Category Archives: Addiction

Geek or chic? A brief look at video gamer stereotypes

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have spent well over two decades carrying out research into various aspects of video gaming. Online video gaming has become an increasingly popular activity amongst teenagers and adults alike. For numerous reasons, perhaps in part because of its rapid growth, online gaming is also an activity that has become highly stereotyped. That is, it is an activity that has come to be associated in popular culture with a highly specific, caricatured and also negative image. This image is reflected in numerous television shows, print media, news reports, current affairs programs and other sources of popular culture. As Dr. D Williams and his colleagues noted in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Monographs:

“Game players are stereotypically male and young, pale from too much time spent indoors and socially inept. As a new generation of isolated and lonely ‘couch potatoes,’ young male game players are far from aspirational figures”.

Understanding the formation of stereotypes about this group and how they are internalised may help us understand society’s attitudes towards this activity and how its participants are positioned within the status hierarchy. Where the stereotype of the pale teenage gamer came from and whether there is any truth to it are clearly important and interesting questions. Our recent research concerns the extent to which this social stereotype has been transformed into a cognitive stereotype, what form this cognitive stereotype takes, and what this can tell us about society’s attitude toward gaming as an emerging form of social or asocial activity.

Within popular culture, a clear characterisation of online gamers has emerged. Frequently caricatured, this ‘stereotype’ has been disseminated throughout the print media, as well as television and web based programs. One poignant example comes from the popular U.S. animated series South Park. In an episode devoted to the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft, the stereotypical gamer was portrayed as overweight, lazy, isolated, and aggressive. Additionally, the four main characters of the series became increasingly overweight, lazy, and developed acne as their immersion into the game deepened. One of the main characters (Penny) in the U.S. television series The Big Bang Theory also conforms to stereotypic expectations as she becomes obsessive, reclusive and unkempt upon playing a fantasy-based online game.

The highly successful web series, The Guild, took a more comical approach as they followed a group of online gamers who decide to meet each other in the offline world after many months of regular online interaction. In the opening scene of the first episode, the main character is told by her therapist that her online friends do not constitute a genuine support system, and that immersion in an imaginary social environment is stunting her personal growth. Within the first few minutes of this episode, themes of obsession, addiction, reclusiveness, and loneliness arise.

The stereotypical portrayal of an online gamer has also taken more serious forms. In an episode of Law and Order: SVU, a popular U.S. television series, two individuals are arrested and accused of neglecting their child due to their immersion in an online gaming world. In addition to the depiction of the more physical aspects of the stereotype (both suspects are overweight and have poor personal hygiene), the obsessive and addictive qualities of online gaming are implicated in a much more serious context of child neglect.

The problematic and addictive nature of video games is often highlighted by the news media, and a variety of internet websites, magazine articles, and news articles dispense advice for individuals with problematic playing behaviours. Taken together, these media portrayals, news reports, and internet articles present a consistent and negative image of online gaming and its participants. Online gaming is presented as a dangerous activity that may lead to social withdrawal, physical and mental ill health, and even suicide. These concerns are reflected in stereotypical portrayals of online gamers as socially anxious and incompetent, mentally stunted and withdrawn, and physically unhealthy (e.g., overweight, pale). The origins of this stereotypical image are unknown. It may be an extension of pre-existing stereotypes about similar activities (e.g., the violent film or video game and aggression hypothesis), a subtype of a broader ‘nerd’ stereotype, or a general cynicism about a new and rapidly spreading form of social activity and interaction. The social, psychological and historical factors that led to this stereotype are clearly interesting and worth exploring.

The occurrences of the cultural stereotype described are largely examples of the stereotype of an MMORPG player, rather than online gamers more generally. MMORPG players appear to be the prototype of online gamers, as caricatured by numerous television and web-based programs. In a study published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, Dr. Rachel Kowert, Dr. Julian Oldmeadow and myself collected some data on video gamer stereotypes. We asked our participants (both gamers and non-gamers) to indicate what most other people think online gamers are like. To the extent that stereotypical portrayals of online gaming and gamers have given rise to shared trait associations, there should be strong agreement across both gamers and non-gamers with regards to how gamers are perceived by others in general. A further aim of our study was to examine the extent to which these trait associations about gamers have been internalised as personal beliefs. A total of 342 participants completed our online survey in which they rated how applicable each of a list of traits was to the group of online gamers. Ratings were made for both personal beliefs (how participants themselves see gamers) and stereotypical beliefs (how most others see gamers). While these beliefs were highly consensual as stereotypes, personal beliefs varied suggesting that the cultural portrayal of online gamers is beginning to shift into cognitive associations.

Participants were asked to evaluate the list of adjectives and rate each one in terms of how applicable they believed the trait to be of online gamers. Responses were given on a 7-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (“not at all applicable”) to 7 (“very applicable”). Participants were first asked questions relating to basic demographic information, as well as information about their online gaming habits (which games they play or had played, frequency of play, and whether they consider themselves a gamer). They were then asked to rate each of the 30 adjectives according to how they personally perceived online gamers (stereotype endorsement), and how they thought other people perceive online gamers (stereotype). The tasks were presented in this order to maximise the independence between personal and stereotypical ratings.

Even though online gamers are a relatively new social category within society, our results demonstrated that a collective stereotype about this population has emerged. All our participants showed an awareness of a shared stereotype that is in accordance with the anecdotal characterisations commonly portrayed by popular media. Stereotype ratings were consistent across gamers and non-gamers, suggesting that these beliefs are widely shared within society. Based on the results of this study, we concluded that the current stereotype of online gamers is largely negative, based on the traits of popularity, attractiveness, idleness, and social competence. Online gamers were stereotypically viewed as unpopular, unattractive, idle, and socially incompetent, a characterisation that seems to match common stereotypical portrayals in the media, television, and internet articles.

As this investigation was largely exploratory, care needs to be taken in interpreting the results and further research is needed to confirm the factors that emerged here. For instance, it is uncertain if the results found here are reflective of the generalized stereotype of gamers (including online gamers more generally) or the popularized prototype of the MMORPG gamer. While some have found that MMORPG gamers are viewed more negatively than the generalized construct of the online gamer, future research is needed to further examine the general stereotype in relation to the subgroups contained within it. This will hopefully provide clarification into the stereotypical differences amongst the broad categorization of online gamers as compared to more specific subgroups, such as MMORPG gamers or casual online gamers (e.g., individuals who play online games that require no major time commitment or special set of skills to complete, such as the highly popular Zynga game, Farmville). Future research may provide further insight into the progression of the shared beliefs about online gamers ‘out there’ developing into internalised cognitive associations ‘in here’. Somewhat fortuitously, the stereotype of online gamers is still undergoing formation within society, providing researchers with the unique opportunity to study this characterisation as it continues to evolve.

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

Additional input: Dr. Rachel Kowert and Dr. Julian Oldmeadow

Further reading

Cole, H., & Griffiths, M. (2007). Social Interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10(4), 575 – 583.

Griffiths, M., Davies, M., & Chappell, D. (2003). Breaking the stereotype: the case of online gaming. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6(1), 81 – 91.

Kowert, R., Griffiths, M.D. & Oldmeadow, J. (2012). Geek or Chic? Emerging stereotypes of online gamers. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 32, 371-379.

Kowert, R., & Oldmeadow, J. (2012). The stereotype of online gamers: new characterization or recycled prototype. Paper presented at the Nordic DiGRA, Tampere, Finland.

Lucas, K., & Sherry, J. (2004). Sex differences in video game play: a communication-based explanation. Communication Research, 31(5), 499 – 523.

