Category Archives: Adolescence

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

The schlocky horror show: Why do we like watching scary films?

Regular readers of my blog will know that I love horror films (based on articles I have written such as the psychology of Hannibal Lecter). Although I am not a great fan of the archetypal ‘slasher’ movies (franchises such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc.), I do like a bit of ‘schlock horror’ (such as the David Cronenberg’s films Scanners and The Fly) as well as ‘psychological horror’ (such as Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan). But why do we love to watch scary films? Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht (and for who I have written book chapters on various aspects of video game play) in a 2013 interview for IGN (formerly Imagine Games Network) was quoted as saying:

“People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects…[Horror films must] provide a just resolution in the end. The bad guy gets it. Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people have the ability to pay attention as much or as little as they care to in order to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise”.

According to a 2004 paper in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters, the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism. Walters made reference to a number of psychological studies to support his argument. For instance:

“Haidt, McCauley, and Rozin (1994), in conducting research on disgust, exposed college students to three documentary videos depicting real-life horrors.  One clip showed cows being stunned, killed, and butchered in a slaughterhouse; a second clip pictured a live monkey being struck in the head with a hammer, having its skull cracked opened, and its brain served as dessert; a third clip depicted a child’s facial skin being turned inside out in preparation for surgery.  Ninety percent of the students turned the video off before it reached the end.  Even the majority of individuals who watched the tape in its entirety found the images disturbing. Yet many of these same individuals would think nothing of paying money to attend the premiere of a new horror film with much more blood and gore than was present in the documentaries that most of them found repugnant.  McCauley (1998) posed the logical question of why these students found the documentary film so unpleasant when most had sat through horror pictures that were appreciably more violent and bloody.  The answer that McCauley came up with was that the fictional nature of horror films affordsviewers a sense of control by placing psychological distance between them and the violent acts they have witnessed. Most people who view horror movies understand that the filmed events are unreal, which furnishes them with psychological distance from the horror portrayed in the film. In fact, there is evidence that young viewers who perceive greater realism in horror films are more negatively affected by their exposure to horror films than viewers who perceive the film as unreal (Hoekstra, Harris, & Helmick, 1999)”.

According to research published by Dr. Deirdre Johnston in a 1995 issue of Human Communication Research into motivations for viewing graphic horror, there are four main different reasons for why we (or at the very least a small sample of 220 American adolescents) like watching horror movies (gore watching, thrill watching, independent watching and problem watching). These four reasons were also discussed in relation to various dispositional characteristics such as fearfulness, empathy, and sensation seeking. Dr. Johnston reported that: “The four viewing motivations are found to be related to viewers’ cognitive and affective responses to horror films, as well as viewers’ tendency to identify with either the killers or victims in these films”. More specifically she reported (i) gore watchers typically had low empathy, high sensation seeking, and [among males only] a strong identification with the killer, (ii) thrill watchers typically had both high empathy and sensation seeking, identified themselves more with the victims, and liked the suspense of the film, (iii) independent watchers typically had a high empathy for the victim along with a high positive effect for overcoming fear, and (iv) problem watchers typically had high empathy for the victim but were characterized by negative effect (particularly a sense of helplessness).

A really good article on the psychology of scary films by John Hess on the Filmmaker IQ website claimed there were many theories on why we love to watch horror films. I wasn’t able to check out all of the original sources (as there was no reference list) but I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the theories outlined. For instance, the psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung believed horror films “tapped into primordial archetypes buried deep in our collective subconscious – images like shadow and mother play important role in the horror genre”. However, as with almost all psychoanalytic theorizing, such notions are hard to empirically test. Another psychoanalytic theory – although arguably dating back to Aristotle – is the notion of catharsis (i.e., that we watch violent and frightening films as a way of purging negative emotions and/or as a way to relieve pent-up aggression (an argument also proposed as a reason as to why some people love to play violent video games). Dr. Dolf Zillman’s Excitation Transfer theory (ETT) is arguably an extension of catharsis theory. Hess’ summary of ETT notes:

“Negative feelings created by horror movies actually intensify the positive feelings when the hero triumphs in the end. But what about movies where the hero doesn’t triumph? And even in some small studies have show that people’s enjoyment was actually higher during the scary parts of a horror film than it was after”.

Hess then goes onto outline the thoughts of Noël Carroll (a film scholar) who claimed that horror films are played out outside everyday normal behaviour, and comprise curiosity and fascination. Hess writes:

“Studies by [researchers such as Zillman] have shown that there is a significant correlation between people who are accepting of norm-violating behavior and interest in horror movies. But that doesn’t explain why some viewers respond positively when the norm violators such as the sexual promiscuous teenage couple, the criminal, the adulterer – are punished and killed by the movie monster. This ‘enjoyment’ of the punishment of those that deserves it makes up the Dispositional Alignment Theory. We like horror movies because the people on screen getting killed deserve it. But this may give us insight into who the audiences want to see eat it but it’s not a clear picture of why horror films are popular in the first place. Another theory put forth by Marvin Zuckerman in 1979 proposed that people who scored high in theSensation Seeking Scale often reported a greater interest in exciting things like rollercasters, bungee jumping and horror films. Researchers have found correlation but it isn’t always significant. Even Zuckerman noted that picking only one trait misses the fact that there are lots of things that draw people to horror films”.

