Category Archives: Popular Culture

Artifical dissemination? Aca-media and psychological research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press to play: Is gaming as addictive as heroin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chewing it over: Luis Suárez and the psychology of biting

Last week I was one of the millions of football fans that watched the Uruguayan footballer Luis Suárez sink his teeth into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini during the Uruguay versus Italy World Cup match. Straight after the match I jokingly tweeted a link to one of my previous blogs on the psychology of sexual biting (known as odaxelagnia). My tweet simply said “Maybe Luis Suárez has an undiagnosed odaxelagnia disorder” followed by a link to my article. The next day, I got a call from a journalist from Daily Telegraph newspaper (Harry Wallop) who was writing an article on why we find the act of biting so shocking.

I’m admittedly no expert on biting but I spent 15 minutes talking to the Telegraph about some of the possible psychological reasons and explanations for human biting in adults. The journalist specifically wanted to know why the act of biting was so shocking. Very little of what I said made it into the published Telegraph article. In fact, the only quotes attributed to me were embedded within a section involving Freudian explanations for biting:

“Suárez may not be found to have committed an offence. But it is clear that an adult biting another in public is much more disturbing than throwing a punch, even if both might be criminal assault. Dr Mark Griffiths, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, says: ‘How many times in football have we seen fisticuffs, elbowing, even headbutting? All these things are awful, but they have become almost part and parcel of the game. But biting is so rare, that is one of the reasons why it is so shocking’. Also, psychologists explain, biting shocks us because it involves using an intimate and soft body part that one normally associates with pleasure. And here we touch on a basic tenet of Freudianism. According to the founding father of psychoanalysis, all sexual pleasure and anxieties are rooted in different periods of childhood, the first of which is the oral stage, when babies explore the world through their mouths. Toddlers often then go on to bite to attract attention and will continue doing so until a parent teaches them otherwise. Behaviour learnt in the oral stage of development is the explanation, Freudians believe, for everything from a predilection for chewing pencils all the way to full-blown vampirism. It is no coincidence that Freud wrote his seminal work on psychosexual theories within a decade of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The vampire, spreading fear in a sexually repressed society, is a powerful metaphor”.

Anyone that knows me knows that I am no fan of Freudian theory. I find him interesting to read but many of his theories can’t be falsified using the scientific method. If his theories can’t be empirically tested then I have little time to take his theories seriously. (For instance, in my main field of gambling addiction, Signund Freud speculated that gambling was unconscious substitute for masturbation and an act of psychic masochism). However, I do believe that many people have unconscious thoughts and desires and that sometimes people simply do not know why they did what they did. Maybe Suárez’ most recent biting incident was no different. Maybe there was no premeditation and that his bite into Chiellini’s shoulder was simply instinctive. Maybe it was a classically conditioned response going back to his childhood.

One of the most surprising aspects in the aftermath of the whole incident is how Suárez’ teammates, his manager, and even the Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, defended his actions. If an England player had done the same thing, I can’t imagine David Cameron welcoming him back to the country. My partner (who is also a psychologist) and I were talking with our children about Suárez’ actions after the game as they both kept asking about why Suárez would bite someone during a game. We speculated that because Suárez has been great footballer all his life, biting incidents that occurred during his childhood may not have been treated and acted upon in the same way in someone not quite so talented. In short, maybe his biting behaviour was tolerated rather than being punished because he was always told what a gifted individual he was.

