Monthly Archives: July 2014
Over the past decade, academics have been increasingly pushed by their research funders to disseminate their work outside of academic circles. One way in which this can be done is for academics to use the print and broadcast media (something that I termed as ‘aca-media’ back in 1995). Ever since I was a PhD student I have been happy to talk to the media about my research. Occasionally things go wrong and my work is misquoted and/or taken out of context but I have written many articles outlining the many advantages of academics interacting with the media.
I passionately believe that psychological research should be communicated to the public. However, I have also argued in some of my writings about ‘pop’ psychology and aca-media that psychologists who communicate their work to the public (e.g., non-academic books, magazine and newspaper articles, radio and television programmes) are sometimes ridiculed by their peers and/or told that such activities are of little use for progression in their career.
Many academic psychologists may not want a relationship with the media because of the perception that the media will somehow trivialize and/or misrepresent serious research. However, psychology is media-friendly and very popular. This is evidenced by the fact that:
- Popular psychology books are often found in the best selling book lists;
- Magazines like Psychology Today and Psychologies sell in large quantities;
- Many magazines reveal a high percentage of articles dealing with some aspect of psychological concern;
- Radio and television programmes appear to be featuring more and more psychologists.
The media can play a beneficial role in psychological research, and that a lot of good things can come out of it. Back in the late 1990s, I argued in an issue of The Psychologist that the media performs a useful service for psychologists who carry out primary research. More specifically I argued that the media can (i) stimulate research into cutting edge topics. (ii) provide publicity for the psychologist, the research, the discipline and the psychologist’s institution, (iii) provide immediate rewards, and (iv) help feed back into the academic process.
In his book Psychology Observed or The Emperor’s New Clothes, Professor Paul Kline argued that the content of print media provides a useful indicant of human behaviour. Newspapers and magazines indicate what people actually do, and they indicate what editors believe people like to read about (and is one of the reasons I try to feature topics in my blog that I think the general public would be interested in reading). On these criteria, Professor Kline argued that murder, sex, the Royal Family, wars, disasters, rape, crime, astrology, parapsychology, the occult, drugs, and violence are all of psychological significance. In fact, Kline went as far as to argue that much of scientific psychology ignores the real world setting in which we live and barely seems to touch on the subjects outlined above. Kline explained why this might be the case by outlining a number of propositions relating to the scientific method:
- Psychology studies trivial topics because of its reliance on the scientific method
- The scientific method is unsuited to some important problems in psychology
- The scientific method is adhered to because of the (i) high prestige of science which is funded better than the arts, (ii) emphasis on intellect rather than feelings, and (iii) better promotion prospects (i.e. the scientific method allows rapid publication on currently fashionable topics)
- Much of psychology is pure hermeneutics, (i.e., the study of tasks invented and elaborated by those who study them).
If Kline is right, then those psychologists who do not adhere to the scientific method will actually be left behind in the system. I have also argued in some of my articles that if psychology does not provide the information on the topics that people want to know about, then ‘pop’ psychologists will step in – people who may not even be eligible for chartered psychologist status.
Therefore, it would appear that some (maybe even most) psychologists want their research to be communicated to the general public but they appear to want someone else, preferably a non-psychologist, to do it. But what happens when someone else does do it? The main problem is that many people, both those reporting and those reading the original research, fail to interpret research findings of psychologists accurately or use the findings in a biased and/or selective manner. Such observations may provide reasons why there appears to be an increasing number of psychologists (like myself) who are popularizing their own work themselves (i.e., they do not want their work misunderstood, distorted and trivialized). However, if disseminating to the public is not valued by peers, there is little incentive for the psychologist to do so.
Many of my own research ideas have come from newspapers, magazines and other media. Quite often, these outlets will come up with an idea that has no empirical support but looks true and/or is psychologically interesting. This can provide a spur for me to some research on that topic or area. The fact that it has reached media outlets before empirical research has been done suggests that it is newsworthy. One activity I try to do is read one publication each week that I would not normally read. The idea is that such an activity might not lead immediately to a new research idea or avenue, but it could change a view of the world in some way and impact on future research. I am fortunate in the fact that every week I get numerous calls from the media asking me to comment on something. Occasionally they come up with something that stirs my imagination and which gets me thinking that their story is about a really interesting topic. Occasionally whole new lines of research have emerged on the basis of a media enquiry. The most notable examples in my own research include my work on scratchcard gambling and internet addiction.
There is no doubt that some research is more likely to be noted, reported and commented upon by the mass media than is other equally sound or important work. Research into problem solving and learning will almost always be given less media coverage, than say astrology or parapsychology, because experimental psychologists (i) deem these areas as trivial or unimportant, (ii) its subject matter not appropriate for study using the scientific method, and/or (iii) unhelpful for career progression. Professor Kline argued that research that adheres to the scientific method carries a lot of weight in the academic community and enables academics to quickly progress up the career ladder. This is not the case with dissemination of psychological research to non-specialist audiences. Many may consider the education and dissemination of psychological knowledge is important yet popularizing psychology appears to have no distinct advantages inside the academic system (although I would like to think this is changing a little).
However, one thing that is highly irritating to academics is how slow the research dissemination process is. Sometimes waiting over a year or two for a paper to be published is not a psychologist’s idea of a quick reward. At least in the media, the rewards can come quickly. If a psychologist publishes something in a newspaper or a magazine (or even on their own blog), it can be out within days and sometimes even hours. If a psychologist records something for the radio or television, again the result is often quite quick – and if it is live then at least it goes out there and then.
Many psychologists may take the line that it is not their job to generate publicity. However, media exposure can provide publicity for the psychologist, their research, the discipline, and the psychologist’s organization. Furthermore, media publicity can help an individual’s research in particular ways. Media coverage can aid a psychologist’s own self-standing and it can also help in getting a psychologist’s research known to various funding agencies. Media publicity can also be used for direct research purposes – most noticeably in participant recruitment. Although there are ethical questions to consider, news items and features in all forms of the media can help in either the recruitment of participants both in general calls for help in research and in terms of unsolicited responses. I have found this particularly useful in obtaining case studies for various behavioural addictions that I have been researching into (e.g. exercise addiction, gambling addiction, internet addiction, etc.). (For instance, my case study on eproctophilia published last year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior came about because of one of the blogs I published on the topic).
Many researchers spend a lot of time and money handing out recruitment brochures in appropriate places promising small remunerations. However, these typically attract very few people into participating and generate low response rates. Therefore, the media can be used as a creative recruitment tactic that works effectively to attract research participants. Advertisements for participants to “tell us your story” in newspapers can be a successful way of obtaining participants. However, there are likely to be some biases in terms of the background, but it is possible to get a good cross section.
Use of contacts in the media is an option but will be very selective. Talk shows and the local news are the most two obvious areas of television or radio that can be harnessed by psychologists. Telephoning popular local (and sometimes national) radio talk shows to ask for people to come forward is one possible idea. Radio shows can be very good for this. From my own personal experience, a good response can be had from being on late at night or even early Sunday morning.
Another way to generate participants is to turn a research recruitment drive into a news story. Newspapers are in the business of telling stories. To get the media’s attention, a press release must respond to that priority. Unless a psychologist is making news, by being the first to do something, they will not see your material as ‘news’. Psychologists need to tell the media a story that their readership will be interested in. In 2005, I was at a British Association for the Advancement of Science conference, where Tim Radford, the former science correspondent of The Guardian claimed that “the media is inherently lazy…they are likely pick up a story if you do the work”. That means providing the media with background facts and figures, creating context, simple key messages, lining up experts, and most importantly giving them a story. Psychologists can then tie their need (i.e., finding participants for further research) into that story. It is important to lead with a human-interest story and then add the need for research.
The key is to devise a short one-page media release (long ones will simply be passed over). The media release should have a ‘hook’ so that a journalist, when reading a release, asks “What’s new?” There are other strategies that can work for catching the attention of the media. Psychologists can tie their media releases into a news event that is already happening. For example, on Mother’s Day, a psychologist could lead with a story that links their research area to mothers.
