Small talk: Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (Revisited)

Last week, I was contacted by the journalist Abigail Moss about a previous blog that I wrote on Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS). AIWS is a non-contagious disorientation disorder and refers to when a person’s sense of body image, vision, hearing, touch, space, and/or time are distorted. AIWS sufferers typically experience micropsia (a neurological condition that affects human visual perception in which objects are perceived to be smaller than they actually are and make people feel bigger than they are) or macropsia (a neurological condition that affects human visual perception in which objects are perceived to be larger than they actually are and makes people feel smaller than they actually are).

Moss suffers from AIWS herself and has described her experiences both on camera (for instance in a short YouTube news piece and in numerous news articles such as one in the Daily Mail). Moss also sent me a first-person account of AIWS that she published in the online magazine Planet Ivy. Here are some of the things she recounted:

Extract 1: “When I was about five years old, I started to experience strange visual and sensory hallucinations. My hands and legs would seem too big for my body and the room around me would start to shrink inwards. All movements and sounds would seem extremely fast and hugely exaggerated, giving everything an odd feeling of urgency. This would last about 20 minutes and slowly fade away, and happened about four or five times a week…Luckily, my dad knew exactly what I was describing…He’d experienced the same thing as a kid. I haven’t outgrown it…but it doesn’t happen as often – maybe only five times a year”.

The first doctor suggested she might have a form of epilepsy but after that proved negative she was never diagnosed with anything official. Since then, other medics have suggested that she may have a sleep disorder or some kind of schizophrenia. It wasn’t until she was in her early twenties that she came across something that fitted her symptoms:

Extract 2: “Last year a tiny 50-word inset in a newspaper supplement caught my eye. ‘Alice in Wonderland Syndrome’ the heading read, and underneath it, a perfect description of my experience…I joined a Yahoo forum for ‘AIWS sufferers’…Countless fellow sufferers got in contact, all describing the same thing. Their descriptions were remarkably unvaried and it was immediately obvious this was the same thing I experience: ‘My body felt minuscule’, ‘Sounds were amplified’, ‘Everything was bigger and smaller at the same time’.”

The article outlined the many psychiatrists and psychologists Moss had visited about her condition with all the experts she saw claiming that they had never heard of AIWS. While the condition is rare, the condition has been well documented in the medical and clinical literature (see ‘Further reading’ below) so I was quite surprised that the experts she visited couldn’t have at least spent some time reading up on the syndrome. She then went on to say:

Extract 3: “My brain does something extremely weird, and nobody – not even the world’s leading bodies in the study of brains – can tell me what this is or why it happens. For me, this isn’t a problem, I don’t want to get rid of my episodes – they’re an interesting talking point and everyone knows writers are basically quite boring people. The experience, when it does pop up, doesn’t actually bother me or affect my day-to-day life”.

Moss wanted to ask me a few questions about my understanding of AIWS and how much is now known about it. She knew this wasn’t my primary area of expertise, but said that any opinions I might be able to offer would be invaluable to the article she was writing. I told her that my article on AIWS was written in a journalistic capacity rather from any position of expertise but she still wanted me to answer a few questions. Moss asked me three questions and I thought I would use this blog to share my full answers with my readers.

Question 1: “In my research I’ve found it almost impossible to find solid answers about what causes AIWS. Can you offer a view on what makes this condition so difficult to pin down?”

AIWS has been reported in the psychiatric and psychological literature since the early 1950s. However, since the first papers in the topic less than 20 papers have ever been published and all of them are case reports. Finding ‘solid answers’ based on so few cases is therefore inevitable. The literature is also biased because it is (a) based on those sufferers who seek out medical assistance, and (b) based on those doctors or clinicians that have written the cases for publication. If people don’t seek help and/or there cases remain unwritten, there is little chance if finding ‘solid answers’.

Secondly, the symptoms are not always identical which is why it is referred to as syndrome (that is, a group of symptoms that together are characteristic of a specific disorder or disease, or a predictable, characteristic condition or pattern of behavior that tends to occur under certain circumstances). Syndromes typically have many different causes which again means it is difficult to find ‘solid answers’.

Finally, given that the experiences (like your own) are often short-lived, it is very rare to be able to monitor people neurologically. The few published cases are based on chronic sufferers (who may not be representative of the vast majority of AIWS sufferers). Several neurologists have done M.R.I.s on patients with the condition, though once the bout has passed, there’s usually no sign of unusual brain activity. I read that Dr. Sheena Aurora was the first to scan the brain of someone — a 12-year-old girl — in the middle of an episode. According to Dr. Aurora, electrical activity caused abnormal blood flow in the parts of the brain that control vision and process texture, shape and size.

The case studies that I have read have provided lots of possible reasons for AIWS but there is no consensus and they could all be true (as having the same symptoms doesn’t mean there has to be the same cause). Some research appears to indicate that AIWS can be due to abnormal amounts of electrical activity that causes blood to flow abnormally in the brain areas that process texture and visual perception. AIWS has been associated with migraines, severe depression, and (in extreme cases) brain tumours. Case study research has indicated that AIWS manifestations are due to disturbed function of either medial temporal, hippocampal, tempro-occipital or tempro-parieto-occipital regions of the brain. Unfortunately, chronic AIWS is untreatable and time is the only healer. However, sharing experiences with other sufferers is also thought to be therapeutically beneficial

Question 2: “Is academic disagreement just part and parcel of all psychological conditions or does AIWS seems particularly open to discussion?”

I don’t think there is ‘disagreement’ as no two clinicians or psychiatrists have ever published papers examining the same individuals. They have all published papers based on the AIWS sufferers that they themselves saw and that who came in seeking help. All of the explanations could be correct as syndromes have multiple causes. This is not disagreement. It’s simply a case of multiple possible causes.

Question 3: “I have spoken to a large number of people who also say they also experience AIWS – how useful or valid do you think it would be to think of AIWS as more of a mental phenomenon than a syndrome, comparable with something like déjà vu, for example?”

The word ‘large’ is what we psychologists call a ‘fuzzy quantifier’ as ‘large’ to one individual is small to another. If you have spoken to 100 other sufferers worldwide I would say this is very very small. The condition appears to be rare although in one of my other areas of research, we have demonstrated that a small proportion of video gamers experience disorienting visual effects (that we call game transfer phenomena) like AIWS so such phenomena may be multi-faceted and may arise from specific activities (such as excessive and immersive game playing).

AIWS should not be compared with déjà vu as most scientific evidence suggests that déjà vu is an anomaly of memory and totally different from AIWS on a neurological level (but I’m not an expert on déjà vu and am only basing my opinion on what I have read in the psychological literature). However, there may be some conditions (such as schizophrenia and temporal lobe epilepsy) where individuals may experience both AIWS and déjà vu but these are symptoms of a specific medical disorder. Most individuals that have experienced déjà vu (as many as two-thirds of the population in some studies) and AIWS (very rare) do not have any underlying serious medical conditions.

I don’t know if any of my responses to Moss were of help either in relation to her own experiences or in writing her article but I was pleased with the observations I had made.

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

Further reading

Bui, E., Chatagner, A. & Schmitt, L. (2010). Alice in Wonderland Syndrome in major depressive disorder. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 22, 352.e16-352.e16.

Cinbis, M. & Aysun, S. (1992). Alice in Wonderland syndrome as an initial manifestation of Epstein-Barr virus infection (case report). British Journal of Ophthalmology, 76, 316.

Eshel, G.M., Eyov, A., & Lahat, E., et al (1987). Alice in Wonderland syndrome, a manifestation of acute Epstein-Barr virus infection (brief report). Pediatric Infectious Diseases Journal, 6, 68.

Kew, J., Wright, A., & Halligan, P.W. (1998). Somesthetic aura: The experience of “Alice in Wonderland”. The Lancet, 351, 1934.

Kitchener, N. (2004). Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. International Journal of Child Neuropsychiatry, 1, 107-112.

Kuo, Y, Chiu, N.C., Shen, E.Y., Ho, C.S., Wu, M.C. (1998). Cerebral perfusion in children with “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome. Pediatric Neurology, 19, 105-108.

Lahat, E., Eshel, G., & Arlazoroff A (1990). “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome and infectious mononucleosis in children (letter). Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 53, 1104.

Lambert, M.V., Sierra, M., Phillips, M.L. & David, A.S. The spectrum of organic depersonalization: A review plus four new cases. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 14, 141-154.

Podoll, K., Ebel, H., Robinson, D., & Nicola, U. (2002). Obligatory and facultative symptoms of the Alice in wonderland syndrome. Minerva Medicine, 93, 287-293.

Podoll, K. & Robinson, D. (1999). Lewis Carroll’s migraine experiences. The Lancet, 353, 1366.

Rolak, L.A. (1991). Literary neurologic syndromes. Alice in Wonderland. Archives of Neurology, 48, 649–651.

Todd, J. (1955). The syndrome of Alice in Wonderland. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 73, 701–704.

Check mates: A brief look at courtship requests (Part 2)

In my previous blog on courtship requests (e.g., men asking for a woman’s phone number, men asking women out for a drink, etc.), I examined a number of Dr. Nicolas Guéguen’s studies on the effects that various factors had solicitation success. In this blog, I briefly overview such factors as the role of the weather, music, odour, clothes (uniform and colour), flowers, and social status.

Weather: In a 2013 issue of Social Influence, Guéguen examined the effect of sunshine on romantic relationships (reasoning that sunny weather puts people in a better mood than non-sunny weather). In this study, an attractive 20-year old man approached young women walking alone in the street and asked them for their telephone number in two conditions (sunny or cloudy days). The temperature was controlled for and all days of the experiment were dry. The results showed that more women gave the man their telephone numbers on the sunny days. Guéguen concluded that positive mood induction by the sun may explain the success in courtship solicitation.