While being interviewed by the Telegraph, I also speculated that Suárez’ biting may have been some kind of a stress-based reaction. At the time of the bite in the match, Uruguay were heading out of the tournament (as Italy only needed a draw to progress and the score was 0-0). Maybe Suárez’ felt Uruguay were being pushed into a psychological corner by Italy and the biting was symptomatic of feeling under stress. Although rare, Suárez is not the first sportsman to bite an opponent. Many people will recall Mike Tyson biting a piece out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Less high profile cases include the rugby union players Johan Le Roux (of South Africa) and Dylan Hartley (England). These other cases somehow seem less shocking than that of Suárez. In the Telegraph article, other psychologists were interviewed. Professor David Wilson (Birmingham City University) was quoted as saying:

“To bite someone, you have to get very close, you have to put your head – the place you want to protect the most in a conflict – right up against them…Think about what this does. It literally marks your partner as belonging to you. In evolutionary terms, there are many animals who bite their mates as a way of controlling them before engaging with them sexually. Try as we might, it is hard to escape the sexual nature of biting. It is sometimes even used as a method of attack during sexual crimes…It is nearly always a form of sadism. Often I’d be looking at children who had been bitten by a paedophile or women who had been bitten on their sexual organs. I really don’t want to over-egg it, but Suárez has a mild psychological issue”.

Dr. Saima Latif wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph and asserted that Suárez needs psychological help (i.e., anger management therapy). He (like I) speculated as to why Suárez had bitten Giorgio Chiellini although Latif’s angle was more Freudian and psychodynamic. He wrote:

“Biting is an act borne of frustration, stress and loss of control. Luis Suárez is likely to have felt humiliated and put down in some way that he wanted to get one over on his opponent…Research shows that the most violent period of our lives is when we are between three and four years old. That is the most aggressive stage of development, because if we don’t get what we want, we fight and lash out. It’s also the stage when the Id takes over; a basic instinct when we can’t control our temperament. It’s a possibility that Suárez thought his provocation would lead to his opponent retaliating and then being sent off. However, given that he may also be sent off for biting, this reasoning is slightly more remote.Perhaps his biting started in childhood and was triggered by something, perhaps he was bitten in turn. To get to the root of the problem and address it effectively he does require psychological therapy which looks at the more deep-seated issues that might be of concern”.

Watching Suárez being interviewed after the game, I’m still amazed how trivial he thought the incident to be (“these things happen in football”). He believed he had done nothing wrong and like a child that has been caught doing something wrong he tried to deflect the blame elsewhere. As Dr. Latif noted:

“Most children, when they are confronted with something they have done, will immediately take recourse in lying. The fact that this is a repeated action shows that it is habitual, rather than pathological. It is his particular technique, which makes you wonder how many time’s he’s done it off the pitch”.

Maybe we’ll never know why biting an opponent is part of Suárez’ non-footballing behavioural repertoire on the field. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop hypothesizing about what caused the behaviour in the first place.

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

Further reading

Latif, S. (2014). Luis Suarez needs therapy to overcome urge to bite. Daily Telegraph, June 25. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/players/luis-suarez/10925060/Luis-Suarez-needs-therapy-to-overcome-urge-to-bite.html

Wallop, H. (2014). Luis Suárez and the Bite. Daily Telegraph, June 26. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/players/luis-suarez/10925858/Luis-Suarez-and-the-Bite.html

Looming large: A brief look at toy crazes and addiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sporn again: A brief look at the evolution of ‘metrosexuality’

Back in 1994, the journalist Mark Simpson coined the term ‘metrosexual’ in an article in the British newspaper The Independent. The Wikipedia entry on metrosexuality notes:

“Metrosexual is a neologism, derived from metropolitan and heterosexual, coined in 1994 describing a man (especially one living in an urban, post-industrial, capitalist culture) who is especially meticulous about his grooming and appearance, typically spending a significant amount of time and money on shopping as part of this. The term is popularly thought to contrast heterosexuals who adopt fashions and lifestyles stereotypically associated with homosexuals, although, by definition given by [Mark Simpson], a metrosexual ‘might be officially gay, straight or bisexual’”

To be honest, I had never come across the term metrosexual until 2005 (although I was well aware of the male grooming, vain, image conscious, and product-consuming males typified by ex-footballer David Beckham). I was doing some consultancy with an online poker firm about different types of poker player and the press campaign that followed the publication of my report was headlined ‘betrosexuals’ (because it highlighted gender swapping by online poker players – an area that I then went on to research more academically – see ‘Further reading’ below). It was only at this point I was told that ‘betrosexual’ was a play on the word ‘metrosexual’.

