Category Archives: Compulsion

Pop psychology: A peek inside the mind of Iggy Pop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bog standard: A brief look at toilet tissue eating

In previous blogs I have looked at pica (i.e., the eating of non-nutritive items or substances) and subtypes of pica such as geophagia (eating of soil, mud, clay, etc.), pagophagia (eating of ice), acuphagia (eating of metal), and coprophagia (eating of faeces). It wasn’t until I started to research on specific sub-types of pica, that I discovered how many different types of non-food substances had been identified in the academic and clinical literature. For instance, Dr. V.J. Louw and colleagues provided a long list in a 2007 issue of the South African Medical Journal including cravings for the heads of burnt matches (cautopyreiophagia), cigarettes and cigarette ashes, paper, starch (amylophagia), crayons, cardboard, stones (lithophagia), mothballs, hair (trichophagia), egg shells, foam rubber, aspirin, coins, vinyl gloves, popcorn (arabositophagia), and baking powder. Most of these are generally thought to be harmless but as Louw and colleagues note, a wide range of medical problems have been documented:

“These include abdominal problems (sometimes necessitating surgery), hypokalaemia, hyperkalaemia, dental injury, napthalene poisoning (in pica for toilet air-freshener blocks), phosphorus poisoning (in pica for burnt matches), peritoneal mesothelioma (geophagia of asbestos-rich soil), mercury poisoning (in paper pica), lead poisoning (in dried paint pica and geophagia), and a pre-eclampsia-like syndrome (baking powder pica)”.

In the clinical literature, the eating of paper has been occasionally documented (although anecdotal evidence suggests this is fairly common and I remember doing it myself as a child). A recent review paper on pica by Dr. Silvestre Frenk and colleagues in the Mexican journal Boletín Médico del Hospital Infantil de México highlighted dozens of pica-subtypes and created many new names for various pica sub-types. They proposed that people who eat paper display ‘papirophagia’ (in fact if you type ‘papirphagia’ into Google, you only get one hit – the paper by Silvestre and colleagues – although this blog may make it two!). Eating paper is not thought to be particularly harmful although I did find a case of mercury poisoning because of ‘paper pica’ (as the authors – Dr. F. Olynk and Dr. D. Sharpe – called it) in a 1982 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

One sub-type of papirophagia is the eating of toilet paper. As far as I am aware, there is only one case study in the literature and this was published back in 1981, Dr. J. Chisholm Jr. and Dr. H. Martín in the Journal of the National Medical Association. They described the case of a 37-year old black woman with an “unusually bizarre craving” for toilet tissue paper. The authors reported that:

“[The] woman was referred for evaluation of disturbed smell and loss of taste for over one year. These were associated with chronic fatigue and listlessness. During this same period of time, she rather embarrassedly admitted to an overwhelming desire to eat toilet tissue. Frequently, she would awaken at night and dash to her bathroom to eat toilet tissue. No other type(s) of pica were admitted. In addition, she gave a long history of menorrhagia and frequently passed vaginal blood clots during her menses. Her libido was normal and there was no history of poor wound healing, skin or mucous membrane lesions, or intestinal symptoms. Her dietary history suggested a high carbohydrate diet, and due to a mild exogenous obesity she intermittently resorted to a vegan-like diet that included beans and various seeds”

A variety of medical tests were carried out and she was diagnosed with combined iron and zinc deficiency. She was treated with iron and zinc tablets and within a week, both her taste and smell had returned, and her energy levels greatly improved. Zinc deficiencies can lead to a wide variety of clinical disorders including loss of small and taste, anorexia, dwarfism (i.e., growth retardation), impaired wound healing, and geophagia. The woman’s (sometimes) vegan diet may have been to blame for her zinc deficiency as the authors noted that:

Although vegetables contain zinc, vegans should be made aware that zinc from plant sources is not readily absorbed because naturally occurring phytates, particularly high in beans and seeds, reduce zinc gastrointestinal absorption. Carbohydrates are very poor sources of zinc. Chronic iron deficiency secondary to chronic menorrhagia accounts well for the anemia, fatigue, and unusual pica for toilet tissue noted in this patient”.