Ogletree, S., & Drake, R. (2007). College students’ video game participation and perceptions: gender differences and implications. Sex Roles, 56, 537 – 542.

Williams, D., Yee, N., & Caplan, S. (2008). Who plays, how much, and why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication Monographs, 13(4), 993 – 1018.

Yee, N. (2006). The demographics, motivations, and derived experiences of users of massively-multi-user online graphical environments. Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15(3), 309 – 329

Fanable Collector: A personal insight into the psychology of a record-collecting completist

Regular readers of my blog will know that I have described myself as a music obsessive and that I am an avid record and CD collector. When I get into a particular band or artist I try to track down every song that artist has ever done – irrespective of whether I actually like the song or not. I have to own every recording. Once I have collected every official recording I then start tracking down unofficially released recordings via bootlegs and fan websites. I have my own books and printed lists (i.e., complete discographies by specific bands and solo artists) that I meticulously tick off with yellow highlighter pen. (In some ways, I am no different to a trainspotter that ticks off train numbers in a book).

I wouldn’t say I am a particularly materialistic person but I love knowing (and feeling) that I have every official recorded output by my favourite musicians. My hobby can sometimes cost me a lot of money (I am a sucker for deluxe box sets) although most of the time I can track down secondhand items and bargains on eBay and Amazon relatively cheaply (plus I have downloaded thousands of bootleg albums for free from the internet). Tracking down an obscure release is as much fun as the listening of the record or CD (i.e., the ‘thrill of the chase’). Almost every record I have bought over the last decade is in mint condition and unplayed (as many records now come with a code to download the record bought as a set of MP3s).

As a record collector, one of the things that make the hobby both fun and (at the same time somewhat) infuriating is the number of different versions of a particular song that can end up being released. As a collector I have an almost compulsive need to own every version of a song that an artist has committed to vinyl, CD, tape or MP3. However, I am grateful that I am not the type of collector that tries to own every physical record/CD released in every country. (My love of The Beatles would mean I would be bankrupt). I only buy releases in other countries if it contains music that is exclusive to that country (e.g., many Japanese CD releases contain one or two tracks that may not be initially released in any other country).

For most artists that I collect from the 1960s to early 1980s, it is fairly easy to collect every officially released song. Artists like The Beatles may have up three to four official versions of a particular song (the single version, the album version, a demo version, a version from another country with a different edit, etc.). With bootleg recordings, the number of versions might escalate to 30 or 40 versions by including live versions, every studio take, etc.). It can become almost endless if you start to collect bootleg recordings of every gig by your favourite artists. (I know this from personal experience).

It was during my avid record buying days in the early 1980s that the ‘completist’ in me started to take hold. Some of you reading this may recall that in 1984, Frankie Goes To Hollywood (FGTH) became only the second band ever to reach the UK No.1 with their first three singles – ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power of Love’ (the first band being – not The Beatles, but their Liverpool friends and rivals – Gerry and The Pacemakers). One of the reasons that FGTH got to (and stayed for weeks at) number one was there were thousands of people like me that bought countless different versions of every variation of every single released. For instance, not only did I buy the standard 7”, 12”, cassettes, and picture discs of both ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’, I bought every new mix that FGTH producer Trevor Horn put out.

Every week, all of the money that I earned from my Saturday job working in Irene’s Pantry would go on buying records from Castle Records in Loughborough. I didn’t care about clothes, sweets, books, etc. All I cared about outside of school was music. Some of my hard earned money went on buying the NME (New Musical Express) every Thursday along with buying other music weeklies if my favourite bands were featured (Melody Maker, Record Mirror, Sounds and Smash Hits to name just a few).

When I got to university to study Psychology at the University of Bradford, my love of music and record buying increased. Not only did I discover other like-minded people but Bradford had a great music scene. One of the first things I did when I got to university was become a journalist for the student magazine (Fleece). Within seven months I was one of the three Fleece editors and I was in control of all the arts and entertainment coverage. The perks of my (non-paid) job was that (a) I got to go to every gig at Bradford University for free, (b) I was sent lots of free records to review for the magazine (all of which I kept and some of which I still have), and (c) I got to see every film for free in return for writing a review. I couldn’t believe my luck.

During this time (1984-1987) my three favourite artists were The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and (my guilty pleasure) Adam Ant. I devoured everything they released (especially The Smiths). As a record collector I not only loved the Smiths music but I loved the record covers, the messages scratched on the vinyl run-out grooves, and Morrissey’s interviews in the music press. It was also during this period that I discovered other bands that later went onto become some of my favourite bands of all time (Propaganda and The Art of Noise being the two that most spring to mind). As a Depeche Mode fan, collecting every track they have ever done has become harder and harder (and more expensive) as they were arguably one of the pioneers of the remix. Although Trevor Horn and the ZTT label took remixing singles to a new level for record collectors, it was Depeche Mode that arguably carried on the baton into the 1990s.

During 1987-1990, my record buying subsided through financial necessity. I was doing my PhD at the University of Exeter and the little money I had went on food, rent, and travel (to see my then girlfriend who lived over 300 miles away). I simply didn’t have the money to buy and collect records the way I had before. Buying singles stopped but I would still buy the occasional album. This was the only period in my life that I didn’t really buy music magazines. (My thinking was that if I didn’t know what was being released I couldn’t feel bad about not buying it).

In the summer of 1990 I landed my first proper job as a Lecturer in Psychology at Plymouth University. For the first time in my life I had a healthy disposable income. My first purchase with my first pay cheque was an expensive turntable and CD player. I also bought loads of CD albums on my growing wish list. What I loved about my hobby was that I could do it simultaneously with my job (i.e., I could listen to my favourite bands at the same time as preparing my lectures or writing my research papers – something that I still do to this day).

When CD singles became popular in the 1990s I became a voracious buyer of music again. Typically bands would release a single across multiple formats with each format containing tracks exclusive to the record, CD and/or cassette. Artists like Oasis and Morrissey (two of my favourites during the 1990s) would release singles in three or four formats (7” vinyl, 10”/12” vinyl, CD single, and cassette single) and I would buy all formats (and to some extent I still do). It was a collector’s paradise but I could afford it. In fact, not only could I afford to buy all the music I wanted, I could buy all the monthly music magazines at the time (Vox, Select, Record Collector, Q, and then a little later Uncut and Mojo), and I could go to gigs and still have money left over.

Since the mid-1990s only one thing has really changed in relation to my music-buying habits and that is there are less and less new bands that I have become a fan of. I still buy lots of new music but I don’t tend to collect the work of contemporary bands. However, the music industry has realized there are huge amounts of money to be made from their back catalogues. I am the type of music buyer that will happily buy a ‘classic’ album again as long as it has an extra disc or two of demo versions, rarities, remixes, and obscure B-sides, that will help me extend and/or complete music collections by the bands I love. Over this year I have already bought box sets by The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Throbbing Gristle, and David Bowie (to name just four). I have become a retro-buyer but I still crave “new” music by my favourite artists. Yes, I love music and it takes up a lot of my life. However, I am not addicted. My obsessive love of music adds to my life rather than detracts from it – and on that criterion alone I will happily be a music collector until the day that I die.

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

Further reading

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

Belk, R.W. (2001). Collecting in a Consumer Society. New York: Routledge.

Moist, K. (2008). “To renew the Old World”: Record collecting as cultural production. Studies in Popular Culture, 31(1), 99-122.

Pearce, S. (1993). Museums, Objects, and Collections. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Pearce, S. (1998). Contemporary Collecting in Britain. London: Sage.