The reason I mention all of this is because earlier today I did a BBC radio interview about the rise of the ‘spornosexual’ (yet another term I had never heard of until I was asked to appear on the programme). ‘Spornosexual’ is another term coined by Mark Simpson (as noted in the Wikipedia entry):

“A neologism combining sports, porn, and metrosexual, and used to describe an aesthetic adopted by many men who consume both sports and pornography. The spornosexual style emphasises heavy, lean musculature, and certain kinds of tattooing. The term entered the popular lexicon through a 2014 Daily Telegraph article by Mark Simpson…In 2006, Mark Simpson already wrote about ‘sporno’ for Out Magazine: ‘whole new generation of young bucks, from twinky soccer players like Manchester United’s Alan Smith and Cristiano Ronaldo to rougher prospects like Chelsea’s Joe Cole and AC Milan’s Kaká, keen to emulate their success, are actively pursuing sex-object status in a postmetrosexual, increasingly pornolized world”.

In short (and according to an article in the Washington Post), spornosexuals are simply the “hyper-sexualized, body-obsessed cultural offspring of the metrosexual”.To be honest, reading this definition makes me think that ‘spornosexuals’ have been around for a few decades now as these types of men were well described at length by Bret Easton Ellis in his 1991 novel American Psycho (minus the tattooing). Simpson claimed in his recent article in the Daily Telegraph that metrosexuality had evolved and that the “new wave” had put the ‘sexual’ into ‘metrosexuality’, had become “totally tarty”, and that such men should be called ‘spornosexuals’. More specifically, Simpson claimed:

“With their painstakingly pumped and chiselled bodies, muscle-enhancing tattoos, piercings, adorable beards and plunging necklines it’s eye-catchingly clear that second-generation metrosexuality is less about clothes than it was for the first. Eagerly self-objectifying, second generation metrosexuality is totally tarty. Their own bodies (more than clobber and product) have become the ultimate accessories, fashioning them at the gym into a hot commodity – one that they share and compare in an online marketplace. This new wave puts the ‘sexual’ into metrosexuality. In fact, a new term is needed to describe them, these pumped-up offspring of those Ronaldo and Beckham lunch-box ads, where sport got into bed with porn while Mr Armani took pictures. Let’s call them “spornosexuals”…Glossy magazines cultivated early metrosexuality. Celebrity culture then sent it into orbit. But for today’s generation, social media, selfies and porn are the major vectors of the male desire to be desired. They want to be wanted for their bodies, not their wardrobe. And certainly not their minds”

I tracked down Simpson’s 2006 article on ‘sporno’ published in Out magazine in which he claimed sport was the “new gay porn” because (for instance) footballers like David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg had posed for gay magazines. He also made reference to metrosexual Gavin Henson (“rugby’s answer to David Beckham”) who loves shaving his legs and wears fake tan on the pitch. Simpson claimed:

“Sporno-sport that acknowledges and exploits the voyeuristic, usually homoerotic, thrill that fit male bodies throwing themselves against other fit male bodies can generate is already the acceptable, ruddy-cheeked outdoor-broadcasting face of porn. At least in soccer- and rugby-playing pagan Europe and Australia but it can be only a matter of time before it conquers the God-fearing, football-playing United States too…Being equal opportunity flirts, today’s sporno stars want to turn everyone on. Partly because sportsmen, like porn stars, are by definition show-offs, but more particularly because it means more money, more power, more endorsements, more kudos. It acknowledges the consumerist, showbiz direction that sport is moving in and engorges and inflates their career portfolio to gargantuan proportions”.