Paper pica has occasionally been mentioned in other academic papers although details have typically been limited. For instance, a 1995 paper in the journal Birth by Dr. N.R. Cooksey on three cases of pica in pregnancy reported that one of the women chewed non-perfumed blue toilet paper during the first trimester of her pregnancy (and was forced by her mother to stop). There was also a 2003 paper published by Dr. Dumaguing in the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology examining pica in mentally ill geriatrics. One of the cases mentioned was a 76-year old patient that not only ingested their medication (an emollient cream for arthritis) but was also recorded eating toilet paper, napkins, Styrofoam cups, crayons, and other patients’ medications.

A more recent 2008 paper by Dr. Sera Young and her colleagues in the journal PLoS ONE, critically reviewed procedures and guidelines for interviews and sample collection in relation to pica substances. In describing the protocols involved, they referred to paper pica in the questions that should be asked:

“What is the local name, brand name, or type of pica substance desired or consumed? This will help others to know if this substance has already been studied and assist interested researchers in obtaining subsequent samples at a later date. Furthermore, different manufactured products may contain different materials, e.g. Crayola chalkboard chalk contains slightly different ingredients from other brands. Similarly, the consequences of toilet tissue paper consumption are different from those of eating pages of a novel; information would be lost if the substance was simply described as paper. For these reasons, the substance consumed should be described in as much detail and as accurately as possible”.

Personally (and based on anecdotal evidence), I think that papirophagia is not overly rare (especially among children – although I admit this may be more out of curiosity that craving) but the clinical literature suggests that it is a fairly rare disorder found amongst distinct sub-groups (pregnant women, the mentally ill). Given the fact that for most people eating paper would not cause any problems, this would provide the main reason why so few cases end up seeking medical, clinical, and/or psychological help.

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

Further reading

Chisholm Jr, J. C., & Martín, H. I. (1981). Hypozincemia, ageusia, dysosmia, and toilet tissue pica. Journal of the National Medical Association, 73(2), 163-164.

Cooksey, N.R. (1995). Pica and olfactory craving of pregnancy: How deep are the secrets? Birth, 22, 129-137.

Dumaguing, N.I., Singh, I., Sethi, M., & Devanand, D.P. (2003). Pica in the geriatric mentally ill: unrelenting and potentially fatal. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology, 16, 189-191.

Frenk, S., Faure, M.A., Nieto, S. & Olivares, Z. (2013). Pica. Boletín Médico del Hospital Infantil de México, 70(1), 55-61

Louw, V.J., Du Preez, P., Malan, A., Van Deventer, L., Van Wyk, D., & Joubert, G. (2007). Pica and food craving in adults with iron deficiency in Bloemfontein, South Africa. South African Medical Journal, 97, 1069-1071.

Olynyk, F., & Sharpe, D. H. (1982). Mercury poisoning in paper pica. The New England Journal of Medicine, 306, 1056 -1057.

Young, S.L., Wilson, M.J., Miller, D., Hillier, S. (2008). Toward a comprehensive approach to the collection and analysis of pica substances, with emphasis on geophagic materials. PLoS ONE, 3(9), e3147. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003147

Urine for a treat: A brief overview of catheterophilia

In a previous blog, I examined medical fetishism (i.e., those individuals that derive sexual pleasure and arousal from medical procedures and/or something medically related). Maddy’s Mansion features a small article on medical fetishism and is a little more wide ranging in scope:

“Medical fetishism refers to a collection of sexual fetishes for objects, practices, environments, and situations of a medical or clinical nature. This may include the sexual attraction to medical practitioners, medical uniforms, surgery, anaesthesia or intimate examinations such as rectal examination, gynecological examination, urological examination, andrological examination, rectal temperature taking, catheterization, diapering, enemas, injections, the insertion of suppositories, menstrual cups and prostatic massage; or medical devices such as orthopedic casts and orthopedic braces. Also, the field of dentistry and objects such as dental braces, retainers or headgear, and medical gags. Within BDSM [bondage, domination, submission, sadomasochism] culture, a medical scene is a term used to describe the form of role-play in which specific or general medical fetishes are pandered to in an individual or acted out between partners”.