Building ongoing relationships with the media is important and it takes time. If academic psychologists wants to get media attention, they need to support the media as well. This can be helped by making responding to media requests a high priority. If a reporter calls, help them with their story. Unfortunately their deadlines are always short so this can be a challenge. Reporters will remember the psychologist and add you to their roster of available experts. Writing ‘Letters to the Editor’ also help in getting psychologists onto media radar screens (something that I used to the point of excess and – some might say – overkill).
My guess is that many psychologists shy away from aca-media due to fears about trivialisation, misinterpretation and misrepresentation. However, if they realised what the average media journalist has to go through to get their story, perhaps they would not be so dismissive. Psychologists would perhaps appreciate the high degree of professionalism that is involved. It could be argued that the most common source of misinterpretation by the media is the psychologist communicating their research or ideas poorly to the journalist. Journalists cannot and should not be blamed for the poor communication skills of the psychologist. What I have tried to argue here is that the aca-media can be good for psychologist, and that the media can be used to help the psychologist’s research and career – something that (I hope) my own career is good evidence of.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). ‘Pop’ psychology. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 455-457.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Pop psychology and “aca-media”: A reply to Mitchell. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 537-538.
Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Psychology and the media. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 11, 4-5.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). A moral obligation in aca-media? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 14, 460.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Why I believe letter writing can improve your career prospects. Times Higher Education Supplement, January 5, p.14.
Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Other publication outlets: Is there life after refereed journals? In P. Hills (Ed.), Publish or Perish (pp.117-130). Dereham: Peter Francis Publishing.
Kline, P. (1988). Psychology Observed or The Emperor’s New Clothes. London: Routledge.
Radford, T. (2005, September). Comments made in a panel discussion by science journalists at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, University College, Dublin.
Please note: The following article is an extended version of an article that was recently published on Rehabs.com
The term ‘workaholism’ has been around over 40 years since the publication of Wayne Oates’ book Confessions of a Workaholic in 1971. Despite increasing research into workaholism, there is still no single definition or conceptualization of this phenomenon. In my own research into the topic, I claimed that the definitions used by other researchers didn’t really conceptualise workaholism as an addiction or if they did conceptualise it as an addiction, the criteria were different to those used when examining other behavioral addictions such as gambling addiction, Internet addiction, sex addiction, exercise addiction, and video game addiction.
Some people view workaholics as hyper-performers whereas others view workaholics as unhappy and obsessive individuals who do not perform well in their jobs. Others claim workaholism arises when a person prefers to work as a way of stopping the person thinking about their emotional and personal lives and/or are over concerned with their work and neglect other areas of their lives. Various researchers differentiate between positive and negative forms of workaholism. For instance, some view workaholism as both a negative and complex process that eventually affects the person’s ability to function properly. Others highlight the workaholics who are totally achievement oriented and have perfectionist and compulsive-dependent traits.
The most widely employed empirical approach to workaholism proposes three underlying dimensions: (i) work involvement, (ii) drive, and (iii) work enjoyment. Researchers have claimed that workaholism can be deadly and dangerous with an onset (e.g., busyness), a progression (e.g., loss of productivity, relationship breakdowns, etc.), and a conclusion (e.g., hospitalization or death from a heart attack). Psychological research has also shown links between workaholism and personality types including those with Type A Behavior Patterns (i.e., competitive, achievement-oriented individuals) and those with obsessive-compulsive traits. The condition is generally characterized by the number of hours spent on work, and the inability to detach psychologically from work.
Reliable statistics on the prevalence of workaholism are hard to come by although a review that I published with some colleagues in 2011 based on all published studies up to that point estimated a prevalence rate of about 10% in most countries that had carried out empirical studies. Whether or not workaholism is a bona fide addiction all depends on the operational definition that is used. In one of my papers, I argued the only way of determining whether non-chemical (i.e., behavioral) addictions (such as workaholism) are addictive in a non-metaphorical sense is to compare them against clinical criteria for other established drug-ingested addictions. However, most people researching in the field have failed to do this. I operationally define addictive behavior as any behavior that features what I believe are the six core components of addiction (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict and relapse). Any behavior (e.g., work) that fulfils these six criteria would be operationally defined as an addiction. In relation to workaholism, the six components would be:
- Salience – This occurs when work becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behavior (deterioration of socialized behavior). For instance, even if the person is not actually working they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with work).
- Mood modification – This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of working and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).
- Tolerance – This is the process whereby increasing amounts of work are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in work, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend working every day.
- Withdrawal symptoms – These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when the person is unable to work because they are ill, on holiday, etc.
- Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time working.
- Relapse – This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive work to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical of the height of excessive working to be quickly restored after periods of control.
Using these components, I and some of my Norwegian colleagues at the University of Bergen developed a new ‘work addiction scale’. We believe the scale may add value to work addiction research and practice, particularly when it comes to facilitating treatment and estimating prevalence of work addiction in the general population worldwide. The scale has been psychometrically validated and comprises seven simple questions (see end of article). We recently used this scale on a nationally representative Norwegian sample and found that 8% of our participants were addicted to work using this new instrument.
It’s also worth noting that some academics view workaholism as much a ‘system addiction’ as an individual one. Although the manifestations of workaholism are at the level of the individual, workaholic behavior is socially acceptable and even encouraged by major organizations. For employees, an organization can provide the structure and/or the mechanisms and dynamics for both the addictive substance (e.g., adrenalin) and/or the process (i.e., work itself).
Addictions always result from an interaction and interplay between many factors including the person’s biological and/or genetic predisposition, their psychological constitution (e.g. personality factors, unconscious motivations, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, etc.), their social environment (i.e. situational characteristics) and the nature of the activity itself (i.e. structural characteristics). This could be described as a ‘global model’ of addiction that goes beyond an individual biopsychosocial approach. Each of these three general sets of influences (i.e. individual, structural and situational) can be subdivided much further depending on the type of addiction, and can also be applied to workaholism.
For instance, the structural characteristics of work can include such things as the type of work (e.g., manual or non-manual; proactive or reactive; stimulating or non-stimulating), the familiarity of the work (e.g., novel or repetitive), number of hours per day or week spent doing the work, the flexibility of how the work fits into the daily and/or weekly routine of the worker, and direct and/or indirect financial rewards (e.g., amount of salary, medical insurance, pension, bonus payments, etc.). There are also the individual and idiosyncratic rewards of the job. The situational characteristics of work can include the organization’s work ethos and policies, the relationship dynamics between co-workers (e.g., the amount of collegiality between the workers and their line managers and/or fellow colleagues), social facilitation effects (i.e., working alone or working with others), the esthetics of the work environment (e.g., lighting, décor, colour in workspace), and the physical comfort and surroundings of workspaces (e.g., ‘heating, seating and eating’ facilities). The situational and cultural infrastructure of the workplace setting may therefore contribute and facilitate excessive working that in some individuals may lead to a genuine addiction.
It would appear that the integration of the three sets of characteristics (individual, situational and structural) combine to produce a variety of reinforcers such as financial rewards, social rewards, physiological rewards, and psychological rewards. One or more of these has the potential to induce addictive behavior as the basis of all addictive behavior is habitual reward and reinforcement. It is very clear that many contemporary research paradigms are insular and inadequate in explaining addiction to work.
Workaholism is a multifaceted behavior that is strongly influenced by contextual and structural factors that cannot be encompassed by any single theoretical perspective. These factors include variations in behavioral work involvement and motivation across different demographic groups, structural characteristics of work activities, and the developmental or temporal nature of addictive work behavior. Therefore, research into, and clinical interventions for workaholism, are best served by a biopsychosocial approach. More specifically, addictions (including workaholism) do not occur in a vacuum and successful interventions for workaholics have to take into account not just biological and/or genetic predispostions, psychological constitution (including attitudes, expectations and personality factors), and psychosocial factors, but also the social environment of where the work takes place, and the inherent structurally rewarding properties of work itself.
