Category Archives: Addiction

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looming large: A brief look at toy crazes and addiction

A few days ago my friend and colleague Dr. Andrew Dunn asked me Have you written anything about loom band addiction? It’s a hot trend right now and it’s not just for the kids”. If you are not a parent of a tweenager, some of you reading this may have no idea of what a ‘loom band’ even is. Basically, it is a bracelet made from coloured rubber bands using a toy loom (such as the Rainbow Loom or the Cra-Z-Loom Ultimate Bracelet Maker).

Although I have never written on the topic, it just so happened that the day before he asked me the question, one of my regular blog readers sent me an article from the online BBC News Magazine examining the ‘loom band craze’ that is apparently sweeping the UK. Earlier in the year, I also got sent an article by Mark O’Sullivan in The Guardian newspaper on the same topic (“Loom bands: tweens are obsessed with it, and it’s a welcome sight’). Just so we are all clear, the definition of a ‘craze’ as defined by the Oxford Dictionary is “an enthusiasm for a particular activity or object which appears suddenly and achieves widespread but short-lived popularity”.

The BBC article – written by Justin Parkinson – began by noting that in this age of the screenager, it’s “curious to find that rubber bands are a big thing”. One of the reasons they have been in the British press is that some schools have banned them (because some children have been using them as weapons rather than as decorative wrist wear. There are also news reports of schools in New York banning them because they were alleged to be the cause of playground fights. Other countries (e.g., the Philippines) have complained that the bands are dangerous to pets as they eat the discarded bands and end up being lodged in animal intestines. Parkinson reported that:

“The Rainbow Loom…has sold more than three million units worldwide. The sheer scale of the craze can be seen in the stats for Amazon UK. All 30 of the best-selling toys are either looms or loom-related. The products top the sales list for every age group except the under-twos…Children use the looms, or their own fingers, to weave coloured bands into items such as bracelets, necklaces and charms. They use dozens of different designs, recommended on YouTube and by word of mouth, including the ‘fishtail’, the ‘dragon scale’ and the ‘inverted hexafish’. In an age when the toy market is dominated by more complicated toys and expensive computer games, backed by marketing campaigns, how did they become so popular?”

It wasn’t so long ago that a similar rubber band craze (i.e., Silly Bandz) swept across a number of countries. Silly Bandz are silicone rubber bands that are shaped into everyday objects, letters, numbers, musical instruments, and animals. However, Silly Bandz were to be collected rather than to be created. In relation to loom bands, the US writer Hallie Sawyer alluded to an addictive quality by describing loom bands as “Silly Bandz on crack [that will] someday clog up every landfill in America”. All I can remember as a kid was using rubber bands to make cheap catapults. For his BBC article, Parkinson interviewed Esther Lutman [assistant curator at the Museum of Childhood] about why loom bands were so popular:

“It’s part of the charm of these crazes that the kids find something they can do at school until they are banned. They keep pushing new stuff, particularly in the summer, when they spend more time in the playground together…I would bracket loom bands] with marbles in the Victorian era, yo-yos in the 1930s and hula-hoops in the 1950s. They are quite cheap, which helps explain their spread around playgrounds. They are at their absolute peak now. Who knows what will be next?”

Although we have no idea what will be next, there will be something else that comes along and captures the time and imaginations of children. Loom bands are clearly the latest in a long line of toy crazes. In my own lifetime I have personally witnessed (as both a teenager and parent) Rubik’s Cube (1980), Cabbage Patch Kids (1983), Slap Bracelets [also known as ‘snap bands’ and described as “Venetian blinds with attitude” by the New York Times) (1990), Tamagotchis (1996), Furbies (1998), Beanie Babies (1995), POGs (1995), and Bratz Dolls (2001).

I am no stranger to writing about crazes (and particularly ‘toy crazes’) and over the last 20 years whenever any new craze comes to the fore I am invariably asked by the media to what extent any of them are addictive and/or problematic. Arguably the most noteworthy (and in hindsight the most embarrassing for me personally) was the rise of the Tamagotchis and Furbies in the mid- to late-1990s. I was quoted in many national newspapers at the time as I had begun to do a bit of research into the psychological effects on children of virtual pets (and even published papers and articles on them – see ‘Further reading below’). For instance, the snippet below appeared in many newspapers:

“Dr. Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University has researched what he calls ‘electronic friendship’, and is an authority on technological addictions. His latest subject is the Tamagotchi phenomenon. ‘Children make a massive psychological investment in these things. There have been reports of children going through a bereavement process when their Tamagotchi dies. That has its good points. The whole thing about simulations, whether it’s a pet or an aeroplane, is they help you in real life. I personally feel, the earlier people learn to cope with bereavement the better it is later in life’. He adds: ‘People do actually have attachments with their computer games and favourite fruit machine games. With virtual pets, I can understand it totally. People like to be needed’”.