Dolf Zillmann (along with James Weaver, Norbert Mundorf and Charles Aust) put forward The Gender Socialization theory in a 1996 issue the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (and sometimes referred to as the ‘Snuggle Theory’). Zillman and his colleagues exposed 36 male and 36 female undergraduates to a horror movie in the presence of a same-age, opposite-gender companion of low or high initial appeal who expressed mastery, affective indifference, or distress. They reported that men enjoyed the film most in the company of a distressed woman and least in the company of a mastering woman. Women enjoyed the movie most in the company of a mastering man and least in the company of a distressed man. Hess says these findings don’t explain why some people go to horror films alone or what happens after adolescence. Finally, cultural historian David Skal has argued that horror films are simply reflect our societal fears. As Hess notes:

“Looking at the history of horror you have mutant monsters rising in 50s from our fear of the nuclear bogeyman, Zombies in the 60s with Vietnam, Nightmare on Elm Street as a mistrust in authority figures stemming from the Watergate scandals and Zombies again in the 2000s as a reflection of viral pandemic fears. But for as many horror cycles that fit the theory, there are many that don’t. And horror films work on a universal level crossing national boundaries while still working in different cultures”.

Basically, none of these theories fully explain why we love watching scary films. Different people like watching for different reasons and no theory has been put forward that explains everyone’s motives and reasoning. I will continue to enjoy watching even though I don’t fully understand my own motives.

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

Further reading

Haidt, J., McCauley, C., & Rozin, P. (1994). Individual differences in sensitivity to disgust: A scale sampling seven domains of disgust elicitors. Personality and Individual Differences, 16, 701-713.

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

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

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

McCauley, C. (1998). When screen violence is not attractive. In J. Goldstein (Ed.), Why we watch: The attractions of violent entertainment (pp. 144-162). New York: Oxford.

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

Walthers, G.D. (2004). Understanding the popular appeal of horror cinema: An integrated-interactive model. Journal of Media Psychology, 9(2). Located at: http://web.calstatela.edu/faculty/sfischo/horrormoviesRev2.htm

Zillmann, D., Weaver, J. B., Mundorf, N., & Aust, C. F. (1986). Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(3), 586-594.

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)

No time for the crime: Excessive adolescent video game playing, social networking and crime reduction

On Sunday February 9, 1964, The Beatles made their debut on US television. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show drew an estimated audience of 73 million people. One of the most quoted consequences associated with this particular show was that between 8pm and 9pm when the show was aired, a number of news reports claimed that there was no reported incidence of juvenile crime across America during the time of the broadcast.  The editor of Newsweek, B.F. Henry, went as far as to claim that “there wasn’t so much as a hubcap stolen” during the hour that The Beatles were on the show.

This apocryphal tale, at the very least, shows the apparent compelling logic in the argument that when an activity is so engrossing it has the capacity to stop people engaging in other types of activity such as crime. Inspired by a speculative blog post on the topic, my friend and research colleague Dr. Mike Sutton failed to disconfirm what Dr. Sutton and I have called the Crime Substitution Hypothesis. We recently published a small paper in the journal Education and Health that examined the extent to which popular youth activity (namely video gaming and social networking) may be having an effect on youth offending and victimization.

Young people’s use of technology (the so called ‘screenagers’ and ‘digital natives’) has increased greatly over the last two decades and a significant proportion of daily time is spent in front of various screen interfaces most notably videogames, mobile phones (e.g., SMS) and the internet (e.g., social networking sites like Bebo, Facebook). These ‘digital natives’ have never known a world without the internet, mobile phones and interactive television, and are therefore tech-savvy, have no techno-phobia, and very trusting of these new technologies.

One of the most empirically researched areas is in the area of adolescent video gaming. Negative consequences of gaming have included addiction, increased aggression, and a variety of medical consequences, such as repetitive strain injuries, obesity, and photosensitive epilepsy. There is certainly evidence that when taken to excess, videogame playing can in some cases be addictive, especially online videogame playing where the game never pauses or ends, and has the potential to be a 24/7 activity. However, there are many reported benefits that adolescents can get from playing videogames. These can be educational, social and/or therapeutic.