As is obvious from the description above, one very specific sub-type of medical fetishism is catheterophilia. Both Dr. Anil Aggrawal (in his book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) and Dr. Brenda Love (in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices) define catheterophilia as sexual arousal from use of catheters. The Right Diagnosis website goes a little further and reports that catheterophilia can include one or more of the following: (i) sexual interest in using a catheter, (ii) abnormal amount of time spent thinking about using a catheter, (iii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving using a catheter, (iv) recurring intense sexual urges involving using a catheter, and (v) sexual preference for using a catheter.

Not only is catheterophilia a sub-type of medical fetishism but is also a sub-type of urethralism (that I also covered in a previous blog). Catheterophilia may also share some overlaps with other sexual paraphilias such as paraphilic infantilism (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure and arousal from pretending to be an adult baby). Dr. G. Pranzarone in his Dictionary of Sexology (and relying heavily on Professor John Money’s seminal 1986 book Lovemaps) defines urethralism as:

“The condition or activity of achieving sexuoerotic arousal through stimulation of the urinary urethra by means of insertions of rubber cathethers, rods, objects, fluids, ballbearings, and even long flexible cathether-like electrodes (“sparklers”). This activity may be part of a paraphilic rubber catheter fetish, a sadomasochistic repertory, sexuoerotic experimentation and variety, or activity the result of anatomic ignorance as urethral intercourse has been described wherein a case of infertility was due to the insertion of the husband’s penis into the wife’s urethra rather than the vagina”.

Pranzarone also provides a little information on catheterophilia, and notes that it is a sexual paraphilia of the “fetishistic and talismanic type in which the sexual arousal and facilitation or attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent on having a catheter inserted up into the urethra”. Catheterization is nothing new and according to Dr. Brenda Love has been practiced for at least 4000 years. She also provided a lengthy entry in her sexual encyclopedia although most of it is devoted to describing different types of catheters. However, her perspective on catheter use is related more to sexual masochism and sexual sadism. More specifically, she claims that:

“Catheters are used in sex play as a symbol of total control over a partner. This type of sex play is similar to the catheterization found in health care facilities. The sterilized catheter is inserted up through the urethra and into the bladder which allows the flow of urine to be controlled by the dominant partner. The stimulation seems to trigger the brain’s pleasure center that ordinarily responds to urination or ejaculation…the urethra is often sore and burns for half an hour afterward”

Apart from definitions of catheterophilia, and short summaries that the condition exists, there has been little in the way of academic or clinical research. I couldn’t even find a single case study. A Finnish study led by Dr Laurence Alison reported in a 2001 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior reported that enduring the insertion of a catheter was one of the activities engaged in by sadomasochists, particularly those involved in ‘hyper-masculine pain administration’. Other associated activities by this group of practitioners included rimming, dildo use, cock binding, being urinated upon, being given an enema, fisting, and being defecated upon. Gay men were more likely than heterosexuals to engage in these types of activity.

In 2002, the same team, this time led by Dr. Kenneth Sandnabba examined the sexual behaviour of sadomasochists in the journal Sexual and Relationship Therapy. The paper summarized the results from five empirical studies of a sample of 184 Finnish sadomasochists (22 women and 162 men). More specifically, the examined the frequency with which the respondents engaged in different sexual practices, behaviours and role-plays during the preceding 12 months and reported that 9.2% had used catheters as part of the sexual activities.

In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). Their results showed that there were 28 fetishists (less than 1% of all fetishists) with a sexual interest in catheters.