The Bergen Work Addiction Scale (BWAS)
The BWAS uses just seven basic criteria to identify work addiction, where all items are scored on the following scale: (1)=Never, (2)=Rarely, (3)=Sometimes, (4)=Often, and (5)=Always. The seven items are:
– You think of how you can free up more time to work
– You spend much more time working than initially intended
– You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression
– You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them
– You become stressed if you are prohibited from working
– You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work
– You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health
If you respond ‘often’ or ‘always’ on at least four of the seven items it may be indicative of being a workaholic. Although there are other ‘workaholism’ scales that have been developed, this is the first scale to use core concepts of addiction found in other more traditional addictions.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Hetland, J. & Pallesen, S. (2012). Development of a Work Addiction Scale. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 53, 265-272.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Workaholism is still a useful construct. Addiction Research and Theory, 13, 97-100.
Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.
Matuska, K.M. (2010). Workaholism, life balance, and well-being: A comparative analysis. Journal of Occupational Science, 17, 104-111.
Schaufeli, W.B., Taris, T.W., & Bakker, A.B. (2006). Doctor Jekyll or Mr Hyde? On the differences between work engagement and workaholism. In R. Burke (Ed.), Workaholism and long working hours (pp. 193-217). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.
van Beek, I., T.W., Taris, & Schaufeli, W.B. (2011). Workaholic and work engaged employees: Dead ringers or worlds apart? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16, 468-482.
According to (the perhaps appropriately named Dr. Matt Pain and his colleague Matthew Pain in a 2005 issue of The Lancet), extreme sports are continuing to grow in popularity. I recounted my own experiences of bungee jumping in a previous blog but even that is tame compared to BASE jumping. A fairly recent 2012 paper by Erik Monasterio, Roger Mulder, Christopher Frampton and Omer Mei-Dan examined the personality characteristics of BASE Jumpers in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (and on which my blog today is based).
According to Monasterio and colleagues, BASE jumping developed from skydiving (using specially adapted parachutes to jump from fixed objects). The acronym ‘B.A.S.E.’ was coined in the late 1970s by filmmaker Carl Boenish, his wife Jean Boenish, Phil Smith, and Phil Mayfield, and comprises the fixed objects that such individuals can jump off (i.e., Building, Antenna, Span [arch, bridge, or dome], and Earth (a natural formation such as a cliff). According to the Zero P website, there are only about 1,000-1,500 active BASE jumpers and less than 10,000 people have ever even made a BASE jump. Currently there are just over 1,000 people worldwide that have a BASE number. According to the Wikipedia entry, death rates from BASE jumping are high:
“BASE jumping as of 2006 has an overall fatality rate estimated at about one fatality per sixty participants. A study of 20,850 BASE jumps from the same site (the Kjerag Massif in Norway) reported 9 fatalities over the 11-year period from 1995 to 2005, or 1 in every 2,317 jumps. However, at that site, 1 in every 254 jumps over that period resulted in a nonfatal accident. BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous recreational activities in the world, with a fatality and injury rate 43 times higher than parachuting from a plane. As of 29 March 2014 the ‘BASE Fatality List’ maintained by ‘Blincmagazine.com’ records 228 deaths for BASE jumping since April 1981”.
Erk Monasterio and Omer Mei-Dan published a previous paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal and noted that BASE jumping was associated with a five- to 16-fold risk for death or injury when compared with skydiving. Monasterio and colleagues also reported that 72% of experienced BASE jumpers “had witnessed the death or serious injury of other participants in the sport in which 76% had at least one-near miss incident and only 6% had not sustained an injury, near-miss or witnessed a fatality from BASE jumping”. Consequently they argued that it was unsurprising widespread belief that “BASE jumpers are in some way unusual”.
Given how dangerous the sport is, Monasterio and his colleagues carried out the first ever research study into the personalities of BASE jumpers, and whether such personality factors play any contributing role in why BASE jumpers do what they do. Previous research into personality and extreme sports was summarized. Below is Monasterio et al’s summary with all but two of the academic papers cited removed:
“A number of studies have investigated the relationship between personality traits and participation in high-risk physical sports; sensation-seeking is by far the most consistently studied personality factor in the literature. Most of these studies have found that participants in high-risk sports tend to score higher on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking (SS) Scale compared to low risk sports participants and control groups. Zuckerman (1983) defines sensation seeking as ‘the need for varied, novel and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience’. In addition, a smaller number of studies have also considered other personality variables such as neuroticism, extraversion and conscientiousness. Castanier et al. (2010) investigated 302 men involved in high-risk sports (downhill skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, paragliding, and skydiving) and found that personality types with a configuration of low conscientiousness combined with high extraversion and/or high neuroticism were greater risk-takers”.
What the majority of research studies examining relationships between extreme risk-taking sports and personality have done is investigate the role of sensation seeking. In Monasterio and colleagues’ view, the research carried out to date is “far too narrow as it only provides information about one aspect of personality and ignores other important personality factors that may contribute to participation in risk-taking sports and help to understand the motivation for sports risk-taking behavior in general”. Therefore, the aim of their study was to explore the possible psychobiological contribution to BASE jumping using the temperament and character inventory (TCI) developed by Dr. Robert Cloninger and colleagues in 1994.
For those of you that don’t know, the TCI is a self-report personality questionnaire that assesses both normal and abnormal variation in temperament and character. Monasterio and colleagues assessed their sample of BASE jumpers using the TCI-235 (a self-report questionnaire with 235 items assessing seven basic dimensions of temperament and character). The following text about the seven dimensions and definitions of temperament and character are taken verbatim from the paper:
“Temperament refers to the automatic emotional responses that are thought to be moderately heritable, independent, genetically homogenous and stable over time. There are four temperament dimensions:
- Novelty seeking (a tendency to activate or initiate new behaviors with a propensity to seek out new or novel experiences, impulsive decision-making, extravagance, quick loss of temper, and active avoidance of frustration).
- Harm avoidance (a tendency to inhibit behaviors with a propensity to worry in anticipation of future problems, fear of uncertainty, rapid fatigability, and shyness in the company of strangers).
- Reward dependence (a tendency to maintain behaviors manifested by dependency on the approval of others, social attachments, and sentimentality).
- Persistence (a tendency to be hard-working, industrious, and persistent despite frustration and fatigue
Character refers to self-concepts and individual differences in goals and values that can be influenced by social factors, learning, and the process of maturation. The character dimensions are as follows:
- Self-directedness (which refers to self-determination, personal integrity, self-integrity, and willpower).
- Cooperativeness (which refers to individual differences in identification with and acceptance of other people).
- Self-transcendence (which refers to feelings of religious faith, or viewing oneself as an integral part of the universe in other ways.”
Monasterio and colleagues hypothesized that BASE jumpers would score high on Novelty Seeking and score low on Harm Avoidance (compared to control data). To be included in the study sample, BASE jumpers had to have made at least ten BASE jumps, and been BASE jumping for over six months. The sample participants were recruited from international BASE jump group meetings, adventure website forums, and from personal communication among the international BASE jumping community. The final sample comprised 68 BASE jumpers (59 male; 39 single; mean age 34 years; 28 having sustained a significant injury from BASE jumping).
The results obtained were “partially in line” with the authors’ hypotheses. BASE jumpers did indeed have higher Novelty Seeking scores and lower Harm Avoidance scores. They also scored high on the Self Directedness dimension. However, the mean differences compared to normative data were “modest” and their findings suggested there was no “tightly defined personality profile” among their sample of BASE jumpers. The exception was that a 40% of the BASE jumpers had an extremely low Harm Avoidance score (compared to 5% of the control group). The authors concluded that the eight-fold increase in BASE jumpers suggests that:
“A large proportion have a temperament profile characterized by low [Harm Avoidance]. The finding of low [Harm Avoidance] is not surprising or counterintuitive, as individuals with low scores on this dimension are described as carefree, relaxed, daring, courageous, composed, and optimistic even in situations that worry most people. These individuals are described as outgoing, bold, and confident. Their energy levels tend to be high, and they impress others as dynamic, lively, and vigorous. The advantages of low [Harm Avoidance] are confidence in the face of danger and uncertainty, leading to optimistic and energetic efforts with little or no distress. The disadvantages are related to unresponsiveness to danger, which can lead to foolhardy optimism…In order to participate in extreme sports such as BASE jumping, participants require highly developed skills that can only be acquired by repeated and consistent practice over time, and after undergoing a fairly rigorous apprenticeship. As [Self Directedness] refers to self-determination and maturity, or the ability of an individual to control, regulate and adapt behavior to fit the situation in accord with individually chosen goals and values, it is unsurprising that BASE jumpers scored high on this measure. High [Self Directedness] with an emphasis on discipline and skill acquisition may also help to explain why BASE jumpers engage in risk taking behaviors by normative rather than impulsive/disorganized antisocial means (such as drug use and criminal behavior). Previous research has shown that a combination of high [Novelty Seeking] and low [Harm Avoidance] increases the risk of drug use”.
