Whirled piece: Dancing as an addiction

In previous blogs I have examined various (admittedly extreme) aspects of dancing including people that are sexually aroused by dancing (choreophilia), dancing as a form of frottuerism, people that are addicted to dancing (in this case, the Argentine tango), and people who have developed medical complaints as a result of dancing (‘breaker’s neck’ caused by break dancing). However, over the last few months I have been a co-author on two dance-related research papers with my research colleagues in Hungary (led by Aniko Maraz). The first one (published in the journal PLoS ONE) was about the development and psychometric validation of the ‘Dancing Motives Inventory’ (DMI). The second one (also published in PLoS ONE) was a study of dance addiction (and which I will describe in more detail below).

I’m sure many of you reading this will think that dancing is a somewhat trivial area to be carrying out scientific research. However, research has shown that dancing can have substantial benefits for physical and mental health such as decreased depression and anxiety, and increased physical and psychological wellbeing. After we developed the DMI, we realised that very little known about the psychological underpinnings of excessive dancing, and whether in extreme cases, dancing could be classed as an addictive behaviour. Given the lack of empirical research in dance addiction, we conceptualized dance addiction to be akin to exercise addiction. For example, a study published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills led by Dr. Edgar Pierce reported that dancers scored higher on the Exercise Addiction Scale compared to endurance and non-endurance athletes. Added to this, both exercise and dancing require stamina and physical fitness, and for this reason, dance is often classified as a form of exercise.

Over the last 20 years I have published many papers on exercise addiction (see ‘Further reading’ below) so there is no reason why dance addiction couldn’t theoretically exist (in fact, it could be argued that dance addiction – if it exists – is a sub-type of exercise addiction). There are also a handful of studies that have examined excessive dancing and whether it can be addictive to a small minority. A study by Edgar Pierce and Myra Daleng (again in Perceptual and Motor Skills) conducted a study with 10 elite ballet dancers and found that dancers rated thinner bodies as ideal and significantly more desirable than their actual body image despite being in the ‘ideal’ BMI range. The study also found that dancers often continue to dance despite discomfort, “because of the embedded subculture in dance that embraces injury, pain, and tolerance”. In a more recent study in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions (and which I reported at length in a previous blog), Dr. Remi Targhetta and colleagues assessed addiction to the Argentine tango. They found that almost half of their participants (45%) met the DSM-IV criteria of abuse, although a substantially lower prevalence rate (7%) was found when using more conservative criteria.

In our recently published study, we proposed that excessive social dancing would be associated with detriments to mental health. More specifically, we aimed to (i) identify subgroups of dancers regarding addiction tendencies, (ii) explore which factors account for the elevated risk of dance addiction, and (iii) explore the motivations underlying excessive dancing.

Our sample included 447 salsa and ballroom dancers (32% male and 68% female, with an average age of 33 years) who danced recreationally at least once a week. To assess ‘dance addiction’ we created the ‘Dance Addiction Inventory’ modified from the Exercise Addiction Inventory (that I co-developed back in 2004) in which we simply replaced the word ‘exercise’ with the word ‘dance’. We also assessed the dancers’ general mental health, borderline personality disorder, eating disorder symptoms, and dance motives.

As far as we are aware, our study is the first to explore the psychopathology and motivation behind dance addiction. Based on my criteria of addiction, five distinct types of dancers were identified. Only two of these types danced excessively. About one-quarter of our sample reported high values on all criteria of addiction but they reported no conflict with the social environment. However, 11% of dancers (and what we termed the ‘high risk’ group) scored high on all addiction symptoms and experienced conflict in their life as a consequence of their excessive dancing.