Music: In a 2014 issue of Psychology of Music, Guéguen and his colleagues examined the extent to which music can play a role in sexual selection. In their experiment, 300 young females were approached in the street by a young male who asked for their phone number. The same man approached the women in one of three conditions. In the first he carried a guitar case, in the second he carried a sports bag, and in the third he carried nothing. The results showed that the man received the most phone numbers of women while carrying the guitar case which the authors argued showed that musical practice can be associated with sexual selection.

Odour: In a 2011 issue of Chemosensory Perception, Guéguen examined whether a young man in a room (Guéguen’s laboratory) with a pleasant fragrance (the smell of a freshly baked croissant) was more successful asking women out on a date (i.e., a courtship request) than without a pleasant fragrance. Guéguen asserted that the effect of odour on romantic relationships had never been tested experimentally. The results showed that women more likely to agree to a date when they were in the room with the pleasant odour. Guéguen replicated the experiment in a real life situation and published his findings in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology. In the field experiment, young women were approached and asked for their phone number by a young attractive male in an area that had a pleasant aroma (i.e., pastry shops) and in another shopping mall area where there was no such aroma. More women gave their phone number to the man in the pleasant smelling area.

Clothes (uniform): In a 2009 issue of the European Journal of Social Sciences, Guéguen carried out three experiments on whether men wearing a fireman’s uniform made women more receptive to a courtship request. Guéguen’s experiments revealed that men were more successful in getting women’s phone numbers while wearing a fireman’s uniform (compared to when they weren’t). The other experiments showed that women more likely to smile and say ‘hello’ to a man in a fireman’s uniform compared to when they were wearing their normal clothes.

Clothes (colour): In a 2013 issue of the journal Color Research and Application, Guéguen examined the colour red and its association in love and sex. Using data collected on an online dating site, findings showed that women wearing red clothes in their dating photograph received more contacts from men in comparison to those wearing black, white, yellow, blue, and green.

Flowers: In a 2009 issue of Social Influence, Guéguen examined the effect of flowers on mating attractiveness and behaviour in two experiments. In the first experiment, females that were exposed to flowers while watching a dating video of a man rated the man as more sexy and attractive (and more inclined to accept a date from him) compared to the condition where flowers were absent. In the second experiment, females responded more favourably to a courtship solicitation from a male when flowers were present in a social interaction compared to interactions without flowers. In a 2012 issue of the Journal of Social Psychology, Guéguen further examined the effect of flowers on mating behaviour. In this experiment, 600 women in a shopping mall were approached by an attractive young man who asked for their phone number. This was done in three different situations: in the area of a flower shop, a cake shop or a shoe shop. Results showed that the woman was more likely to give her telephone number when in the area of a flower shop.

Social status: In a 2012 issue of the Swiss Journal of Psychology, Guéguen (along with Dr. Lamy) examined men’s social status and attractiveness. In this experimental field study, young men with either low, middle or high incomes asked young women for their phone numbers while walking down the street. The man’s income was positively correlated with request success (i.e., the woman was more likely to give the man her phone number if he was rich). Guéguen and Lamy explained their results using evolutionary theory, suggesting that women select their partners with the greatest resources for them and their children.

Giving compliments: In a 2012 issue of Psychological Reports, Guéguen and his colleagues examined whether giving women compliments on how they looked made them more receptive to a courtship request. In the experiment, 160 women were approached by a man walking down a street and were asked if they would like to go for a drink. In one condition the women were given a compliment on their physical appearance (and in the other they were given no compliment). The results showed that more women said they would go for a drink with the man if they were given a compliment.

Parental investment: In a 2014 issue of Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Guéguen examined whether a man that interacted with a baby before asking women for their phone number were more successful than a control condition where a baby was present but no interaction took place. In the experiment, a man was seated at a pavement bar met his ‘sister’ and her baby (the woman wasn’t really his sister. Straight after the interaction, the man approached a nearby woman and asked them out. Results showed that when the man interacted with the baby, he was more successful and received more positive responses from the woman. Evolutionary theory was again used to explain the results (in terms of men’s parental investment, or at least women’s perceptions of it).

Foot-in-the-door techniques: In a 2008 issue of Psychological Reports, Guéguen examined whether ‘foot-in-the-door’ (FITD) techniques increase compliance to a courtship request. In his experiment, 360 young women were asked by a young male in the street whether they would like to go for a drink. In the FITD condition – prior to the courtship solicitation – the young woman was asked by the man to either provide directions or to give him a light for his cigarette. The findings showed that FITD led to more women saying they would go for a drink with the man.

While many of Guéguen’s studies might seem like common sense or truisms, he does at least provide scientific evidence for many things that are taken for granted as correct (often in the complete absence of empirical evidence).

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

Further reading

Guéguen, N. (2009). Man’s uniform and receptivity of women to courtship request: Three field experiments with a firefighter’s uniform. European Journal of Social Sciences, 12(2), 236-241.

Guéguen, N. (2011). Women’s exposure to pleasant ambient fragrance and receptivity to a man’s courtship request. Chemosensory Perception, 4, 195-197.

Guéguen, N. (2011). “Say it with flowers”: The effect of flowers on mating attractiveness and behavior. Social Influence, 6(2), 105-112.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Gait and menstrual cycle: Ovulating women use sexier gaits and walk slowly ahead of men. Gait and Posture, 35(4), 621-624.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Does red lipstick really attract men? An evaluation in a bar. International Journal of Psychological Studies, 4(2), 206-209.

Guéguen, N. (2012). The sweet smell of…courtship: Effects of pleasant ambient fragrance on women’s receptivity to a man’s courtship request. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(2), 123-125.

Guéguen, N. (2013). Weather and courtship behavior: A quasi-experiment with the flirty sunshine. Social Influence, 8, 312-319.

Guéguen, N. (2014). Cues of men’s parental investment and attractiveness for women: A Field Experiment. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 24(3), 296-300

Guéguen, N., Fischer-Lokou, J., & Lamy, L. (2013). Compliments and receptivity to a courtship request: A field experiment 1. Psychological Reports, 112(1), 239-242.

Guéguen, N., & Jacob, C. (2013). Color and cyber‐attractiveness: Red enhances men’s attraction to women’s internet personal ads. Color Research & Application, 38(4), 309-312

Guéguen, N., Jacob, C., & Lamy, L. (2010). ‘Love is in the air’: Effects of songs with romantic lyrics on compliance with a courtship request. Psychology of Music, 38(3), 303-307

Guéguen, N., & Lamy, L. (2012). Men’s social status and attractiveness. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 71(3), 157-160

Guéguen, N., Marchand, M., Pascual, A., & Lourel, M. (2008). Foot-in-the-door technique using a courtship request: A field experiment 1. Psychological Reports, 103(2), 529-534.

Guéguen, N., Meineri, S., & Fischer-Lokou, J. (2014). Men’s music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context. Psychology of Music, 42(4), 545-549.

Check mates: A brief look at courtship requests (Part 1)

In a previous blog examining whether having a tattoo makes women more attractive, I mentioned two studies carried out by Dr. Nicolas Guéguen on a French beach. He predicted that women with tattoos would be more likely to be approached on the beach by men. In the studies, Guéguen found that compared to non-tattooed women (i) more men approached tattooed women for a date and (ii) more men estimated themselves as having more chances to date and have sex on the first date. After reading this study, I found that Dr. Guéguen has made a very successful research career out of repeatedly doing the same types of field study by examining a wide range of factors that may influence ‘courtship requests’. In short, he has examined whether the chances of successful courtship solicitation requests (e.g., men asking for a woman’s phone number, men asking women out for a drink, etc.) asking can be influenced by the gender of the person, weather, stage of the menstrual cycle, smiling, giving compliments, bust size, cosmetic use, social status, uniforms, music, flowers, and odour (to name just a few).

Gender: In a 2009 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Guéguen examined the effects of solicitor gender and attractiveness on receptivity to sexual offers in a field study. In his study (which took place in France) young men and women of average versus high attractiveness approached potential partners of the opposite sex and simply asked them either one of two questions: “Will you come to my apartment to have a drink?” or “Would you go to bed with me?” Results (perhaps unsurprisingly) showed that most of the men approached by the women were willing to have sex with the woman (more so if she was rated as physically attractive). Females approached by a male were more disinclined to have a drink, and not a single woman accepted the male’s sexual request. Guéguen concluded that “such results confirm that men are apparently more eager for sexual activity than women are”.

Menstrual cycle: In a 2009 issue of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, Guéguen examined the relationship between courtship solicitation and women’s menstrual cycles. In this experiment, 455 young women (200 with normal menstrual cycles and 255 using a contraceptive pill), were approached by 20-year-old man who asked them for their telephone number. Immediately after being approached, the women were surveyed about the number of days since the onset of their last period. The results showed that women in their fertile phase (but not those on the pill) were more likely to give the man their telephone numbers than women in their luteal or menstrual phase.

In a 2012 issue of Gait and Posture, Guéguen examined gait and menstrual cycle using an analysis of nonverbal behavior of women toward men. In his study, the gaits of women walking ahead a male were recorded using a spy-camera. Guéguen measured the amount of time that the females spent walking and the extent to which the females were perceived to be sexually attractive by two independent raters. The women were then compared according to where in her menstrual cycle she was measured with a salivary test. Guéguen reported that: “Near ovulation, it was found that women walked slower and their gait was subjectively rated as sexier. Such behaviors were interpreted as unconscious desires of women near ovulation to reinforce their attractiveness in order to attract more men and to increase their choice of a partner”.

Bust size: In a 2007 issue of the journal Body Image, Gueguen hypothesized that breast size would be related to courtship solicitation. In two experiments, a young female was asked to wear a bra that allowed her to artificially vary her breast size. In the first condition the women simply sat in a nightclub for one hour whereas in the second condition she simply sat in the pavement area of a bar. Results showed that when the woman artificially increased the size of her bust she received more solicitation requests than in the smaller bust size condition. In another study, Gueguen examined effect of a woman’s bust size on the rate of help offered in a hitchhiking situation. In his experiment, a 20-year old woman wore a bra that could be artificially increased in size. A total of 1200 male and female French motorists passed the woman standing at the roadside looking to hitch a ride. Results showed that significantly more male drivers stopped to offer a ride when bust size was increased. No effect was found among female drivers.