Reynolds, S. (2004). Lost in music: Obsessive music collecting. In E. Weisbard (Ed.), This Is Pop: In Search of the Elusive at Experience Music Project (pp.289-307). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Punter gatherer: What is the role of competitiveness in gambling and problem gambling?

Over the last decade, I have been asked by the mass media on countless occasions about the increasing popularity of online gambling. The two biggest successes appear to be the use of betting exchanges and online poker. Gamblers clearly feel these types of gambling provide value and an opportunity to exercise their skill. This is coupled with increasingly sophisticated gaming software, integrated e-cash systems, increased realism (in the shape of “real” gambling via webcams, or player and dealer avatars) are all inter-linked facilitating factors. However, another factor that I feel is really important in the rise of online gambling is the inter-gambler competition. Obviously there is an overlap between competitiveness and skill but they are certainly not the same. What’s more recent research has suggested that being highly competitive may not necessarily be good for the gambler.

I’m sure many people’s view of psychology is that it is little more than common sense (and to be honest, some of it is). For instance, psychologists claim that male gamblers are attracted to sports betting because they love competitiveness. There has also been North American research examining the high participation in US college basketball. The researchers found that above anything else, males were attracted to the competitiveness of betting on teams and games. Professor Howard Shaffer, a psychologist at Harvard University, claims that men are more likely to develop problematic gambling behaviour because of their conventionally high levels of aggression, impulsivity and competitiveness. Clearly, the idea of the competitiveness of the activity being one of the primary motivations to gamble is well supported.

Based on the fact that so little research has systematically examined the links between gambling and competitiveness, my own research unit published some research into this area in the journal Addiction Research and Theory. Dr. Adrian Parke and myself speculated that a gambler who is highly competitive would experience more arousal and stimulation, and be drawn to gambling as an outlet to release competitive instincts and drives. We also speculated that competitiveness may be linked to problem gambling. For instance, being highly competitive may help in explaining why in the face of negative and damaging consequences, problem gamblers persist in their potentially self-destructive habit. Psychological research in other areas has consistently shown that highly competitive individuals are more sensitive to social comparison with peers regarding their task performance. Applying this to a gambling situation, it is reasonable to suggest that competitive gamblers may be reluctant to stop gambling until they are in a positive state in relation to opposing gamblers, perhaps explaining why excessive gambling can sometimes occur.

Psychology is not the only discipline to suggest that competitiveness levels can be associated with problem gambling. Sociologists have speculated that factors of the human instinctual expressive needs, such as competition, can be temporarily satisfied when engaging in gambling activities. Evidence exists supporting gambling as an instrumental outlet for expressing competitive instinctual urges. The US sociologist Erving Goffman developed what he called the ‘deprivation-compensation’ theory to explain the relationship between gambling and competitiveness. He suggested that the stability of modern society no longer creates situations where competitive instincts are tested. Therefore, gambling is an artificial, self-imposed situation of instability that can be instrumental in creating an opportunity to test competitive capabilities.

In the published research study that we carried out, we hypothesised that problem gamblers would possess higher levels of competitiveness than non-problem gamblers. Using a competitiveness scale, gamblers were asked to rate statements about competitive reasons for gambling (such as ‘I like to gamble to show others how good I am at it’, ‘I like to gamble to beat the system’, ‘I like to gamble to see how good I am at it’) and general competitive tendencies (such as ‘I am competitive’, ‘I enjoy taking risks’, ‘I am abitious’). We found that problem gamblers scored significantly higher on the competitiveness scale. Put simply, we concluded that having a highly competitive streak may in fact be a potential risk factor for problem gambling.

It is not hard to see how a highly competitive person would be attracted to gambling by the competitive and challenging nature of the behaviour. However, why are competitive people at particular risk of developing pathological gambling behaviour? It could be the case that highly competitive gamblers are less inclined to ‘throw the towel in’ or accept a loss, and, as a result are more prone to chasing behaviour. Chasing behaviour – that is, increasing frequency and stake of bets in an attempt to recoup losses – is self-perpetuating. When gamblers chase losses it is highly probable they will lose more and the need to recoup losses increases as time passes. What’s more, chasing losses has been shown to be a major risk factor in the development of gambling problems. At the other end of spectrum, winning is potentially more rewarding for a competitive gambler as they are more inclined to perceive gambling as an internal and external challenge than a non-competitive gambler. In addition, winning will be much more rewarding after incurring losses. Put very simply, the competitive person feels greater triumph by defeating unlikely odds and emerging from what appeared a hopeless situation.

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

Further reading

Goffman, I. (1972). Where the action is. In: Interaction Ritual (pp.149–270). Allen Lane, London.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment (pp. 91-111). New York: Wiley.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). What differentiates professional poker players from recreational poker players? A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 243-257.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Poker gambling virtual communities: The use of Computer-Mediated Communication to develop cognitive poker gambling skills. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(2), 31-44.

Parke, A., Griffiths, M.D. & Irwing, P. (2004). Personality traits in pathological gambling: Sensation seeking, deferment of gratification and competitiveness as risk factors, Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 201-212.

Parke, A., Griffiths, M., & Parke, J. (2005) Can playing poker be good for you? Poker as a transferable skill. Journal of Gambling Issues, 14.

Recher, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory qualitative study of online poker professional players. Social Psychological Review, 14(2), 13-25.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths. M.D. (2008).Why Swedish people play online poker and factors that can increase or decrease trust in poker websites: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Gambling Issues, 21, 80-97.

I drink, therefore I am: A brief look at alcohol dependence in Great Britain

Alcohol dependence is often viewed as a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that in most affected people includes a strong desire to consume alcohol, and have difficulties in controlling their drinking. According to a 2013 report by Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholism kills more people in the UK than any other drug apart from nicotine. Based on Government statistics, they claim one adult in every 13 is alcohol-dependent (although this is much higher than data collected from the most methodologically robust studies – see below). The General Household Survey (GHS) and the General Lifestyle Survey (GLF) have been measuring drinking behaviour for over 30 years. In relation to alcohol use, the latest 2013 Office for National Statistics (ONS) report notes that:

“The Department of Health estimates that the harmful use of alcohol costs the National Health Service around £2.7bn a year and 7% of all hospital admissions are alcohol related. Drinking can lead to over 40 medical conditions, including cancer, stroke, hypertension, liver disease and heart disease. Reducing the harm caused by alcohol is therefore a priority for the Government and the devolved administrations. Excessive consumption of alcohol is a major preventable cause of premature mortality with alcohol-related deaths accounting for almost 1.5% of all deaths in England and Wales in 2011”.

The ONS notes that obtaining reliable data on drinking behaviour is difficult. Compared to national alcohol sales, surveys carried out by social scientists consistently record lower levels of how much alcohol they consume because participants may consciously and/or unconsciously be underestimating alcohol consumption (e.g., alcohol use in the home may be based on the number of glasses of wine drunk with the amount poured into the glass being much greater than a standard unit of alcohol). In the most recent 2013 report (based on data collected in 2011), participants were asked two questions about their alcohol consumption. These were (i) maximum amount of alcohol drunk on any one day in the previous seven days, and (ii) average weekly alcohol consumption. The survey also obtained three measures of maximum daily alcohol consumption.

  • Exceeding the recommended daily alcohol limit. This measure assessed the proportion of men and women exceeding the recommended units of alcohol on their heaviest drinking day (i.e. 4 units for men, 3 units for women).
  • Engaging in binge drinking (i.e., intoxication). This measure assessed the proportion of men and women who exceeded the number of daily units considered as intoxicating (i.e., 8 units for men, 6 units for women).
  • Engaging in heavy drinking. This measure assessed the proportion of men and women who drank more than three times the recommended daily units of alcohol (i.e., more than 12 units for men and more than 9 units for women).

