Category Archives: Addiction
“Sixty-four million people do it at least once a week. Nabokov wrote about it. Bill Clinton even did it in the White House” (Marc Romano, 2005).
I’m sure many of you reading this opening quote will think that it refers to sexual infidelity but it doesn’t. I was also deliberately obtuse in the title of today’s blog to throw you off the scent of what today’s blog is about. Well, to put some of you out of your misery, the topic under the microscope today is crossword puzzles. For those who don’t know, a cruciverbalist is an enthusiast of word games (especially of crosswords). According to Michael Quinion in his excellent World Wide Words website:
“[The word ‘cruciverbalist’] seems to have appeared in English about 1980 (the first reference I can find is to the Compleat Cruciverbalist of 1981 by Stan Kurzban and Mel Rosen, subtitled ‘how to solve, compose and sell crossword puzzles for fun and profit’). However, Stan Kurzban tells me that Mel Rosen had encountered the word some years earlier in the title of a directory of crossword puzzle notables that was not widely circulated. Whatever its origin, cruciverbalist has spread into the wider language as a result of their efforts to the extent that it now appears in some larger recent US dictionaries. The word is a modern mock-Latin invention, being a translation back into Latin of the English crossword (using Latin crucis, cross, as in words like cruciform, plus verbum, word, as in verbose or verbatim).There is also cruciverbalism, for the art of crossword compilation or crossword fandom generally, but that is much rarer”.
The opening quote comes from Marc Romano’s 2005 book The Crossword Obsession: The History and Lore of the World’s Most Popular Pastime who asserted that: “the crossword puzzle has arguably been our national obsession since its birth almost a century ago”. Seeing the word ‘obsessive’ was enough to make me think it was a topic worthy of consideration of writing a blog about it (especially when reading the accompanying blurb for Romano’s book):
“Saying this is a book about puzzles is to tell only half the story. It is also an explanation into what crosswords tell us about ourselves – about the world we live in, the cultures that nurture us, and the different ways we think and learn. If you’re a puzzler, Crossworld will enthrall you. If you have no idea why your spouse send so much time filling letters into little white squares, Crossworld will tell you – and with luck, save your marriage”.
On a personal note, I ought to declare a vested self-interest in that I been doing cryptic crosswords since I was taught to do them by my father in my mid-teens. In the early 1990s until the late 1990s I did (or rather attempted) The Guardian’s cryptic crossword almost every day (the birth of my daughter put a stop to daily crosswords and what little spare time I had outside of my job). On the way to a conference in Bristol in 1998, I had a race on the train with one of my departmental colleagues (Bob Rotheram) as to who could complete that day’s Guardian crossword first. I even got a letter in The Guardian (November 26, 2002) about a crossword puzzle set by my favourite crossword setter (John Galbraith Graham, better known under his crossword compiling pseudonym ‘Araucaria’). Many of the clues in the prize crossword I had just completed related to an anagram of the word ‘presbyterians’. The letter I had published said:
“I don’t know what is worse. The fact that some clues in the prize crossword related to Britney Spears and her hit singles, or the sad fact that I knew the answers to them all!”
The fact that ‘presbyterians’ is an anagram of singer ‘Britney Spears’ I found amazing (although my favourite anagram in one of Araucaria’s crosswords was ‘synthetic cream’ being an anagram of the football team ‘Manchester City’). I am also a huge fan of crossword homophones (words that are pronounced the same but are completely different in definition and meaning) and on which most forms of punning are based. This includes many of my blog titles such as my articles on body dysmorphic disorder (‘Flaw management’), biting fetishes (‘Bit sighs’), pandrogyny (‘A gender setting’), and gambling spending (‘Stake and chips’), as well as my blogs on the psychology of revulsion (‘Disgust discussed’), Exploding Head Syndrome (‘A noise that annoys’) and Jerusalem Syndrome (‘Wholly holy’). I love crosswords so much that I even have an all-time favourite clue (“Late opening” [seven letters]; Answer: AUTOPSY). Total genius!
Doing crosswords appears to be a very popular hobby. According to Dean Olsher in his 2009 book, From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords, about 50 million American people do crosswords. Olsher says that for some, crosswords are a pastime and for others it is a form of escapism (suggesting that crosswords may produce psychological feelings and motivations associated with addictive behaviours). Olsher noted that some people like the film director Alfred Hitchcock “didn’t get” crosswords. Hitchcock told film actor, director and screenwriter Francois Truffaut that:
“I don’t really approve of whodunits because they’re rather like a jigsaw or crossword puzzle. No emotion. You simply wait to found out who committed the murder”
Olsher claims Hitchcock fell prey to a common false dichotomy that thinking and feeling are an either/or proposition. Olsher claims they are inextricable, and that cerebral and emotional satisfaction are not at odds with each other. For Olsher, crosswords can be an exhilarating experience and akin to seated meditation. However, he also notes that doing crosswords (based on his own personal experience) could be an addiction:
“It is more honest, though, to think of crosswords as a habit, like smoking. It’s just something to do, every day, because it’s there. When finished with a puzzle, I don’t pump my fists in triumph or congratulate myself for my perseverance. I solve crosswords because they bring on a feeling of emptiness, and paradoxically, that feeling seems to fill a hole deep inside. It’s not a release, it’s not a flushing out, although both those terms grasp at some aspect of it. Norman Mailer said that for him, solving the crossword every day was like combing his brain. This simile is strong because it has nothing to do with usual mental fitness. It’s not about intelligence or holding onto memory. Crosswords bring about a focused state of mind, the elusive ‘flow state’. Then there are days when I decide that this is all an elaborate self-deception. That the puzzle is indeed an escape mechanism. The crossword addiction is not a metaphor but a destructive literal truth”
I was surprised to find there has been quite a lot of academic research on the benefits of doing crosswords (although very little on whether doing crosswords can be obsessive and/or addictive). However, the psychologist Dr. Howard Rachlin does mention in a number of his writings on addiction that there are many activities that could be described as ‘positive addictions’ including “listening to classical music, collecting stamps, exercise, reading novels, doing crossword puzzles”. Dr. Rachlin also noted in a paper published in a 2002 issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS):
“Patterns of behavior may be maintained without extrinsic rewards. For example, on a relatively small scale, activities such as solving jigsaw or crossword puzzles are valuable in themselves. People, like me, who like to do crossword puzzles, find value in the whole act of doing the puzzle. When I sit down on a Sunday morning to do the puzzle I am not beginning a laborious act that will be rewarded only when it is completed. Yet, despite the lack of extrinsic and intrinsic reward for putting in that last particular letter, completing the puzzle is, for me, a necessary part of its value. Like listening to symphonies, the pattern is valuable only as a whole. Extrinsic rewards may initially put together the elements of these patterns but the patterns, once formed, are maintained by their intrinsic value. The cost of breaking the pattern is the loss of this value – even that of the parts already performed”.