When I published my previous blog on urethralism, one reader wrote to me with an example of urethral stimulation via catheter use. Obviously, I have no idea to the extent of such practices and how typical this experience is, but I thought I would share it with you nonetheless:

“I have read a patient’s experiences of catheter insertions. He said his first one was excruciating and subsequent insertions became less and less bothersome. Nurses state that some men [say] the Foley catheter does not bother them at all. From common sense I see that there is callousing happening from urethra trauma (especially the first insertion. [This is a] compelling reason why patients should always have a condom catheter, and the Foley catheter used only when necessary. I am most concerned with the permanent nerve damage the very nerves that are also needed for optimum orgasmic intensity”.

The Right Diagnosis website claims that treatment for catheterophilia is generally not sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way and they feel compelled to address their condition. The site also claims that the majority of catheterophiles learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate manner.

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

Further reading

Alison, L., Santtila, P., Sandnabba, N. K., & Nordling, N. (2001). Sadomasochistically oriented behavior: Diversity in practice and meaning. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 1–12.

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

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

Maddy’s Mansion (2010). Catheterophilia. October 4. Located at: http://maddysmansion.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/catheterophilia.html?zx=b5754ebdc388557b

Money, J. (1986). Lovemaps: Clinical Concepts of Sexual/Erotic Health and Pathology, Paraphilia, and Gender Transposition of Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity. New York: Irvington Publishers.

Pranzarone, G.F. (2000). The Dictionary of Sexology. Located at: http://ebookee.org/Dictionary-of-Sexology-EN_997360.html

Right Diagnosis (2012). Catheterophilia. February 1. Located at: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/c/catheterophilia/intro.htm

Sandnabba, N.K., Santtila, P., Alison, L., & Nordling, N. (2002). Demographics, sexual behaviour, family background and abuse experiences of practitioners of sadomasochistic sex: A review of recent research. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17, 39–55.

Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.

Winning runs? Another look at exercise addiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jealous high: A brief look at zelophilia

According to Dr. Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, zelophilia is a sexual paraphilia and refers to individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from jealousy. This is the only academic definition I have come across and as academic definitions go, it is not the most helpful as it doesn’t say what kind of jealousy sexual arousal is linked to. Anecdotally, I am assuming that at the heart of zelophilia is a person being turned on by their sexual partner having a sexual and/or romantic relationship with another person. For instance, here are a few online posts to the Is It Normal? website:

  • Extract 1: “Is it normal to get horny over being jealous? When my boyfriend gets hit on by other girls it really turns me on and I’ve even fantasized about walking in on him having sex with another girl even though I know it’d make me angry and upset and I’d probably dump him”.
  • Extract 2: “I have the same turn on. I always picture me being tied down and having to watch someone else f**k my girlfriend. I don’t want them too, but she does. I think it’s part of the whole humiliation/submissive fetish I have”.
  • Extract 3: “I can relate to the idea of being turned on by jealousy. My [boyfriend] has been on at me to have a [threesome] for about 18 months now finally I’m thinking about it. When I asked him why he wants me to do this he said he’d like to see another man giving me a good time an that he’d be jealous as hell, but as long as I was safe and having a good time then he’d be okay with that. He wants me to try a [foursome] but I can’t cope with girl on girl action, but the thought of another girl sucking him is a turn on even though I’m secretly jealous that he might prefer her to me”.

If zelophilia genuinely exists, then these online posts suggest that some people have indicative signs of what I would expect zelophiles to experience. They would also seem to psychologically and behaviourally overlap with cuckold fetishes (which I covered in a previous blog). A short article on zelophilia at the Kinkly website (like Dr. Aggrawal) says that the primary source of the sexual arousal is jealousy but also makes other (unsubstantiated) claims. More specifically it noted that:

Zelophilia is a condition in which a person becomes sexually aroused by feelings of jealousy. This is a diagnosed medical condition that can be managed if the sufferer is able to learn to deal with and accommodate the fetish in some way. However, if zelophilia becomes an issue, it can be treated with psychoanalysis, hypnosis and therapy…While jealousy most often leads to harsh words, angry feelings, tears and sometimes break-ups, those with the zelophilia fetish get sexually aroused by jealous feelings. Managing this fetish within a healthy sexual relationship can be a real challenge”.