Despite the interesting findings, there were lots of methodological limitations in the study. The sample was very small (although the authors argued that it was relatively large given the small number of worldwide BASE jumpers – in fact they claimed it included 5-10% of all the world’s BASE jumpers), self-selected (i.e., not random), and relied on self-report (which is not always the most reliable testimony). The authors also pointed out that:
“All participants who volunteered were included. This may have led to selection bias and the sample may represent a population of particularly high-risk-taking BASE jumpers as 42% had suffered serious injury and 72% had witnessed fatality or serious accident, yet persisted in the sport. BASE jumpers who had experienced prior accidents may have been more motivated to share their experience and therefore more likely to participate in the study. As the study included only active jumpers, cautious BASE jumpers, who had given up the sport following an injury or a near-miss experience, may have been excluded. Alternatively, the sampling process may have excluded particularly high-risk groups as less experienced, more impulsive and higher risk taking jumpers may have been involved in fatal accidents at earlier stages of their BASE jumping careers and therefore were unavailable for inclusion in the study…An added limitation may be the forced-choice nature of the TCI questionnaire in which participants score either true or false for each question, whereas the answer may lie somewhere in the middle”.
Despite the limitations, the study is the first of its kind and provides a benchmark on which other studies can build. Engagement in extreme sports is likely to continue despite the high risk of injury or death. Knowing as much as we can about why people engage in such risky behaviour is clearly of great value psychologically.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Castanier, C., Le Scanff, C., & Woodman, T. (2010). Who takes risks in high-risk sports? A typological personality approach. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 81, 478–484.
Cloninger, C. R., Przybeck, T. R., Svrakic, D. M., & Wetzel, R. D. (1994a). Basic description of the personality scales. In C. R. Cloninger (Ed.), The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI): A guide to its development and use (pp. 19–27). St Louis, MO: Center for Psychobiology of Personality, Washington University.
Monasterio, E., & Mei-Dan, O. (2008). Risk and severity of injury in a population of BASE jumpers. New Zealand Medical Journal, 121, 70–75.
Monasterio, E., Mulder, R., Frampton, C., & Mei-Dan, O. (2012). Personality characteristics of BASE jumpers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24, 391-400
Pain, M.T., & Pain, M.A. (2005). Essay: Risk taking in sport. Lancet, 366, Suppl 1, S33–34.
Zuckerman, M. (1983). Sensation seeking and sports. Personality and Individual Differences, 4, 285–294.
Zuckerman, M., & Cloninger, C. R. (1996). Relationship between Cloninger’s, Zuckerman’s and Eysenck’s dimensions of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 21, 283–285.
The words ‘sex’ and ‘radiator’ probably don’t appear in the same sentence too often but today’s blog is the result of a bet I made with a good friend of mine who – knowing some of the weird topics and behaviours that I have covered in my blog – wagered that I couldn’t write a blog on ‘radiator sex’ (whatever that is). Obviously there is no academic literature on such a topic and the sources that I have used in this article are far from being scientific and empirical. But being a Professor of Gambling Studies, a bet is a bet.
In a previous blog I examined objectophilia (or ‘objectum sexuality’ [OS] as it is known within the scientific and sexology community). OS refers to those individuals who develop deep emotional and/or romantic attachments to (and have relationships with) specific inanimate objects or structures. Such objectophiles express a loving and/or sexual preference and commitment to particular items or structures. Such individuals rarely (if ever) have sex with humans and they develop strong emotional fixations to the object or structure. Unlike sexual fetishism, the object or structure is viewed as an equal partner in the relationship and is not used to enhance or facilitate sexual behaviour. Some objectophiles even believe that their feelings are reciprocated by the object of their desire.
In my previous OS blog, I briefly recounted the story of 41-year-old Joachim A. from Germany, a man who self-admittedly fell head over heels “into an emotionally and physically very complex and deep relationship, which lasted for years.” His partner as a teenager was a Hammond organ. He now claims to have been in a steady relationship for years with a steam locomotive The reason I mention this case was that Joachim A. was interviewed by the German magazine Der Spiegel and was reported as saying:
“We’re by no means just straightforward fetishists…For some people, their car becomes a fetish which they use to put themselves in the limelight. For the objectum-sexual, on the other hand, the car itself – and nothing else – is the desired sexual partner, and all sexual fantasies and emotions are focused on it…A love affair could very well begin with a broken radiator…You can reveal yourself to an object partner in an intimate way, in a way that you would never reveal yourself to any other person [including the desire to] experience sexuality together”.
Obviously the reference to a love affair for an objectophile beginning with the “broken radiator” was probably hypothetical on Joachim’s part (although there’s always the possibility he was speaking from personal experience). Whether actual or hypothetical, the fact that an objectophile gave the example of possible love and sex with a radiator suggests there might be a few individuals out there who are sexually attracted to radiators. My next (predictable) course of action was to type ‘radiator fetish’ into Google. On one website I came across the following post written by a woman entitled ‘Hot sex fetish (very weird)’ that if true (and I can’t prove it is but it appears genuine) appears to suggest that ‘radiator fetishism’ exists:
“I’m about to buy a house and be locked into it for the next 15-20 years because I have a radiator fetish. What can I do? It started way back in school. i had got my first period and was whisked off to the gym’s changing rooms with my friend. Blood in my panties and it had started to show on my trousers as well. So [I] had a shower, washed out my panties and give my trousers a bit of a scrub. Now half naked with just spare towel around me I cuddled against the radiator next to my clothes in an attempt to dry them and keep warm so I didn’t have to wear the lost property. [I then talked to one of my friends]. We just chatted for about 20 minutes about random stuff until the topic got on to the subject of boys and sex…At this point, I have to say I’ve never even kissed a boy, never mind sex…but my friend was telling me how hot a penis feels and started to rub herself up the corner of the radiator saying this feels like him on top of you and it just kinda started from there.
Throughout my teenage years I’d leave my homework until last moment and copy other girls, just so I could do it [in] the break before class. I’d stay in the hall way out of sight of the teachers and other students and lean over a radiator onto the shelf while I [copied the] work, rubbing myself (making it look like I was tapping my feet as I was rushing, in case anyone caught me) until I mostly [reached orgasm] and then off to class I’d trot, happy and red face glowing. Later on, I needed that ‘warm’ feeling all the time to orgasm. It’s now 15 years later and I still masturbate while sitting on a hot radiator, the smell of the heat or just catching an unexpected glimpse of a radiator gets me wet. Not any radiator will do though, they have to be the old cast iron, column ones like I had at school. I’ve had sex in more pubs then I’d like to remember, but mostly because they commonly have the cast iron type that I can get pushed up against or layback on.
