency to inhibit behaviors with a propensity to worry in anticipation of future problems, fear of uncertainty, rapid fatigability, and shyness in the company of strangers).
  • Reward dependence (a tendency to maintain behaviors manifested by dependency on the approval of others, social attachments, and sentimentality).
  • Persistence (a tendency to be hard-working, industrious, and persistent despite frustration and fatigue

Character refers to self-concepts and individual differences in goals and values that can be influenced by social factors, learning, and the process of maturation. The character dimensions are as follows:

  • Self-directedness (which refers to self-determination, personal integrity, self-integrity, and willpower).
  • Cooperativeness (which refers to individual differences in identification with and acceptance of other people).
  • Self-transcendence (which refers to feelings of religious faith, or viewing oneself as an integral part of the universe in other ways.”

Monasterio and colleagues hypothesized that BASE jumpers would score high on Novelty Seeking and score low on Harm Avoidance (compared to control data). To be included in the study sample, BASE jumpers had to have made at least ten BASE jumps, and been BASE jumping for over six months. The sample participants were recruited from international BASE jump group meetings, adventure website forums, and from personal communication among the international BASE jumping community. The final sample comprised 68 BASE jumpers (59 male; 39 single; mean age 34 years; 28 having sustained a significant injury from BASE jumping).

The results obtained were “partially in line” with the authors’ hypotheses. BASE jumpers did indeed have higher Novelty Seeking scores and lower Harm Avoidance scores. They also scored high on the Self Directedness dimension. However, the mean differences compared to normative data were “modest” and their findings suggested there was no “tightly defined personality profile” among their sample of BASE jumpers. The exception was that a 40% of the BASE jumpers had an extremely low Harm Avoidance score (compared to 5% of the control group). The authors concluded that the eight-fold increase in BASE jumpers suggests that: 

“A large proportion have a temperament profile characterized by low [Harm Avoidance]. The finding of low [Harm Avoidance] is not surprising or counterintuitive, as individuals with low scores on this dimension are described as carefree, relaxed, daring, courageous, composed, and optimistic even in situations that worry most people. These individuals are described as outgoing, bold, and confident. Their energy levels tend to be high, and they impress others as dynamic, lively, and vigorous. The advantages of low [Harm Avoidance] are confidence in the face of danger and uncertainty, leading to optimistic and energetic efforts with little or no distress. The disadvantages are related to unresponsiveness to danger, which can lead to foolhardy optimism…In order to participate in extreme sports such as BASE jumping, participants require highly developed skills that can only be acquired by repeated and consistent practice over time, and after undergoing a fairly rigorous apprenticeship. As [Self Directedness] refers to self-determination and maturity, or the ability of an individual to control, regulate and adapt behavior to fit the situation in accord with individually chosen goals and values, it is unsurprising that BASE jumpers scored high on this measure. High [Self Directedness] with an emphasis on discipline and skill acquisition may also help to explain why BASE jumpers engage in risk taking behaviors by normative rather than impulsive/disorganized antisocial means (such as drug use and criminal behavior). Previous research has shown that a combination of high [Novelty Seeking] and low [Harm Avoidance] increases the risk of drug use”.

Despite the interesting findings, there were lots of methodological limitations in the study. The sample was very small (although the authors argued that it was relatively large given the small number of worldwide BASE jumpers – in fact they claimed it included 5-10% of all the world’s BASE jumpers), self-selected (i.e., not random), and relied on self-report (which is not always the most reliable testimony). The authors also pointed out that:

“All participants who volunteered were included. This may have led to selection bias and the sample may represent a population of particularly high-risk-taking BASE jumpers as 42% had suffered serious injury and 72% had witnessed fatality or serious accident, yet persisted in the sport. BASE jumpers who had experienced prior accidents may have been more motivated to share their experience and therefore more likely to participate in the study. As the study included only active jumpers, cautious BASE jumpers, who had given up the sport following an injury or a near-miss experience, may have been excluded. Alternatively, the sampling process may have excluded particularly high-risk groups as less experienced, more impulsive and higher risk taking jumpers may have been involved in fatal accidents at earlier stages of their BASE jumping careers and therefore were unavailable for inclusion in the study…An added limitation may be the forced-choice nature of the TCI questionnaire in which participants score either true or false for each question, whereas the answer may lie somewhere in the middle”.

Despite the limitations, the study is the first of its kind and provides a benchmark on which other studies can build. Engagement in extreme sports is likely to continue despite the high risk of injury or death. Knowing as much as we can about why people engage in such risky behaviour is clearly of great value psychologically.

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

Further reading

Castanier, C., Le Scanff, C., & Woodman, T. (2010). Who takes risks in high-risk sports? A typological personality approach. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 81, 478–484.

Cloninger, C. R., Przybeck, T. R., Svrakic, D. M., & Wetzel, R. D. (1994a). Basic description of the personality scales. In C. R. Cloninger (Ed.), The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI): A guide to its development and use (pp. 19–27). St Louis, MO: Center for Psychobiology of Personality, Washington University.

Monasterio, E., & Mei-Dan, O. (2008). Risk and severity of injury in a population of BASE jumpers. New Zealand Medical Journal, 121, 70–75.

Monasterio, E., Mulder, R., Frampton, C., & Mei-Dan, O. (2012). Personality characteristics of BASE jumpers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24, 391-400

Pain, M.T., & Pain, M.A. (2005). Essay: Risk taking in sport. Lancet, 366, Suppl 1, S33–34.

Zuckerman, M. (1983). Sensation seeking and sports. Personality and Individual Differences, 4, 285–294.

Zuckerman, M., & Cloninger, C. R. (1996). Relationship between Cloninger’s, Zuckerman’s and Eysenck’s dimensions of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 21, 283–285.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press to play: Is gaming as addictive as heroin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

List watch: A brief look at glazomania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Further reading

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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