The information that was in the Kinkly article may have been based on the zelophilia entry at the Right Diagnosis online medical website as the wording and claims are very similar. The Right Diagnosis website claims that:

“Treatment [for zelophilia] is generally not sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way, or they come under scrutiny of the legal system, and become compelled to address their condition. Many people simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve gratification in an appropriate manner”.

There are quite a few online articles on zelophilia but most of these are just personal opinion pieces with almost zero academic content (such as the one written by ‘Kinky Kelly’). However, another interesting online article I came across was one by Drew Albright who examined the (sometimes) paradoxical relationship between jealousy, envy and the BDSM scene. She made the following observation:

“In many ways envy and jealousy in relation to sex is a paradox. On the one hand, envy and jealousy is at the core of eroticism – I want that, ‘I want to do that’, ‘That body is mine!’ are all examples of lust, a.k.a envy. Fetish and BDSM play and behaviors are ways that many find fun to explore and safely let their inner piggy out! On the other hand, when we are unaware of our own propensity for envy on the grand scale and in our everyday lives, we can act them out in sexualized power struggles, which ultimately have nothing to do with sex or sex interest itself”.

While researching this blog I also came across the following post at the Answers Yahoo website.

“I thought I’d ask this in the dating section but I figured I would get better answers here. It is not out of insecurity because truthfully (call me whatever you want) I am considered extremely attractive and I can say myself that I get plenty of attention whenever I am out. For some reason I have this sick and disgusting addiction to making guys jealous. Especially the confident type. If I can tell a guy is sweet and genuine I do it still but less. However, when the guy seems shady to me and is approaching and pursuing me, I for some reason LOVE for him to see me hit on my other guys, etc. I see their reactions and it turns me on like none other. It is an addiction and a sick one. Not sure what to do what is wrong with me? Maybe I am insecure and don’t know it?”

This online self-admission appeared to fit Dr. Aggrawal’s definition of zelophilia but is different from the self-confessions at the beginning of this article because the person gets aroused from making her sexual partners jealous rather than the sexual arousal being caused by the sexual partner being with another person. My own observation that zelophilia shares similarities with cuckold fetish, has also been made by others. For instance, the article on zelophilia by the (admittedly non-academic) ‘Fetish University’ run by female dominatrix ‘Empress Ivy’ on her Masturbation Fascination website noted:

“I see this particular fetish most frequently with cuckold and coerced [fellatio] or bisexual fantasies. Most start out with the admission of their wife’s infidelity and they go into great detail about how jealous they felt that their wife was with another man. A man that is stronger, more masculine, has a bigger [penis], and can sexually satisfy her in ways the husband could not. Obviously the initial admission of this would spark jealousy, or perhaps resentment, but at the same time – when these events are recalled the callers clearly become aroused by it”.

Zelophilia appears to be yet another sexual paraphilia of which we know next to nothing about, and although there appears to be some anecdotal evidence that it exists, the “evidence” (such that it is) is far from conclusive.

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

Further reading

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

Albright, D. (2005). Fetish & BDSM: Fantasy Fun or Envy & Jealousy Taken to the Extreme, World of Jimmy Star. Located at: http://worldofjimmystar.com/Issue10/fetish_bdsm_fantasy_fun_or_jealousy_to_extreme_drew_albright.htm

Harris, C. R. (2002) Sexual and romantic jealousy in heterosexual and homosexual adults. Psychological Science, 13, 7–12.

Kinky Kelley (2011). Fetish: Zelophilia, January 26. Located at: http://kinkykelleykicksthekurse.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/fetish-zelophilia/

Simons, I. (2009). On fetishes and clean pencil tips. Psychology Today, March 8. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-literary-mind/200903/fetishes-and-clean-pencil-tips

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

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.

Heat strokes: A brief look at radiator sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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