Another positive benefit of playing video games along with activities like social networking may be the capacity to reduce youth crime. The reason why videogames may have implications for crime reduction is their use as ‘distractors’ (such as in the role of pain management). The reasoning is that ‘distractor tasks’ consume some degree of the attentional capacity that would otherwise be devoted to pain perception. I have noted in a number of my academic papers that the main reasons that videogames make good distractors are because they:

  • Are likely to engage much of a person’s individual active attention because of the cognitive and motor activity required.
  • Allow the possibility to achieve sustained achievement because of the level of difficulty (i.e. challenge) of most games during extended play.
  • Appear to appeal most to adolescents

For instance, one study reported the case of an eight-year-old boy with neurodermatitis being given a handheld videogame to prevent him from picking at his face. Where previous treatments had failed, the use of the game kept his hands occupied and within two weeks the affected area had healed. A number of studies have demonstrated that videogames can provide cognitive distraction for children undergoing chemotherapy. All these studies have reported that distracted child patients report less nausea after treatment (when compared with control groups), and that playing videogames reduced the amount of painkillers the children needed during treatment. The very reasons why video games may be of benefit therapeutically may also be applied to video games in a crime reduction context (i.e., the playing of video games is so cognitively distracting that that there is little time to do or think about anything else).

Consequently, there is a developing school of thought arguing that peoples’ participation (especially excessive use) in video gaming and social networking may be contributory factors that may partly explain the fall in crime rates in recent years. For instance, the economist Larry Katz was quoted in a 2010 issue of The Economist suggesting that the playing of video games may be playing a role in crime reduction. Katz’ reasoning is simple – keeping people busy keeps them out of trouble. There appears to be some statistical support for such a hypothesis as the decrease in US crime rates appears to show an inverse correlational relationship with increased sales of video game consoles and video games. Clearly this correlational evidence should be treated with caution as it says nothing about causation. However, it does provide a hypothesis that could be the subject of future empirical testing.

Could the rise in video game playing and social networking be a major cause of what criminologists claim is an unfathomable drop in crime, and if not, then why not? Routine Activity Theory predicts that if a substantial numbers of young people are not on the streets either as victims or offenders then overall high volume ‘crime opportunities’ would diminish, resulting in an overall drop in high volume crime rates. We have no idea yet whether what we might call the ‘crime substitution hypothesis’ is plausible. Therefore, in our recent paper, Dr. Sutton and I set out some ideas that support it as something possibly worthy of further exploration.

As highlighted above, research suggests some young people are spending many hours playing video games or social networking. Research also suggests that video games can be engrossing, addictive and in some cases compulsive. Additionally, research has failed to establish that violent media is either a necessary or sufficient condition for causing crime. Therefore, taking a Routine Activity Approach, it would seem that an increase in video gaming might feasibly lead to a rise in the illicit market for stolen computers and games consoles. However, there might be fewer thieves to supply it if:

  • Fewer potential offenders are getting addicted to opiates and other drugs, and/or misusing alcohol out of boredom because they have escaped boredom in the real world by entering the more exciting world of cyberspace to play and interact with others.
  • Potential offenders and victims are gaming excessively and/or compulsively checking Facebook and/or other social networking sites.
  • The game players and other ‘netizens’ are playing at home so (a) fewer potential offenders on the streets and fewer potential victims, and (b) houses are occupied for longer and so less susceptible to burglary.
  • Immersion and gaming prowess and reputation may be sufficient substitutes for the same things in the offline (real) world
  • The Internet allows more people to work from home so teleworking may reduce the pool of “available” victims on the street and also ensure fewer homes are empty during the day.

The evidence provided for the ‘crime substitution hypothesis’ in our paper was anecdotal and/or correlational in nature but we would argue that this would provide a fruitful avenue for further research. Such research into ‘crime substitution’ and gaming/social networking might involve: (i) measuring time spent gaming and social networking by groups that empirical research predicts are at greater risk of becoming offenders, (ii) conducting ethnographic studies with young people to gauge whether, and if so to what extent, gaming and social networking are used as a substitute for risky activities in the offline (real) world, and do this in relation to both potential offending and victimization, (iii) examining issues of offline and online peer status and how this may impact on consequent behaviour (including criminal activity), and (iv) further examining the correlation between console and game sales – and any data on playing time and type of games – with the general crime trend over the past 20 years.

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

Further reading

Cole, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Social interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing gamers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 575-583.

De Freitas, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2008). The convergence of gaming practices with other media forms: what potential for learning? A review of the literature. Learning, Media and Technology, 33, 11-20.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Video games and health. British Medical Journal, 331, 122-123.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005b). The therapeutic value of videogames. In Goldstein J. & Raessens J. (eds.) Handbook of Computer Game Studies (pp. 161-171). Boston: MIT Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Internet and video-game addiction. In C. Essau (Ed.), Adolescent Addiction: Epidemiology, Assessment and Treatment (pp.231-267).  San Diego: Elselvier.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Trends in technological advance: Implications for sedentary behaviour and obesity in screenagers. Education and Health, 28, 35-38.

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

Griffiths, M.D. & Sutton, M. (2013). Proposing the Crime Substitution Hypothesis: Exploring the possible causal relationship between excessive adolescent video game playing, social networking and crime reduction. Education and Health, 31, 17-21.