The results indicated that:

  • Over half of all adults (59%) reported that they had consumed alcohol in the week prior to the survey.
  • Men (66%) were more likely than women (54%) to have had an alcoholic drink in the week before the survey
  • More men (16%) drank on at least five out of seven days than women (9%) in the week prior to the survey.
  • Almost one in ten men (9%) drank alcohol every day in the week prior to the survey compared to only one in twenty women (5%).
  • More men (34%) exceeded the daily recommended units of alcohol than women (28%).
  • More men (18%) were binge alcohol drinkers than women (12%)
  • More men (9%) were heavy drinkers than women (6%)
  • Heavy drinking was most prevalent in those aged 16 to 44 years
  • Drinking alcohol was also associated with smoking nicotine with smokers being more likely to be binge drinkers and heavy drinkers.

Another major report on alcohol use in England was recently published by the Lifestyle Statistics, Health and Social Care Information Centre (in 2013). Their analyses were mainly obtained from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), Hospital Episodes Statistics (HES), and prescribing data. They reported that:

  • 61% of men and 72% of women had either drunk no alcohol in the last week, or had drunk within the recommended levels on the day they drank the most alcohol.
  • 64% of men drank no more than 21 units weekly, and 63% of women drank no more than 14 units weekly.
  • 12% of school pupils had drunk alcohol in the last week. This continues a decline from 26% in 2001, and is at a similar level to 2010, when 13% of pupils reported drinking in the last week.
  • In 2011/12, there were 200,900 admissions to English hospitals where the primary diagnosis was attributable to alcohol consumption (a 1% increase on the previous year).
  • In 2011/12, there were an estimated 1,220,300 admissions to English hospitals related to alcohol consumption where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for hospital admission or a secondary diagnosis (an increase of 4% on the previous year).
  • In 2012, there were 178,247 prescription items prescribed for the treatment of alcohol dependence in primary care settings or NHS hospitals and dispensed in the community (an increase of 6% on the previous year).

Arguably the most robust data on alcohol dependence in the UK comes from the 2009 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) carried out by the National Centre for Social Research and University of Leicester. Alcohol problems (including alcohol dependence) were measured using the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) and the SADQ-C (Severity of Alcohol Dependence Questionnaire, community version). An AUDIT score of eight or more indicated hazardous drinking, and 16 or more indicated harmful drinking. SADQ-C scores of 4-19 indicated mild dependence; 20-34, moderate dependence; 35 or more, severe dependence.

Using the AUDIT, the prevalence of hazardous drinking was 24.2% (33.2% males, 15.7% females). A total of 3.8% of adults (5.8% males, 1.9% females) drank alcohol at harmful levels, i.e., around 1 in 25 adults. Among males, the highest prevalence of both hazardous and harmful drinking was in 25-34 year olds, whereas in females it was in 16 -24 year olds. Using the SADQ-C, the prevalence of alcohol dependence was 5.9% (8.7% males, 3.3% females), i.e., around 1 in 16 adults. For males, the highest levels of dependence were identified in those between the ages of 25-34 years (16.8%), whereas for females it was between the ages of 16-24 years (9.8%). Most of the recorded dependence levels were mild (5.4%), with relatively few adults showing symptoms of moderate or severe dependence (0.4% and 0.1% respectively). Compared to the previous APMS survey in 2000, the prevalence of alcohol dependence was lower for males in 2007, whereas it remained at a similar level for females.

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

Further reading

Lifestyle Statistics, Health and Social Care Information Centre (2013). Statistics on Alcohol: England, 2013. Located at: https://catalogue.ic.nhs.uk/publications/public-health/alcohol/alco-eng-2013/alc-eng-2013-rep.pdf

National Centre for Social Research/University of Leicester (2009). Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England, 2007: Results of a Household Survey. London: NHS Information Centre

Office for National Statistics (2012). The 2010 General Lifestyle Survey. London: Office for National Statistics.

Office for National Statistics (2013). The 2011 General Lifestyle Survey. London: Office for National Statistics.

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.

Nag, nag, nag: The psychology of horse-race betting

All forms of gambling lie on a luck-skill dimension. Neither games of pure skill nor games of pure chance are particularly attractive to serious gamblers. Games of chance (like lotteries) offer no significant edge to serious gamblers and are unlikely to be gambled upon. While games of skill provide a significant edge for the gambler, serious gamblers need more than an edge – they need an opponent who can be exploited. Serious gamblers gravitate towards types of gambling that provide an appropriate mix of chance and skill. This is one of the reasons why sports betting – and in particular horse-race betting – is so popular for gamblers. In the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey published in 2011, the results indicated that betting on horse-races in the past year had slightly decreased to 16% (down from 17% in the 2007 survey) with men (21%) being more likely than women (13%) to have bet on horse-races. The survey also showed that 7% of the sample had gambled on horse-races in the past week. The survey also indicated that horse-race bettors were more likely to be classed as ‘high spenders’ compared to most other types of gambler.

The edge available in horse-race gambling can be sufficient to fully support professional gamblers as they bring their wide range of knowledge to the activity. There is the complex interplay of factors that contributes to the final outcome of the race. There is the form of the horse, the length of the race, the reputation of the jockey, trainer and stable, breeding, weight, the conditions of the racetrack, etc. From this mix of information the horse-race bettor will, broadly speaking, do one of two things. Either they try to select a winner, or they try to select a horse that offers the best odds in terms of its true chances. Assessing these odds (i.e., handicapping), is done by developing ratings based on the available information. Precisely how all these factors can be combined to select a horse is a matter about which most gamblers disagree, but it is reasonable to assume that many punters believe that their knowledge of these factors gives them an edge over other punters that they are competing against.

Individuals clearly differ in how they use complex information to select horses. There has been some interesting research on the psychology of handicapping particularly in whether good handicappers are more intelligent. For instance, American psychologists, Dr. Steve Ceci and Dr. Jeffrey Liker studied a group of experienced horse-race gamblers all of who had been serious gamblers for over eight years and who attended racetracks most days. In a paper that had published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, they divided the gamblers into experts and non-experts on the basis of predicting the favourite and the rank order according to odds of the three most favoured horses. Expert gamblers were those who correctly picked the favourite in at least nine out of ten races and correctly picked the top three horses in rank order in at least five out of ten races. In contrast, the best of the non-experts correctly identified the favourite in only five out of ten races, and selected the top three in only two of the ten races. The two groups were then given a number of intelligence quotient (IQ) tests. Ceci and Liker predicted that the experts would have higher IQs on the basis of their handicapping ability but was very surprised to find no difference at all between the two groups’ intelligence levels.

When the psychologists did some follow-up interviewing, they found that one of the best handicappers was a construction worker with a low IQ (of 85). He managed to pick the top horse in terms of post-time odds 100% of the time and picked the top three horses in correct order in five out of ten races. They also highlighted the case of a high IQ lawyer who picked the top horse only 30% of the time and got the rank ordering of the top three horses correct only once. One of the things concluded was that there is probably more than one type of intelligence and that the IQ test that was used may not have measured the types of skill needed in the handicapping of horses. At least Ceci and Liker’s findings give some hope to us all!