Every Christmas for the last few years, UK television’s Channel 4 has repeatedly shown the programme 100 Greatest Toys with Jonathan Ross. The Tamagotchi was voted in at No.54 and I am featured in the show – being interviewed by Andrew Harvey on BBC 1’s Breakfast Newstalking about the bereavement like reactions by children to the death of their Tamagotchi.

The good news with all of the crazes that I have ever been asked about is that none of them features a documented case of any child being genuinely addicted to any of the toys that I have been asked to comment on. While some of the children may have engaged excessively in the playing of the toys, there was never any evidence of the children experiencing detrimental effects as a result of being addicted.

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

Further reading

Cruz, G. (2010). From Tickle Me Elmo to Squinkies: Top 10 toy crazes. Time, December 23. Located at: http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1947621_1947626_1993018,00.html

Conradt, S. (2010). The quick 10: 10 Toy crazes. Mental Floss, December 18. Located at: http://mentalfloss.com/article/23547/quick-10-10-toy-crazes

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Are virtual pets more demanding than the real thing? Education and Health, 15, 37-38.

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). The side effects of Furby fever. Nottingham Evening Post, December 18, p.15.

Griffiths, M.D. & Gray, F. (1998). The rise of the Tamagotchi: An issue for educational psychology? BPS Division of Educational and Child Psychology Newsletter, 82, 37-40.

Parkinson, J. (2014). A craze for ‘loom bands’. BBC News Magazine, June 25. Located at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27974401

O’Sullivan, M. (2014). Loom bands: tweens are obsessed with it, and it’s a welcome sight. The Guardian, April 21. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/21/loom-bands-tweens-are-obsessed-with-it-and-its-a-welcome-sight

The teen screen scene: How does media and advertising influence youth addiction?

When we are looking for factors that change behaviour we can look inside the individual for personal characteristics that make people vulnerable to addiction and we can look outside the individual for features of the environment that encourage addictive behaviours. Addiction is a multi-faceted behaviour that is strongly influenced by contextual factors that cannot be encompassed by any single theoretical perspective.

The media (television, radio, newspapers, etc.) are an important channel for portraying information and channelling communication. Knowledge about how the mass media work may influence both the promotion of potentially addictive behaviour (as in advertising), and for the promotion of health education (such as promoting abstinence or moderation). Much of the research done on advertising is done by the companies themselves and thus remains confidential. The media, especially television and film, often portray addictions (e.g., heroin addiction in the film Trainspotting, marijuana use in the TV show Weeds, gambling addiction in the TV show Sunshine, etc.). Because of this constant portrayal of various addictions, television and film dramas often create controversy because of claims that they glorify addictive behaviour. The popularity of media drama depicting various addictions requires an examination of their themes and the potential impact on the public.

A 2005 study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine by Dr. H. Gunasekera and colleagues analysed the portrayal of sex and drug use in the most popular movies of the last 20 years using the Internet Movie Database list of the top 200 movies of all time. The researchers excluded a number of films including those released or set prior to the HIV era (pre-1983), animated films, films not about humans, and family films aimed at children. The top 200 films following the exclusions were reviewed by one of two teams of two observers using a data extraction sheet tested for inter-rater reliability. Sexual activity, sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention, birth control measures, drug use and any consequences discussed or depicted were recorded.

The study reported that there were 53 sex episodes in 28 (32%) of the 87 movies reviewed. There was only one suggestion of condom use, which was the only reference to any form of birth control. There were no depictions of important consequences of unprotected sex such as unwanted pregnancies, HIV or other STDs. Movies with cannabis (8%) and other non-injected illicit drugs (7%) were less common than those with alcohol intoxication (32%) and tobacco use (68%) but tended to portray their use positively and without negative consequences. There were no episodes of injected drug use. The researchers concluded that sex depictions in popular movies of the last two decades lacked safe sex messages. Drug use, though infrequent, tended to be depicted positively. They also concluded that the social norm being presented in films was of great concern given the HIV and illicit drug pandemics.

