We can work it out: A brief look at ‘study addiction’

In today’s modern society, students face multiple academic pressures. The best colleges and universities require the best grades for entry and parents push and expect their children to succeed educationally. At school, pupils learn early on that success comes through dedication, discipline, and hard work. For some individuals, the act of educational study may become excessive and/or compulsive and lead to what has been termed ‘study addiction’.

Although there is little research and no generally accepted definition of study addiction to date, such behaviour (as a way of dealing with academic stress and pressure) has been conceptualized within contemporary research into workaholism. Consequently, from a ‘work addiction’ (i.e., workaholism) perspective, study addiction was defined by Dr. Cecilie Andreassen and her colleagues in a 2014 issue of the Journal of Managerial Psychology as: “Being overly concerned with studying, to be driven by an uncontrollable studying motivation, and to put so much energy and effort into studying that it impairs private relationships, spare-time activities, and/or health”.

The many similarities between studying and working lead to the notion that study addiction may be a precursor for or an early form of workaholism that might manifest itself in childhood or adolescence. Work appears to share many similarities to that of learning and studying, as both involve sustained effort in order to achieve success, often related to skills and knowledge, and both fulfill important social roles. In previous studies (including some of my own – see ‘Further reading’ below), workaholism has been shown to be a relatively stable entity over time. This suggests that the behavioural tendency to work excessively may be manifesting itself early in the development of an individual in relation to learning and associated academic behaviours. Given the similarities between excessive work and excessive study, there is no theoretical reason to believe that ‘study addiction’ (like work addiction) does not exist.

Given that most scales to assess workaholism have been developed without adequate consideration of all facets of addiction, my colleagues and I developed the Bergen Work Addiction Scale (BWAS). This was published in a 2012 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology and was developed to overcome the theoretical and conceptual weaknesses of previous instrumentation. This BWAS assesses core elements of addiction (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, relapse, and problems). As no current measure of study addiction exists, we adapted the BWAS by replacing the words ‘work’ and ‘working’ with ‘study’ and ‘studying’ (creating the Bergen Study Addiction Scale) and carried out the first ever study on ‘study addiction’ and some of the results of this study that have just been published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions are highlighted later in this article.

Unlike most other behavioural addictions (e.g., pathological gambling, video gaming addiction, shopping addiction, etc.), workaholism – like exercise addiction – has often been regarded as a positive and productive kind of addiction. Notably, workaholics typically score higher on personality traits such as conscientiousness and perfectionism compared to other addicts. As with the workaholic, the “perfect student” is hard working and involved, and it is likely that study addiction is also associated with conscientiousness. Along with the academic pressure derived from many differing sources (such as the fear of failure), it is also conceivable that such individuals – like workaholics – will score higher on neuroticism.

Although the societal notion of workaholism as a positive behaviour has received some support, most current scholars conceive it as a negative condition due to its association with impaired health, low perceived quality of life, diminished sleep quality, work-family conflicts, and lowered job performance. Given these well-established associations, we hypothesized in our study that extreme studying behaviour (i.e., study addiction) would be negatively related to psychological wellbeing, health, and academic performance, and positively related to stress.

On the basis of previous theoretical frameworks and empirical research into work addiction, we hypothesized that study addiction would be (i) positively and significantly associated with conscientiousness and neuroticism, (ii) positively and significantly associated with stress, and lower quality of life, health, and sleep, and (iii) negatively and significantly related to academic performance. Our study comprised two samples of students (n=1,211). The first sample comprised 218 first-year psychology undergraduate students at the University of Bergen in Norway. The second sample comprised 993 participants studying at three Polish universities.

We found there were positive associations between study addiction, neuroticism and conscientiousness, and lack of relationship with agreeableness (in both the Polish and Norwegian samples). In the Polish sample, extraversion was negatively related to study addiction. Our results also showed that study addiction was positively related to perceived stress and negatively associated with general quality of life, general health, and sleep quality above and beyond personality factors. These results parallel current knowledge about negative correlates of work addiction. When controlling for personality traits, study addiction was negatively associated with immediate academic performance (although not statistically significant in the Norwegian sample, probably due to the relatively small sample size in terms of exam results compared to the much bigger Polish sample).

As expected, study addiction was related to several negative consequences and problems. Although our results were interesting and (on the whole supported our hypotheses) the two groups of students comprised convenience samples, were predominantly female, and mainly comprised psychology and education students. Therefore, the results of our study cannot be generalized to other populations. However, our study is first ever study to conceptualize ‘study addiction’ and to test psychometric properties of a corresponding measurement tool (which for all you psychometricians out there had good reliability and validity). We also used several variables comprising possible antecedents and consequences of study addiction, including valid and reliable measures of personality, psychological wellbeing, health, stress, and academic performance. We believe that our study significantly adds to the existing literature on workaholism and behavioural addictions, and our initial findings appear to support the concept of study addiction and provide an empirical base for its further investigation.

If we had an unlimited research budget, we’d like to carry out longitudinal studies in younger samples (e.g., high school) as such data would likely provide useful information in terms of possible developmental risk factors, determinants, and correlates of study addiction. The relationship between study addiction and later work addiction should also be investigated longitudinally in order to investigate if these are aspects are part of the same phenomenon and/or pathological process.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Please note; This article was written in conjunction with Paweł Atroszko University of Gdańsk, Poland), Cecilie Schou Andreassen (University of Bergen, Norway), and Ståle Pallesen (University of Bergen, Norway).

Further reading

Andreassen, C. S. (2014). Workaholism: An overview and current status of the research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3, 1-11.

Andreassen, C., Griffiths, M., Gjertsen, S., Krossbakken, E., Kvam, S., & Pallesen, S. (2013). The relationships between behavioral addictions and the five-factor model of personality. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 90-99.

Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Hetland, J., Kravina, L., Jensen, F., & Pallesen, S. (2014). The prevalence of workaholism: a survey study in a nationally representative sample of norwegian employees. PLoS One, 9, e102446. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102446

Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Hetland, J., & Pallesen, S. (2012). Development of a work addiction scale. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 53, 265-272.

Andreassen, C. S., Hetland, J., & Pallesen, S. (2014). Psychometric assessment of workaholism measures. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 29, 7-24.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2015). Study addiction – A new area of psychological study: Conceptualization, assessment, and preliminary empirical findings. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 75–84.

Burke, R. J., Matthiesen, S. B., & Pallesen, S. (2006). Personality correlates of workaholism. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 1223-1233.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

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.

Griffiths, M.D. & Karanika-Murray, M. (2012). Contextualising over-engagement in work: Towards a more global understanding of workaholism as an addiction. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1(3), 87-95.

Quinones, C. & Mark D. Griffiths (2015). Addiction to work: recommendations for assessment. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 10, 48-59.

Spence, J. T., & Robbins, A. S. (1992). Workaholism – definition, measurement, and preliminary results. Journal of Personality Assessment, 58, 160-178.

van Beek, I., Taris, T. W., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2011). Workaholic and work engaged employees: dead ringers or worlds apart? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16, 468-482.

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 November 13, 2015, in Addiction, Adolescence, Compulsion, Gender differences, Obsession, Psychology, Work, Workaholism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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