Simpson asserted that Beckham was a household name in America because he was a sporno star (rather than sports star) due to his high profile body adorning adverts and fetishizing himself. Beckham’s masculinity had become commodified, and in our highly consumerist culture “envy and desire are almost indistinguishable”. As a father of two sons and a daughter, I do worry how the perfect body images they see in the print and broadcast media may affect their own self-esteem. Although I had often thought about the pursuit of bodily perfection in terms of my daughter’s adolescent development, it’s not something I had thought about in relation to my sons. As a psychologist that specializes in addictive and obsessive behaviour, I am only too aware of the rise in male eating disorders, but the rise of the metrosexual is likely to be a contributory factor. In the Washington Post article on spornosexuality, the journalist Abby Phillip interviewed the branding expert (and author of the 2006 book The Future of Men) Marian Salzman. Salzman claimed that metrosexuality had indeed involved but not in the way that Simpson hoped:

“The word metrosexual has outgrown Simpson’s narcissistic depiction and now transcends narrow stereotypes to describe a whole range of traits. And the metrosexuals themselves are now men who don’t unquestioningly assume that there’s just one way of being a man”.

Based on what I have read so far, I don’t think that the term ‘spornosexuality’ will catch the public’s imagination in the same way as metrosexuality (in fact, I’m yet to be convinced that spornosexuality is significantly different from metrosexuality). That doesn’t mean the stereotypes attributed to such a term don’t exist. However, the jury is out on if there will be any long-lasting psychological consequences of identifying oneself as a spornosexual.

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

Further reading

Daily Mirror (2005). Betrosexuals. August 12. Located at: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/betrosexuals-553460

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J., Wood, R.T.A. & Rigbye, J. (2010). Online poker gambling in university students: Further findings from an online survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 82-89.

Phillip. A. (2014). Step aside, metrosexuals, and make way for…the spornosexual man? Washington Post, June 10. Located at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/style-blog/wp/2014/06/10/step-aside-metrosexuals-and-make-way-for-the-spornosexual-man/

Salzman, M. (2006). The Future of Men: The Rise of the Übersexual and What He Means for Marketing Today. London: Palgrave.

Simpson, M. (2006). Sporno. Out, June 19. Located at: http://www.out.com/entertainment/2006/06/19/sporno?page=0,0

Simpson, M. (2014). The metrosexual is dead. Long live the ‘spornosexual’. Daily Telegraph, June 10. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/fashion-and-style/10881682/The-metrosexual-is-dead.-Long-live-the-spornosexual.html

Wikipedia (2014). Metrosexual. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metrosexual

Wikipedia (2014). Spornosexual. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spornosexual

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.

Velvet gold mind: Psychopathy, addiction, ECT, and the psychology of Lou Reed

Regular readers of my blog will have no doubt picked up that one of my all time favourite bands is the Velvet Underground (VU) – often referred to as “The Psychopath’s Rolling Stones“. I bought my first VU album on vinyl back in 1980 as a 14-year old adolescent (a 12-track compilation that I still have simply called ‘The Velvet Underground’). When I bought it I had heard very few VU songs on the radio and one of the main reasons I bought it was because a number of my musical heroes at the time (Ian McCulloch the lead singer of the Echo and the Bunnymen being the one I seem to remember) kept listing VU songs in their ‘Top 10 Tracks’ in Smash Hits magazine.

Over time I have steadily accumulated a massive collection of VU and VU-related albums (mainly solo LPs of VU band members, most notably Lou Reed, John Cale, and Nico, as well as dozens and dozens of bootleg LPs). As much as I love the recorded solo outputs of Cale and Nico, it is Lou Reed that I have always found the most psychologically fascinating on both a musical and personal level (even though Cale was admittedly the better musician) – and because of his autobiographical lyrics (many of which were collated in his 1992 book Between Thought and Expression). Reed (along with a few other musicians such as John Lennon, Morrissey, David Bowie, Adam Ant, and Gary Numan) is someone I would love to have interviewed, as he was a psychological paradox and appeared to have so many different facets to his personality. During is early career, Reed was a self-confessed drug addict and wrote songs about both heroin (‘I’m Waiting For The Man‘ and admitting in his song ‘Heroin‘ that it was “my wife and it’s my life”) and amphetamines (‘White Light, White Heat‘). I would also argue that in later life he replaced these negative addictions with what Bill Glasser defined as a ‘positive addiction‘ in the form of t’ai chi ch’uan (i.e., tai chi).