Drug use in this context could be argued to illustrate a form of observational learning akin to advertisement through product placement. A similar 2002 study by Dr. D. Roberts and colleagues examined drug use within popular music videos. Whilst depictions of illicit drugs or drug use were relatively rare in pop videos, when they did appear they were depicted on a purely neutral level, as common elements of everyday activity.

The makers of such drama argue that presenting such material reflects the fact that addictions are everywhere and cut across political, ethnic, and religious lines. Addiction is certainly an issue that impacts all communities. However, it is important to consider possible impacts that it might have on society. Empirical research suggests that the mass media can potentially influence behaviours. For example, research indicates that the more adolescents are exposed to movies with smoking the more likely they are to start smoking. Furthermore, research has shown that the likeability of film actors and actresses who smoke (both on-screen and off-screen) relates to their adolescent fans’ decisions to smoke. Perhaps unsurprisingly, films tend to stigmatise drinking and smoking less than other forms of drug taking. However, the media transmit numerous positive messages about drug use and other potential addictions, and it is plausible that such favourable portrayals lead to more use by those that watch them. Anecdotally, some things may be changing. For instance, there appears to be more emphasis on the media’s portrayal of alcohol as socially desirable and positive as opposed to smoking that is increasingly being regarded as anti-social and dangerous.

Back in 1993, the British Psychological Society (1993) called for a ban on the advertising of all tobacco products. This call was backed up by the UK government’s own research which suggested a relationship between advertising and sales. Also, in four countries that had banned advertising (New Zealand, Canada, Finland and Norway) there was been a significant drop in tobacco consumption.

However, public policy is not always driven by research findings, and the powerful commercial lobby for tobacco has considerable influence. In her reply to the British Psychological Society, the Secretary of State for Health (at the time) rejected a ban saying that the evidence was unclear on this issue and efforts should be concentrated elsewhere. This debate highlights how issues of addictive behaviours cannot be discussed just within the context of health. There are also political, economic, social and moral contexts to consider as well. The British government and European Community made commitments to ban tobacco advertising though they found it difficult to bring it in as quickly as they hoped. It is now rare to see smoking advertised anywhere in the UK but there is a new trend in television drama and films to set the action in a time or location where smoking is part of the way of life (for example the US television programme Mad Men).

Just as the British Government have banned cigarette advertising and banned smoking in public places, they have also deregulated gambling through the introduction of the 2005 Gambling Act. This Act came into effect on September 1st 2007 and allowed all forms of gambling to be advertised in the mass media for the first time. This has led to a large number of nightly television adverts for betting shops, online poker, and online bingo. Whether this large increase in gambling advertising will impact on gambling participation and gambling addiction remains to be seen. There have been very few studies that have examined gambling advertising and those that have been done are usually small scale and lack representativeness.

In an article I wrote in 2010 looking at these issues, I reached a number of conclusions that I don’t think have changed in the past few years since I wrote that article. My conclusions were:

  • Glamorisation versus reality is complicated: The issue of glamorisation versus reality is of course complicated. Although the drama producers hope to accurately depict various addictions, they still need to keep ratings up. Clearly, positive portrayals are more likely to increase ratings and programmes might favour acceptance of drug use over depictions of potential harms.
  • Research on the role of media effects is inconclusive: More research on how the media influence drug use is needed in order to evaluate the impact of such drama. With media and addiction, it is important to walk with caution, as the line between reality and glamorisation is easy to cross. More research is needed that investigates direct, indirect, and interactive effects of media portrayals on addictive behaviour.
  • Relationship between advertising and addictive behaviour is mostly correlational: The literature examining the relationship between advertising on the uptake of addictive behaviour is not clear cut and mostly correlational in nature hence it is not possible to make causal connections.
  • There could be different media effects for different addictions: Although there appears to be some relationship between tobacco advertising and tobacco uptake, this does not necessarily hold for all addictive behaviours. For instance, some academics claim that econometric studies of alcohol advertising expenditures come to the conclusion that advertising has little or no effect on market wide alcohol demand.
  • Research done to date may not be suitable: Survey research studies have failed to measure the magnitude of the effect of advertising on youth intentions or behaviour in a manner that is suitable for policy analysis. As a consequence, policy makers may introduce and/or change policy that is ineffective or not needed on the basis of research that was unsuitable in answering a particular question.

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

Further reading

Cape, G. S. (2003). Addiction, stigma, and movies. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 107, 163-169.