Cosmetic use: In a 2007 issue of the North American Journal of Psychology, Guéguen, examined the effect of women wearing make-up and courtship requests by men. In his experiment, females either with or without make-up sat in two coastal French bars for a one-hour period on a Wednesday and Saturday night. Guéguen examined the number of solicitations by men. The results showed that women wearing make-up received more solicitations than those not wearing make-up and men approached the women wearing makeup in a much quicker time after entering the bar compared to those not wearing make-up. In a 2012 issue of the International Journal of Psychological Studies, Guéguen similarly examined whether red lipstick really attracts men. In this study, females wearing different shades of lipstick (red, pink, brown or no lipstick) sat in bars under exactly the same conditions as the previous 2007 make-up study. The results showed that women wearing red lipstick received a higher number of male solicitations and were solicited in a much quicker time by males after they first entered the bar.

Smiling: In a 2008 issue of the journal Social Behavior and Personality, Guéguen published an experiment in which a young woman was simply asked to smile or to not smile at men when they entered a bar. Results showed (perhaps unsurprisingly) that “those men who were smiled at approached the woman and considered her more favorably. This effect is explained in accordance with studies that found smiling enhanced attractiveness and that a smile is interpreted to be a signal of a woman’s interest towards a man”.

Light touching: In a 2007 issue of the journal Social Influence, Guéguen, examined the relationship between light tactile contact and courtship solicitation in a number of experiments. In his one experiment, a young man approached young women in a nightclub while a slow song was being played and asked if they would like to dance. While asking the women to dance, the young man either touched the forearm of the woman for a couple of seconds or did not touch her at all. Women were more likely to dance if their arm had been touched. In another experiment reported in the same paper, a young man approached women in the street and asked for their phone number. The results again showed that the woman was more likely to give their phone number if during the request they were lightly touched on the arm by the man. A similar experiment by Guéguen reported in a 2010 issue of Social Behavior and Personality showed that men made more solicitation requests towards women who had lightly touched them in a bar.

Hair colour: In a 2012 issue of Psychological Studies, Guéguen examined hair colour and courtship in two experiments. In the first study, women wearing blonde, brown, black or red wigs were observed while sitting in a nightclub. In the second study, men with different colored wigs asked females in a nightclub for a dance. The results showed that females with blonde hair were more frequently approached by men. However males with blonde hair didn’t receive any more acceptances of their requests compared to males with other hair colours. In both experiments, red hair was deemed the least attractive (as measured by solicitation requests or success of solicitation requests).

In my next blog, I’ll briefly look at Dr. Guéguen’s findings in relation to courtship requests and weather, music, odour, clothes (type and colour), flowers, giving compliments, parental investment, and social status.

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

Further reading

Gueguen, N. (2007). Women’s bust size and men’s courtship solicitation. Body Image, 4(4), 386-390.

Gueguen, N. (2007). Bust size and hitchhiking: A field study 1. Perceptual and motor skills, 105(3f), 1294-1298.

Guéguen, N. (2007). Courtship compliance: The effect of touch on women’s behavior. Social Influence, 2(2), 81-97.

Guéguen, N. (2008). The effect of a woman’s smile on men’s courtship behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 36(9), 1233-1236.

Guéguen, N. (2008). Brief report: The effects of women’s cosmetics on men’s approach: An evaluation in a bar. North American Journal of Psychology, 10(1), 221-227

Guéguen, N. (2009). Menstrual cycle phases and female receptivity to a courtship solicitation: an evaluation in a nightclub. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(5), 351-355.

Guéguen, N. (2010). The effect of a woman’s incidental tactile contact on men’s later behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 38, 257-266.

Guéguen, N. (2011). Effects of solicitor sex and attractiveness on receptivity to sexual offers: A field study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 915-919.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Makeup and menstrual cycle: Near ovulation, women use more cosmetics. Psychological Record, 62(3), 541-548.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Gait and menstrual cycle: Ovulating women use sexier gaits and walk slowly ahead of men. Gait and Posture, 35(4), 621-624.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Does red lipstick really attract men? An evaluation in a bar. International Journal of Psychological Studies, 4(2), 206-209.

Guéguen, N. (2012). The sweet smell of…courtship: Effects of pleasant ambient fragrance on women’s receptivity to a man’s courtship request. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(2), 123-125.

Guéguen, N. (2012). Hair color and courtship: Blond women received more courtship solicitations and redhead men received more refusals. Psychological Studies, 57(4), 369-375.

Glum drone pleasures: The psychology of Ian Curtis and Joy Division

“Now there’s a really good book…[by French economist] Jacques Attali wrote in the late [1970s] called ‘Noise: The Political Economy of Music’…and the main tenet of that book is that…music is the best form of prophecy that we have…so that working with music or sound is our best way of divining a future, and being able to show to ourselves what’s round the corner in that psychological, or even psychic sense” (writer and graphic designer Jon Wozencroft being interviewed for the 2007 film Joy Division)

As a poverty stricken teenager in the early 1980s, all of my minimal disposable income was spent on buying records, cassettes, and music magazines (and to be honest, 35 years later nothing much has changed except I now buy far too many CDs instead of cassettes). Unlike most of my friends at the time I refused to be pigeon holed as a new romantic, a punk, a mod, or a goth because I liked music from all those genres. In the early 1980s was as equally as likely to buy a record by Adam and the Ants and Bauhaus as I was to buy records by Secret Affair and The Clash. I was also into city music scenes with my favourites being the ‘Liverpool scene’ (Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Wah! etc.), the ‘Sheffield scene’ (Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire, etc.), and the ‘Manchester scene’ (Magazine, Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, The Passage, etc.).

The Manchester music scene was incredibly buoyant although often portrayed by the music press at the time as psychologically and emotionally ‘miserablist’. My parents could never understand what I saw in the “depressing and alienating music” (as they saw it) of bands like Joy Division and The Smiths. But it was through these bands that I developed an interest in psychology and what could be described as ‘psychgeography of post-punk’. In the case of Joy Division, their geographical location in Manchester and its surrounding area (Salford, Macclesfield) was integral to their music. In fact, a number of commentators (such as Liz Naylor, the co-editor of City Fun fanzine) have asserted that Joy Division “relayed the aura of Manchester” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

All of my information about Joy Division came from reading the NME, listening to the John Peel Show on Radio 1, and listening to their two studio LPs (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) and assorted singles (that I mainly taped off the radio as most of them were not widely available). I was too young to go to gigs and they rarely appeared on television. Of the four members of Joy Division – Ian Curtis (vocals), Peter Hook (bass guitar), Bernard ‘Barney’ Sumner (guitar), and Stephen Morris (drums) – it was Curtis that captivated my adolescent attention. It was through Curtis’ documented medical conditions that helped develop my interest in psychology. Curtis suffered from epilepsy (like one of musical heroes Jim Morrison of The Doors) and clinical depression. It has also been alleged that he suffered from bipolar disorder (i.e., what used to be called ‘manic depression’) although this was never formally diagnosed (and many of those close to Curtis claim that such a claim is speculative at best).

Descriptions of Curtis’ behaviour on first sight look like bipolar disorder given the reports by his wife and others of his severe mood swings (where on one day he could have feelings of happiness and elation but on the next day could have feelings of intense depression and despair). However, other members of the band claimed that the mood swings were caused by the epilepsy medication Curtis was taking. However, bipolar disorder is not uncommon among musicians given many other high profile rock and pop stars have suffered from it including Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Ray Davies (The Kinks), Sinéad O’Connor, Poly Styrene (X-Ray Spex), and Adam Ant (to name just a few). Curtis was never afraid to write about psychological and medical conditions and the song ‘She’s Lost Control’ is arguably the most insightful song ever written about epilepsy (based not on his own experiences, but his observations of a female epileptic client who died while he was an Assistant Disablement Resettlement Officer based at the Job Centre in Macclesfield).

As any Joy Division fan knows, as a result of his severe depression, Curtis committed suicide by hanging himself on May 18, 1980 (a date I always remember because it was my favourite gran’s birthday), just two days before Joy Division were due to go on their first US tour. Even as a 14-year old teenager, I remember going to my local library in Loughborough not long after his death to learn more about depression, epilepsy, suicide, and attempted suicide (as he had two previous attempts to commit suicide earlier that year). I’m not saying that this alone was responsible for my career choice but it certainly facilitated my growing interest in psychology and mental health issues.

It was also through Joy Division that I started to read history books (and still do) on various psychological and non-psychological aspects of Nazism (and is evidenced by my previous blogs on the personality of Adolf Hitler and Nazi fetishism). Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Joy Division were often accused of having Nazi tendencies. It didn’t help that their name came from the 1955 novella House of Dolls by Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nu (writing under his pen name Ka-tzetnik 135633). The ‘Joy Division’ was the name given to a group of Jewish women in World War II concentration camps whose only purpose was to provide sexual pleasure to Nazi soldiers. I have to admit I’ve never read any of De-Nu’s books. According to an online article by David Mikies (‘Holocaust Pulp Fiction’), De-Nu’s writings were “often lurid novel-memoirs, works that shock the reader with grotesque scenes of torture, perverse sexuality, and cannibalism“. In the 2006 book Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures, Jake Kennedy asserted that “Curtis’ fascination with extremes would hint to anyone willing to look beyond the headlines that the choice of name was probably an old fashioned punk exercise,  matter of old habits dying hard”.

One of the bands earliest songs ‘Warsaw’ (which was also their band name prior to becoming Joy Division) is arguably a lyrical biography of Hitler’s deputy Führer Rudolf Hess. The song even begins with the lyric “3 5 0 1 2 5 Go!” (Hess’ prisoner of war serial number after he was captured after flying to the UK in 1941). Another of their early songs ‘No Love Lost’ features a spoken word section with a complete paragraph from The House of Dolls. A 2008 article by music writer Jon Savage in The Guardian newspaper noted that Curtis’ songs “such as ‘Novelty’, ‘Leaders of Men’ and ‘Warsaw’ were barely digested regurgitations of their sources: lumpy screeds of frustration, failure, and anger with militaristic and totalitarian overtones”.