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Reed’s lyrics covered topics that shocked many people. His song lyrics recounted life’s misfits and those that lived on the fringes (particularly of the life he had himself experienced in New York and as part of pop artist Andy Warhol’s entourage). His world was one of drug addiction, transvestite drag queens, bisexuality, and sado-masochism. Like many of the best and most literary writers, he wrote about what he knew and had experienced. As Reed himself pointed out many times, the subject matter of his songs were no different from his literary heroes such as Edgar Allen Poe, Hubert Selby Jr., William Burroughs, and Delmore Schwartz. Sex and drugs were common themes in novels and poetry. Reed wondered why listeners and rock critics alike were so horrified by the content of his songs when the same content could be found in books from the 1950s and early 1960s.

Reed was a much feared interviewee by music journalists and often poured vitriol on many rock critics (Lester Bangs and Robert Christgau being the most high profile). Just listen to his 1978 live LP Take No Prisoners that is remembered more for the acerbic monologues in between the songs than for the music. Although I would have loved to interview him, his experiences with psychologists and psychiatrists arguably left him emotionally scarred for life (or at the very least a deep mistrust of therapists). His affluent parents sent him for weekly sessions of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a young teenager to “cure” him of his homosexual desires and urges. It had such a negative impression on him that he documented the experiences on his song ‘Kill Your Sons’ (from his 1974 LP Sally Can’t Dance). As he was quoted as saying in Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s 1996 book Please Kill Me:

“They put the thing down your throat so you don’t swallow your tongue, and they put electrodes on your head. That’s what was recommended in Rockland State Hospital to discourage homosexual feelings. The effect is that you lose your memory and become a vegetable”

Up until the ECT session, Reed appeared to have lead a relatively trouble-free childhood (although there were admittedly some juvenile delinquent activities). The ECT sessions may have been the catalyst that far from ‘curing’ him of his sexual urges confused the issue even more. Reed was more explicit in the lyrics to ‘Kill Your Sons’ about the whole experience of ECT and what he thought about it:

“All your two-bit psychiatrists are giving you electro shock/They say, they let you live at home, with mom and dad/Instead of mental hospital/But every time you tried to read a book/You couldn’t get to page 17/’Cause you forgot, where you were/So you couldn’t even read/Don’t you know, they’re gonna kill your sons”.

I have read almost every biography that has ever been published on Reed and there appears to be an almost unconscious pathological need to subvert the traditional rock cycle treadmill of fame and success. There is no doubt that Reed wanted to be respected and remembered for his literary writing – but many of his decisions and actions were self-defeating. In my own field of gambling, the psychologist Edmund Bergler speculated that addicted gamblers have an ‘unconscious desire to lose’ – a form of psychic masochism. If Reed was on Bergler’s couch, he may have come to the same conclusion about Reed.

There are so many points in Reed’s life where he appeared to deliberately sabotage his own career and commit what others have described ‘artistic suicide’. For instance, after David Bowie had befriended him in the early 1970s and produced his first hit LP (Transformer) and biggest hit (‘Walk On The Wild Side’), he fell out with Bowie and recorded what a number of rock critics have described as “the most depressing album of all time” (the 1973 LP Berlin). He then seemed to get his career back on course with his one and only top 10 US album (1974 LP Sally Can’t Dance) only to follow it up with the album consisting of four tracks of guitar feedback each 16 minutes in length (1975 album Metal Machine Music). James Wolcott writing for the Village Voice went as far as to say that  Metal Machine Music “crowned Reed’s reputation as a master of psychopathic insolence”. Although both “career killing” LPs have since been hailed as masterpieces in their own way, both releases provide an argument that Reed was a masochist on some level even if the original pain didn’t become pleasure until 30 years later.