My fetish has escalated to the point its out control now. I have a really nice boyfriend who doesn’t know about my fetish. I just tell him I like Victorian features, hot water bottles are for period cramps, etc. We’re just about to get a mortgage on a house because [it has] a bay window with a large cast iron radiator in the middle. We’ve already had sex over one like it several times before (yes I told you it was out of control) from a house I rented a few years back… and can’t wait for winter when the heating will be set to max. What do I do to stop this weird fetish? Do I embrace it or stop it? Very confused”
To me, this story sounds very believable and fits the adolescent development pattern of other accounts of how other fetishes often develop (i.e., through early associative pairing and classical conditioning). I also came across another online snippet that bore similarities with the story above:
“There used to be a picture (maybe there still is) on a DJ Black hard drive of three girls bending over a radiator to look out a window with their bare bottoms showing…You have to wonder if there is a fetish about radiators. At school the girls used to sit on the radiators that teachers had to start handing out detentions like sweeties to keep them off them. Okay so this is tenuous, but a while back there was a brief discussion on one of the boards about who got the cane and why. One of the women said she had got the cane for ‘persistently sitting on school radiators’. Being 16, at the time she thought the worst thing was being teased about sitting and punishments fitting the crime. That is until she was 18 and ended up at the school leaving do with some friends and beers in the head’s office. One of the kids went through his files and pulled out her school record. There in black and white were the words ‘caned, six strokes, deterrent against sitting on school radiators.’ You have got to wonder if she ever looked at a radiator the same way again”
Again, this observation suggests that a few females may have developed a strong liking for sitting on warm radiators because they produce a warm sexual feeling that leads to repetitive behaviour. Another person claimed to be turned on by a radiator on the Intimate Medicine website (but provided no details)
The only other type of sexual behaviour that I have come across (where radiators are part of the sexual act) are within sadomasochistic acts where individuals handcuff their sexual partners (consensually or non-consensually) to old style radiators (like the examples described above). Fictionally, there are a number of examples of people being handcuffed to radiators that have sexual connotations. Perhaps the most infamous recent example is in the film Black Snake Moan where Samuel L. Jackson’s character chains a skeletal Christina Ricci to his radiator in an attempt to “cure her of promiscuity”. The New York Times noted it their review of the film that:
“No doubt ‘Black Snake Moan’ is a provocative title, but a more accurate one might be ‘Chaining Miss Daisy to the Radiator in Her Underwear’”
A more real-life example was reported in a 2011 Daily Mail story. A judge, Patricia DiMango declared that sadomasochism can be criminal even if it’s consensual. The ruling occurred during the trial of 45-year old New York man John Hopkins, a self-confessed sex-slave master accused of raping a 27-year-old female sex slave from Wisconsin “who would be flogged and chained to a radiator if she disobeyed his rules”. Hopkins pleaded not guilty to all charges claimed that they were a couple into sadomasochistic role-playing. DiMango was quoted as saying:
“In these types of situations, with the facts presented by both sides, both the consensual and criminal can co-exist. At some point, it can change to a situation where no means no. There comes a time when they’re not playful fun any more and they become dangerous – criminally dangerous”.
I’ll end today’s blog (and win my bet) by briefly recounting another radiator sex story that appeared in many news outlets (and arguably has some similarities with the infamous Gimp scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction). Viktor Jasinski, a Russian man broke into Olga Zajac’s hair salon looking for cash but instead of calling the police (and using her black belt martial arts expertise), the salon owner beat up the Russian, tied him to a radiator with a hair dryer cord in the salon’s back room, and kept him as a sex slave for three days (using Viagra against the man’s will) before letting him go.
My brief examination of sexual radiator use hopefully shows that radiator fetishism may exist (and that it appears to be more female-based than male-based), that it’s theoretically possible for a human being to fall in love with a radiator (and have sexual relationship should they so wish), and that sadomasochistic practitioners may use radiators as part of their sexual role-playing games (either consensually or by coercion).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Daily Mail (2011). S&M can be ‘criminal even if it’s consensual’ says judge in Craigslist sex-slave case. March 12. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1365531/S-M-criminal-consensual-says-judge-Craigslist-sex-slave-case.html
Marsh, A. (2010). Love among the objectum sexuals. Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, 13, March 1. Located at: http://www.ejhs.org/volume13/ObjSexuals.htm
Moylan, B. Robber beat up by hair salon owner and kept as sex slave. The Gawker, July 12. Located at: http://gawker.com/5820419/robber-beat-up-by-hair-salon-owner-and-kept-as-sex-slave
Stopera, M. (2010). The 15 hottest objectum-sexual relationships. Buzz Feed. Located at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/the-15-hottest-objectum-sexual-relationships
Thadeusz, F. (2007). Objectophilia, Fetishism and Neo-Sexuality: Falling in Love with Things. Der Spiegel, November 5. Located at: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,482192,00.html
It was only very recently that I finally watched the film 127 Hours, the 2010 film directed by Danny Boyle based on the true story Aron Ralston, the canyoneer who cut off his own right forearm to free himself after it was trapped by a large boulder while rock climbing in Blue John Canyon (Utah, US). Apart from the early scenes in the film that were somewhat fictionalized, Ralston said the rest of the film was “so factually accurate it is as close to a documentary as you can get and still be a drama”. The act of self-amputation is known as autotomy (from the Greek ‘auto’ – meaning ‘self’ and ‘tomy’ meaning ‘severing’) but the term is used more widely in the animal kingdom and usually refers to animals that self-sever as a self-defence mechanism (often to escape a predator). Arguably Ralston’s case was also a self-defence mechanism as a way of escaping his own death.
In previous blogs I have looked at cases of people who have cut off their own limbs because they were sexually aroused by the thought of being an amputee (i.e., apotemnophilia) and those who have cut off their own limbs because they believe the limb doesn’t belong to their own body (i.e., Body Integrity Identity Disorder, also known as ‘amputee identity disorder’ and xenomelia). However, today’s blog looks at some cases of those who have self-amputated to survive. Such cases are incredibly rare and almost always occur when the person becomes trapped in deserted environments with no means of contacting anyone and little chance of rescues (as was the case of Ralston). Here are a few other infamous cases:
- With his pocket knife, Al Hill, a 66-year old man from California, had to cut off his own left leg just below the knee after it got stuck beneath a fallen tree he was cutting (2007). He was all alone in a forest for 11 hours and decided that the only way he was going to survive was to cut off his own leg with his pocket knives. However, despite cutting himself free, Hill was unable to move as he was in constant agony. Thankfully, Eric Bockey one of Hill’s neighbours heard his screams and Hill, was eventually rescued by the fire brigade.
- A South Carolina farmer Sampson Parker cut off his own arm after it got stuck in a corn harvester. Parker spotted a piece of cornstalk stuck in a farm but on trying to get it out, his hand got stuck in the machine. After an hour of being stuck and calling for help no-one came, and Parker’s arm became completely numb. He then used his John Deere pocket knife to start cutting his fingers off. However, a fire broke out and the only way he could save his life was to cut off his right arm as fast as he could. Once he had cut off his arm he drove himself to a nearby rode and got help from the local fire brigade. In a television interview, Parker said: “My skin was melting. It was dripping off my arm like plastic, plastic melting. I realized I was in trouble. I just told myself, ‘I’m not going to die here. I just kept fighting, kept praying. And then when I did get loose, I jumped up running, I had blood squirting from my arm. It was pretty scary there for a while. I could feel the nerves as I was cutting my arm off. It really wasn’t the corn picker’s fault. It was my fault. It was just a mistake I made”.
- While driving a front-end loader deep underground, Colin Jones (a 43-year old Australian miner) became trapped when the vehicle overturned when it hit a pothole while turning a corner. Fearing the vehicle would catch fire because diesel was leaking from the loader, Jones quickly cut off his own right arm below his elbow with his Stanley knife. However, Jones was a little premature because the emergency services arrived early enough to save the arm but by then he had already amputated his arm. Unfortunately, the severed arm was too badly crushed to be re-attached to his body.
- One of the most bizarre amputations concerned a 30-year old Polish farmer (Krystof Azninski). In 1995, Azninski was playing some Polish drinking games drinking with friends when someone in his social group said they should play some “men’s games”. As one report noted: “Initially they hit each other over the head with frozen turnips, but then one man upped the ante by seizing a chainsaw and cutting off the end of his foot. Not to be outdone, Azninski grabbed the saw and, shouting ‘Watch this then’, he swung at his own head and chopped it off”. The report also claimed that by amputating his own head, Azninski could arguably lay claim to be the “most macho man in Europe”. Most of us reading this would probably say he was the most stupid.