Deborah Curtis (Ian’s wife) also remembered that her husband had a book by John Heartfield that included photomontages of the Nazi Period and that graphically documented the spread of Hitler’s ideals. The cover artwork of the band’s first record, the ‘An Ideal For Living’ EP, also featured a boy member the Hitler Youth drawn by guitarist Barney Sumner banging on a drum. Much of the flirtation with Nazi symbolism was arguably juvenile fascination and playful naivety. It’s also been noted that Joy Division’s early music concentrated on the nihilistic provocations of industrial music’s pioneers Throbbing Gristle (whose music I also examined at length in a previous blog). An interesting 2010 article by Mateo on the A View From The Annex website defended Joy Division’s use of Nazi imagery and lyrics:

“The Labour government´s betrayal of the working class during the 1970s and the rise of Thatcherism at the end of the 1970s heralded a future of mass unemployment, government repression and decaying industry. The perspective taken by Ian Curtis, the band´s sole lyricist, towards this growing authoritarianism and despair is crucial to understand if one is to place the references to fascism found in the band´s album art in the context intended by the artist, that is, a despairing anti-Nazism…Punk at that time was a unique music scene in which battles between anti-racists and neo-nazis were being thrashed out at concerts as the skinheads tried to appropriate the punk aesthetic and hijack the following of alienated, disillusioned working class youth who gravitated towards such a sub-culture in places like Manchester at the beginning of the 1980s…The lyrics of Ian Curtis made it clear that this was a presence suffered and feared as opposed to tolerated or toyed with by the band…Joy Division feared fascism, they did not flirt with it and the artwork and lyrics in ‘An Ideal for Living’ serves as a warning of growing fascistic tendencies in British society…For this, Curtis and his bandmates should be lauded for tackling such a controversial issue and expressing such a well-grounded fear and hostility towards such a veritable enemy of the working class during a swift turn to the right in Britain”.

By all accounts, Curtis was a voracious reader and read books by William Burroughs, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikolai Gogol, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hermann Hesse and J.G. Ballard, many of which made their way into various Joy Division songs (an obvious example being their song ‘Interzone’ taken directly from a collection of short stories by William Burroughs). As Jon Savage noted:

“Curtis’s great lyrical achievement was to capture the underlying reality of a society in turmoil, and to make it both universal and personal. Distilled emotion is the essence of pop music and, just as Joy Division are perfectly poised between white light and dark despair, so Curtis’s lyrics oscillate between hopelessness and the possibility, if not need, for human connection. At bottom is the fear of losing the ability to feel”.

J.G. Ballard was a particular inspiration to Curtis (particularly the books High Rise and Crash, the latter of which was about the suffering of car accident victims and sexual arousal, and which I wrote about in a previous blog on symphorophilia). One of Joy Division’s best known songs (the opening ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ from their second LP Closer) took its’ name from Ballard’s collection of ‘condensed novels’ (and given its focus on mental asylums is of great psychological interest). So distinct is Ballard’s work that it gave rise to a new adjective (‘Ballardian’) and defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J.G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments”. Given this definition, many of Joy Division’s songs are clearly Ballardian as they examine the emotional and psychological effects of everything around them (including personal relationships on songs such as their most well known and most covered song, and only British hit ‘Love Will tear Us Apart’).

The overriding psychology and underlying philosophy of both Ian Curtis and Joy Division are both contradictory and complex but ultimately the band members were a product of the environment they were brought up in and the sum of their musical and literary influences. At the age of 24 years, Curtis’ suicide was undoubtedly tragic and like many other literary and musical ‘artists’, his death has been somewhat romanticized by the mass media. Although he didn’t quite make it into the infamous ‘27 Club’ of ‘rock martyr’ musicians that died when they were 27 years (e.g., Dave Alexander [The Stooges], Chris Bell [Big Star], Kurt Cobain [Nirvana], Richey Edwards [Manic Street Preachers], Pete Ham [Badfinger], Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones [Rolling Sones], Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison [The Doors], Amy Winehouse) he is surely a candidate for being a prime honorary member (along with Jeff Buckley). Retrospectively looking at his lyrics (In the shadowplay, acting out your own death, knowing no more” from ‘Shadowplay’, you can’t help but wonder (given that many of them were autobiographical) whether Curtis’ death could have been prevented by those closest to him.

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

Further reading

Curtis, D. (1995). Touching From A Distance. London: Faber and Faber.

Curtis, I., Savage, J. & Curtis, D. (2015). So This Is Permanence: Joy Division Lyrics and Notebooks. London: Faber and Faber.

Gleason. P. (2015). This Is the Way: “So This Is Permanence” by Ian Curtis. Located at: http://stereoembersmagazine.com/way-permanence-ian-curtis/

Hook, P. (2013). Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division. London: Simon and Schuster.

Kennedy, J. (2006). Joy Division and the Making of Unknown Pleasures. London: Omnibus.

Mikies, D. (2012). Holocaust pulp fiction. The Tablet, April 19. Located at: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/97160/ka-tzetnik?all=1

Morley, P. (2007). Joy Division: Piece by Piece: Writing About Joy Division 1977-2007. London: Plexus Publishing.

Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.

Savage, J. (2008). Controlled chaos. The Guardian, May 10. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/may/10/popandrock.joydivision

Ringing the changes: Can disordered mobile phone use be considered a behavioural addiction?

Over the last decade, I have published various papers on excessive mobile phone use both in general and related to particular aspects of mobile phone use (such as gambling and gaming via mobile phones (see ‘Further reading’ below). Recently, some colleagues and I (and led by Dr. Joël Billieux) published a new review in the journal Current Addiction Reports examining disordered mobile phone use.

I don’t think many people would say that their lives are worse because of mobile phones as the positives appear to greatly outweigh the negatives. However, in the scientific literature, excessive mobile phone use has been linked with self-reported dependence and addiction-like symptoms, sleep interference, financial problems, dangerous use (phoning while driving), prohibited use (phoning in banned areas), and mobile phone-based aggressive behaviours (e.g., cyberbullying).

Despite accumulating evidence that mobile phone use can become problematic and lead to negative consequences, its incidence, prevalence, and symptomatology remain a matter of much debate. For instance, our recent review noted that prevalence studies conducted within the last decade have reported highly variable rates of problematic use ranging from just above 0% to more than 35%. This is mainly due to the fact most studies in the field have been conducted in the absence of a theoretical rationale.

Too often, excessive mobile phone use has simply been conceptualized as a behavioural addiction and subsequently develop screening tools using items adapted from the substance use and pathological gambling literature, without taking into account either the specificities of mobile phone “addiction” (e.g., dysfunctional mobile phone use may often be related to interpersonal processes) or the fact that the most recent generation of mobile phones (i.e., smartphones) are tools that – like the internet – allow the involvement in a wide range of activities going far beyond traditional oral and written (SMS) communication between individuals (e.g., gaming, gambling, social networking, shopping, etc.).

The first scientific studies examining problematic mobile phone use (PMPU) were published a decade ago. Since then, the number of published studies on the topic has grown substantially. At present, several terms are frequently used to describe the phenomenon, the more popular being ‘mobile phone (or smartphone) addiction’, ‘mobile phone (or smartphone) dependence’ or ‘nomophobia’ (that refers to the fear of not being able to use the mobile phone).

PMPU is generally conceptualized as a behavioural addiction including the core components of addictive behaviours, such as cognitive salience, loss of control, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse. Accordingly, the criteria (and screening tools developed using such criteria) that have been proposed to diagnose an addiction to the mobile phone have been directly transposed from those classifying and diagnosing other addictive behaviours, i.e., the criteria for substance use and pathological gambling. For example, in a recent study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, Dr. Peter Smetaniuk reported a prevalence of PMPU around 20% in U.S. undergraduate students using adapted survey items that were initially developed to diagnose disordered gambling.

Although many scholars believe that PMPU is a behavioural addiction, evidence is still lacking that either confirms or rejects such conceptualization. Indeed, the fact that this condition can be considered as an addiction is to date only supported by exploratory studies relying on self-report data collected via convenience samples. More specifically, there is a crucial lack of evidence that similar neurobiological and psychological mechanisms are involved in the aetiology of mobile phone addiction compared to other chemical and behavioural addictions. Such types of evidence played a major role in the recent recognition of Gambling Disorder and Internet Gaming Disorder as addictive disorders in the latest (fifth) addiction of the DSM (i.e., DSM-5) In particular, three key features of addictive behaviours, namely loss of control, tolerance and withdrawal, have – to date – received very limited empirical support in the field of mobile phone addiction research.

Given these concerns, it appears that the empirical evidence supporting the conceptualization of PMPU as a genuine addictive behaviour is currently scarce. However, this does not mean that PMPU is not a genuine addictive behaviour (at least for a subgroup of individuals displaying PMPU symptoms), but rather that the nature and amount of the available data at the present time are not sufficient to draw definitive and valid conclusions. Therefore, further studies are required. In particular, longitudinal and experimental research is needed to obtain behavioural and neurobiological correlates of PMPU. In the absence of such types of data, all attempts to consider PMPU within the framework of behavioural addictions will remain tentative. It is worth noting here that it took decades of empirical research before disordered gambling was officially recognized as an addiction (as opposed to a disorder of impulse control) in the DSM-5.

The current conceptual chaos surrounding PMPU research can also be related to the fact that while the number of empirical studies is growing quickly, these studies have (to date) primarily been based on concepts borrowed from other disorders (e.g., problematic Internet use, pathological gambling, substance abuse, etc.). This approach is atheoretical and lacks specificity with regard to the phenomenon under investigation. In fact, by adopting such a ‘confirmatory approach’ relying on deductive quantitative studies, important findings that are unique to the experience of PMPU have been neglected. As an illustration, no qualitative analyses of PMPU exist, and only a few models have been proposed. This implies that most studies have been conducted without a theoretical rationale that goes beyond transposing what is known about addictions in the analysis of PMPU.