However, Rachlin is not without his critics. In responses to the BBS paper, Dr. Stephen Kaplan and Dr. Raymond De Young claimed that Rachlin’s interpretation of intrinsic motivation as arising from a string of habits was far from convincing. More specifically, they noted that the “fascination with crossword and jigsaw puzzles seems far more likely to be an expression of the human inclination to solve problems, a tendency humans share with nonhuman primates”. Another response to the BBS paper by Dr. Thomas R. Zentall claimed that the concept of intrinsic reinforcement is needed to explain the variety of behaviour that has no extrinsic material or social reward, such as crossword puzzle solving. He argues that:
“Intrinsic reinforcers are difficult to assess. They are what [are] left once you have ruled out extrinsic reinforcers, and in the case of humans, typically we assess them by means of verbal behavior (e.g., ‘I just like doing it’). But this sort of definition can easily become circular, especially when we are talking about behavioral patterns that are themselves not clearly defined. One can hypothesize that extrinsic reinforcers become internalized, but that does not explain, it only describes”.
Doing crosswords may even be of psychological and practical benefit. For instance, Dr. Mike Murphy and Dr. Roisin Cunningham published a paper last year in the Irish Journal of Psychology claiming that: “a crossword a day improves verbal fluency”. More specifically they examined ‘semantic verbal fluency’ (SVF) an important contributor to general communication ability. In their study, 34 final year students completed a daily crossword for one month and compared this to a control group of 40 students who did not do any crosswords. Their results indicated that the crossword group experienced greater improvement in SVF than the control group. They concluded that doing simple crosswords may be a relatively straightforward way improving SVF among students who are about to enter the job market and need good transferable skills.
Dr. Graham Pluck and Dr. Helen Johnson writing in a 2011 issue of Education Science and Psychology claim that stimulating curiosity (with activities such as crosswords) can enhance learning. They drew on the work of Dr. Ludwig Lowenstein who noted that many features of human behaviour appear counter-productive on the surface but are not. For instance:
“Lowenstein discusses the interest that many people have in completing puzzles such as crosswords, or why soap operas end on cliff-hangers. According to the theory, the information gaps that people are exposed to act to motivate them to obtain the missing information, either by persevering to complete the puzzle or tuning in to watch the next episode of the soap opera”.
Another study led by Dr. Joshua Jackson and published in a 2012 issue of the journal Psychology and Aging claimed doing crosswords could change some aspects of personality among old-aged people. More specifically, they examined whether an intervention aimed to increase cognitive ability in older adults (i.e., doing crossword and Sudoko puzzles) affected the personality trait of openness to experience (i.e., being imaginative and intellectually oriented). In their study, old-aged adults completed a 4-month program in inductive reasoning training that included weekly crossword and Sudoku puzzles. They were then assessed continually over the following 30 weeks. Their findings showed that those who did crossword and Sudoko puzzles increased their openness scores compared to the control group. The authors claimed that this study is one of the very first to demonstrate that personality traits can change through non-psychopharmocological interventions.
Although there are a number of people online who have confessed as to being ‘crossword addicts’, (including the US rock singer and record producer Todd Rundgren in a June 2013 interview with Uncut magazine), I have yet to find any empirical evidence that it is negatively detrimental in people’s lives. For most, even those who describe themselves as ‘crossword obsessives’, it is a behaviour that adds to and enhances their lives.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Amende, C. (2001). The Crossword Obsession: The History and Lore of the World’s Most Popular Pastime. New York: Berkeley.
Davis, T.M., Shepherd, B. & Zwiefelhofer, T. (2009). Reviewing for exams: Do crossword puzzles help in the success of student learning? Journal of Effective Teaching, 9, 4-10.
Jackson, J.J., Hill, P.L., Payne, B.R., Roberts, B.W., & Stine-Morrow, E.A. L. (2012). Can an old dog learn (and want to experience) new tricks? Cognitive training increases openness to experience in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 27, 286-292.
Kaplan, S. & De Young, R. (2002). Toward a better understanding of prosocial behavior: The role of evolution and directed attention Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 263-264.
Murphy, M. & Cunningham, R.K. (2102). A crossword a day improves verbal fluency: A report of an intervention study. Irish Journal of Psychology, 133, 193-198.
Olsher, D. (2009). From Square One: A Meditation, with Digressions, on Crosswords. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Pluck, G. & Johnson, H. (2011). Stimulating curiosity to enhance learning. Education Science and Psychology, 2(19), 24-31.
Rachlin, H. (2002). Altruism and selfishness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 239-250.
Rachlin, H. (2003). Economic concepts in the behavioural study of addiction. In R.E. Vuchinich & N. Heather (Eds.), Choice, Behavioural Economics and Addiction. (pp.129-149). Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.
Romano, M. (2005). Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession. Blackpool: Broadway.
Underwood, G., Deihim, C. & Batt, V. (1994). Expert performance in solving word puzzles: From retrieval cues to crossword clues. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 8, 531-548.
Zentall, T.R. (2002). A potentially testable mechanism to account for altruistic behavior Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 282.
“A dreaded sunny day/So let’s go where we’re happy
And I meet you at the cemetry gates/Oh, Keats and Yeats are on your side
A dreaded sunny day/So let’s go where we’re wanted
And I meet you at the cemetry gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side
But you lose /’Cause weird lover Wilde is on mine”
I’m sure some of you reading this will have immediately spotted these deliberately misspelled lyrics by Morrissey are from the song ‘Cemetry Gates’ on arguably The Smiths’ best album The Queen Is Dead. I’m a massive fan of The Smiths (almost to the point of obsession) and have a bulging collection of books, magazines, vinyl, and CDs. They would be one of my specialist subjects should I ever appear on BBC television programme Mastermind. Anyway, I’ve started today’s blog with these lyrics because in his youth, one of Morrissey’s self-confessed hobbies was to visit the cemeteries in Manchester with his lifelong friend Linder Sterling (artist and singer with the band Ludus, and sleeve designer of the single ‘Orgasm Addict’ by the Buzzcocks).