Dalton, M.A., Sargent, J.D., Beach, M.L., Titus-Ernstoff, L., Gibson, J.J., Aherns, M.B., & Heatherton, T.F. (2003). Effect of viewing smoking in movies on adolescent smoking initiation: A cohort study. Lancet, 362, 281-285.

Distefan, J. M., E. A. Gilpin, et al. (1999). Do movie stars encourage adolescents to start smoking? Evidence from California. Preventive Medicine, 28, 1-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3 (2), 15-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Media and advertising influences on adolescent risk behaviour. Education and Health, 28(1), 2-5.

Gunasekera, H. Chapman, S. Campbell, S. (2005). Sex and drugs in popular movies: An analysis of the top 200 Films. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 98, 464-470.

Nelson, J.P. (2001). Alcohol advertising and advertising bans: A survey of research methods, results, and policy implications. In M.R. Baye & J.P. Nelson (Eds.), Advances in Applied Microeconomics, Volume 10: Advertising and Differentiated Products (Chapter 11). Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.

Roberts, D.F., Christenson, P.G. Henriksen, L. & Bandy, E. (2002). Substance Use in Popular Music Videos. Office Of National Drug Control Policy. Located at: http://www.mediacampaign.org/pdf/mediascope.pdf

Wilde, G.J.S. (1993). Effects of mass media communications on health and safety habits: An overview of issues and evidence. Addiction, 88, 983-996.

Will, K. E., B. E. Porter, et al. (2005). Is television a healthy and safety hazard? A cross-sectional analysis of at-risk behavior on primetime television. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, 198-22

Sound ideas: A brief look at the effect of music on gambling behaviour

Throughout my academic career, I have always been interested in how the design of environments affects human behaviour. Given that my primary research area is the psychology of gambling and that my most passionate hobby is listening to music, it probably won’t come as a surprise that I have carried out research into the effect of music on gambling behaviour.

The effect of music has been studied extensively in commercial contexts (particularly advertising and retailing). Many research studies have shown that music has the capacity to affect consumers’ perceptions of a particular environment, their intended and actual purchase behaviour, and time spent in a particular environment. Advertisers and marketers use such knowledge to help target their consumer group. Psychologists Adrian North and David Hargreaves have noted in many of their papers that music may have the capacity to modify psychological arousal or induce relaxation. A number of studies have supported this claim through various investigations into the arousal of music.

Highly arousing music has been characterised as loud, unpredictable and with a quick tempo. Low arousing music in contrast is soft, predictable, and has a slower tempo. The more the music is able to produce arousal in individuals, the more pleasurable it is for them, and the more likely it will be their preference. Musical tempo is another area within the field of music that has generated empirical research. A variety of reports from participants and consumers have described fast tempo music with a variety of adjectives, indicating it as happier, pleasant, joyous, exhilarating. Studies manipulating the tempo of music have found that faster music leads to more positive judgements of advertisements, enhances effects on the performance of tasks, leads to faster movement, and higher arousal levels. Slow music has the opposite effects resulting in more relaxing, solemn adjectives being used when participants described it.

As both a structural and situational characteristic in gambling behaviour, the role of music has become more apparent in the last decade. Many slot machines now have musical interludes. This makes them generally more appealing, especially if they are familiar. Researchers (including myself) have consistently argued that sound effects can contribute to the encouragement of gambling.

Back in 2003, Dr. Jonathan Parke and myself published a book chapter examining the environmental psychology of gambling in the book Gambling: Who Wins? Who Loses? (edited by the sociologist Gerda Reith). A small part of that review speculatively examined the role of music in facilitating gambling behaviour. We noted that at the time we wrote the review, no research has been carried out on the topic (and that research was obviously needed). A couple of years later, we published a paper in the Journal of Gambling Issues and reported a number of observations based on our experiences of enaging in participant and non-participant observation in amusement arcades and other gambling venues.

We argued that auditory effects have the capacity to make a slot machine more ”aesthetically appealing” to individuals and this differentiation could be a deciding factor when choosing a machine. We also hypothesized that music has the potential to facilitate, stimulate, maintain and exacerbate gambling behaviour in some individuals. This could be due to the fact that familiar music may induce a feeling of enjoyment as it is recognisable to the individual and thus may entice them into playing (something that I had noted in an earlier paper that I wrote with David Dunbar in a 1997 issue of the Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter). The music played when one wins is distinctive and memorable and could also lead to further plays. In short, music has the capability to increase confidence, modulate arousal and relaxation and help the player to disregard previous losses.