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

Additional input: Joël Billieux, Pierre Maurage, Olatz Lopez-Fernandez and Daria J. Kuss

Further reading

Bianchi, A. & Phillips, J.G. (2005). Psychological predictors of problem mobile phone use. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 8, 39–51.

Billieux, J. (2012). Problematic use of the mobile phone: A literature review and a pathways model. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 299–307.

Billieux, J., Maurage, P., Lopez-Fernandez, O., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Can disordered mobile phone use be considered a behavioral addiction? An update on current evidence and a comprehensive model for future research. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 154-162.

Carbonell, X., Chamarro, A., Beranuy, M., Griffiths, M.D. Obert, U., Cladellas, R. & Talarn, A. (2012). Problematic Internet and cell phone use in Spanish teenagers and young students. Anales de Psicologia, 28, 789-796.

Chóliz M. (2010). Mobile phone addiction: a point of issue. Addiction. 105, 373-374.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Mobile phone gambling. In D. Taniar (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Mobile Computing and Commerce (pp.553-556). Pennsylvania: Information Science Reference.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent mobile phone addiction: A cause for concern? Education and Health, 31, 76-78.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Honrubia-Serrano, L., Freixa-Blanxart, M., & Gibson, W. (2014). Prevalence of problematic mobile phone use in British adolescents. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17, 91-98.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., & Billieux, J. (2015). The conceptualization and assessment of problematic mobile phone use. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Mobile Phone Behavior (Volumes 1, 2, & 3) (pp. 591-606). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Smetaniuk, P. (2014). A preliminary investigation into the prevalence and prediction of problematic cell phone use. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3(1), 41-53.

The hold of rolled gold: A brief look at wedding ring fetishes

In January 1995, the Channel 4 television documentary programme Equinox examined sexual paraphilias in a programme called ‘Beyond Love’. One of the many experts interviewed for the programme, Dr. Gene Abel, talked about a man with an unusual fetish. His sexual turn-on was gold wedding rings. In recounting the individual’s story, Dr. Abel said that the fetish was very specific and that the ring had to be of a particular width (6mm to 10mm if I recall correctly) for it to be sexually stimulating to the man in question. The roots of the fetish were established in childhood and arose from the time that the man was a boy and used to sit on his baby-sitter’s knee and play with the ring (twirling it around on her finger). The playing with the ring was accompanied by sexual arousal (from sitting on the knee of an attractive woman) but over time, the ring itself became the source of sexual arousal via continued associative pairing (i.e., sexual arousal from the sight of the female babysitter’s ring became a classically conditioned response).

The man had now married and his wife was unaware of his fetish but the sexologist explained that the man could not get sexually aroused and make love to his wife unless she was wearing her wedding ring and he was twirling it on her finger during sexual intercourse. Dr. Abel also said the man would also walk up to female strangers and comment how lovely their wedding ring was and ask if he could take a photograph of it. He would then use the developed photographs as source material for masturbatory purposes. This anecdotal case story might sound a little bizarre especially as there is no sexual paraphilia that refers to being sexually attracted to gold wedding rings (although Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices does mention timophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals gain sexual pleasure and arousal from gold or wealth – and which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog).

However, Dr. Abel and his colleagues later wrote up this account as one of six unusual case studies in a 2008 issue of the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America where the man in question was given the pseudonym ‘Mr. Rings’ (the other five being ‘Mr. Cartoons’, ‘Mr. Feet’, ‘Mr. Balloons’, ‘Mr. Cigarettes’, and ‘Mr. Spanking’). In all of these cases (including ‘Mr. Rings’), they noted:

“The fetish objects in these case histories were unique enough, and the attraction to the objects strong enough, that the individuals could clearly track their interest from early childhood through adulthood. It is much easier to retrieve remote, explicit memories, such as events (e.g., a party where balloons popped) or playing with objects, than to recall the process of sexual development with no distinct markers in the individual’s history. Because these distinct experiences predated identified sexuality, became a focus of attention for the individual, and then were incorporated into the individual’s sexual interests and masturbatory fantasies, it was possible to accurately track the patterns of sexual arousal. We were also able to clearly identify how these men attempted to blend their deviant interests into sexual relationships with partners and the consequences of their efforts”.

As far as I am aware, this is the only academic paper to have examined ‘ring fetishism’ but my own research on the topic has led me to the conclusion that ‘Mr. Rings’ case is not unique. Here are a few accounts that I found in various online forums on the internet:

  • Extract 1: “[I] have a wedding [ring] on hand fetish. Even more aroused if the woman wears both a wedding and an engagement ring. I don’t like any other kind of ring. Rather than the plain yellow I prefer silver colour (platinum ones)” (Welly11)
  • Extract 2: “I have the same type of fetish. I’m turned on by ladies who wear wedding and engagement rings stacked on the same finger, and other simple band (plain gold or pave) rings. That’s why I founded a Yahoo! Group for other fetishists to share their photos” (Saladinthewise)
  • Extract 3: “I thought I was the only person on the planet with this (get incredibly aroused when I see a woman wear the plain yellow gold wedding ring) and I couldn’t make any sense of it for ages…Thanks for restoring a bit of my sanity and faith in my normality!” (Heshan1)
  • Extract 4: “My husband bought me a wedding ring that looks very similar to the one his mom wears. He later confessed it is a tremendous turn-on for him just seeing me wearing it. He doesn’t remember his mom (who is a wonderful person) doing anything ‘out of line’ with him in the past and it is not essential for me to have it on for sex. Could something have happened as a baby to implant this ‘fascination’ in his mind?” (iDawn491)

These are all fairly short self-confessed admissions and don’t really tell us much except that the fetish appears to be male-based and that the ring (or stacked rings in the case of two of the accounts) have to be worn by women. Extract 4 does point out that her husband can engage in sex without her wearing the ring so in this case, it wouldn’t be a true fetish behaviour (merely a strong sexual preference). There are also some sexually explicit discussions about wedding ring fetishes here. However, I did come across some more detailed accounts:

  • Extract 5: “My fetish started a long time ago, I am 55. Women who have worn wide bands have always had my interest. I have been married twice and each time I have told my wife to be about my fetish. Both women have worn wide band. My first wife got deep in to religion and wanted me to quit carrying an off duty side arm, I was a police officer at the time. My second wife said if I wanted her to she would wear a few wide rings if I got her what I wanted. I have been married to her for almost 20 years and she has worn them both day and night. I really dislike the thin plain gold rings that a lot of women wear. I feel all women should wear wide band on one of their ring fingers. My second wife dated a guy before me who had a fetish for bangle bracelets that could not be removed he had her wearing 5 to 6 on each arm that were soldered on and could not pass over the wrist. Even after she broke up with him she continued to wear them for about 10 years and once in a blue moon she would see him somewhere and shake them at him, just to see and you can’t have me” (Edward 5759).

This account hints that the fetish probably started in adolescence and that like ‘Mr. Rings’, the ring has to be of a specific type (in this case a wide band). It is also a fetish that the man in question was happy to tell his wives about, and something that the wives were psychologically comfortable with. This last account is a little more complicated as there are overlaps with other sexually fetishistic behaviours:

  • Extract 6: “My longstanding fetish is to be tied up by married women wearing a certain type of wedding ring. These are plain gold, very large 20-25 mms in width, curved like a barrel and smooth, the curve less pronounced as the width increases…All you need to know is that every woman I have ever encountered wearing one I have subsequently fantasized about them tying me up…My fetish even leading me to follow women I know to wear them. I have no idea why these wedding rings turn me on, and continue to do so, but it is a fetish I feel might be a new one and something I have just wanted to tell people about for a very long time. I can only think that the size and shape have something to do with my fetish and would appear to be linked somehow to my desire to always be tied with lots of rope, generously wrapped around the body. I’ve never really viewed my fetish as a problem other than the fact that chancing upon women wearing these rings is something that rarely ever happens, as they are not commonplace, therefore there is practically nothing to satisfy my ‘addiction’, for want of a better description…There was a woman who wore a wedding ring of the kind I have described, a particularly large one, who would shop every Saturday at a certain location at a certain time and I would make sure I’d be there to see it. This went on for three years. That was a long time ago now, and I still fantasize about her tying me up…I simply cannot imagine that ANYONE shares my fetish, so I can’t really expect to meet anyone here who does. The unusual nature of it being the biggest problem, that there is simply no concrete outlet for it” (Brainpan).

This final account is the most interesting one I have come across although is complicated by the fact that there are elements of bondage and sexual masochism added to the fetishistic mix. Although (like the other extracts) there is no insight into the roots and etiology of the behaviour, the size and the shape of the ring are again very specific suggesting that the longstanding desire dates back to a time where the person simply can’t recall where the interest in rings began (i.e., early childhood perhaps). As with other accounts, the fetishistic behaviour is not viewed as a problem by the person who has it (although in this latter case, there is arguably an element of stalking involved).

In all honesty (and although I find this interesting), I can’t see ‘wedding ring fetishism’ ever being the topic of in-depth psychological research particularly as the behaviour appears to be non-problematic in the main.

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

Further reading

Abel, G.G., Coffey, L. & Osborn, C.A. (2008). Sexual arousal patterns: normal and deviant. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31, 643-655.

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

Needles and the damage done: A brief look at ‘knitting addiction’

In a previous blog, I briefly looked at ‘quilting addiction’. It was while I was researching that blog that I also came across a number of academic papers on the sociology of knitting and various references in the academic (and non-academic) literature to ‘knitting addiction’. In previous blogs I have written about the work of Dr. Bill Glasser who introduced the concept of ‘positive addiction’ in a 1976 book of the same name.