Anyway, this rambling introduction is by way of introducing the topic of coimetromania (aka koimetromania) and coimetrophilia (aka koimetrophilia). Coimetromania (according to the English Word Information website) is defined as (i) an abnormal attraction to and desire to visit cemeteries, (ii) a compulsion to examine the various graves and other burial aspects of cemeteries, and/or (iii) in some situations in psychiatry, someone who has a morbid attraction to graves and cemeteries. The name comes from the Greek word ‘koimeterion’ which roughly translates to “sleeping-room, burial-place; grave, grave yard; final resting place”.
If you’ve read any of the biographies of The Smiths and Morrissey (by Johnny Rogan, Simon Goddard and Tony Fletcher), all of them make reference to the cemetery walks by Morrissey and Sterling, and Morrissey appears to have had a morbid fascination with gravestones and cemeteries (at least in his early 20s), so much so that he penned one of his most (in)famous songs about them. This appears to be a close cousin of the sexual paraphilia coimetrophilia that the English Word Information website defines as (i) a special fondness and interest in cemeteries or graveyards; especially, in collecting epitaphs that are written on the tombstones, and/or (ii) a fascination with seeing gravestones and sarcophagi (plural of sarcophagus). The Centre for Sexual Pleasure and Health (an organization that provides adults with a safe, space to learn medically accurate, sex positive information about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues) also has a small entry on coimetrophilia:
“Love getting it on in spooky places? Think graveyards are pretty sweet? Perhaps you get turned on by things that are dead, but not actually to things are dead. Not to be confused with necrophilia, coimetrophilia is the love of cemeteries. Aside from there being a lot of history in cemeteries, some are downright beautiful. Throughout history cemeteries have been spiritual places, and that might help!”
Given that coimetrophilia doesn’t make an appearance in either Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices or Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices suggests that if such a sexual paraphilia exists, it is incredibly rare. It would also seem to be related to placophilia (which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog on non-researched sexual paraphilias). Placophilia is where individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from tombstones (which does make it into Dr. Aggrawal’s book but not Brenda Love’s encyclopedia). As I mentioned in a previous blog, after finding out what placophobia was, the musician and author Julian Cope claimed he must be a placophile on a post at his Head Heritage website (although my guess is that his love for tombstones is not sexual).
Literature on coimetrophilia (and placophilia) is almost non-existent and there had certainly been no academic or clinical research on the topic. Given that coimetrophilia is yet another word that was derived from the opposite phobia (i.e., coimetrophobia, a morbid fear of cemeteries and graveyards), it could well be that coimetrophilia is a hypothetical paraphilia rather than a real one. My online search for articles on coimetrophilia threw up only one article on the Are We There Yet?? website entitled ‘I’m a coimetrophiliac – who knew?’ However, none of this first person account was sexually based but just someone (called Linda) talking about their love and fascination of graveyards and tombstones”
“So there we have it, I’m a Coimetrophiliac and now that I know that I guess it’s easy to understand why I go to so many cemeteries and take pictures! And here all these years I thought I was just slightly morbid or something! Truth be told, there are some absolutely gorgeous cemeteries with wonderful tributes to loved ones who have passed on as well as some cemeteries with a lot of interesting history in them so who wouldn’t find them fascinating?”
In a previous blog on human fascination with death, I wrote about Luis Squarisi a Brazilian man who claimed he was ‘addicted to funerals’. Many newspaper stories claimed that Squarisi (who was 42-years old at the time) had attended every funeral in his hometown of Batatais for more than 20 years. The story also claimed that in order to attend every funeral, Squarisi had given up his job to “feed his addiction to funerals”. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I don’t consider Mr. Squarisi’s activity an addiction at all (although the habitual daily ringing of the hospitals and funeral parlour combined with the giving up of his job might potentially be indicators for some types of addiction or compulsion), but from the little I have read about him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s now developed coimetromania.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Fletcher, T. (2013). A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of the Smiths. London: William Heinemann.
Goddard, S. (2009). Mozipedia: The Encyclopedia of Morrissey and The Smiths. London: Ebury Press.
Goddard, S. (2004). The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life (Revised & Expanded Edition). Reynolds & Hearn Ltd
Rogan, J. (1992). Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance. London: Omnibus.
“When I got to pre-school, I discovered that thumb sucking was not the social norm. Other kids teased me: ‘Only babies suck their thumbs!’ This was terrible news. I didn’t want to be a baby, but there was no way for me to stop doing the only thing in the world that soothed me; the one thing I could do, in a violent home, to comfort myself and feel safe. So I compromised: I stopped sucking my thumb in public…But at home, or during any moment of privacy…my left thumb went automatically into my mouth. Rather than tapering off as I aged, my thumb sucking intensified, and I added a small swatch of cotton blanket to the ritual, rubbing it against my upper lip until it was soft and grey. My parents had split up, and I was moving from place to place with my mother and stepfamily, so nobody really had the energy to monitor my behavior. If anybody did notice and say something to me (‘Stop that, you’re going to ruin your teeth!’), I just popped the thumb out and waited 30 seconds before the coast was clear again” (Janice Erlbaum)
The opening quote is taken from Janice Erlbaum’s blog article “I was an adult thumbsucker” (a habit she managed to kick when she was 26 years old). From Erlbaum’s full account, I wouldn’t class the behaviour as an addiction although depending on what definition of addiction is used, an argument could perhaps be made. I have to admit that adult thumb sucking is something which I have often thought about as someone I know well has sucked her right thumb all her life. She’s now in her early forties and has two completely different shaped thumbs (one ‘normal’ and the other flat and very elongated) as a result of four decades of constant thumb sucking. She also tells me that her upper mouth palate has also changed shape and her thumb fits perfectly into the upper groove in her mouth. She also has a number of little routines she performs while sucking her thumb including the caressing of her eyelashes with her right index finger which when thumb-sucking is close to her eyes. She only ever does it when relaxing (such as when she’s watching television) and has learned not to do it in public. During her junior years and early adolescence, her parents tried to get her to stop, and at one point she was given a substance to coat her thumb in (which tasted disgusting when she put her thumb in her mouth). It didn’t work. She still sucked her thumb and put up with the horrible taste.