- An 18-year old male construction worker (Ramlan) from Padang trapped in the rubble of a building that collapsed during the September 2009 Indonesian earthquake escaped after sawing off his own leg. Ramlan tried to pull his leg free but was unable to. Using a nearby garden hoe he tried to hack off his own leg but the hoe’s blade was far too blunt to penetrate his leg bone. Using his mobile phone (that was still working following the building’s collapse) he phoned a friend (33-year old Eman) who came to the rescue of Ramlan. Eman found another garden implement – a trowel – and gave it to Ramlan who again tried to hack off the trapped leg. Finally, Eman found a saw and handed it to Ramlan. However, half way through sawing his leg off, Ramlan became too exhausted to continue and Eman finished sawing off Ramlan’s leg. Eman then carried Ramlan to Yos Sudarso hospital. The surgeons then performed a proper amputation a little higher up his leg.
The motivation in all of these cases was obviously survival but there are other rarer cases where self-amputation has been performed for criminal or political purposes. For instance, in the late 1950s/early 1960s, around 50 people from Vernon (Florida, USA; population 780) performed self-amputations in an attempt to claim ‘loss-of-limb’ accident insurance. In fact around two-thirds of all loss-of-limb insurance claims in the whole of the USA at the time came from Vernon. John J. Healy, insurance investigator was quoted as saying: “Vernon’s second-largest occupation was watching hound dogs mating in the town square, its largest was self-mutilation for monetary gain”. An online article on the six most horrifying ways to get rich reported:
“L.W. Burdeshaw, an insurance agent, told the St. Petersburg Times in 1982 that his list of policyholders included a man who sawed off his left hand at work, a man who shot off his foot while protecting chickens, a man who lost his hand while supposedly trying to shoot a hawk, a man who somehow lost two limbs in an accident involving a rifle and a tractor, and a man who bought a policy and then, less than 12 hours later, shot off his foot while aiming at a squirrel. Insurance agents, probably disillusioned by the whole Belle Gunness affair, were a little suspicious. Cutting your hand at work may be possible. Sawing off your entire hand at work really takes some amount of sustained effort…No one in the town was ever convicted of fraud, and it’s not easy to find out just how much they got away with. What we know is that one farmer took out policies with 38 different companies before, in some no doubt comical accident, he lost his left foot. Luckily, the particular day of the “accident” he happened to be driving his wife’s automatic, since if he’d been driving his own stick shift he would have needed the left foot to use the clutch. He also happened to have a tourniquet in his pocket (in case of snake bites, he insisted). He could be telling the truth, right? Well, it turned out he’d taken out so much insurance that he was paying premiums that cost more than his total income. He collected more than $1 million from all the companies. The insurance companies fought it but conceded, ‘it was hard to make a jury believe a man would shoot off his own foot’”.
Another infamous case concerned Daniel Rudolph, the oldest brother of the Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Olympics bomber who on March 7, 1998, videotaped himself cutting off one of his own hands with an electric saw at his home in Ladson (a suburb in Charleston, USA) to “send a message to the FBI and the media”. An FBI statement said they had “followed standard procedures in conducting the search for Eric Robert Rudolph, a fugitive charged with a fatal abortion clinic bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, including interviewing his brother Daniel Rudolph. Daniel Rudolph’s decision to maim himself is regrettable and totally unexpected, given the nature of the contacts between the FBI and himself”.
Finally, in Figueira da Foz (Portugal), Orico Silva cut off one of his fingers in court in an “act of despair” after the presiding judge refused his offer to settle a €170,000 debt and ordered that part of his farm had to be sold. While in court, Silva took some bank papers from his briefcase and noticed a butcher’s knife that he’d recently bought at a market. On impulse he cut off his index finger and cut it into three (using a court table as an impromptu chopping board).
Unless self-amputations are sexually motivated or as a result of Body Integrity Identity Disorder, it would appear that self-amputation is rarely discussed and/or researched in the academic literature. The cases highlighted here show that there are many other reasons for self-amputation that are not the result of any kind of mental illness including the necessary (for survival reasons), the unnecessary (criminal or political reasons), or the downright bizarre (as an act of macho bravado).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
CNN Interactive (1998). Bombing suspect’s brother cuts hand off with saw. March 9. Located at: http://www-cgi.cnn.com/US/9803/09/briefs.pm/rudolph.amputation/
Elst, M. (2010). 10 unbelievable amputation stories. Oddee.com, February 22. Located at: http://www.oddee.com/item_96982.aspx#vSieTkGlGQrmjjcI.99
Fox News (2007). Farmer cuts off right arm with pocket knife to save life. November 26. Located at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/11/26/farmer-cuts-off-right-arm-with-pocket-knife-to-save-life/
Gabbatt, A. (2009). Indonesian man survives quake by sawing off own leg. The Guardian, October 9. Located at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/oct/09/indonesian-earthquake-survivor-saws-leg
Harkins, D. (2008). The 6 most horrifying ways anyone ever got rich. Cracked.com. September 22. Located at: http://www.cracked.com/article_16633_the-6-most-horrifying-ways-anyone-ever-got-rich_p2.html
Kennedy, J.M. (2003). CMU grad describes cutting off his arm to save his life. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 9. Located at: http://old.post-gazette.com/nation/20030509climbernat2.asp
Reuters (2009). Man cuts off finger in court over debt. January 16. Located at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/01/17/us-finger-idUSTRE50F5D420090117?feedType=RSS&feedName=oddlyEnoughNews&rpc=69
Smith, A., Cornford, P. & Maguire, P. (2003). Arm trapped a fearing fire, tough miner knew what to do.Sydney Morning Herald. June 30. Located at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/06/29/1056825279321.htm
Wikipedia (2013). Amputation. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amputation
Have you seen slot machines featuring Spiderman? Or the ones based on the Monopoly board game? Or the slots that have pictures of Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video game? Most gaming operators will appreciate that all of these images have a strong brand presence, and that it is one of the main reasons for themed games. However, a more basic marketing tactic is being used here – the psychology of familiarity. This is used throughout the gaming industry but is most common on slot machines, online games, and scratchcards. For instance, Camelot’s scratchcards in the UK have featured film tie-ins (e.g., James Bond, Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars), and popular games (e.g., Connect Four).
But this wasn’t always the case. Back in the late 1980s I did some research on the names that gaming designers and operators gave their slot machines. One of the more interesting findings I reported in one of my academic papers was that over 50% of all machine names that I came across in amusement arcades had some reference to money on them (such as ‘Cashpoint’, ‘Cashline’, ‘Action Bank’, Piggy Bank’, ‘Money Belt’ etc.). Psychologically, all of these machine names gave the impression that this was where a player could get money from – not where they would lose it! Other categories of machine names included those with some reference to skill on them (‘Fruitskill’, ‘Skillchance’) suggesting that machine playing was a skillful activity and that gamblers could perhaps beat the machine. Other machines had what I called “acoustically attractive” names (Nifty Fifty, Naughty But Nice) or puns (Reel Fun, Reel Money). Since making these observations, I have always been interested in the subtle techniques that the gaming industry uses in getting the punter to play on their products. The psychology of gambling – or rather the psychology of gambling marketing – has come a long way in the last decade.
As I’ve already said, one of the techniques that the gaming industry uses (whether they realise it or not) is the psychology of familiarity. Gaming operators and marketers have realised that one weapon in their marketing armory is to design products which appear familiar before a player has ever even played on them – something that can partly be achieved through the name or theme of the slot machine. The examples I gave above showed that the names of slot machines appear to be important in impression formation. It is highly unlikely that the names of slot machines have any influence on gambling behaviour per se. However, when tied in with recent research on the psychology of familiarity, the names of machines do seem to be critically important – particularly in terms of gambling acquisition (that is, getting people to gamble in the first place).