In a more recent 2012 paper on the topic in the Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Glasser claimed that he had heard numerous stories from many different individuals claiming they were ‘positively addicted “to a variety of activities such as swimming, hiking, bike riding, yoga, Zen, knitting, crocheting, hunting, fishing, skiing, rowing, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, and many more”. Glasser (1976) argued that activities such as jogging and transcendental meditation were positive addictions and were the kinds of activity that could be deliberately cultivated to wean addicts away from more harmful and sinister preoccupations. He also asserted that positive addictions must be new rewarding activities that produce increased feelings of self-efficacy.

This idea has actually been put into practice with knitting. Dr. Kathryn Duffy published a paper in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery about knitting as an experiential teaching method for affect management for females in addiction group therapy at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. Duffy claimed her knitting program had been successful in facilitating discussions and beneficial in providing a skill for moderating stress and emotions, both for female inpatient and outpatient drug and alcohol addicts.

A more recent paper by Dr. Betsan Corkhill and colleagues examined knitting and wellbeing (in a 2014 issue of Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture), using the World Health Organisation’s definition of wellbeing as “an ability to realize personal potential, cope with daily stresses, and contribute productively to society”. Their paper argued that knitting contributes to human wellbeing and has therapeutic benefits for those that engage in it because it is a behaviour (like many others) that can be used as a coping mechanism that can help overcome the daily pressures of life. One of the more interesting papers that I read on knitting was one published in a 2011 issue of Utopian Studies by Dr. Jack Bratich and Dr. Heidi Brush about “fabriculture” and “craftivism”:

“When we speak of ‘fabriculture’ or craft culture, we are referring to a whole range of practices usually defined as the ‘domestic arts’: knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking, quilting, embroidery, sewing, doll-making. More than the actual handicraft, we are referring to the recent popularization and resurgence of interest in these crafts, especially among young women. We are taking into account the mainstream forms found in Martha Stewart Living as well as the more explicitly activist (or craftivist) versions such as Cast Off, Anarchist Knitting Circle, MicroRevolt, Anarchist Knitting Mob, Revolutionary Knitting Circle, and Craftivism…When we use the term craft-work, we are specifically referring to the laboring practices involved in crafting, while fabriculture speaks to the broader practices (meaning-making, communicative, community-building) intertwined with this (im)material labor”.

The paper also outlined how women who knit in public (such as during a lecture or a conference) are often castigated and/or ridiculed for their behaviour. They even cited Sigmund Freud in relation to why knitting in public causes discomfort for onlookers:

“Freud institutionalized a concept denoting the jarring and disorienting effect of being spatially out of phase: unheimlich. The queasiness of the unheimlich occurs also when interiors become exteriorized (especially the home, as it also means unhomely). Knitting in public turns the interiority of the domestic outward, exposing that which exists within enclosures, through invisibility and through unpaid labor: the production of home life. Knitting in public also inevitably makes this question of space an explicitly gendered one. One commentator observes that knitting in public today is analogous to the outcry against breast-feeding in public twenty years ago (Higgins 2005). Both acts rip open the enclosure of the domestic space to public consumption. Both acts are also intensely productive and have generally contributed to women’s heretofore invisible and unpaid labor. But could such an innocuous activity as knitting have such social ramifications? How disruptive can fabriculture be when crafting women are more in the public eye than ever before? Many of us may know that Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, and other celebs knit”.

The paper goes on to say that there are various knitting blogs (such as Etherknitter) that “expose the dark side of knitting” including excessive consumption and addiction. I then went onto the Etherknitter website and located an article specifically written on knitting addiction (‘Etherknitter’ turned out to be the pseudonym of the individual that runs the site). Here are some extracts from the article which also notes some of the shared terminology between drug addiction and knitting addiction:

“It’s been a revealing several days. I have discovered that I am incapable of not knitting. The only thing that would have stopped me would have been pain… In college, when I flirted with smoking cigarettes for six weeks…Alcohol has never appealed…In my profession, an uncomfortable number of practitioners succumb to the siren song of drug addiction…Then we get to knitting. I can’t not knit. Well, I can, but it hurts too much to be worth it. (I wonder if that’s why addicts stay addicted.) I was talking to a [fabric store] owner recently…She commented that the staff in the store sees a lot of people at the store who act out their neediness through yarn. She saw it as uncontrolled buying. Since we were talking about obesity in America at the time, she was tying it into alcohol/drug and food addiction. [The Too Much Wool website] pointed out our knitterly use of the word ‘stash’, and its clear crossover to the drug culture. Blogworld is full of knitters describing uncontrolled stash acquistions [such as ‘majorknitter’]. And trying to hide the size of the stash from significant others. And selling parts of their stash to others. The addiction to fiber and knitting is probably more benign, except for the financial aspects, and the time constraints. I really do have to beat myself to fulfill the more boring paperwork obligations in my life since I started knitting. The needles (aha! Another crossover analogy) are more fun. I don’t plan to do anything about my knit-addiction quite yet. But it does bother me”. 

In researching this article I came across a number of online accounts of people claiming to be genuinely addicted to knitting. This extract was particularly revealing as this short account seems to highlight many of the core components of addiction such as salience, conflict, and withdrawal symptoms:

“So, I’m 22 and I go through all that typical 22-year old stuff. Sometimes, my life gets rough and I have trouble coping. Rather than going out with friends and drinking till I puke, or going and smoking a few cigarettes or a joint, or having sex with random boys, I turn to my knitting in times of crisis. This might sound like a constructive thing. After all, I’m creating rather than destroying, right? Wrong. I say that I’m addicted because I am. I can’t function on a normal level without my knitting bag at my side. I can’t sit still in class or on a break if I’m not knitting. My head hurts, I sweat, I get jittery if my hands are doing nothing. And it gets worse. I skip classes to go to yarn stores. I come back late from breaks at work because I needed to finish just one more row. I already have one knitting tattoo and another planned. I pay my rent late because I spent my entire paycheck on yarn. My boyfriend’s half of the apartment is slowly being taken over by my stash. My life isn’t complete without knitting. I bought two spinning wheels so I could spin my own yarn. I think that if I ever lost a hand or arm due to an accident I would probably kill myself because I couldn’t knit…I’ve admitted to myself that I have a problem, but most people see knitting as simply my hobby. It goes so much deeper than that and I feel like I finally needed to say something”.

Academically, there is little on knitting addiction. In an unpublished thesis by Christiana Croghan, she noted in one paragraph that:

“Baird (2009) supports the theory that knitting alters brain chemistry, lowering stress hormones and boosting the production of serotonin and dopamine. Dittrich (2001) argues while there are many health benefits associated with knitting there is also a health risk of the possible development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Research suggests knitting may also have an addictive quality that Corkhill (2008) considers to be a constructive addiction that may replace other more severe harmful addictions. Marer (2002) interviewed professional women who knit during lunch hours, and found a consistent theme of relief from anxiety and a sense of clear headedness at work. Marer (2002) also found patients with severe illnesses such as cancer experience a greater sense of coping when they knit”.

More specifically on addiction, a 2011 issue of Asian Culture and History, Hye Young Shin and Dr. Ji Soo Ha examined knitting practice in Korea. Their qualitative research revealed that:

“Immersion in knitting projects can become so intense as to create anxiety for some knitters after the completion of a knitting project. They confess a sense of emptiness or feeling lost after a period of deep mental and physical engagement. This suggests that knitting can become an activity that does not arise out of necessity or has a clear purpose. However, knitters who have a lot of experience with knitting practice tend to say that long experience with knitting has enabled them to handle this urge to indulge in knitting, a typical symptom in the early stage of one’s knitting career”.

Their paper includes the following quotes from knitters that they interviewed:

  • Extract 1: “Knitting is a kind of addiction or drug. I feel so bored and empty and a sense of being lost when I’m done with one project.”
  • Extract 2: “For example, I check the time when a TV drama begins and I can stop knitting when the drama starts. When I first started knitting, I couldn’t control my urge to keep knitting on and on, but now I can; otherwise I can’t enjoy it as a pleasurable and long-term hobby. I still want to carry on when I sit for knitting, not wanting to stand up to wash the dishes, but now I can control myself.”

I have always argued that is theoretically possible for an individual to become addicted to anything if there are constant reinforcements (i.e., rewards). The anecdotal reports in this article suggest that a few individuals appear to experience addiction-like symptoms but there is too little detail to say one way or another whether knitting addiction genuinely exists.

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

Further reading

Baird, M., (2009). Fighting the stress with knitting needles. Located at: http://heal-all.org/art/18/human-body/1999/fighting-the-stress-with-knitting-needles

Bratich, J. Z., & Brush, H. M. (2011). Fabricating activism: Craft-work, popular culture, gender. Utopian Studies, 22(2), 233-260.

Corkhill, B. (2008) Therapeutic knitting. retrieved from www.knitonthenet.com/issue4/features/therapeutic knitting/

Corkhill, B., Hemmings, J., Maddock, A., & Riley, J. (2014). Knitting and Well-being. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 12(1), 34-57.

Croghan, C. (2013). Knitting is the new yoga? Comparing techniques; physiological and psychological indicators of the relaxation response. Unpublished manuscript. Located at: http://esource.dbs.ie/handle/10788/1586

Dittrich, L. R. (2001) Knitting. Academic Medicine, 76(7), 671. Retrieved from: http://knittingbrain.com/results.php

Duffy, K. (2007). Knitting through recovery one stitch at a time: Knitting as an experiential teaching method for affect management in group therapy. Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery, 2(1), 67-83.

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

Glasser, W. (2012). Promoting client strength through positive addiction. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 11(4), 173-175.

Etherknitter (2006). Public displays of knitting. Etherknitter Blog. Accessed April 19, 2006, http://etherknitter.typepad.com/etherknitter/2006/03/please_picture_.html

Marer, E. (2002). Knitting: the new yoga. Health, 16(2), 76-78.

Shin, H. Y., & Ha, J. S. (2011). Knitting practice in Korea: A geography of everyday experiences. Asian Culture and History, 3(1), 105-114.