Most parents reading this will be aware that thumb-sucking tends to emerge in infancy (although there is some evidence that babies can suck their thumbs inside the womb. For instance, Professor Peter Hepper and his colleagues [Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland) have followed up children who were known to have sucked their thumbs as fetuses). Constant thumb-sucking is not necessarily problematic but depending on how the thumb is sucked, it can cause protruding teeth and other dental problems such as anterior open bite, malocclusion (i.e., misalignment of teeth or incorrect relation between the teeth of the two dental arches), and mucosal trauma. Other problems include deformity of the thumb (something which I have seen for myself first-hand) and speech problems. Thumb-suckers are also more prone to infections such as impetigo around the mouth (i.e., a highly contagious bacterial infection of the surface layers of the skin, which causes sores and blisters), and paronychia of the thumb (i.e., a skin infection that occurs around the nails). Basically, as children get older, the more of a problem thumb sucking is from a medical perspective. As one review of thumb sucking in the American Family Physician journal concluded:
“Major complications of thumb sucking, usually corrects spontaneously if thumb sucking ceases by six years of age. Thumb sucking in a child less than two years of age requires no treatment. In a three- to four-year-old child, thumb sucking may be secondary to changes in the child’s emotional environment, and treatment should be directed at correcting the underlying problem. Thumb sucking that persists beyond the age of six years should be treated”.
An article on thumb-sucking in Psychology Today by psychologist Dr. Susan Heitler looked at the topic of thumb-sucking. Dr. Heitler had been a thumb-sucker herself until she was nine-years old and had to endure “years of orthodonture” because of her childhood thumb-sucking. Her own daughter was also a thumb-sucker and her dentist told her that “trying to end thumbsucking will do more harm than good”, advice that she was not happy with given her own experiences. In her article, she wrote:
“Looks are hugely important to one’s success in life. Allowing thumbsucking to damage facial appearance is wrong advice. By the time a child is four or five, with the habit no longer socially appropriate and permanent teeth coming shortly, the risks of continuing to thumb or finger suck clearly outweigh the benefits…When does a bad habit qualify as an addiction? Usually it’s a function of how much the habit has become physiologically essential so that people feel craving when it is missing. That definitely happens with thumbsucking”.
Dr. Heitler’s article referred to empirical research that had been carried out on thumb-sucking although none of the main findings had any detail as to who had carried out the work, where the research was published, or what methodologies were employed (apart from very general information). Here are some of the main things she reported:
“In a study with premature infants, researchers found that infants who sucked their thumbs or a pacifier had shorter hospital stays. That was because rhythmic sucking soothed them so that they spent less energy in crying. In addition, sucking re-optimized their heart beats and breathing patterns if they were beginning to get upset…In studies of children who do or do not suck a thumb, finger or pacifier, it turns out that the suckers become emotionally more independent at a younger age. Researchers put a child and mom on one end of a long room. On the far end were appealing toys. The suckers ventured further and played with the toys away from Mom longer than the non-suckers…They just had higher self-confidence in being able to handle independent play, knowing that if they felt stressed they could suck for a bit, feel better, and resume playing on their own. It’s generally not until they become toddlers that the downsides of thumbsucking begin to outweigh the gains. Kids then tend to suck when they are trying to fall asleep, when they bored, when they are idling between activities, or to self-soothe when they are upset”.
One online article on thumb-sucking reports that it is a common activity among infants (30%-40% of those yet to start school) and around 10%-20% of children aged over six years. In a more academic source, Dr. Sherry Ellington and colleagues (in a 2000 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis reported that thumb sucking is estimated to occur in 23% to 46% of children aged 1 to 4 years. As with the article by Dr. Heitler, it claims that thumb-sucking may have a psychological benefit for young children as it “allows them to consolidate emotions and handle their stresses”.
In a 1953 paper in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, the Dr. Donald Winnicot presented his theory of transitional objects and phenomena. Dr. Winnicott compared thumb sucking with the use of external objects such as children’s use of comfort blankets drawing parallels between the two. He also a claims that childish actions like thumb sucking and objects like cuddly toys are the source of manifold adult behavior, amongst many others sexual fetishism. It is also claimed (particularly by psychodynamic psychologists) that such actions stem back to childhood trauma and that behaviours like thumb-sucking help facilitate the need to feel comforted and secure. Another early longitudinal study by Dr. Marjorie Honzik and Dr. John McKee published in the Journal of Pediatrics reported that after the first year of being born, girls more likely to suck their thumbs than boys. The main reason was speculated that “girls’ greater orality may involve greater pleasure from tactile stimulation”.
There doesn’t appear to be much empirical research on adult thumb sucking. A small 1996 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry led by Dr. F. Castellanous found that in 12 intellectually normal adults with stereotypic movement disorder, eight of them displayed thumb-sucking and/or rocking behaviour (and 11 of them had an affective anxiety disorder suggesting that behaviours such as thumb-sucking may be engaged in to help reduce anxiety). A 2008 literature review by Dr Orlando Tanaka and colleagues in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics reported some evidence that thumb-sucking might turn into nail biting. This might explain why there is such a seemingly low prevalence of thumb-sucking in adults. All the evidence suggests that thumb sucking in adults is not an addiction but in some people may be symptomatic of other underlying disorders.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Articles 2day (2012). Tic disorder and thumb sucking. July 2012. Located at: http://www.articles2day.org/2012/07/tic-disorder-and-thumb-sucking-other.html
Batista, E. (2012). Adult thumb sucking, January 12. Located at: http://www.edbatista.com/2012/01/adult-thumb-sucking.html
Castellanous, F.X., Ritchie, G.F., Marsh, W.L. & Rapoport, J.L. (1996). DSM-IV stereotypic movement disorder: persistence of stereotypies of infancy in intellectually normal adolescents and adults. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 57, 116-122.
Ellington, S.A., Miltenberger, R.G., Stricker, J.M., Garlinghouse, M.A., Roberts, J. & Galensky, T.I. (2000). Analysis and treatment of finger sucking. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 33, 41-52.
Erlbaum, J. (2012). It happened to me: I was an adult thumb sucker. August 2. Located at: http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-me-i-was-adult-thumbsucker
Friman, P. C. (1987). Thumb sucking in childhood. Feelings and Their Medical Significance, 29, 11-14.