Our study also found that dance addiction was associated with mild psychopathology, especially with elevated number of eating disorder symptoms and (to a lesser extent) borderline personality traits (something which has also been found in research examining exercise addiction). Perhaps unsurprisingly, escapism (and to a lesser extent mood enhancement) was an especially strong indicator of dance addiction. I say ‘unsurprisingly’ because escapism has already been much reported in other types of behavioural addiction such as gambling and video gaming (including a lot of my own research). Here, escapism as a motivational factor refers to dancing in order to avoid feeling empty or as a mechanism to deal with everyday problems. Based on our findings, we believe that to a minority of individuals appear to be addicted to dancing and that it may be being used be a maladaptive coping mechanism.

Based on what we know in the exercise addiction literature, we proposed that future studies should also assess whether eating disorder is primary or secondary to dance addiction (i.e., whether the purpose of excessive dancing is weight-control and/or the motivation to perform leads to disturbances in eating patterns). I should also point out that although we found that distress was correlated with dance addiction, the association disappeared when other measures were added to the regression model. This may indicate that distress is not directly associated with problematic dancing and that it may arise from other problematic factors such as having an eating disorder.

Given the lack of research in the field, other studies are needed to confirm or refute the findings of our study. Given that dancing is a social activity, social conflicts may not arise when the person has only fellow dancers as partners or friends – therefore, the risky behaviour may remain somewhat hidden. Another question that could be examined is whether there is any difference between amateur and professional dancers in terms of addiction tendency (although among professional dancers there may be a debate about whether their behaviour is dancing addiction or ‘workaholism’). Also, we don’t know whether our findings can be extended to other dance genres (as we only surveyed ballroom and salsa dancers)

I would just like to end by saying that dancing is very clearly a healthy activity for the majority of individuals. However, our study does seem to suggest that excessive dancing may have problematic and/or harmful effects for a small minority. Although we couldn’t establish causality, dance addiction appears to have the potential to be associated with mild psychopathology.

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

Additional input: Aniko Maraz, Róbert Urbán and Zsolt Demetrovics.

Further reading

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

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

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

Griffiths, M.D., Szabo, A. & Terry, A. (2005). The Exercise Addiction Inventory: A quick and easy screening tool for health practitioners. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, 30-31.

Griffiths, M.D., Urbán, R., Demetrovics, Z., Lichtenstein, M.B., de la Vega, R., Kun, B., Ruiz-Barquín, R., Youngman, J. & Szabo, A. (2015). A cross-cultural re-evaluation of the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI) in five countries. Sports Medicine Open, 1:5.

Kurimay, T., Griffiths, M.D., Berczik, K., & Demetrovics, Z. (2013). Exercise addiction: The dark side of sports and exercise. In Baron, D., Reardon, C. & Baron, S.H., Contemporary Issues in Sports Psychiatry: A Global Perspective (pp.33-43). Chichester: Wiley.

Maraz, A., Király, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Why do you dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PLoS ONE, 10(3): e0122866. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0122866

Maraz, A., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics Z. (2015). An empirical investigation of dance addiction. PloS ONE, 10(5): e0125988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125988.

Pierce, E.F. & Daleng, M.L. (1998) Distortion of body image among elite female dancers. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 87, 769-770.

Pierce, E.F., Daleng, M.L. & McGowan, R.W. (1993) Scores on exercise dependence among dancers. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 76, 531-535.

Ramirez, B., Masella, P.A., Fiscina, B., Lala, V.R., & Edwards, M. D. (1984). Breaker’s neck. Journal of the American Medical Association, 252(24), 3366-3367.

Targhetta, R., Nalpas, B. & Perney, P. (2013). Argentine tango: Another behavioral addiction? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 179-186.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on June 11, 2015, in Addiction, Compulsion, Exercise addiction, Obsession, Pain, Paraphilia, Popular Culture, Psychology, Sex, Workaholism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Let us not forget that dancing is also a powerful aspect of shamanism, especially in cultures that do not have access to strong hallucinatorary plants. Dancing is a powerful tool for inducing altered states of consciousness. To a lesser extent, like those dedicated to a sport or exercise, it can compliment a strong subject/Other perspective..

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