Psychologists have also shown that gamblers (including those who bet on horse racing) can be very biased in their thinking. The occasional punter expects to lose but this isn’t the case for serious gamblers. Each bet is part of a pattern of bets that the gambler expects to yield a positive return overall. To the gambler, winning bets confirm that their system is successful. However, losing bets do not convince gamblers that their system is a failure. Gamblers may explain losing bets as an error in implementing their system or to factors beyond their control. In essence, (and as I have shown in some of my own research studies) many gamblers attribute wins to their skilful gambling but explain away losses as something due to external factors or the environment that they gamble in. On a psychological level, the serious gambler is able to maintain their belief that they have a winning system despite mounting losses through biased evaluations of the outcomes. Since winning is central to the gambler’s self-concept and self-esteem, they cannot quit while losing as this would invalidate the core of the self-concept and initiate intense negative effects (such as depression).

Although horse-race gamblers treat their pastime as a skilful activity, it has been estimated that at least 40% of the relevant information that determines the winner of a race is not accessible to any gamblers. Furthermore, despite years of practice, frequent gamblers may still be very poor at assessing the chances of different horses.

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

Further reading

Ceci, S. J., & Liker, J. K. (1986). A day at the races: A study of IQ, expertise, and cognitive complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 115, 255-266.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The psychology of sports betting: What should affiliates know? i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 46-47.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Mobile sportsbetting: A view from the social sciences. i-Gaming Business, 69, 64-65.

Parke, A., Griffiths, M.D. & Irwing, P. (2004). Personality traits in pathological gambling: Sensation seeking, deferment of gratification and competitiveness as risk factors, Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 201-212.

Parke, J., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, A. (2007). Positive thinking among slot machine gamblers: A case of maladaptive coping? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 39-52.

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011). British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M.D., Constantine, R. & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: The Stationery Office

Totally wired: Techno-stress and how to beat it

Technology is essential to most people’s working lives. The potential for constant availability via smartphones, laptops and tablets has facilitated the speed of business life and has become a mixed blessing. For some, wireless links offer the luxury of slipping out of the office for a round of golf or across the globe for an extended holiday. Others feel overwhelmed and less creative when pressured by constant ‘connectedness’. The potential for technological overload has created a new type of anxiety that has been referred to as ‘techno-stress’. Techno-stress can arise from many different routes. These include:

  • Technophobia: Fear of change and working with new technology can be a stressor in itself.
  • Technological failure: As work becomes less centralized and more flexible, people have to become their own IT managers. Coping with the after-effects of technology going wrong (hardware or software) can be incredibly stressful (for instance, most of us know how stressful life suddenly becomes when we lose wi-fi access – even if it is for short periods). This can result in behaviour such as ‘tele-rage’.
  • Management surveillance: Management in some organizations install software that tracks employees’ movements both in and out of the office. It is possible to read staff e-mails and monitor time spent at the computer to ensure maximum productivity. The feeling of being constantly monitored can also be a potential stressor.
  • Information overload: Constant ringing telephones, mobile phone texts, and “You have mail” messages on the internet demand instant action. Coupled with junk e-mail and Internet searches that produce thousands of ‘hits’, people can get caught up in the culture of immediacy. As a result, people become overwhelmed with information and will tend to do and say things that do not produce desired results, and that increases their stress levels.
  • Social isolation: Although technology allows flexibility in working practices, it has the potential to make working more socially isolating. This, again, can be stressful.
  • Fear of redundancy: Some people work harder and longer hours because they fear losing their jobs. Coupled with this, there are companies who are making people redundant all as a result of new technologies being installed. This fear can be stress-inducing.

There are now many studies showing the negative impact that technological advance can have on psychological and physical wellbeing. Some psychologists claim that round-the-clock technology upsets the natural rhythms of both body and brain. Muscles in our bodies are there to be used yet we sit for hours and hours at our terminals using only arm and hand muscles. In addition, rising levels of obesity have been levelled at children (so-called ‘screenagers’) and the computer game culture (topics that I have covered in previous blogs)..

Technology enables people to work from anywhere. No one knows if you’re at the beach or in your office. While on vacation people can spend time on their laptops and chat with clients via their mobile phone. For some – if they were unable to keep in touch with work – they wouldn’t go away for so long in the first place. However, not everyone can handle the extreme accessibility, and constant interruptions from work can irritate those that they are with. The work-family line can become blurred in an undesirable way. Lives become even more work-centred than it already is and can become a workday that never ends.

I can certainly think of times when I would take calls around the clock, seven days a week. Such commitment can build successful businesses but can cost heavily at a personal level. It can compromise both social relationships and health. Partners may complain that there isn’t any time that is just theirs. They may feel that their workaholic partner is never entirely there with them. Man may happily trade the income they have to spend more time with their partner. Technology has the potential to create problems in people’s lives and with their health.

The number of people and amount of time spent working during vacations and after office hours keeps growing as technology encroaches into leisure time. Some time ago, psychologist, Professor Larry Rosen of California State University did a four-year study of business attitudes and technology use. The research indicated 75% of managers and executives worked at home, toiling at their computer for an hour or two each day during traditional ‘down time’. They communicated less with family. Furthermore, they became dysfunctional, made life difficult for the family, and became more detached from their friends. Such findings are not isolated. For instance, another survey reported 62% of Hong Kong business managers said that dealing with too much information had caused personal relationships to suffer, and 51% said it adversely affected their health. Results from a comparison of 11 different countries indicated 40% felt that information overload was taking a toll on relationships and 33% reported technology was causing a health decline.

Technology has changed family dynamics, because technology tends to be a solo (rather than group) activity. Instead of sitting around talking together, different members may be spending their time accessing different technologies (e-mails, videogames, etc.). Even in the same room, people can be in a ‘techno-cocoon’. The technology world is so inviting and fascinating, and it has holding power. In addition to everyone staying in their own little techno-world, youngsters, who have grown up surrounded by beeping, colorful gadgets, tend to be more techno-savvy than their parents. Parents must set boundaries and remain in control of the gadgets.

Technology encourages us take advantage of every moment. For instance, during air-travel, laptops, smartphones and tablets, allow people to transform traditional ‘dead time’ into work. Rather than spending a few minutes unwinding or pulling thoughts together, people convert time in a taxi or airport into productive minutes. But such capabilities foster what some might refer to as ‘multi-tasking madness’. No longer content to complete one thing at a time, people conduct business while driving, check stock quotes while waiting in line at the shopping checkout, and read e-mail as they talk on the phone. The brain allows us to keep many balls in the air, but trying to process so much at once becomes taxing for a mind attempting to resolve unfinished business. However, multi-taskers may have difficulty concentrating and soundly sleeping. They may become irritable, because biochemical and physiological systems remain in a state of hyper-arousal. At 2am in the morning, the brain may come up with a solution to something left hanging earlier in the day. Multi-tasking eventually catches up with everyone.

Unless we set clear limits, we are going to be continuously multitasking. Even the less connected feel the stress. Research shows an increase in the number of people who have embraced electronic gadgetry. But those wavering can’t escape the technological revolution. Stress tends to take on a variety of forms. They can be angry things are changing so rapidly. They can be frustrated by how much time it takes to learn new things. They can be irritated, annoyed or feel inferior.