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.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Sutton, M (2010) Routine Activities Theory, the Internet and the 15-Year crime drop. Criminology: The Blog of Mike Sutton. Best Thinking: http://www.bestthinking.com/thinkers/science/social_sciences/sociology/mike-sutton?tab=blog&blogpostid=9634,9634

Stats entertainment (Part 2): A 2013 review of my personal blog

My last blog of 2013 was not written by me but was prepared by the WordPress.com stats helper. I thought a few of you might be interested in the kind of person that reads my blogs. I also wanted to wish all my readers a happy new year and thank you for taking the time to read my posts.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 860,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 37 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Screen play ideas: A speculative look at trends in video game addiction

Gaming addiction has become a topic of increasing research interest. Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in the number of scientific studies examining various aspects of video game addiction. This has resulted in a wide-ranging selection of review papers focusing on different aspects of the topic. These include general literature reviews of video game addiction, reviews of online (as opposed to offline) gaming addiction, reviews of the main methodological issues in studying video game addiction, reviews of structural characteristics and their relationship with video game addiction, reviews of video game addiction treatment, reviews of video game addiction and co-morbidity/convergence with other addictions such as gambling addiction and Internet addiction, and miscellaneous review papers on very specific aspects of video game addictions such as social responsibility, screening instruments, or reviews refuting that video game addiction even exists.

Furthermore, the amount and the quality of research in the gaming addiction field has progressed much over the last decade but is still in its infancy compared to other more established behavioural addictions, such as pathological gambling. Today’s blog briefly provides a considered (and somewhat speculative) examination of what might happen in the gaming addiction field from a number of different standpoints (e.g., methodological, conceptual, technological). These are taken from a paper I recently published in Current Psychiatry Reviews with Dr. Daniel King (University of Adelaide, Australia) and Daria Kuss (Nottingham Trent University, UK). These trends were loosely modeled on a 2011 paper I wrote on the technological trends in gambling and published in Casino and Gaming International.

  • There is likely to be an even bigger increase in empirical research into problematic video game playing and video game addiction. This will of course be dependent on both appropriate funding streams and/or whether gaming addiction ends up being included in future psychiatric disorder classifications (e.g., Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, International Classification of Diseases, etc.). Future research is likely to include more epidemiological and/or general population data on media use, leading to better insights into the onset and course of problematic video game play and addiction.
  • Given the many different screening instruments that have been developed over the last decade, there is likely to be a refinement of video game addiction measures and greater consensus on its conceptualization, either as a single disorder and/or incorporated into other known disorders (e.g., impulse control disorder). This is also likely to lead to improved assessment tools based on such conceptualization(s).
  • Measures of gaming use and subsequent behaviour are likely to diversify in terms of media use, including social networking sites (SNS) and associated Internet resources. Already, games such as Call of Duty and Battlefield 3 are being released with their own SNS (e.g., COD Elite) that track player behaviour and provide feedback to players as to how to improve their game (thus functionally reinforcing video game play and thus have implications for excessive and/or potentially addictive play).
  • Gaming on the move is likely to be a big growth area that may have implications for excessive gaming via ‘convenience’ hardware such as handheld gaming consoles, PDA devices, mobile phones, tablet computers, and MP3 players.
  • Given the fact that the Internet is gender-neutral, there is likely to be increasing feminization of gaming where increasing numbers of females not only engage in the playing of online games, but also develop problems as a result. Casual gaming online is already popular among females. However, the biggest difference between male and female gaming is likely to be content-based (e.g., males may prefer competitive type gaming experiences whereas females may prefer co-operative type gaming experiences).
  • Given the increasing number of research teams in the gambling field being given direct access to gambling companies behavioural tracking data, there is likely to be an increasing number of such collaborations in the gaming studies field.
  • Given the increased importance of additional research into the structural and situational characteristics of consumptive behaviours (e.g., smoking nicotine, drinking alcohol, gambling, etc.), it is likely that research on design features within games and their psychological impact (including potential addiction) will increase as well. Such research has already begun (including quite a few studies by our gaming research unit).
  • As the diagnosis of video game addiction becomes more legitimate in psychiatric and medical circles, it will lead to better randomized control trials on interventions for problematic video game play than the ones already carried out. There is also likely to be an increase in the online medium itself being used as a treatment channel. The reasons that people like to engage in some online leisure activities (i.e., the fact that the online environment is non-face-to-face, convenient, accessible, affordable, anonymous, non-threatening, non-alienating, non-stigmatizing, etc.) may also be the very same reasons why people would want to seek advice, help and treatment online rather than in face-to-face situations.

Based on our review paper there are several noticeable trends that can be drawn from our recent reviews of problematic video game play and video game addiction.