The arguably self-inflicted pain didn’t end with his musical output. Almost every important person he looked up to in his life between 1964 and the early 1990s were cast aside and verbally and/or physically abused by Reed at some point. This included his managers (e.g., Andy Warhol, Steve Sesnick, Dennis Katz), his admirers and benefactors (e.g., David Bowie), his record company senior executives (e.g., Clive Davis), his lovers (e.g., Shelly Albin, Nico, Bettye Kronstad, Sylvia Morales, “Rachel” [Tommy] Humphries), and his musical collaborators (e.g., John Cale, Doug Yule, Robert Quine).

Some people have claimed Reed was almost psychopathic in some of his actions. The criminal psychologist Professor Robert Hare developed the Revised Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R), a psychological assessment that determines whether someone is a psychopath.

At heart, Hare’s test is simple: a list of 20 criteria, each given a score of 0 (if it doesn’t apply to the person), 1 (if it partially applies) or 2 (if it fully applies). The list in full is: glibness and superficial charm, grandiose sense of self-worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse, emotional shallowness, callousness and lack of empathy, unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions, a tendency to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, a lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity, irresponsibility, lack of behavioural control, behavioural problems in early life, juvenile delinquency, criminal versatility, a history of ‘revocation of conditional release’ (i.e., broken parole), multiple marriages, and promiscuous sexual behaviour. A pure, prototypical psychopath would score 40. A score of 30 or more qualifies for a diagnosis of psychopathy”

Personally, I think there are psychopathic traits in almost any person with a successful career, and Reed (from the many biographies I have read) would certainly endorse some of the indicators in the list above. However, as he (i) became older, (ii) became teetotal and drug-free, (iii) studied Buddhist philosophy (including meditation and tai chi), and (iv) settled down and married performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson, he arguably became happier and produced some of the best music of his career.

The trio of ‘concept’ albums including his ‘warts ‘n’ all’ tribute to his home city (New York, 1989), his moving tribute to Andy Warhol (Songs for Drella, 1990, with John Cale), and his lyrical musings on illness, death and dying (1992, Magic and Loss) were all critically lauded (and among my own personal favourites). Songs for Drella (the VU’s nickname for Andy Warhol – a contraction of the names Cinderella and Dracula) is not just one of Reed’s best albums but it’s one of the best LP’s ever. The fact that the songs were heartfelt and full of remorse for the way Reed had treated Warhol in the latter years of his life, suggest that the characterization of Reed as a psychopath is unfair.

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

Further reading

Bockris, V. (1994). Lou Reed: The Biography. London: Hutchinson.

Bockris, V. & Malanga, G. (1995). Up-tight – The Velvet Underground Story.London:Omnibus Press.

Doggett, P. (1991). Lou reed – Growing Up in Public. London: 
Omnibus Press.

Glasser, W. (1976), Positive Addictions. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Henry, T. (1989), Break All Rules! Punk Rock and the Making of a Style, Ann Arbour MI: UMI Research Press.

Hare, R. D., & Vertommen, H. (2003). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. Multi-Health Systems, Incorporated.

Heylin, C. (2005). All Yesterday’s Parties – The Velvet Underground In Print 1966-1971. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Hogan, P. (2007). The Rough Guide To The Velvet Underground. London: Penguin.

Jovanovich, R. (2010). The Velvet Underground – Peeled. Aurum Press.

Kostek, M.C. (1992). The Velvet Underground Handbook
. London: 
Black Spring Press.

McNeil, Legs; McCain, G. (1996). Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. London: Grove Press.

Muggleton, D. & Weinzierl, R. (2003). The Post-subcultures Reader. Oxford: Berg.

Reed, L. (1992). Between Thought and Expression. 
London: Penguin Books.