Just because technology makes a task possible, doesn’t mean you have to always take advantage. Companies must introduce initiatives to manage new technology rather than the technology managing the individuals. Stress management strategies include:

  • Involving workers in decisions regarding the introduction and implementation of new technology
  • Creating social networks for people working remotely or hot-desking
  • Letting the new technology liberate the workers by creating more flexible working arrangements for a better balance between work and home
  • Training people in how to get the most out of technology and making it user-friendly

Finally, here are a few hints and tips on how to beat techno-stress:

  • When surfing for information, decide ahead of time how long you will commit to the endeavor. Accept the fact more data exists than you can possibly find and use.
  • Learn the most effective places to look for what you need. If an Internet search top 20 hits fail to yield useful information, refine the original criteria. People can go from one page to another on the Internet, for two to three hours, and not have much to show for it.
  • Limit e-mail retrieval to a few times per day (say when you first get in if you have a lot of international contacts and before you leave work). Furthermore, turn off instant messaging system or the volume on your computer. This is only helpful when you are expecting a message.
  • When you do check your e-mails, reply immediately to e-mails to acknowledge receipt but don’t necessarily give a detailed reply. Give a considered response later.
  • Indulge in a break from e-mail during short business trips. This will make travelling less stressful. In this connected time, it’s very important to disconnect oneself from time to time so as to get some distance and be able to rise above just reacting to immediate things. In those peaceful moments one can think bigger, slower and more inner questions. A break from technology frees up time for friends, family and appreciating the things that make the world unique.
  • If you need to concentrate – to write a proposal, discuss an important issue with a client or think through a solution to a vexing problem – turn off ringers on phones and wireless devices and close the email inbox window.
  • Develop a plan to handle a technology crisis, with tactics aimed at dealing with everything from hard-drive meltdowns and empty ink cartridges to a low-battery beep. Create back-up files and know how you’re going to get back online.
  • One should always ask, ‘Am I using technology or is technology using me?’ and ‘What’s really important in life, and what’s not?’ Our job is to take back control from technology and then enjoy the benefits that it can give us without feeling the stresses.
  • Finally, take a daily break from gadgets to exercise, read or garden. You will get a refreshed point of view and perspective. You have to have a balance in your life. It will make you a more contented person. By consciously restricting time with technology the stress will begin to subside.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D.  (2002).  Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004).  Tips on…Managing your e-mails. British Medical Journal Careers, 329, 240.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace. In M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Vol. I-V (Second Edition). pp. 2170-2175. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2004). Youth and technology: The case of gambling, video-game playing and the Internet. In J. Derevensky & R. Gupta (Eds.), Gambling Problems in Youth: Theoretical and Applied Perspectives (pp. 101-120). New York: Kluwer.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dennis, F. (2000). How to beat techno-stress. Independent on Sunday (Reality section), May 7, p.22.

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

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Emails with unintended consequences: New lessons for policy and practice in work, public office and private life. In P. Hills (Ed.). As Others See Us: Selected Essays In Human Communication. pp. 160-182. Dereham: Peter Francis Publishers.

Safety in numbers: Responsible gambling and the UK betting sector

Over the last few days I appeared in a lot of news reports (including one by the BBC) in relation to the Association of British Bookmakers’ (ABB) new responsible gambling Code of Conduct (that you can download for free here). I was approached by the ABB back in July 2013 to help develop the new code and I view the publication of it as a great step forward in social responsibility and responsible gambling.

Whilst governments and regulatory bodies around the world are increasingly recognizing the importance of responsible gaming policies, such bodies tend not to specify the details of how such policies should be developed and implemented by gambling operators. Hopefully, this is where British gaming operators can take a proactive stance. Any gaming company that puts socially responsible practices at the heart of its business should be required to engage in a number of practices as a bare minimum. More specifically, gaming companies should (i) minimize the likelihood of a ‘vulnerable player’ developing a gambling problem whilst playing games, (ii) encourage well informed and rational gambling behaviour among its clientele, (iii) provide support for clientele who develop problems and/or who show distress as a result of gambling, (iv) protect vulnerable groups from either gambling in the first place (e.g., minors, problem gamblers, the intoxicated), and (v) develop an amicable relationship with local communities and other stakeholders (e.g., treatment providers, educational programs, research community, faith groups, etc.).

The most socially responsible gaming companies around the world have already introduced many player protection initiatives for both online and offline players. These include (i) stringent age verification checks, (ii) the use of behavioural tracking tools and/or player cards (to monitor potentially problematic playing patterns), (iii) socially responsible marketing and advertising, (iv) mandatory limit setting options (where players can pre-commit to how much time and money they want to spend over a given time period), (v) in-play notifications (e.g., pop-up messages to help players decide whether they should carry on gambling or not), and (vi) complete transparency in the games offered (such as the probability of winning and prize structures). So how does the new ABB code match up? Here are some of the initiatives that are in the ABBs’ new code. The new ‘Harm Minimisation Strategy’ focuses on four levels:

  • Issuing clearer and more accessible information on how to gamble responsibly and highlighting the sources of help available
  • Providing customers with new tools such as mandatory time and money based reminders, the ability to set spend and time limits on gaming machines and to request machine session data.
  • Training staff to detect the signs of potential problem gambling more quickly and how to interact more effectively with those identified
  • Undertaking more consistent central analysis of data to identify abnormal activity both in specific shops and, where possible, that relating to individual customers.

The new code is just the beginning. The document points out that: “The Code of Conduct will be evolutionary. ABB is fully committed to both monitoring compliance to the code and to updating and strengthening the code as new technological solutions are developed, new empirical evidence is produced or new concerns emerge over the coming months/years”. Some of the specific new measures in the ABB code include:

  • Enhanced staff training: All shop staff will be trained, in consultation with providers of responsible gambling expertise, to recognise a wider range of problem gambling indicators and will aim to identify those customers at risk of developing a gambling problem.
  • Enhanced customer engagement: All shop staff will be actively encouraged to ‘walk the shop floor’ as part and parcel of an enhanced customer engagement role, including initiating customer interaction in response to specific customer behaviour which needs to be addressed.
  • Dedicated responsible gambling co-ordinator:  All ABB members will nominate a member of staff who will be responsible for responsible gambling on a local basis and will receive additional training to deal with more complex responsible gambling interactions.
  • Compliance objectives linked to managers’ performance: Compliance objectives will be added to the performance agreements of all relevant middle and senior managers working for ABB members and compliance will be a standing item agenda at Licensed Betting Office level performance reviews. The ABB will develop a minimum industry standard for staff training which is hoped will evolve into an accredited system.

The ABB also announced that in relation to customers playing on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in their shops that such slot machines will have (i) voluntary money limits, (ii) voluntary time limits, (iii) mandatory money-based pop-up reminders, and (iv) mandatory time-based reminders. The new code also banned the use of ATMs inside betting offices, and agreed to provide as much information as possible so that players can make an informed choice about gambling, along with help and guidance as to how to get help if a gambler thinks they are developing a problem. Finally, this new industry standard was fully implemented this month and will be reviewed annually. The standard will include:

  • Provision of appropriate information on the effects of problem gambling
  • Recognition and identification of the indicators of problem gambling
  • Conflict management
  • Customer interaction in response to specific customer behaviour referral, and follow‐up processes
  • Effective self-exclusion processes at a local level
  • The application of a Think 21 policy, especially with regard to machine players
  • The identification of vulnerable groups
  • Regular refresher training
  • Auditing and testing of staff at least every two years

If all the British gaming operators can collectively initiate and continue such practices, they will then be able to claim that they are becoming world leaders in responsible gambling, player protection, and harm minimization.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of online gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overviewResponsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online ads and the promotion of responsible gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(6), 14.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Self-exclusion services for online gamblers: Are they about responsible gambling or problem gambling? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(6), 9-10.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A. & Parke, J. (2009). Social responsibility tools in online gambling: A survey of attitudes and behaviour among Internet gamblers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 413-421.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

Smeaton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Internet gambling and social responsibility: An exploratory study, CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 49-57.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.

Your number’s up: Can you get hooked on Sudoku?