Heitler, S. (2012). Lessons from thumbsucking, the earliest addiction. Psychology Today, January 26. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201201/lessons-thumbsucking-the-earliest-addiction
Hepper, P., Wells, D.L. & Lynch, C. (2004). Prenatal thumbsucking is related to postnatal handedness. Neuropsychologia, 43, 313-315.
Honzik, M.P. & John P. McKee, J.P. (1960). The sex difference in thumb-sucking. Journal of Pediatrics, 61, 726-732.
Leung, A.K. & Robson, W.L. (1991). Thumb sucking. American Family Physician, 44, 1724-1728.
Luke, L. S., & Howard, L. (1983). The effects of thumb sucking on orofacial structures and speech: A review. The Compendium of Continuing Education, 4, 575–579.
Tanaka, O.M., Vitral, R.W.F., Tanaka, G.Y., Pulido A. & Guerrero, & Camargoe, E.S. (2008). Nailbiting, or onychophagia: A special habit. American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, 134, 305-308.
Winnicott, D. (1953) Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34, 89-97.
To date, there has been a lack of agreement among researchers as to the precise name and definition of video game addiction (both online and offline). However, there is a general consensus that excessive gaming can lead to a wide range of physical and psychological problems, and therefore necessary to explore the nature and the scale of the phenomenon. In doing so, it is important to use psychometrically validated measurement tools. Unfortunately, there is lack of these in the literature so far. Along with some colleagues (led by Dr. Daniel King), we recently published a paper examining all the instruments that have been used to assess problematic video gaming in the journal Clinical Psychology Review.
Our paper noted that pathological video-gaming, or its proposed DSM-V classification of “Internet Use Disorder”, is of increasing interest to scholars and practitioners in allied health disciplines. Our systematic review was designed to evaluate the standards in pathological video-gaming instrumentation and guidelines for sound psychometric assessment. We assessed a total of 63 quantitative studies, including eighteen instruments (representing 58,415 participants). Our findings indicated that the instruments were generally characterized as inconsistent. The strengths of available measures included: (i) short length and ease of scoring, (ii) excellent internal consistency and convergent validity, and (iii) potentially adequate data for development of standardized norms for adolescent populations. However, the key limitations included: (a) inconsistent coverage of core addiction indicators, (b) varying cut-off scores to indicate clinical status, (c) a lack of a temporal dimension, (d) untested or inconsistent dimensionality, and (e) inadequate data on predictive validity and inter-rater reliability. An emerging consensus suggested that pathological video-gaming is commonly defined by (1) withdrawal, (2) loss of control, and (3) conflict.
Most of the tools in current use have been modified from other questionnaires without their reliability and validity being tested. This includes those based on internet addiction (e.g., Kimberley Young’s Internet Addiction Test), pathological gambling (using the DSM–IV criteria), or behavioural addictions. An additional problem is that many of the measures focus exclusively on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) users. In order to cover the whole range of online gamers, I recently helped co-develop an empirically based questionnaire consisting of 18 items called the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ) that we published in the journal PLoS ONE.
In a recent 2011 study, some of my Hungarian colleagues (led by Dr. Koronczai) claimed in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking that a suitable measure should fit the following six criteria. It should have: (i) comprehensiveness (i.e., examining more, possibly all, aspects of problematic online gaming); (ii) brevity (in order to assess the more impulsive population as well and to facilitate incorporation into time-limited surveys); (iii) reliability and validity for different methods of data collection (e.g., online, paper-and-pencil self-rating, face-to-face); (iv) reliability and validity for different age groups (e.g., adolescents and adults); (v) cross-cultural reliability and validity; (vi) been validated on clinical samples. The measure should also serve as a basis for defining cutoff scores for dependence.
The POGQ is a short comprehensive measure and therefore fits to the first two requirements. It was also found to be a psychometrically adequate measure in a large convenience sample of adult online gamers. However, there is great need for a measure that is also suitable for survey type research in an offline data collection setting, and is reliable and valid for adolescents. Therefore, we modified the original POGQ to a 12-item version and applied it to an offline adolescent sample using pen-and-pencil data collection method (and published the findings in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking). This way both the third and the fourth points of the six criteria above were fulfilled.
The aim of or most recent study was twofold. The first goal was to explore the psychometric properties of the POGQ on a nationally representative adolescent sample as until recently it had only been used on adult gamer samples. The second goal was to assess the prevalence of problematic online gaming in a nationwide adolescent sample, as there have been only two nationally representative studies carried out on adolescents in the US and Germany.
The results of or study showed that the 12-item POGQ-SF had appropriate psychometric properties according to the statistical analysis performed on a nationally representative sample of adolescents. The analysis showed that 8.2% of gamers (4.6% of the whole sample) belonged to the at-risk group. We also found an additional 13.3% of adolescents (23.9% of gamers) showed symptoms of problematic online gaming above the average. Gamers belonging to the at-risk class were more likely to be male, more likely to play for five or more hours a day, have lower grade point average, have lower self-esteem, and higher depression score than gamers belonging to the other two classes. All these results are in line with findings of other studies confirming the validity of the measurement tool.
Despite the robustness of the study, an important limitation was that it was only carried out among Hungarian adolescents. For generalizability it must be applied and psychometrically tested on cross-cultural samples as well (see the aforementioned Criterion 5). It is also a future goal to confirm the POGQ on clinical samples (Criterion 6). This would allow all the six criteria requirements presented in the introduction to be met. The current POGQ is both short (Criterion 2) and comprehensive (Criterion 1), and assesses problematic online gaming in different age groups (Criterion 4) with different data collection methods (Criterion 3). We hope that the POGQ will facilitate future research and will serve as an adequate tool for assessing problematic online gaming.
Demetrovics, Z., Urbán, R., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J., Griffiths, M.D., Pápay, O. & Oláh, A. (2012). The development of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ). PLoS ONE, 7(5): e36417. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036417.
Gentile, D. (2009). Pathological video-game use among youth ages 8 to 18: A national study. Psychological Science, 20, 594-602.
Gentile, D.A., Choo, H., Liau, A., et al. (2011). Pathological video game use among youths: A two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127, E319-E329.
King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.
Koronczai, B., Urban, R., Kokonyei, G., et al. (2011). Confirmation of the three-factor model of problematic internet use on off-line adolescent and adult samples. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14, 657–664.
Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in children and adolescents: A review of empirical reearch. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.