Wall, M. (2013). Lou Reed: The Life. Croydon: Orion Books.

Sticking points: A brief look at ‘the Panini sticker craze’ and its relationship with gamification

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have written a few blogs on the psychology of collecting as an addiction in addition to specific types of obsessive collecting such as record collecting. Over the last two weeks I have twice been asked to appear on radio shows talking about the ‘Panini sticker collecting craze’ that is allegedly sweeping across the UK in the run up to the start of the World Cup. My son is avidly collecting Panini stickers and yesterday I showed him my own Panini sticker books that I have kept since filling them in during the 1978 to 1980 period.

Like my youngest son now, I remember spending every last penny of my 10-pence a week pocket money buying packet after packet of stickers trying to complete my collection. One of the reasons I may have been asked to appear on radio shows was that there was an article in last week’s issue of The Guardian newspaper about the adults who are getting “misty-eyed” about Panini stickers. Ian Shoesmith, 38-year-old author of The Guardian piece and father of a four-year old son, claimed he was collecting the latest stickers:

I rip the packets of stickers open with all the excitement and anticipation of the 10-year-old boy that I used to be, and inhale their long-forgotten but oh-so-familiar odour of glue mixed with sticky tape and paper…But my childhood passion – the thrill of racing to the paper shop, handing over all of my pocket money, desperate to be greeted by the mulleted head of a Soviet-bloc defender – is dismissed, out-of-hand, by my son. But I will persist in collecting them – for when he changes his mind. I’m most definitely not collecting them for myself. Definitely not”.

Shoesmith claimed in his article there are countless adults in the UK doing the same thing as him and had interviewed a number of people for the article. (In fact I read a statistic claiming that up to 15% of all children’s toys are bought by adults for themselves rather than their children). One thing I can appreciate is Shoesmith’s view that “it’s easier to hide adult nostalgia when you have a child who is genuinely interested in the stickers”. This definitely holds true in my household. One of the people interviewed for The Guardian article was 48-year old Mark Jensen (editor of a Newcastle United fanzine) and father to a 10-year-old son. He noted:

“For about four years [my son] would [collect] them all the time – the cards as well as the stickers…They were even banned at his school because of all of the arguments they caused. Some kids turned out to be far shrewder investors than others and rip other kids off by swapping the shiny stickers for normal ones and stuff like that…I do remember when I was a kid that there was a conspiracy story that some stickers were impossible to collect – there must be zillions of almost-completed albums out there. Nowadays I’ve heard of ‘virtual stickers’ but they are the antithesis to collecting in my view – you need the physical experience of opening the packet, all of your mates crowding round you to see what you’ve got”.

I agree fully with many of Shoesmith’s observations. I almost live vicariously through my 12-year old son opening his packets of World Cup football stickers. I love seeing his face light up when he gets a sticker that he really wants. I love seeing the anticipation of opening as I can remember those feelings myself, even though they were 35 years ago. I clearly remember going into school with a pile of ‘swapsies’ hoping that I could find the rarities needed to complete each double page. I loved it when I completed a line of three or four players, a page of players, a double page of players. It was like a bingo player filling up lines of numbers and then getting the full house (i.e., a completed page).

I never managed to complete a single football sticker book when I was a tweenager and there were always certain stickers that were seen as rarities (although got very close to a complete a Panini book in 1978). I loved the physicality of the books and stickers (and am no different now with my record and CD collecting – I always prefer CD and vinyl over MP3s). Shoesmith interviewed some academics for his article. Professor Carol Mavor (Manchester University) said that:

“Stickers are very tactile and old-fashioned. The humanity of touch is also very powerful. That’s why people love wooden toys, for example, because they have a unique feel, smell and are real. Adults don’t want to let go of their childhood completely…It seems, without being overly morbid, to be so far away from death, work and the other obligations of adulthood. As adults, we think of ourselves as different people from our childhood selves – the whole world was open to us and it was a free and more creative life.”