“There is a monster on the loose, and it is out to eat your brain. Pitiless in its advance and deadly in its cunning, Sudoku, a seemingly simple numbers game, has become the biggest puzzle craze to hit the world since Rubik’s Cube. It’s all over the newspapers, spreading across the Internet and heading for television in Britain, yet its phenomenal popularity raises some puzzling questions. Such as why, in a high-speed, hyper-technological age – without noticeable fanfare or promotion – would millions of people become addicted to a game invented more than 200 years ago by a blind Swiss mathematician?…Yet ominous reports pour in of ‘Sudoku seizure’. In workplaces in Britain, stories are circulating of people unable to make their children’s breakfasts, leave for the office or go to bed at night until they have solved their Sudoku” (The Telegraph of India, June 30, 2013).

In a previous blog I took a brief look at the psychology of doing crosswords. Today’s blog is arguably as frivolous as I thought I would turn my attention to Sudoku puzzles. Anecdotally I have read about people who claim to be ‘hooked’ and ‘addicted’ to Sudoku (such as a US woman – Mrs. C. Mills – who wrote about her ‘addiction’ to playing Sudoku on her i-Pad blog by Violet Njo Dicksonin her blog, and a claiming ‘I was a Sudoku addict’). There have also been various journalistic articles such as ‘Addicted to Sudoku’ in a 2006 issue of Newsweek. However, I haven’t seen any real evidence to convince me that anyone has ever developed a genuine addiction to such puzzles (although I don’t rule out that it’s theoretically possible). I certainly know a few people who spend more than a few hours a day doing Sudoku but they have the time to do them because they are unemployed or retired. In these cases, excessive Sudoku use is something clearly adds to these individuals’ lives rather than takes away from it (and on that criterion alone it is not an addiction for such individuals). According to The Telegraph [of India] news article:

“Sudoku – or something very similar to it – was invented in the 1780s by Leonhard Euler, a mathematical virtuoso from Basle. When he lost his sight in early middle age and was unable to work from books, he developed the ability to compute complex sums in his head and a talent for composing puzzles. He invented a grid-based puzzle and named it ‘Latin squares’. It was, in all material aspects, identical to Sudoku, yet it remained barely noticed until it turned up – renamed the ‘number place game’ – in America in the 1980s. It was spotted by Nobuhiko Kanamoto, employee of a Japanese puzzle magazine. The Japanese made the game slightly more difficult and renamed it Sudoku, meaning ‘number single’. Today there are at least five Japanese Sudoku magazines with a total circulation of 660,000. It began appearing in [British newspaper] The Times and has since spread to every newspaper. A mobile phone version is up and running. TV pilots are being planned. Certainly nothing comparable has been seen since 100 million Rubik’s Cubes were sold in the early 1980s”.

I’m not sure when I first came across Sudoku but I used to do (or at least try to do) the daily puzzle in The Guardian (in the days when I still read a daily newspaper).  I had certainly been doing Sudoku puzzles for a while before I did my first media interview about them. I was even more surprised when some of my press comments made it into the preface of Alan Tan’s 2007 book Sudoku for Experts. I was quoted as saying:

“Part of the appeal is that it is relatively easy to play. No mathematics involved. Once grasped, the objective is childishly simple, yet infuriatingly difficult to achieve. It looks easy. But to do it well requires real thought. The rules are fairly simple, but the scope for skill is limitless. When you solve the problem you feel terrific”.

In the article in The Telegraph, Marcel Danesi, professor of semiotics at Toronto University (and author of The Puzzle Instinct) was interviewed about the popularity of Sudoku and was quoted as saying: “You cannot find a culture, no matter how technologically primitive or advanced, that does not have puzzle traditions”. I was also interviewed for the same article and was asked if Sudoku was something we should be worried about from an addiction perspective. My only comments that made it into the article reiterate what I said above:

 “I don’t think it will be a problem as long as it remains an enthusiasm and doesn’t become an addiction. An enthusiasm gives you something. An addiction takes something away.”


I’m not aware of much scientific research on Sudoku, although in my blog on crosswords I mentioned a study led by Dr. Joshua Jackson published in a 2012 issue of the journal Psychology and Aging. The paper claimed that doing Sudoku and crosswords could change some aspects of personality among old-aged people. More specifically, they examined whether an intervention aimed to increase cognitive ability in older adults (i.e., doing crossword and Sudoku puzzles) affected the personality trait of openness to experience (i.e., being imaginative and intellectually oriented). In their study, old-aged adults completed a 4-month program in inductive reasoning training that included weekly Sudoku and crossword puzzles. They were then assessed continually over the following 30 weeks. Their findings showed that those who did Sudoku and crossword puzzles increased their openness scores compared to the control group. The authors claimed that this study is one of the very first to demonstrate that personality traits can change through non-psychopharmocological interventions.

On the same kind of theme, a non-academic article by Siski Green for the Saga website reported on how Sudoku, the card game bridge, and board games boost both body and mind. In a small section entitled ‘Sudoku to survive’ the article claimed that:

“A simple game of Sudoku could trigger the activation of ‘survival genes’ in your brain, making cells live longer and helping to fight disease. According to a study conducted at the University of Edinburgh, unused genes in brain cells are activated during stimulation like that caused by completing the puzzles. [The researchers] found that a group of these [survival] genes can make the active brain cells far healthier than lazy, inactive cells”

In my writings on the psychology of games more generally, I have noted that there are a number of key factors that determine whether games like Sudoku become firmly established or simply fade away. This includes the capacity for skill development, a large bibliography, competitions and tournaments, and corporate sponsorship. For instance, all good games are relatively easy to play but can take a lifetime to become truly adept. I would therefore argue that the capacity for continued skill development is important for Sudoku’s continued popularity and future existence. In short, there will always room for improvement. Also, for games of any complexity, there must be a bibliography that people can reference and consult. Without books and magazines to instruct and provide information there will be no development and the activity will die. The sheer number of books on Sudoku is an indication of perhaps how healthy the state of Sudoku play is.

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

Further reading

Bennett, J. (2006). Addicted to Sudoku. The Daily Beast, February 22. Located at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2006/02/22/addicted-to-sudoku.html

Dickson, V.N. (2013). I was a Sudoku addict. March 13. Located at: http://christianitymalaysia.com/wp/sudoku-addict/

Green, S. Playing games for health: How bridge, sudoku and board games boost both body and mind. Saga, April 14. Located at: http://www.saga.co.uk/health/mind/health-benefits-of-playing-games.aspx

Jackson, J.J., Hill, P.L., Payne, B.R., Roberts, B.W., & Stine-Morrow, E.A. L. (2012). Can an old dog learn (and want to experience) new tricks? Cognitive training increases openness to experience in older adults. Psychology and Aging, 27, 286-292.

Mills, C. (2012). Sudoku addiction solved forever. December 9. Located at: http://claudiamillsanhouraday.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/sudoku-addiction-solved-forever.html

Tan, A. (2007). Sudoku for Experts. Malaysia: M & M Publishers.

The Telegraph (India). Your number’s up. June 30. Located at: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1130630/jsp/sudoku/story_5123700.jsp#.Ug9dmr-9pO1

Face[book]ing the future: A brief look at social networking addiction

In many areas of behavioural addiction, there has been debate about whether some excessive behaviours should even be considered as genuine addictions (e.g., video game playing, internet use, sex, exercise, etc.) and the same debate holds for addiction to social networking. I recently published an editorial in the Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy examining the empirical research on the topic.

I have has operationally defined addictive behaviour as any behaviour that features what I believe to be the six core components of addiction (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse). I have also argued that any behaviour (including social networking) that fulfils these six criteria can be operationally defined as an addiction.