A battle of Witts: A brief look at ‘Taboos’ and the work of The Passage

“If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it” (Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare)

Today’s blog is not academic but it’s about an academic (but I’ll come to that later). Back in the early 1980s when I was in my early teenage years, my obsession for music was fed by listening to the John Peel show every weekday night. I still have dozens of cassettes of the songs that I taped off the show that I still cannot throw away (and before you ask, yes I am a hoarder when it comes to anything music-related). It was 1981 when I first heard a song that has become one of my all-time favourites – ‘Taboos’ by post-punk band The Passage. From the opening verse I was transfixed. Here was a group writing songs about sexual dysfunction in both a cerebral and humorous way. Around this time I was also a massive fan of Adam and the Ants, particularly their songs on sexual perversions and paraphilias (which I have already documented in two previous blogs on the psychology of Adam Ant, and Ant as a portrait in pop perversion)

The Passage formed March 1978 in Manchester and the band was led by Richard ‘Dick’ Witts (formerly a percussionist in the Halle Orchestra) and the only ever present member until they split up in 1983. Their early material as been likened to The Fall (not totally a surprise given that The Passage’s first bassist Tony Friel also played bass in The Fall), and like The Fall there was a constant change of line-ups with Witts being the equivalent of The Fall’s lead singer Mark E. Smith. Witts was also an occasional television presenter of music programmes (such as The Oxford Road Show). Witts also recalled the story of Morrissey auditioning for them before he formed The Smiths (“‘As we were spineless about singing we once auditioned a bunch of hopefuls, including a certain Steve Morrissey, who we thought a bit too glum for the likes of us”).

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Between November 1980 and March 1983, The Passage released four great albums (Pindrop; For All And None; Degenerates; and Enflame) on three different record labels (first Object Music, then Virgin subsidiary label Night & Day, and finally with legendary indie label Cherry Red). The LPs were all re-released in 2003 on the LTM label along with a compilation album (BBC Sessions). There’s also a ‘best of’ CD collection with the homophonically titled Seedy (geddit? A prime example of Witts’ wit) which is well worth getting as a primer to their later recorded output. Much of their music was critically lauded including (then NME critic and later a member of the band Art of Noise) Paul Morley who compared them to Joy Division (a band that was actually the support act at one of The Passage’s early gigs). Morley’s review of their debut LP noted:

‘With the disquieting Pindrop, The Passage can be accepted as major even by the cowardly, cautious and cynical: it’s a work of disciplined intellectual aggression, frantic emotions and powerfully idiomatic musicality. Pindrop is densely shaded, erratically mixed (which often works in its favour), rough edged, heavy in an unloveable sense of the word…It’s as shocking a beautiful nightmare, as stormy and aware a debut LP as [Joy Division’s] Unknown Pleasures. Where you gasp a lot. Comparisons will harm. Their sound is their own. It’s the shock of the new – new shades, textures, noises, pulses, atmospheres, energies, the opening up of new realms of feeling.’

One of the things I loved about The Passage was they were never afraid to write songs that were lyrically intellectually political and/or sexual (e.g., ‘Troops Out’, ‘Carnal’, ‘Taboos’, ‘XoYo’). Their ‘love songs’ (to use a quote from the Soft Cell’s song ‘Perversity‘) are “deliciously twisted” (e.g., ’16 Hours’. Love Is As’, ‘Revelation’, ‘Time Will Tell’). In fact, a number of music critics would talk about Witts’ “rigorously intellectual approach” to music and lyric writing. Their second album (For All and None) even took its title from the four-part philosophical novel by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (i.e., Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None). In the song ‘My One Request’, Witts refrain “Love, fear, power, hope” appears to be his manifesto on life. In a lengthy interview with Johnny Black for indie fanzine Masterbag about his continued fascination with form and structure:

“‘We’ve done 53 songs now and they’re all based on just three words,’ says Witts, beginning to illustrate his musical triangle on a paper napkin. At the corners of the triangle he writes the words and speaks them as he does so. ‘Fear, power and…love.’ ‘Another triangle takes shape while he tells me about power. ‘Power is ambiguous, it depends on how it’s used. In the same way, a knife can be used to cut bread, or to slit a throat.’ ‘The second triangle is ready, and at each corner he writes, semitone, minor third, major third, then pushes the napkin over to me. ‘Within these triangles you can sum up everything about Western music.’ The Witts fixation with structure (and triangles) is reflected even in the design of their album covers. ‘We use only black, red and white, which are symbolic colours. The red flag, the black flag for anarchy, black and white united fight – all these things…There are three people in the group and I associate those colours with us. I’m red, Andrew [Wilson] blue, and Paul [Mahoney] is white.”

I should also note that the track ‘Love Song’ from their New Love Songs EP was the first song I ever heard that featured the word ‘c**t’ in a rhyming couplet (‘I love you/Cos I need a c**t/I love you/To use you back and front’). (As a possibly amusing aside, I was the first ever academic to get the word ‘f**kwit’ into the British Journal of Psychology in a study examining the role of cognitive bias in slot machine gambling – see ‘Further reading’ below). The same song also referred to fellatio (but Adam and the Ants had already covered the topic in the song Cleopatra on their 1980 debut LP Dirk Wears White Sox). The Passage are arguably one of the most unsung bands of the 1980s. Perhaps the best tribute to the band was from Nick Currie (aka the musician Momus) who said:

“[The Passage were] one of the greatest, yet least known of 80s groups. I bought ‘Pindrop’ after hearing a track on [the John Peel show]. The album (slightly murkier, more introverted and mysterious sounding than later releases) was like nothing else being made at the time. Totally electronic, spooky, intelligent, political, passionate as hell, like Laurie Anderson crossed with The Fall. ‘Degenerates’ and ‘Enflame’ are also great records, Brechtian politics melded to angular, caustic lyrics. The Passage were very un-English in their willingness to write about sex and politics. I think you’d have to see them as libertarians in a peculiarly Protestant mode, like Quakers or Methodist radicals or something”.

Which brings me to arguably their two greatest songs – ‘Taboos’ and ‘XoYo’ – both about sex but both very different both musically and lyrically (sexual dysfunction versus sexual liberation). Both songs are on the 2003 CD reissue of the Degenerates LP and most people that have heard of The Passage probably prefer ‘XoYo’ because they are likely to be one of the 100,000+ music lovers (like myself) that bought the Cherry Red indie classic sampler album Pillows and Prayers on which it also appeared. The opening quote by Shakespeare is actually the first lyric on ‘XoYo’ (which you can listen to here) and it fits perfectly with the lyrical content of the song (you can read all the lyrics here as they also work as prose).

The ‘Taboos’ single (which you can listen to here) was recorded at Stockport’s Strawberry Studio in August 1981. Witts was apparently unhappy with the mix (although I think it’s great) as he was quoted as saying: “I drowned the drumming with timpani and other percussion, in particular Taboos which now sounds more like an Orange Order marching band than the [Phil] SpectorWall of Sound‘ I had in mind”. Lyrically, I just loved the whole song. Below are the lyrics to the whole song that I transcribed myself as (unlike ‘XoYo’), they don’t appear to be published anywhere online:

“I use this magazine that gives instructions/It tells me many things about seduction/It comes in monthly parts, there’s 16 sections/I need nine more for the complete collection

In Number 6 there’s chapters on disorders/And Number 7’s all about withdrawal/In Number 8 there’s pictures of positions/I’m stuck till I receive the ninth edition

Whoever hopes to dance with me/Must abandon all such guides and schemes/And measure up a million ways and means/Take to heart strange choreography

We have to wait until we’ve read them through/With things like this we’re better safe than sorry/I have it written here, four things to do/Each one a cornerstone of carnal knowledge

It makes you go blind/By closing your mind/Obstructing the view/Too many taboos/Too many taboos

We really should wait till we’ve read them through/You know we’re/always better safe than sorry/You see it written here a thousand rules/Certain regulations should be followed

Perhaps these studies on cassette are wisest/While they play you try the exercises/Just one of 15 minutes would be plenty/My body can’t take all five C-120s

Whoever hopes to dance with me/Must leave behind what’s being heard and seen/And stepping through a thousand routes and dreams/Take to heart new choreography

It makes you go blind/Disclosing the mind/A little taboos/Two million taboos

Let’s wait until we’ve seen the TV series/A programme titled ‘All Your Bedroom Queries’/You may will think I’m making lame excuses/I just don’t like, you know it more than I do

My only option is to write about/A verse or two of hollow lies about you/So you’d be flattered by my sharp deception/And words were made to exercise deception

Whoever wants to dance with me/Must abandon traps and trickery/Take to heart new choreography/Take by storm strange choreography

It makes you go blind/By closing the mind/Obstructing the view/Too many taboos/Too many taboos”

‘Taboos’ (words and music: Dick Witts and Andy Wilson)

Since The Passage disbanded, Witts has put his musical talents to good use. He became an academic and university lecturer in modern music and has taught at Edinburgh University, Goldsmiths University (London) and Edge Hill University (Ormskirk, Lancashire). He’s also written some great books including ones on Nico and The Velvet Underground (that you can download at his academic website). Hopefully after reading this, a few more people will delve into The Passage’s back catalogue and discover one of the great cult bands of the 1980s.

Note: I would like to thank both Dick Witts and Keith Nuttall (at http://www.thepassage.co.uk) for their help in compiling this article.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.

Nice, J. (2003). The Passage\Biography. LTM Recordings. Located at: http://www.ltmrecordings.com/the_passage.html

Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.