  • There has been a significant increase in empirical research decade by decade since the early 1980s.
  • There has been a noticeable (and arguably strategic) shift in researching the mode of video game play. In the 1980s, research mainly concerned ‘pay-to-play’ arcade video games. In the 1990s, research mainly concerned stand alone (offline) video games played at home on consoles, PCs or handheld devices. In the 2000s, research mainly concerned online massively multiplayer video games.
  • There has been a noticeable shift in how data are collected. Up until the early 2000s, data about video game behaviour was typically collected face-to-face, whereas contemporary studies collect data online, strategically targeting online forums where gamers are known to (virtually) congregate. These samples are typically self-selecting and (by default) unrepresentative of the general population. Therefore, generalization is almost always one of the methodological shortcomings of this data collection approach.
  • Survey study sample sizes have generally increased. In the 1980s and 1990s, sample sizes were typically in the low hundreds. In the 2000s, sample sizes in their thousands – even if unrepresentative – are not uncommon.
  • There has been a diversification in the way data are collected including experiments, physiological investigations, secondary analysis of existing data (such as that collected from online forums), and behavioural tracking studies.
  • There has been increased research on adult (i.e., non-child and non-adolescent) samples reflecting the fact that the demographics of gaming have changed.
  • There has been increasing sophistication in relation to issues concerning assessment and measurement of problematic video game play and video game addiction. In the last few years, instruments have been developed that have more robust psychometric properties in terms of reliability and validity. However, there are still some concerns as many of the most widely used screening instruments were adapted from adult screens and much of the video game literature has examined children and adolescents. In other papers I have co-written with Dr. King, we have asserted that to enable future advances in the development and testing of interventions for video game-related problems, there must be some consensus among clinicians and researchers as to the precise classification of these problems. (In fact, we’ve just had a major review paper accepted on assessing video game addiction in Clinical Psychology Review which I examined in a previous blog).

Clearly, there exist a number of gaps in current understanding of problematic video game play and video game addiction. There is a need for epidemiological research to determine the incidence and prevalence of clinically significant problems associated with video game play in the broader population. There are too few clinical studies that describe the unique features and symptoms of problematic video game play and/or video game addiction. While the current empirical base is relatively small, gaming addiction has become a more mainstream area for psychological and psychiatric research and is likely to become an area of significant importance given the widespread popularity of gaming.

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

Additional input: Daria Kuss and Daniel King

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online video gaming: What should educational psychologists know? Educational Psychology in Practice, 26(1), 35-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). The psychological study of video game players: Methodological challenges and practical advice. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7, 555-562.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of structural characteristics in problem video game playing: A review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace. Located at: http://www.cyberpsychology.eu/view.php?cisloclanku=2010041401&article=6.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Cognitive behavioural therapy for problematic video game players: Conceptual considerations and practice issues. Journal of CyberTherapy and Rehabilitstion, 3, 261-273.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.

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.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-behavioural approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 68, 1185-1195.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S. &, Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Psychometric assessment of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Mind the App: The psychosocial impact of gambling applications

Most regular gamblers will be well aware that technology is revolutionizing the way they can gamble and access gambling. One of the most notable innovations has been the proliferation of various gambling applications (‘apps’) for smartphones and computer tablets. A majority of the British bookmakers have launched sports betting apps including Betfred Mobile Sportsbook, William Hill iPhone, Ladbrokes Mobile, Betfair iPhone Client, and Paddy Power Mobile. Most of the apps allow sports bettors to gamble via their mobile phones and/or tablets (e.g., iPad) with all the same options that gamblers can get offline, and additionally keep track of the bets made. Combined with this, many operators have introduced iPhone compatible websites. Bookmakers have also launched similar apps and services for Android (i.e., non-Apple) products (e.g., Unibet’s mobile sports betting app). In short, mobile sports betting has gone mainstream.

There are also apps for games like Fantasy Football (such as the one offered by Betfred) but most gambling operators are moving into the mobile social betting market because it provides greater flexibility in predicting score lines and by making it easier to share the result outcomes with friends. Such services include Unibet Social Betting, SideBets Social BETworking, Bodugi Social Betting, King of Predictions, and Bet Tracker Pro. Gamblers also have access to a wide range of betting tips and betting odds apps via both iPhone and Android handsets. Gambling apps can also provide access to potentially useful information for the player (e.g., tips, strategy articles, the latest updates, etc.). In addition to he bookmaking industry, casino operators have followed suit and have also moved into the gambling app market on both iPhone and Android.

Once casino apps have been installed, players can instantly access their favourite casinos and casino games without searching for them via a web browser. A quick look at the commercially available gambling apps shows that almost all gaming operators offer attractive bonuses in an attempt to attract new clientele to download their gambling app software and spend some money (e.g., first deposit bonuses, reload bonuses, and various other seasonal promotions). The psychosocial impact of real money gambling apps is likely become a hot topic among those of us who carry out research in the gambling studies field.

As with online gambling more generally, the introduction of gambling apps and mobile gambling eliminates time and place constraints, allows 24/7 access all year round, provides convenience and flexibility, provides a wide range of games (e.g., slots, blackjack, video poker, roulette, etc.) and potentially increased gambling opportunities, and means that anyone can gamble anywhere at anytime providing there is network connection. Real money gambling apps arguably make gambling even easier for players. Whilst there are clearly many advantages for gamblers, these advantages may have a negative psychosocial impact on a small minority of gamblers.