Researchers have suggested that the excessive use of new technologies (and especially online social networking) may be particularly problematic to young people. In accordance with the biopsychosocial framework for the etiology of addictions, and the syndrome model of addiction (put forward by Dr. Howard Shaffer and colleagues in a 2004 issue of the Harvard Review of Psychiatry), it is claimed that those people addicted to using SNSs experience symptoms similar to those experienced by individuals who suffer from addictions to substances or other behaviours. This has significant implications for clinical practice because unlike other addictions, the goal of SNS addiction treatment cannot be total abstinence from using the internet per se it is an integral element of today’s professional and leisure culture. Instead, the ultimate therapy aim is controlled use of the internet and its respective functions, particularly social networking applications, and relapse prevention using strategies developed within cognitive-behavioural therapies.

To explain the formation of SNS addiction, Dr. Ofir Turel and Dr. Alexander Serenko recently summarized three overarching theoretical perspectives in a 2012 issue European Journal of Information Systems that may not be mutually exclusive:

  • Cognitive-behavioral model: This model emphasizes that ‘abnormal’ social networking arises from maladaptive cognitions and is amplified by various environmental factors, and eventually leads to compulsive and/or addictive social networking.
  • Social skill model: This model emphasizes that ‘abnormal’ social networking arises because people lack self-presentational skills and prefer virtual communication to face-to-face interactions, and it eventually leads to compulsive and/or addictive use of social networking.
  • Socio-cognitive model: This model emphasises that ‘abnormal’ social networking arises due to the expectation of positive outcomes, combined with internet self-efficacy and deficient internet self-regulation eventually leads to compulsive and/or addictive social networking behavior.

Based on these three models, Dr. Haifeng Xu and Dr. Bernard Tan (in a 2012 paper presented at the Thirty Third International Conference on Information Systems) suggest that the transition from normal to problematic social networking use occurs when social networking is viewed by the individual as an important (or even exclusive) mechanism to relieve stress, loneliness, or depression. They contend that those who frequently engage in social networking are poor at socializing in real life. For these people, social media use provides such people continuous rewards (e.g. self-efficacy, satisfaction) and they end up engaging in the activity more and more, eventually leading to many problems (e.g., ignoring real life relationships, work/educational conflicts, etc.). The resulting problems may then exacerbate individuals’ undesirable moods. This then leads such individuals to engage in the social networking behaviour even more as a way of relieving dysphoric mood states. Consequently, when social network users repeat this cyclical pattern of relieving undesirable moods with social media use, the level of psychological dependency on social networking increases.

A behavioural addiction such as SNS addiction may thus be seen from a biopsychosocial perspective. Just like substance-related addictions, it would appear that in some individuals, SNS addiction incorporates the experience of the ‘classic’ addiction symptoms, namely mood modification (i.e., engagement in SNSs leads to a favourable change in emotional states), salience (i.e., behavioural, cognitive, and emotional preoccupation with the SNS usage), tolerance (i.e., ever increasing use of SNSs over time), withdrawal symptoms (i.e., experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when SNS use is restricted or stopped), conflict (i.e., interpersonal and intrapsychic problems ensue because of SNS usage), and relapse (i.e., addicts quickly revert back to their excessive SNS usage after an abstinence period).

It is generally accepted that a combination of biological, psychological and social factors contributes to the etiology of addictions that may also hold true for SNS addiction. From this it follows that SNS addiction shares a common underlying etiological framework with other substance-related and behavioural addictions. However, due to the fact that the engagement in SNSs is different in terms of the actual expression of (internet) addiction (i.e., pathological use of SNSs rather than other internet applications), the phenomenon may be worthy of individual consideration, particularly when considering the potentially detrimental effects of both substance-related and behavioural addictions on individuals who experience a variety of negative consequences because of their addiction.

Research into social networking addiction has been relatively sparse. According to a recent book chapter that I published with Dr. Daria Kuss and Dr. Zsolt Demetrovics, the twenty or so empirical studies examining SNS addiction fall into one of four types: (i) self-perception studies of social networking addiction, (ii) studies of social networking addiction utilizing a social networking addiction scale, (iii) studies examining the relationship between social networking and other online addictions, and (iv) studies examining social networking addiction and interpersonal relationships. Our review noted that all the studies suffered from a variety of methodological limitations. Many of the studies attempted to assess SNS addiction, but mere assessment of addiction tendencies does not suffice to demarcate real pathology. Most of the study samples were generally small, specific, self-selected, convenient, and skewed with regards to young adults and female gender. This may have led to the very high addiction prevalence rates (up to 34%) reported in some studies as individuals from these socio-demographic groups are likely to be more heavy social networking users. Consequently, empirical studies need to ensure that they are assessing addiction rather than excessive use and/or preoccupation.

I have also published a couple of papers noting that for many researchers, Facebook addiction has become almost synonymous with social networking addiction. However, Facebook is just one of many websites where social networking can take place. Most of the scales that have been developed have specifically examined excessive Facebook use such as the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, the Facebook Addiction Scale, and the Facebook Intrusion Questionnaire, i.e., addiction to one particular commercial company’s service (i.e., Facebook) rather than the whole activity itself (i.e., social networking). The real issue here concerns what people are actually addicted to and what the new Facebook addiction tools are measuring.

For instance, Facebook users can play games like Farmville, can gamble on games like poker, can watch videos and films, and can engage in activities such as swapping photos or constantly updating their profile and/or messaging friends on the minutiae of their life. Therefore, ‘Facebook addiction’ is not synonymous with ‘social networking addiction’ – they are two fundamentally different things as Facebook has become a specific website where many different online activities can take place – and may serve different purposes to various users. What this suggests is that the field needs a psychometrically validated scale that specifically assesses ‘social networking addiction’ rather than Facebook use. In the aforementioned scales, social networking as an activity is not mentioned, therefore the scale does not differentiate between someone potentially addicted to Farmville or someone potentially addicted to constantly messaging Facebook friends.

Whether social networking addiction exists is debatable depending upon the definition of addiction used, but there is clearly emerging evidence that a minority of social network users experience addiction-like symptoms as a consequence of their excessive use. Studies endorsing only a few potential addiction criteria are not sufficient for establishing clinically significant addiction status. Similarly, significant impairment and negative consequences that discriminate addiction from mere abuse have (to date) generally not been assessed in published studies. Thus, future studies have great potential in addressing the emergent phenomenon of SNS addiction by means of applying better methodological designs, including more representative samples, and using more reliable and valid addiction scales so that current gaps in empirical knowledge can be filled.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Facebook addiction: Concerns, criticisms and recommendations. Psychological Reports, 110, 2, 518-520.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Gambling on Facebook? A cause for concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(9), 10-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Social gambling via Facebook: Further observations and concerns. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 104-106.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013) Social networking addiction: Emerging themes and issues. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 4: e118. doi: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000e118.

Griffiths, M.D. & Kuss, D.J. (2011). Adolescent social networking: Should parents and teachers be worried? Education and Health, 29, 23-25.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Excessive online social networking: Can adolescents become addicted to Facebook? Education and Health, 29. 63-66.

Shaffer, H.J., LaPlante, D.A., LaBrie, R.A., Kidman, R.C., Donato, A.N., & Stanton, M.V. (2004). Toward a syndrome model of addiction: Multiple expressions, common etiology. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 12, 367-374.

Turel, O. & Serenko, A. (2012). The benefits and dangers of enjoyment with social networking websites. European Journal of Information Systems, 21, 512-528.

Xu, H. & Tan, B.C.Y. (2012). Why Do I Keep Checking Facebook: Effects of Message Characteristics On the Formation of Social Network Services Addiction (http://elibrary.aisnet.org/Default.aspx?url=http://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1216&context=icis2012)

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