Nowadays, slot machines are often named after a famous person (the Elvis Presley machines appear very popular in one of my local casinos), place, event, video game, board game, television show or film. Not only is this something that is familiar to the gambler but may also be something that the potential gamblers might like or affiliate themselves with (such as James Bond). This is different from a simple naming effect in that the machine’s theme may encompass the whole play of the machine, including its features, the sound effects (e.g., the theme tune to popular television programmes like Coronation Street or Eastenders), and light/colour effects. By using well-known and common themes, gamblers may be more likely to spend time and money playing them.
Some of the most popular UK slot machines are those that feature The Simpsons. There are many possible reasons why a gambler might be more likely to play on a Simpsons’ machine. The Simpsons have mass appeal and popularity across all ages and across gender. The machines are celebrity-endorsed and players may place trust in a ‘quality’ brand like The Simpsons. Gamblers may also hope that knowledge of the characters will help in the playing of the game. On a basic level, it might simply be that the game play of The Simpsons is more exciting, and that the sound effects and features are novel, cute and/or more humorous than other machines. There are many cases similar to this one where it could be speculated that the slot machine becomes so much more inducing because it represents something that is familiar and/or special to the gambler.
Familiarity is a very important psychological aspect of why themed slot machines have been more prominent over the last decade. Familiar themes have the capacity to induce a ‘psycho-structural interaction’ between the gambler and the gambling activity. This is where the gambler’s own psychology interacts with the machine’s structural characteristics and produces different consequences for each person depending upon what the feature means to them personally. If the themes are increasingly familiar, a gambler might be more likely to persevere with the complexities of a machine. Gamblers may find it more enjoyable because they can easily interact with recognizable images they experience. Therefore, the use of familiar themes may have a very persuasive effect, leading to an increase in the number of people using them, and the money they spend. Whilst there are many other aspects that influence an individual’s decision to gamble, the possible persuasive nature of the themes should not be underestimated.
As you may have already gathered, there is a strong overlap between the psychology of familiarity, branding, and the psychology of persuasion. In very simple terms, a gambler must be exposed to the product and be aware of its presence before they can even make the decision to gamble. This is relatively easy to achieve given the ubiquity of slot machines and the fact that current machines will use any number of techniques to grab a potential player’s attention. These include television or film theme tunes, bright flashing lights, and/or pictures or voices of celebrities. Once a gambler’s attention has been gained, the product must be likeable and familiar enough for them to think about gambling and wanting to interact with the machine further. Immediately familiar images and sounds are likely to lead to a much quicker decision to gamble. All which goes to show – the gaming industry knows what it is doing!
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.
Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty.Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.
Griffiths, M.D. & Dunbar, D. (1997). The role of familiarity in fruit machine gambling. Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter, 29, 15-20.
Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292).New York: Prometheus Books.
King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.
Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.
Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies (pp.211-243). New York: Elsevier.
Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D., Chappell, D. & Davies, M.N.O. (2004). The structural characteristics of video games: A psycho-structural analysis. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 1-10.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a secondhand copy of The Fortean Times Book of Weird Sex by Steve Moore (mainly because it cost me only one pence at an online book store). One of the stories (on pp.96-97) concerned a bizarre story of an autoerotic death involving an adolescent boy. I checked out the reference list at the back off the book to see where the story had originated and the source was listed as an Associated Press story from Knoxville (Maryland, USA). It didn’t take me too long to track down the press release on the internet. The report said:
“A 16-year old boy in Knoxville was found dead in his bedroom in what police describe as a gruesome, horrifying death. Firefighters were called to the scene Monday morning by a neighbor who smelled something burning. When the firemen found the remains of the teenager they called the police in to investigate. At first investigators believed that they were dealing with a ritualistic murder. Posters of heavy metal rock and roll groups covered his bedroom walls, groups which are often connected with satanic worship and rituals. According to a firefighter who was on the scene, the boy was found nude, with the remains of a cow’s heart attached to his genitals. Wires had been attached to the heart and plugged into a wall socket. The boy died from electrocution, then the electricity literally cooked his remains. Investigating Officer Hardaway dismissed the ritual murder theory when detectives found several underground pornographic magazines under the boy’s mattress. One of the magazines, called ‘Ovid Now’, describes a sexual ‘toy’ that can be made from the fresh heart of a cow, a simple electrical circuit, and some batteries. This deviancy is apparently gaining limited popularity in the rural South. Practitioners get the dead heart to beat, and then use the beating organ for sexual perversions. ‘This is one of the most gruesome things I have ever seen. I can’t believe that there are people who actually enjoy this sort of thing’ Hardaway commented. The boy’s parents are currently on vacation in Florida, where they were contacted and informed about the tragedy. They were unavailable for comment”.
As I have already written a previous blog on electrophilia and published an article on the ten strangest autoerotic deaths (in the magazine Bizarre) I thought it would make the basis for a good blog. However, after a bit more investigation I discovered the story to be a fake. The Snopes.com website (also know as the Urban Legends Reference Pages) investigated the story and showed it to be completely false. The author of the article (Barbara Mikkelson) wrote:
“The [cow heart masturbation story] isn’t a bona fide Associated Press article. No such death has been recorded, let alone been reported on by the Associated Press. What we have here is a work of fiction, an inventive leg-pull. Pranksters are everywhere, both on-line and off-line. In this case, someone took his best shot at presenting a gruesomely salacious story as a news item by dressing it up to mimic the style he assumed wire service copy adhered to, resulting in a laughable Associated Press pastiche”.
The same article also reported another fictitious tale of masturbatory death by animal (in this case a lobster). Here, the story was that a women had masturbated using a live lobster and that the lobster had defecated into her vagina, implanting brine shrimp eggs that then hatched inside her. Additionally, there are a few fictional cases in literature, the most infamous being the use of an animal liver as a masturbatory aid in Philip Roth’s 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint. The novel is basically the monologue of (as Wikipedia describes) “a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor who confesses to his psychoanalyst in intimate, shameful detail, and coarse, abusive language”. In my previous blog on sitophilia (sexual arousal from food), I did note that processed animal tissue has been used as a masturbatory aid (the most notable being botulinonia that involves the sexual use of sausages).
However, there is one case report in the scientific literature that is definitely true. It was published in a 1990 issue of the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology by Dr. Barry Randall, Dr. Richard Vance, and Dr. Timothy McAlmont and was simply titled ‘Xenolingual eroticism’. The paper described the case of a 29-year old female that presented at an abortion clinic saying that she had missed her periods and that she had a possible pregnancy that required termination. She was given a D&C (dilatation and curettage) and a muscular “pale grey tissue mass” measuring seven centimetres in length and 3 centimetres in diameter was found inside her vaginal passage. The object removed from her vagina turned out to be a deer tongue that the woman has been using as a masturbatory aid. At the time their case study was published, Dr. Randall and colleagues reviewed all the relevant literature on masturbatory practices in the Index Medicus database and found 42 papers (of which 27 detailed autoerotic deaths and 14 describing the psychology of autoeroticism). They then noted that:
“Only one reference reviewed various nonlethal autoerotic practices. Over a 42-year period, Aliabadi et al. recorded 18 patients, only three of whom were women, who presented with foreign body insertion for erotic purposes. All three women had inserted foreign bodies into the urinary tract. Acts of autoeroticism involving vaginal masturbation with foreign objects are perhaps more common. None to our knowledge have been reported because these do not result in death or injury, and typically would not come to medical attention. The literature discloses examples of foreign bodies extracted from the male and female lower urinary tract because objects of small diameter may be retracted by natural muscular impulses into the proximal urethra and/or bladder. Indeed, according to Kinsey and others >90% of foreign bodies found in the female bladder or urethra are there as a result of masturbation. Also, large objects retrieved from the vagina are found mostly in married women aged 17-30 [years]. However, these objects, most commonly bananas, cucumbers, and other large vegetables, rarely come to surgical attention. The medical literature reveals only seven references to bestiality. None of them deals with the issue of using nonviable animal tissue for autoerotic purposes. This report is presented so that xenoerotic objects may be placed on the list of possible masturbatory tools that may come to the attention of medical personnel”.