The gambling app market is likely to be very lucrative for both game developers and gaming operators. In a recent report by Juniper Research, it was estimated that users of smartphones and tablets are expected to wager $100 billion annually on the devices by 2017, up from about $20 billion in 2011. However, Juniper Networks’ Mobile Threat Centre also reported that gambling apps pose the biggest security risk to smartphone users after over 1.7 million apps on the Google Play Store were analyzed between March 2011 and September 2012. Another study by German researchers at the Leibniz University (Hannover) and the Philipps University (Marburg) found that apps (including gambling apps) were leaking personal data, including bank account information. The study tested the 13,500 most popular free apps from the Google Play Store and found that 1074 of them (8%) used incorrect or inadequate coding. These studies also found that the gambling apps “blatantly overstepped permissions that were more than adequate for normal use” and that with malware they accessed a number of features of the users’ smartphones and tablets without justification. Racing apps were reported as causing the most concern with 99% of paid racing apps and 92% of free racing game apps being able to send SMS; half of free downloaded apps were able to use the camera; and 94 per cent of free games could make outgoing phone calls.

From a psychosocial impact perspective, one of the areas where gambling apps appear to be having most impact currently is in relation to in-play betting. For instance, Bet365 (the most successful gaming operator in the in-play market) have a free betting app that players can use for any of their ‘in-play’ markets (most notably football) from a smartphone. I argued in a previous blog that what the ‘in-play’ markets have done is take what was traditionally a discontinuous form of gambling like football betting – where gamblers made one bet every Saturday on the result of a football game – to one where consumers can gamble again and again and again. What’s more, gaming operators have quickly capitalized on the increasing amount of televised sport. In contemporary society, where there is a live sporting event, there will always be a betting consumer. ‘In-play’ betting companies using gambling apps have catered for both the natural betting demand and have initiated new clientele in the process.

If the reward for gambling only happens once or twice a week, it is almost completely impossible for a gambler to develop problems and/or become addicted. ‘In-play’ betting using gambling apps has changed that because we now have football matches on almost every day of the week making a daily 2-hour plus period of betting seven days a week. ‘In-play’ has fundamentally changed the way that people view and bet on sporting events. The speed of a game also influences the prevalence of problem gambling. Based on the relationship between event duration, event frequency, bet frequency, and payout interval, empirical research has consistently shown that games that offer a fast, arousing span of play, frequent wins, and the opportunity for rapid replay are those most frequently cited as being associated with problem gambling. These potentially problem-inducing structural characteristics have the capacity to be enhanced via gambling apps and in-play betting. The actual prevalence rate of problem gambling will of course depend on many factors other than speed of the game alone, but games with high and rapid event frequencies are most likely to impact on increased rates of problem gambling. ‘In-play’ betting via gambling apps appears to be an activity that is starting to blur the lines between continuous and discontinuous forms of gambling.

Frequency of opportunities to gamble (i.e., event frequency) appears to be a major contributory factor in the development of gambling problems. The general rule is that the higher the event frequency, the more likely it is that the activity will result in gambling problems for vulnerable and susceptible gamblers. Gambling addiction has been shown to be associated with the rewards, the speed of rewards, and payout rates. Therefore, the more potential rewards there are, and the higher the amount of the rewards, the more problematic the activity is likely to be. Given the time, money and resources, a vast majority of gambling activities are now ‘continuous’ in that people have the potential to gamble again and again. Therefore, in relation to problem gambling, ‘in-play’ betting via gambling apps is an activity that we really need to keep an eye on.

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

Further reading

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2012b). Mind games (A brief psychosocial overview of in-play betting). i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, 44.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2013). The irrelevancy of game-type in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem gambling. Frontiers in Psychology, in press.

MacMillan, D. (2012). IPhones Become Mobile Casinos by Adding Real-Money Bets. Bloomberg Business Week, August 16. Located at: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-08-16/iphones-become-mobile-casinos-by-adding-real-money-bets

Manning, J. (2012). Android apps leaking personal, banking details. Stuff, October 23. Located at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/digital-living/7852719/Android-apps-leaking-personal-banking-details

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Sharma, M. (2012). Free gambling apps top security risk list. Stuff, November 4. Located at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/technology/digital-living/7904180/Free-gambling-apps-top-security-risk-list

Thumb dine with me: Can adult thumb-sucking be viewed as an addiction?