In 2007, I published a study in the journal International Gambling Studies that I carried out with Laura Dixon and Dr. Richard Trigg investigating the role of music in gambling behaviour. In our experiment, 60 participants played virtual roulette in one of three conditions.The three conditions were (i) no music, (ii) slow tempo music,and (iii) fast music (20 participants in each condition). Tengames of roulette were played with speed of betting, amountspent across high, medium and low-level risk bets and totalamount spent recorded. Their results showed that speed ofbetting was influenced by musical tempo with faster bettingoccurring while listening to higher tempo music.However, there was no relationship between musical tempo and either the size of the bet or the overall amountspent. Although not carried out in a casino, we believed our findingsprovided valuable insight into how background music can bemanipulated to increase the speed of gambling.

In 2010, along with Jenny Spenwyn and Dr. Doug Barrett, I published another study examining the effect of music on gambling in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. This study (as far as we are aware) was the first ever empirical study to examine the combined effects of both music and light on gambling behaviour. While playing an online version of roulette, 56 participants took part in one of four experimental conditions (14 participants in each condition); (1) gambling with fast tempo music under normal (white) light, (2) gambling with fast tempo music under red light, (3) gambling with slow tempo music under normal (white) light, and (4) gambling with slow tempo music under red light. Risk (i.e., the amount of money spent) per spin and speed of bets were measured as indicators of gambling behaviour. We found significant effects for speed of bets in relation to musical tempo, but not light. We also found a significant interaction between light and music for speed of bets. In short, we found that fast tempo music under red light resulted in individuals gambling faster gambling.

Most recently, some of my research colleagues in Norway, led by Dr. Rune Mentzoni, published a paper in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions that also examined music’s effect of gambling behaviour. Like our studies, they carried out a laboratory experiment. Their study comprised101 undergraduate students who played a computerized gambling task inwhich either a high-tempo or a low-tempo musical soundtrack was present. It was reported that: low-tempo music was associated with increased gambling persistence in terms of overall number of bets placed, whereas high-tempo music was associated with intensified gambling in terms of faster reaction time per placed bet. Based on their results, they concluded that high-tempo music is associated with more risky gambling behaviour (by increasing gambling persistence and by reducing reaction time for bets placed).

From the empirical literature published so far, there does appear to be some evidence to suggest that the gambling environment may be manipulated by the use of sound of music (as well as other characteristics such as light and colour) and that such situational characteristics may affect gambling behaviour. However, the empirical base, is limited and further research is needed before reaching any definitive conclusions.

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

Further reading 

Caldwell, C. & Hibbert, S.A. (1999). “Play that one again: The effect of music tempo on consumer behaviour in a restaurant. European Advances in Consumer Research, 4, 58-62.

Dixon, L., Trigg, R. & Griffiths, M. (2007). An empirical investigation of music and gambling behaviour. International Gambling Studies, 7, (3), 315-326.

Dube, L., Chebat, J.C. & Morin, S. (1995). The effects of background music on consumers desire to affiliate in buyer- seller interactions”, Psychology and Marketing, 12, 305-319.

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.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2005). The psychology of music in gambling environments: an observational research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13. Available at: http://jgi.camh.net/doi/full/10.4309/jgi.2005.13.8

Hebert, S., Beland, R., Dionne-Fournelle, O., Crete, M. & Lupien, S.J. (2004). Psychological stress response to video game playing: the contribution of built in music. Life Sciences, 76, 2371-2380.

Kellaris, J.J. & Kent, R.J. (1993). An exploratory investigation of responses elicited by music varying in tempo, tonality, and texture. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2, 381-402.

Mentzoni, R. A., Laberg, J. C., Brunborg, G. S., Molde, H., & Pallesen, S. (2014). Type of musical soundtrack affects behavior in gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, DOI: 10.1556/JBA.3.2014.006.

Milliman, R.E. (1982). Using background music to affect the behaviour of supermarket shoppers. Journal of Marketing, 46, 86-91.

Milliman, R.E. (1986). “The influence of background music on the behaviour of restaurant patrons. Journal of Consumer Research, 13, 286-289.

North, A.C., & Hargreaves, D.J. (1997). Experimental aesthetics and everyday music listening. In D.J. Hargreaves & A.C. North (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Music. pp.84-103. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics re-visited. 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.

Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.

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