Pápay, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J. Kökönyei, G., Felvinczi, K., Oláh, A., Elekes, Z., Demetrovics, Z. (2013). Psychometric properties of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire Short-Form (POGQ-SF) and prevalence of problematic online gaming in a national sample of adolescents. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0484.
Rehbein, F., Kleimann, M, & Mossle, T. (2010). Prevalence and risk factors of video game dependency in adolescence: results of a German nationwide survey. CyberPsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 13, 269–277.
“One in ten people say they are addicted to their smartphone, a poll has revealed. And more owners than ever are seeking expert help. The US study of 2,000 college students found ten per cent claimed to have a full-blown addiction to the gadgets. Eighty-five per cent constantly checked theirs for the time, while three-quarters slept beside it. Meanwhile counsellor Peter Smith reported a ten per cent increase in Brits seeking help for smartphone addiction at his clinic in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset. He said: ‘Smartphone users feel they’ve got more control to communicate with whoever they want, whenever they want. But ironically, it’s that sense of control that creates the anxiety. It’s made younger people more reliant on maintaining those contacts – which can create issues from bullying, to being marginalised and excluded. People lose track of time, becoming socially isolated and before they know it, can’t stop. Not having your phone raises your heart rate and signs of panic. These symptoms are almost identical to alcoholism or addiction to gambling, food or drugs” (The Sun, March 21, 2013)
The news report above appeared in The Sun newspaper last week, and as part of that article I was asked to devise a 10-item ‘smartphone addiction test’ for Sun readers which I did (and can be found at the end of today’s blog). As regular readers of my blog will be aware, I have been studying ‘technological addictions’ for over two decades and I coined the term ‘technological addictions’ in a paper I wrote back in 1995. Although I have published a lot of papers on various technological addictions (e.g., slot machine addiction, video game addiction, internet addiction, etc.), I have only ever published one study on mobile phone addiction (with some of my research colleagues in Ramon Llull University, Barcelona, Spain).
Our study was published last year in the Anales de Psicologia, and comprised 1,879 students from Catalonian educational institutions (322 students of Ramon Llull University, and 1,557 secondary school students). We surveyed the students using the 10-item ‘Questionnaire on Cell Phone Related Experiences’ (Cuestionario de Experiencias Relacionadas con el Movil [CERM]), a psychometric instrument developed by Dr. Marta Beranuy and her colleagues in 2009. The CERM examines two areas of cell phone use conflicts and communicative/emotional use.
Our study reported that frequent problems with cell phone use were reported by 2.8 % of the participants. Problematic use was greatest in the youngest age groups. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most used applications were text-messaging and making calls. We carried out a regression analysis and found that the types of cell phone use that contributed the most to problematic use were text-messaging and playing games, whereas making calls contributed the least. Our results suggest that very few young people have problems with cell phones, in contrast with the findings of previous studies in Spain that reported pathological cell phone rates of 7.9%-10.4%. Our results suggested that females have some difficulties with phone use. Other researchers have also reported that females use cell phones more than males, and perceive their use as more problematic than. We also noted in our paper that cell phones are becoming more varied in their use and new applications such as the playing of games appears to be more attractive to males.
Traditionally, the use of cell phones has been for communication and as such, the risk of problematic use was minimal. However, this risk of problematic use and/or addiction could be potentially higher for smartphones that include applications that promote the altering of user identity (e.g., gaming, social networking, etc.).
We also argued that some people may confuse habitual use of such technology as an addictive behaviour (when in reality it may not be). For instance, some people may consider themselves cell phone addicts because they never go out of the house without their cell phone, do not turn their cell phone off at night, are always expecting calls from family members or friends, and/or over-utilise cell phones in their work and/or social life. There is also the importance of economic and/or life costs. The crucial difference between some forms of cell phone use and pathological cell phone use is that some applications involve a financial cost. If a person is using the application more and is spending more money, there may be negative consequences as a result of not being able to afford the activity (e.g., negative economic, job-related, and/or family consequences). High expenditure may also be indicative of cell phone addiction but the phone bills of adolescents are often paid for by parents, therefore the financial problems may not impact on the users themselves.
It is very difficult to determine at what point cell phone use becomes an addiction. The cautiousness of researchers suggests that we are not yet in a position to confirm the existence of a serious and persistent psychopathological addictive disorder related to cell phone addiction on the basis of population survey data alone. This cautiousness is aided and supported by other factors including: (a) the absence of any clinical demand in accordance with the percentages of problematic users identified by these investigations, (b) the fact that the psychometric instruments used could be measuring ‘concern’ or ‘preoccupation’ rather than ‘addiction, (c) the normalisation of behaviour and/or absence of any concern as users grow older; and (d) the importance of distinguishing between excessive use and addictive use.
All researchers agree in the necessity of longitudinal studies in order to check if perception of the problematic use of cell phones still exists over time. Many university students on the basis of self-report claim to have been ‘addicted’ to texting/instant messaging during some period of their adolescence. Our research suggests they are simply describing a period of their development with strong needs of social ties rather than a true addiction. If any of you reading this really want to know if you may have a problem with your smartphone, then you can take this test I devised. If you answer ‘yes’ to six or more of these statements, it may be indicative of a problematic and/or addictive use of your smartphone.
(1) “My smartphone is the most important thing in my life”
(2) “Conflicts have arisen between me and my family and/or my partner about the amount of time I spend on my smartphone”
(3) “My smartphone use often gets in the way of other important things I should be doing (working, education, etc.)”
(4) “I spend more time on my smartphone than almost any other activity”
(5) “I use my smartphone as a way of changing my mood”
(6) “Over time I have increased the amount of time I spend on my smartphone during the day”
(7) “If I am unable to use my smartphone I feel moody and irritable”
(8) “I often have strong urges to use my smartphone”
(9) “If I cut down the amount of time I spend on my smartphone, and then start using it again, I always end up spending as much time on my smartphone as I did before”.
(10) “I have lied to other people about how much I use my smartphone”
Just remember that excessive use does not necessarily mean addiction, and the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life, and addictions take away from them.
Beranuy, M., Oberst, U., Carbonell, X., & Chamarro, A. (2009). Problematic Internet and mobile phone use and clinical symptoms in college students: The role of emotional intelligence. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 1182–1187.