According to psychologist Felix Economakis (also interviewed by Shoesmith), there are likely to be gender differences and sentimentality:

“It’s down to sentimental attachment. Little objects from childhood are imbued with meaning because they remind us of people who may no longer be with us – it’s an association with the past through rose-tinted spectacles…Men are more into lists, while women tend to collect something with sentimental value. For men, partly it’s about status, and collecting for the sake of it. [Collecting is] quite a solitary activity”.

I also came across an interesting article written by P.M. Davies on the Design Thinkers website that related the collecting of football stickers to gamification. In the opening paragraph, he talked of being addicted to collecting them (although I’m sure he meant in a somewhat pejorative sense). He wrote that:

“If you grew up in the UK you may remember Panini sticker albums that encouraged kids to collect stickers of their favourite soccer players…As you collected you filled up your album and traded cards with your friends in the struggle to complete the full album. Every week when I got my pocket money I went down to the newsagent to buy packets of stickers in the hope I would get that rare one that had so far eluded me. I wasn’t alone as thousands of kids did the same. The strange thing was I didn’t even like soccer! I never have liked soccer and loathed watching games or even talking about it – and yet I was addicted to collecting the stickers. This is a great example of how strong the power of collecting is for us. For me it overruled the fact that I had no interest (and in fact quite a dislike) for the subject matter and got me obsessed with completing my set. I also collected novelty erasers but this was a more freeform collection and it didn’t awaken quite the same obsession as the soccer stickers. In fact the mechanisms set-up by Panini, and other similar companies, were very clever indeed and it is these techniques that are being used more in gamification projects”.

Davies notes (as I have done in my previous blogs) there are many articles that have been written on the psychology of collecting. Davies claims most of these writings are on what he calls ‘freeform collecting’ (“the urge to collect things like erasers, marbles, clocks, cars, hats, teddy bears, postcards and so on”). Davies says these are freeform because there is no limit to the collection. He argues that it is the more “structured form of collecting” (such as collecting football stickers) are related to gamification (i.e., the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems) because it involves a number of key features (my emboldened emphasis):

  • “There is an achievable goal that is being moved towards (e.g. completing the entire sticker album);
  • You can see what your current progress is towards that goal (e.g. the filled versus blank spaces in your sticker album);
  • The scarcity effect is used (e.g. some stickers are harder to find than others);
  • Status (e.g. the status of your collection effects your own status amongst your peers);
  • Group identification (e.g. getting a sense of solidarity with other collectors

Davies claims these five features these form a very powerful motivational system and can be (and are) used in commercial situations (such as the awarding of badges as virtual rewards). There are debates as to whether such reward systems actually work (as the rewards have no value whatsoever in the real world). But as Davies noted:

“Research has been carried out which shows that the fun and interest in striving towards a goal is often the primary reward (Ariely & Norton, 2009). Therefore as long as badges are the embodiment of going through a good experience it becomes a symbol and not a reward in itself. Most of the controversy at the moment is actually a criticism of organisations who are applying the badge system incorrectly rather than claims that the psychology behind it is flawed”.

Looking at my own collecting behaviour, I can honestly say that the striving towards a goal can indeed be rewarding, but for me the actual acquisition of the item being collected brings about the biggest reward.

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

Further reading

Ariely, D., & Norton, M. I. (2009). Conceptual consumption. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 475-499.

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

Belk, R.W., Wallendorf, M., Sherry, J.F., & Holbrook, M.B. (1991). Collecting in a consumer culture. In: Highways and buyways: Naturalistic research from the consumer behavior odyssey, pp.178-215.

Davies, P.M. (2012). Collecting. Design Thinkers, February 13. Located at: http://www.design-thinkers.co.uk/collecting/

Formanek, R. (1991). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 275-286.

Shoesmith, I. (2014). The adults who get misty-eyed over Panini World Cup stickers. BBC Online News Magazine, May 6. Located at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27051215

Wikipedia (2014). Gamification. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamification

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