“When I got to pre-school, I discovered that thumb sucking was not the social norm. Other kids teased me: ‘Only babies suck their thumbs!’ This was terrible news. I didn’t want to be a baby, but there was no way for me to stop doing the only thing in the world that soothed me; the one thing I could do, in a violent home, to comfort myself and feel safe. So I compromised: I stopped sucking my thumb in public…But at home, or during any moment of privacy…my left thumb went automatically into my mouth. Rather than tapering off as I aged, my thumb sucking intensified, and I added a small swatch of cotton blanket to the ritual, rubbing it against my upper lip until it was soft and grey. My parents had split up, and I was moving from place to place with my mother and stepfamily, so nobody really had the energy to monitor my behavior. If anybody did notice and say something to me (‘Stop that, you’re going to ruin your teeth!’), I just popped the thumb out and waited 30 seconds before the coast was clear again” (Janice Erlbaum)

The opening quote is taken from Janice Erlbaum’s blog article “I was an adult thumbsucker” (a habit she managed to kick when she was 26 years old). From Erlbaum’s full account, I wouldn’t class the behaviour as an addiction although depending on what definition of addiction is used, an argument could perhaps be made. I have to admit that adult thumb sucking is something which I have often thought about as someone I know well has sucked her right thumb all her life. She’s now in her early forties and has two completely different shaped thumbs (one ‘normal’ and the other flat and very elongated) as a result of four decades of constant thumb sucking. She also tells me that her upper mouth palate has also changed shape and her thumb fits perfectly into the upper groove in her mouth. She also has a number of little routines she performs while sucking her thumb including the caressing of her eyelashes with her right index finger which when thumb-sucking is close to her eyes. She only ever does it when relaxing (such as when she’s watching television) and has learned not to do it in public. During her junior years and early adolescence, her parents tried to get her to stop, and at one point she was given a substance to coat her thumb in (which tasted disgusting when she put her thumb in her mouth). It didn’t work. She still sucked her thumb and put up with the horrible taste.

Most parents reading this will be aware that thumb-sucking tends to emerge in infancy (although there is some evidence that babies can suck their thumbs inside the womb. For instance, Professor Peter Hepper and his colleagues [Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland) have followed up children who were known to have sucked their thumbs as fetuses). Constant thumb-sucking is not necessarily problematic but depending on how the thumb is sucked, it can cause protruding teeth and other dental problems such as anterior open bite, malocclusion (i.e., misalignment of teeth or incorrect relation between the teeth of the two dental arches), and mucosal trauma. Other problems include deformity of the thumb (something which I have seen for myself first-hand) and speech problems. Thumb-suckers are also more prone to infections such as impetigo around the mouth (i.e., a highly contagious bacterial infection of the surface layers of the skin, which causes sores and blisters), and paronychia of the thumb (i.e., a skin infection that occurs around the nails). Basically, as children get older, the more of a problem thumb sucking is from a medical perspective. As one review of thumb sucking in the American Family Physician journal concluded:

“Major complications of thumb sucking, usually corrects spontaneously if thumb sucking ceases by six years of age. Thumb sucking in a child less than two years of age requires no treatment. In a three- to four-year-old child, thumb sucking may be secondary to changes in the child’s emotional environment, and treatment should be directed at correcting the underlying problem. Thumb sucking that persists beyond the age of six years should be treated”.

An article on thumb-sucking in Psychology Today by psychologist Dr. Susan Heitler looked at the topic of thumb-sucking. Dr. Heitler had been a thumb-sucker herself until she was nine-years old and had to endure “years of orthodonture” because of her childhood thumb-sucking. Her own daughter was also a thumb-sucker and her dentist told her that “trying to end thumbsucking will do more harm than good”, advice that she was not happy with given her own experiences. In her article, she wrote:

“Looks are hugely important to one’s success in life.  Allowing thumbsucking to damage facial appearance is wrong advice.  By the time a child is four or five, with the habit no longer socially appropriate and permanent teeth coming shortly, the risks of continuing to thumb or finger suck clearly outweigh the benefits…When does a bad habit qualify as an addiction?  Usually it’s a function of how much the habit has become physiologically essential so that people feel craving when it is missing. That definitely happens with thumbsucking”.

Dr. Heitler’s article referred to empirical research that had been carried out on thumb-sucking although none of the main findings had any detail as to who had carried out the work, where the research was published, or what methodologies were employed (apart from very general information). Here are some of the main things she reported:

“In a study with premature infants, researchers found that infants who sucked their thumbs or a pacifier had shorter hospital stays. That was because rhythmic sucking soothed them so that they spent less energy in crying. In addition, sucking re-optimized their heart beats and breathing patterns if they were beginning to get upset…In studies of children who do or do not suck a thumb, finger or pacifier, it turns out that the suckers become emotionally more independent at a younger age. Researchers put a child and mom on one end of a long room. On the far end were appealing toys. The suckers ventured further and played with the toys away from Mom longer than the non-suckers…They just had higher self-confidence in being able to handle independent play, knowing that if they felt stressed they could suck for a bit, feel better, and resume playing on their own. It’s generally not until they become toddlers that the downsides of thumbsucking begin to outweigh the gains. Kids then tend to suck when they are trying to fall asleep, when they bored, when they are idling between activities, or to self-soothe when they are upset”.

One online article on thumb-sucking reports that it is a common activity among infants (30%-40% of those yet to start school) and around 10%-20% of children aged over six years. In a more academic source, Dr. Sherry Ellington and colleagues (in a 2000 issue of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis reported that thumb sucking is estimated to occur in 23% to 46% of children aged 1 to 4 years. As with the article by Dr. Heitler, it claims that thumb-sucking may have a psychological benefit for young children as it “allows them to consolidate emotions and handle their stresses”.