Carbonell, X., Chamarro, A., Beranuy, M., Griffiths, M.D. Obert, U., Cladellas, R. & Talarn, A. (2012). Problematic Internet and cell phone use in Spanish teenagers and young students. Anales de Psicologia, 28, 789-796.
Carbonell, X., Guardiola, E., Beranuy, M., & Belles, A. (2009). A bibliometric analysis of the scientific literature on Internet, video games, and cell phone addiction. Journal of Medical Library Association, 97(2), 102-107.
Beranuy, M., Chamarro, A., Graner, C., & Carbonell, X. (2009). Validacion de dos escalas breves para evaluar la adiccion a Internet y el abuso de movil. Psicothema, 21, 480-485.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.
Larkin, M., Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Towards addiction as relationship. Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 207-215.
Over the years, I have been contacted a number of times by the national British media asking for a soundbite about whether someone can become ‘addicted’ to a particular television programme. Some academics have even carried out scientific research. For instance, back in 1997, Dr. Sandy Wolfson (University of Northumbria, UK) carried out a survey amongst Star Trek fans (so-called ‘Trekkies’). I saw her present her paper at a British Psychological Society conference and it got a lot of national press publicity (‘Star Trek is an addictive enterprise’, ‘Trekkies ‘hooked like addicts’, ‘Star Trek worse than heroin?’). However, as far as I can ascertain, Dr. Wolfson never formally published her findings in an academic journal. At the time, she reported (to the press) that:
“Some of these people are totally immersed in the activity. [The] research shows that about 5 to 10 percent of (Trek) fans meet the psychological criteria of addiction. They show withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and frustration if they miss an episode and develop higher tolerance levels, so they need increasing doses. They see so many positive benefits psychologically from being a Star Trek fan. Loads have met friends and even spouses through Star Trek. People who are normally a bit tongue-tied find it a good source of conversation. People also feel they get a lot of intellectual benefits. It’s a very moral kind of show. Each episode has some kind of ethical dilemma which gives people a lot to think about. I would use the term positive addiction for addictions where people feel they have a positive effect. Star Trek does seem to be something people feel has a positive influence on them and society. It makes them happy”
One story that caught my eye recently was the story of 32-year old Luke Allen, an unemployed computer programmer from Albuquerque (New Mexico, US) who “self-medicates by watching animated ponies have magical adventures”. And he’s not alone as a feature in Wired magazine noted that there was a whole adult male fan community – so called ‘bronies’ (‘bro ponies’) – that are ‘fixated’ on daily watching of the cartoon My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. Luke Allen noted:
“First we can’t believe this show is so good, then we can’t believe we’ve become fans for life, then we can’t believe we’re walking down the pink aisle at Toys R Us or asking for the girl’s toy in our Happy Meal. Then we can’t believe our friends haven’t seen it yet, then we can’t believe they’re becoming bronies too. This weird alchemy that [the show’s creator] Lauren Faust tapped into when she set out to make the show accessible to kids and their parents hooks into the male geek’s reptilian hindbrain and removes a lifetime’s behavioural indoctrination against pink. As a person with Asperger syndrome, I learned more about theory of mind, friendships and social interactions from this season than I had in the previous 31 years of life.”
Most of us have favourite television shows that we don’t like to miss (The Sopranos, Prison Break and A Very Peculiar Practice being among my favourites). However, My Little Pony appears to be (for many people) an “unlikely object of fanboy love”. The Wired article reported that:
“Since the show debuted [in 2010] on cable channel Hub TV, it’s attracted a growing number of male fanatics. Their love of the show is internet neo-sincerity at its best: In addition to watching the show, these teenage, twenty- and thirtysomething guys are creating pony art, posting fan videos on YouTube and feeding threads on 4chan (and their own chan,Ponychan). They also risk life, limb and being trolled to death on the /co/ board to fawn over a small gaggle of ponies with names like Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash”.
Another self-confessed ‘brony’, Henri Yount, a 20-year-old male from Virginia (US) who gets hundreds of thousands of hits on TouTube for his homemade My Little Pony mash-up videos said:
“I believe the fan base for this new generation of [My Little Pony] is one of the most amazing/unexpected things to come out of the internet in a long while. When I say ‘amazing,’ I’m referring to the crazy amount of content and the hard-working people who produce material every day, which I haven’t seen in many other fan bases”.
I had a quick look on YouTube myself and couldn’t believe the number of videos that have been posted and (more unbelievably) how many views they get (yes, I’m jealous). There’s also lots of artwork on the deviantArt website (around 100,000 pieces of art), and there are also a number of dedicated websites (Equestria Daily and PonyChan) being the most popular. Equestria Daily is run by another ‘brony’ (Shaun, a 23-year old male from Arizona, US). Shaun was also quoted in the Wired article and said:
“If someone were to have told me I’d be writing a pony blog seven months ago, I would have called them insane [but] it has, obviously, evolved way past that. The brony hub gets roughly 175,000 page views per day now, up from about 20,000 just a few months ago. I honestly expected everything to die down a bit (mainly so I could finally get a break!), but it seems like the fans are more ravenous than ever for more content”.
According to the many fanboys, My Little Pony’s appeal is down to good illustration, good stories, excellent characters or, as Luke Allen puts it, a “perfect storm of ’80s nostalgia and cultural irony”.
It will come as no surprise that there is no empirical research on bronies and the only academic paper I found in my research was one by Walton Wood (in a 2011 issue of the journal Image Text: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies) although I personally found the media articles more enlightening on the phenomena than Wood’s essay. I seriously doubt that bronies will ever be the focus of mainstream psychological research although studying bronies may be useful as an adjunct to the psychological study of fanship (something that I briefly covered in a previous blog on ‘fanorexia’ and whether being a ‘fanatic’ can be addictive).