Wikipedia (2015). Richard Witts. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Witts

Wikipedia (2015). The Passage (band). Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passage_(band)

Take a stance on me: A brief look at ‘hands on hips’ fetish

I can’t remember exactly how, but one day last year I came across a website called Hands On Her Hips which is totally dedicated to pictures of females posing with their hands on their hips. As the website states:

“The mission statement of this blog is very simple. The blog contains picture of women holding their hands on their hips. To me the pose is very feminine, attractive, powerful and confident. The simple gesture of a woman putting her hands on her hips appeals to me and this blog is dedicated to that pose”

However, I soon discovered on doing a little Googling that there appears to be a niche community of ‘hands on hip’ [HoH] fetishists out there. I’m not aware of any academic research on HoH fetishism but there are a number of online references to the practice. According to a short 2009 online article on ‘eight freaky fetishes’ by Grace Murano, she claims that:

“Hands on the Hip is a type of hand partialism, which means the attraction to a specific action performed by the hands. It’s very hard to explain the presence of a fetish site devoted entirely to women posing with their hands on their hips, standing defiantly and angrily in the way so many mothers do when their children misbehave. Somewhere, deep in the psyche of the site’s creator, he desperately wants to find a mother figure who will discipline him with nothing harsher than a time out and denial of television”.

Murano’s brief description appears to somewhat concur with Wikipedia’s brief entry on hand fetishism (that appears to have come from Dr. Ellen McCallum’s 1998 book Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism). This entry claims that hand fetishism:

“…may include the sexual attraction to a specific area such as the fingers, palm or nails, or the attraction to a specific action performed by the hands; which may otherwise be considered non-sexual – such as washing or drying dishes. This fetish may manifest itself as a desire to experience physical interaction, or as a source of sexual fantasy”.

Another 2009 short online article by Gloria Brame asserts that HoH fetishism is actually an ‘action fetish’ (i.e., an individual who derives sexual arousal not from an object or body part but from an action that someone performs). Brame then goes on to assert that:

“For most, that includes seeing it, but it isn’t just a branch of voyeurism: the fundamental thrill attaches to the action itself, and not just its visual or auditory pleasures. One very broad example would be spankers who get off on the action (of spanking) itself, and not – as is more common among [sadomasochists] – the pain or humiliation or its place in a power dynamic…Some of us know SM players too who are turned on by the actions but not the psychological space…It’s a bit easier to sort out when the action fetish is highly particularized. For example, a fetish for watching a woman in stockings and high heels step on a car’s brakes, or a fetish for seeing a coed in her underwear bouncing on a big balloon There are scores of barely documented action fetishes, so I’m always happy when I see an enthusiast build a blog to his/her own fetish, like this one [Hands on her hips]”

In another list of ‘weird fetishes’ from 2007, Anthony Burch and Frank Movsesian also listed HoH fetish and tried to add in a bit of psychodynamic psychology into the mix. They claimed that HoH fetish sites prove that Sigmund Freud was right. I personally don’t adhere to this viewpoint at all but given the lack of any psychological insight and theorizing, they go as far as to say:

There’s no other way to explain the presence of a fetish site devoted entirely to women posing with their hands on their hips, standing defiantly and angrily in the way so many mothers do when their children misbehave. Somewhere, deep in the psyche of the site’s creator, he desperately wants to find and have sex with a mother figure who will discipline him with nothing harsher than a Time Out and denial of television. I guess this fetish is for people who aren’t quite into sadomasochistic discipline, but think they might one day be. Bondage training wheels, if you will”.

There are loads of articles and papers on various aspects of non-verbal communication and to be honest (and because it is not my area of expertise) I haven’t got the time to read everything that’s been written about ‘hands on hips’ gestures, but most online sources appear to indicate that the ‘hands on hips’ stance helps give the appearance of being physically bigger and is a non-verbal cue that shows others that we are “ready for action” (i.e., a ‘readiness gesture’) but is sometimes mistaken for unfriendliness. One website claims that the people most likely to be observed in are “workaholics, athletes and productive people” and can demonstrate a show of authority and superiority. Another website article notes that:

“Hands-on-Hips is used by the child arguing with its parent, the athlete waiting for his event to begin, the boxer waiting for the bout to start and males who want to issue a non-verbal challenge to other males who enter their territory. In each instance the person takes the Hands-on-Hips pose and this is a universal gesture used to communicate that a person is ready for assertive action. It lets the person take up more space and has the threat value of the pointed elbows that act as weapons, preventing others from approaching or passing. The arms being half raised show readiness for attack and this is the position taken by cowboys in a gunfight. Even one hand on the hip will send the intended message, particularly when it’s pointed at the intended victim. It’s used everywhere and in the Philippines and Malaysia it carries the even stronger message of anger or outrage…Its basic meaning carries a subtly aggressive attitude everywhere. It has also been called the achiever stance, related to the goal-directed person who is ready to tackle their objectives or is ready to take action on something. Men often use this gesture around women to display an assertive male attitude”

If these observations are true, it would seem to suggest that those who have HoH fetishes may like being/feeling in submissive positions and being sexually dominated (although that’s pure speculation on my part as there is simply no empirical research whatsoever). I honestly can’t see HoH fetishes ever being the subject of serious scientific study as they are unlikely to have any appreciable negative impact in the lives of such people (if such people even exist).

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

Further reading

Brame, G. (2009). Action fetishes and hands on hips. July 28. Located at: http://gloriabrame.typepad.com/inside_the_mind_of_gloria/2009/07/hands-on-her-hips.html

Burch, A. & Movsesian, F. (2007). 10 really weird fetishes. Double Viking, November 9. Located at: http://www.doubleviking.com/bullet-points-10-really-weird-fetishes-6984-p.html

McCallum. E.L. (1998.) Object Lessons: How to Do Things With Fetishism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Murano, G. (2009). 8 freakiest fetishes. Oddee, June 18. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_96718.aspx

Ghost modernism: Should parents worry about their children playing supernatural games?

(Note: A version of this article was first published in The Independent)

Supernatural games have been played for decades by children and adolescents all around the world. The most popular games – often played on Halloween – include holding séances and playing on a Ouija board to summon up the spirit world, playing hide-and-seek in the pitch black dark, ‘Bloody Mary’ (staring into a mirror, alone in the dark and saying “Bloody Mary” three times to summon up a ghoulish woman), and ‘Candy Man’ (again staring into a mirror and saying “Candy Man” five times to summon up the ghost of a black slave covered in blood and where thousands of bees emerge from his mouth).

The latest game that has done the rounds is the ‘Charlie Charlie Challenge’ (also known as ‘Charlie Pencil’ and ‘The Pencil Game’) and viewed by some as a rudimentary Ouija board. Both of my younger children saw the game on social media although neither has played it. The game is very simple to play and like ‘Bloody Mary’ and ‘Candy Man’ is played to invoke a spirit (this time a dead Mexican called Charlie). The game simply involves placing two pencils on a piece of blank paper in the shape of the cross with the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ written on either side of the pencils. Players say the phrase “Charlie, Charlie can we play?” in order to connect with the demon. Players then ask questions of the demon and the pencils move to indicate his answer.

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There has been no academic research into the playing of supernatural games by children but there is anecdotal evidence that such games are popular. For instance, according to one news report in the Daily Mail, the sales of Ouija boards increased by 300% in December 2014 and are marketed for children and adolescents as they are sold in places like Toys R Us.

The obvious questions to ask is why our children like to play these scary games in the first place and is there is any harm that children can experience from playing such games? Although there has been no research on the playing of supernatural games there has been a little research on why we like watching scary supernatural films. Psychological research has shown that when it comes to the supernatural the three main reasons we watch supernatural horror films are for tension (generated by the suspense, mystery, terror, etc.), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second reason) unrealism (i.e., being so far removed from our day-to-day existence). However, the research that has been carried out tends to be on student populations rather than younger children and adolescents. The reasons why school-aged children may want to watch or engage in supernatural practices are likely to be far more mundane such as teenage bravado to try and impress others around them or as a ‘rites of passage’ activity (i.e., engaging in an activity that is normally done by adults and makes the child feel more grown-up).

Although I don’t subscribe to the theories forwarded by the psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung, he believed the liking for supernatural horror films tapped into our ‘primordial archetypes’ buried deep in our collective subconscious. However, as with almost all psychoanalytic theorizing, such notions are hard to scientifically test. Another psychoanalytic theory – although arguably dating back to Aristotle – is the notion of catharsis (i.e., that we watch and engage in frightening activities as a way of purging negative emotions and/or as a way to relieve pent-up frustrations).

When it comes to whether playing supernatural games are harmful for children, there are two schools of thought but there is no empirical evidence to support either position. There are those that emphatically claim that the playing of such games is not a dangerous activity. Opposed to this view are those (often religious) people that claim that using Ouija boards and playing supernatural games are dangerous. For instance, Father Stephen McCarthy, a Catholic priest claimed the ‘Charlie Charlie Challenge’ was a demonic activity. In an open letter to students he said:

“There is a dangerous game going around on social media which openly encourages impressionable young people to summon demons. I want to remind you all there is no such thing as ‘innocently playing with demons’. Please be sure to NOT participate and encourage others to avoid participation as well. The problem with opening yourself up to demonic activity is that it opens a window of possibilities which is not easily closed.”

As both a psychologist and a father of three adolescents, I have yet to see any evidence that the playing of such games does any psychological harm although it’s not an activity that I would actively encourage either. As a teenager and as a university student I playfully engaged in séances and at one party used a Ouija board and it never did me any harm. Some may even argue that such activities are ‘character building’. However, there may be children and adolescents of a more sensitive disposition where such games might have a more long-lasting negative detrimental effect. The truth of the matter is that we simply have no idea about what effects of playing games like the ‘Charlie Charlie Challenge’ have on the psyche or behaviour.

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

Further reading

Hess, J.P. (2010). The psychology of scary movies. Filmmaker IQ. Located at: http://filmmakeriq.com/lessons/the-psychology-of-scary-movies/

Hoekstra, S. J., Harris, R. J., & Helmick, A. L. (1999). Autobiographical memories about the experience of seeing frightening movies in childhood. Media Psychology, 1, 117-140.

Johnston, D.D. (1995). Adolescents’ motivations for viewing graphic horror. Human Communication Research, 21(4), 522-552.

O’Brien, L. (2013). The curious appeal of horror movies: Why do we like to feel scared? IGN, September 9. Located at: http://uk.ign.com/articles/2013/09/09/the-curious-appeal-of-horror-movies

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