As far as I am aware, the case study by Dr. Randall and colleagues is the only academic paper on the use of animal tissue as a masturbatory aid. I did actually cite this study in a previous blog in relation to Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s 2011 typology of zoophiles in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. The case cited by Randall and colleagues could be classed as a fetishistic zoophile. According to Dr. Aggrawal, these individuals keep various animal parts (especially fur) that they then use as an erotic stimulus as a crucial part of their sexual activity. Obviously the use of a deer tongue is rare but appears to fit the definition of a fetishistic zoophile.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.
Aliabadi, H., Cass, A.S., Gleich, P., & Johnson, C.F. (1985). Self-Inflicted foreign bodies involving lower urinary tract and male genitals. Urology, 26, 12-16.
Brown, S. (1995). The Fortean Times Book of Weird Sex. London: John Brown Publishing.
Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Dying for it: Autoerotic deaths. Bizarre, 24, 62-65.
Mikkelson, B. (2006). Cowboy heart. Snopes.com, May 13. Located at: http://www.snopes.com/risque/kinky/cowheart.asp
Randall, M. B., Vance, R. P., & McCalmont, T. H. (1990). Xenolingual autoeroticism. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 11, 89-92.
Snopes (2000). Lobster love. Snopes.com, January 26. Located at: http://www.snopes.com/risque/juvenile/lobster.asp
Snopes (2006). Deerly beloved. Snopes.com, February 26. Located at: http://www.snopes.com/risque/animals/deertongue.asp
“Real happiness consists in not what we actually accomplish, but what we think we accomplish” (Charles Green Shaw, American abstract artist)
Ever since I can remember I have always been someone that compiled lists. Back in my youth it was lists of my favourite pop groups, film stars, sports stars, etc. I still make loads of lists but these days they are more likely to be long ‘to do’ lists (in fact, I’ve even written articles on getting the most out of ‘to do’ lists and being organized – see ‘Further reading’ below) or writing articles in the form of lists (in fact, I used to write what I called ‘psychol-lists’ for the British Psychological Society’s in-house magazine The Psychologist). When I make lists I feel more productive, and they are often the spurs to get things done (as long as I actually do the things on the list).
Obviously, list making can be an important activity in the organizational skills of many working individuals. Based on my own observations, most people make lists so they (i) don’t forget things, (ii) don’t procrastinate, (iii) feel in control and focused in what they are doing, (iv) can relieve stress, and (v) can cross things off the list and feel a sense of accomplishment. However, for a minority of people, making lists appears to be obsessive and a mental health issue. In short, there may be a fine line between being organized and being neurotic. From my own personal experience, I know that writing lists can be related to perfectionism. But life isn’t perfect and not completing activities on ‘to do’ lists can raise stress and worry levels. Ironically, the only way some people can deal with this is to make even more lists of things to do.
Obsessive list making is sometimes referred to as glazomania (check out the ‘Manias’ page at The Scorpio Tales website). Online dictionaries tend to define glazomania as either “a passion for list making” or “an unusual fascination with making lists”. However, the term ‘glazomania’ doesn’t appear to be used much academically. I did come across one recent paper in Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, by Dr. Urs Staeheli that mentioned it:
“Recently, quite a number of coffee-table books have been published that collect different sorts of everyday lists. Some authors even speak of a ‘glazomania‘ (Cagen 2007) – that is, an uncontrolled urge to produce lists and a fascination with list-making”
However, there was no other information provided. I managed to track down the 2007 reference to Sasha Cagen’s book (To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us). The book includes creative list-making exercises with the aim of helping individuals to “get in touch with their passion for life, inside and out of work, and refocus them on what brings them alive”. Cagen now makes a living on writing and giving workshops on the benefits of list making (one of her major clients being Google)
Although the term ‘glazomania’ is seldom used academically or clinically, obsessive list making is often mentioned as one of the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. As one online admission I came across noted:
“I have OCD, and recently my OCD flares up in the form of compulsive list making. This behavior totally affects my ability to be productive because I am constantly afraid of forgetting something and of spending time doing the wrong thing. Does anyone have any tips on how to break the cycle?”
The Wikipedia entry on obsessive-compulsive personality disorder notes that the main symptoms are “preoccupation with remembering and paying attention to minute details and facts, following rules and regulations, compulsion to make lists and schedules, as well as rigidity/inflexibility of beliefs or showing perfectionism that interferes with task-completion. Symptoms may cause extreme distress and interfere with a person’s occupational and social functioning” (my emphasis)
Psychologically, an argument could be made that obsessive list makers are simply trying to create an illusion of control in otherwise chaotic lives. The reason whyindividuals with OCD make lists compulsively is that they often afraid (in some cases, to the point of being phobic) that they will forget something important (even though research shows they do not have memory problems). These (arguably unnecessary) lists provide a reminder to carry out daily activities (i.e. brushing teeth, making breakfast, etc.). As with other OCD-type behaviours, the action of making a list helps the individual to feel psychologically better (albeit temporarily). The etiological roots may lie in the fact that the sufferer may at some point in their past history have been reprimanded severely, or repeatedly, by others for innocently forgetting things that were important. The OCD Types website adds:
“They never learn that they do not need the list to remember things. People with OCD may also make lists to remember things that may be contaminated to later wash or avoid, which also contributes to the OCD process. List-making can be in writing or verbalized aloud”.
In 2010, the BBC reported an exhibition at the Archives of American Art in Washington featuring lists made by eminent artists (everything from “scribbled on scraps of paper” to the “elaborately illustrated” including lists by Pablo Picasso, Alfred Konrad, Oscar Bluemner, Eerp Saarinen and Harry Bertoia). Bluemner even kept lists of lists. The curator of the exhibition (Liza Kirwin) told the BBC that:
“In trying to give order to his life, [Bluemner] obscures the clarity of the inventory of his work. He’s completely obsessed with this type of record keeping…This very mundane and ubiquitous form of documentation can tell you a great deal about somebody’s personal biography, where they’ve been and where they’re going. People can relate to this form of documentation because so many people are list keepers and organise their lives this way”.
In the same article, the BBC interviewed the US psychoanalyst Dr. Michael Maccoby who claimed that there are various types of list makers. However, there was little detail and the only quote in relation to types of list makers claimed: “The extreme is the obsessive who has to make lists of everything. These are people who have an unconscious fear that everything is going to be out of control if they don’t make a list”. As far as I am aware, there is no published empirical research on personality types and list making although there is some psychological literature showing that list making – as part of time management practices – appears to have some beneficial effects on both student grade point averages and workplace productivity.
Finally, a few months ago, an online article by Dr. Carrie Barron at the Psychology Today website provided a brief summary of why making lists is psychologically good for people. I’m not sure about the empirical basis of her claims but they seem to have reasonable face validity. I’ll leave you with her reasons (her verbatim list of “six great benefits”!). In summary, Barron believes that lists:
- “Provide a positive psychological process whereby questions and confusions can be worked through.
- Foster a capacity to select and prioritize. This is useful for an information-overload situation.
- Separate minutia from what matters, which is good for identity as well as achievement.
- Help determine the steps needed. That which resonates informs direction and plan.
- Combat avoidance. Taking abstract to concrete sets the stage for commitment and action. Especially if you add self-imposed deadlines.
- Organize and contain a sense of inner chaos, which can make your load feel more manageable”.
Barron, C. (2014). How making lists can quell anxiety and breed creativity. Psychology Today, March 9. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-creativity-cure/201403/how-making-lists-can-quell-anxiety-and-breed-creativity
Cagen, S. (2007). To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Chicago: Touchstone.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Psycholo-lists. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 240.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). More psycholo-lists. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 9, 384.
Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Tips on…To do lists. British Medical Journal Careers, 332, 215.
Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Tips on…’To do’ lists. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 68, 27-28.
O’Brien, J. (2010). The art of list-making. BBC News, March 3. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8537856.stm
OCD Types (2014). About obsessive-compulsive disorder. Located at: http://www.ocdtypes.com/unusual-compulsions.php
Staeheli, U. (2012). Listing the global: Dis/connectivity beyond representation? Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 13(3), 233-246.
Wikipedia (2014). Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive–compulsive_personality_disorder