Angel, R. (2012). Adult male My Little Pony fans? Bronies are true rebels. The Guardian, October 1. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/01/my-little-pony-bronies-rebels
Hoffberger, C. (2011). Becoming a brony: 1 man’s foray into ‘My Little Pony’ fandom. The Daily Dot, October 12. Located at: http://www.dailydot.com/society/becoming-brony-my-little-pony-fandom/
Lelis, L. (1998). Normality…the final frontier. Psychology Today, January 1. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199802/normality-the-final-frontier
Swain, H. (1997). Drive warps Trekkies. Times Higher Education, June 13. Located at: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=100394§ioncode=26
Watercutter, A. (2011). My Little Pony corrals unlikely fanboys known as ‘Bronies’. Wired, September 6. Located at: http://www.wired.com/underwire/2011/06/bronies-my-little-ponys/
Wikipedia (2012). My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Little_Pony:_Friendship_Is_Magic_fandom
Wood, W. (2011). The Empirical Twilight: A Pony’s Guide to Science & Anarchism. Image Text: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, 6(1). Located at: http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v6_1/wood/
I apologise in advance, but today’s blog contains a not-so thinly disguised plug (well, a blatant plug actually) for a national event that is being hosted by my university on Thursday 21st March (2013). The blurb I was sent by our local organizer Phil Banyard proclaims:
“Are you dreaming about getting that Nobel prize one day? The acclaim, the achievement, the acknowledgement (and not to forget the money). Well, we don’t have the Nobel prizes coming to Nottingham Trent University but we have the next best thing – The Ig Nobels! The Division of Psychology in the School of Social Sciences is proud to present an evening with the Ig Nobels and we are calling it A Celebration of Science. The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology (http://improbable.com/ig/). The awards are held each year at Harvard University and each award is presented by a Nobel laureate such is the esteem of this event. Over the past few years Marc Abrahams has brought an Ig Nobels tour to the UK in the spring. The tours highlights some of the key awards from the Ig Nobels’ back catalogue and provides a great opportunity to promote science to a wider audience. They last visited this university 8 years ago and we are delighted to welcome them back this March… Among the Ig Nobel Laureates will be Bob Batty (an alumni of Nottingham Trent University), Anna Wilkinson and Charles Deeming”
If that’s not enough to get you going, I would also like to add that top science journal Nature says: “The Ig Nobel awards are arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar” (and who am I to argue?). For those of you who know nothing about the Ig Nobels, they were initiated and organised by one of my favourite journalists, Guardian columnist Marc Abrams. Abrams writes a weekly column for The Guardian called Improbable Research and he is also the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research.
Back in February 2010, I was delighted when Abrams did a whole column on my research into gambling entitled ‘Slot-machine gamblers are hard to pin down: Why are gamblers such a difficult subject for academic study?’ Secretly, I’m very proud that he dedicated a whole column to my research. (In fact, I’ve just found out while I was researching this blog, is that my research also features in his latest 2012 book This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and Other WTF Research. Here are some of the things he wrote about my research into gambling:
“It’s hard to get good payoffs from slot machines, yes. But it’s also hard to get good information from slot machine gamblers, and that made things awkward for psychologists Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University, and Jonathan Parke, of Salford University. They explained how, in a monograph called Slot Machine Gamblers – Why Are They So Hard to Study? Griffiths and Parke published it a few years ago in the Journal of Gambling Issues. ‘We have both spent over 10 years playing in and researching this area,’ they wrote, ‘and we can offer some explanations on why it is so hard to gather reliable and valid data. Here are three from their long list.
- First, gamblers become engrossed in gambling. ‘We have observed that many gamblers will often miss meals and even utilise devices (such as catheters) so that they do not have to take toilet breaks. Given these observations, there is sometimes little chance that we as researchers can persuade them to participate in research studies.’
- Second, gamblers like their privacy. They ‘may be dishonest about the extent of their gambling activities to researchers as well as to those close to them. This obviously has implications for the reliability and validity of any data collected.’
- Third, gamblers sometimes notice when a person is spying on them. “The most important aspect of non-participant observation research while monitoring fruit-machine players is the art of being inconspicuous. If the researcher fails to blend in, then slot-machine gamblers soon realise they are being watched and are therefore highly likely to change their behaviour.’
The gambling machines go by many names, ‘fruit machine’ and ‘one-armed bandit’ also being popular. But Griffiths and Parke don’t obsess about nomenclature. The two are giants in their chosen profession. The International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction ran a paean from a researcher who said: ‘In the problem gambling field we don’t exhibit the same adulation as music fans for their idols, but we have our superstars and, for me, Mark Griffiths is one.’
Professor Griffiths is one of the world’s most published scholars on matters relating to the psychology of fruit-machine gamblers, with at least 27 published studies that mention fruit machines in their title. These range from 1994′s appreciative Beating the Fruit Machine: Systems and Ploys Both Legal And Illegal to 1998′s admonitory Fruit Machine Gambling and Criminal Behaviour: Issues for the Judiciary*. Women get special attention (Fruit Machine Addiction in Females: a Case Study), as do youths (Adolescent Gambling on Fruit Machines and several other monographs). There is the humanist perspective (Observing the Social World of Fruit-Machine Playing) as well as that of the biomedical specialist (The Psychobiology of the Near Miss in Fruit Machine Gambling). Griffiths and Parke collaborate often. Strangers to their work might wish to begin by reading the classic The Psychology of the Fruit Machine. Their fruitful publication record reminds every scholar that, even when a subject is difficult to study, persistence and determination can yield a rewarding payoff”.
All I can say, is that after re-reading this, I wonder how I can still get my head through the door. Anyway, if you’d like to go see Marc Abrams in person, here are the further details:
Event: The Ig Nobels: A celebration of Science
Time and date: 6.30 pm, Thursday 21st March
Location: The Newton Building on the City Campus of the University.
Booking details: The event is free but booking is essential.
Details of their UK events and more information about the Ig Nobels can be found on their website (http://www.improbable.com/improbable-research-shows/ig-uk-tour/).
Further reading (i.e., the papers cited by Marc Abrams above)
Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The psychobiology of the near miss in fruit machine gambling. Journal of Psychology, 125, 347-357.
Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Beating the fruit machine: Systems and ploys both legal and illegal. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 287-292.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Observing the social world of fruit-machine playing. Sociology Review, 6(1), 17-18.
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Fruit machine addiction in females: A case study. Journal of Gambling Issues, 8. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue8/clinic/griffiths/index.html.
Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Slot machine gamblers – Why are they so hard to study? Journal of Gambling Issues, 6. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue6/opinion/index.html
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.
* I’ve never actually written a paper with this title bit I think it’s an inadvertent mix of two or three papers I’ve written
Yeoman, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Adolescent machine gambling and crime (I). Journal of Adolescence, 19, 99-104.
Griffiths, M.D. & Sparrow, P. (1998). Fruit machine addiction and crime. Police Journal, 71, 327-334.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Cybercrime: Areas of concern for the judiciary. Justice of the Peace, 165, 296-298.