In a 1953 paper in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, the Dr. Donald Winnicot presented his theory of transitional objects and phenomena. Dr. Winnicott compared thumb sucking with the use of external objects such as children’s use of comfort blankets drawing parallels  between the two. He also a claims that childish actions like thumb sucking and objects like cuddly toys are the source of manifold adult behavior, amongst many others sexual fetishism. It is also claimed (particularly by psychodynamic psychologists) that such actions stem back to childhood trauma and that behaviours like thumb-sucking help facilitate the need to feel comforted and secure. Another early longitudinal study by Dr. Marjorie Honzik and Dr. John McKee published in the Journal of Pediatrics reported that after the first year of being born, girls more likely to suck their thumbs than boys. The main reason was speculated that girls’ greater orality may involve greater pleasure from tactile stimulation”.

There doesn’t appear to be much empirical research on adult thumb sucking. A small 1996 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry led by Dr. F. Castellanous found that in 12 intellectually normal adults with stereotypic movement disorder, eight of them displayed thumb-sucking and/or rocking behaviour (and 11 of them had an affective anxiety disorder suggesting that behaviours such as thumb-sucking may be engaged in to help reduce anxiety). A 2008 literature review by Dr Orlando Tanaka and colleagues in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics reported some evidence that thumb-sucking might turn into nail biting. This might explain why there is such a seemingly low prevalence of thumb-sucking in adults. All the evidence suggests that thumb sucking in adults is not an addiction but in some people may be symptomatic of other underlying disorders.

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

Further reading

Articles 2day (2012). Tic disorder and thumb sucking. July 2012. Located at: http://www.articles2day.org/2012/07/tic-disorder-and-thumb-sucking-other.html

Batista, E. (2012). Adult thumb sucking, January 12. Located at: http://www.edbatista.com/2012/01/adult-thumb-sucking.html

Castellanous, F.X., Ritchie, G.F., Marsh, W.L. & Rapoport, J.L. (1996). DSM-IV stereotypic movement disorder: persistence of stereotypies of infancy in intellectually normal adolescents and adults. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 57, 116-122.

Ellington, S.A., Miltenberger, R.G., Stricker, J.M., Garlinghouse, M.A., Roberts, J. & Galensky, T.I. (2000). Analysis and treatment of finger sucking. Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis, 33, 41-52.

Erlbaum, J. (2012). It happened to me: I was an adult thumb sucker. August 2. Located at: http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-me-i-was-adult-thumbsucker

Friman, P. C. (1987). Thumb sucking in childhood. Feelings and Their Medical Significance, 29, 11-14.

Heitler, S. (2012). Lessons from thumbsucking, the earliest addiction. Psychology Today, January 26. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201201/lessons-thumbsucking-the-earliest-addiction

Hepper, P., Wells, D.L. & Lynch, C. (2004). Prenatal thumbsucking is related to postnatal handedness. Neuropsychologia, 43, 313-315.

Honzik, M.P. & John P. McKee, J.P. (1960). The sex difference in thumb-sucking. Journal of Pediatrics, 61, 726-732.

Leung, A.K. & Robson, W.L. (1991). Thumb sucking. American Family Physician, 44, 1724-1728.

Luke, L. S., & Howard, L. (1983). The effects of thumb sucking on orofacial structures and speech: A review. The Compendium of Continuing Education, 4, 575–579.

Tanaka, O.M., Vitral, R.W.F., Tanaka, G.Y., Pulido A. & Guerrero, & Camargoe, E.S. (2008). Nailbiting, or onychophagia: A special habit. American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, 134, 305-308.

Winnicott, D. (1953)  Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34, 89-97.

Scaling up: A brief look at the latest tool to assess addictive gaming

To date, there has been a lack of agreement among researchers as to the precise name and definition of video game addiction (both online and offline). However, there is a general consensus that excessive gaming can lead to a wide range of physical and psychological problems, and therefore necessary to explore the nature and the scale of the phenomenon. In doing so, it is important to use psychometrically validated measurement tools. Unfortunately, there is lack of these in the literature so far. Along with some colleagues (led by Dr. Daniel King), we recently published a paper examining all the instruments that have been used to assess problematic video gaming in the journal Clinical Psychology Review.

Our paper noted that pathological video-gaming, or its proposed DSM-V classification of “Internet Use Disorder”, is of increasing interest to scholars and practitioners in allied health disciplines. Our systematic review was designed to evaluate the standards in pathological video-gaming instrumentation and guidelines for sound psychometric assessment. We assessed a total of 63 quantitative studies, including eighteen instruments (representing 58,415 participants). Our findings indicated that the instruments were generally characterized as inconsistent. The strengths of available measures included: (i) short length and ease of scoring, (ii) excellent internal consistency and convergent validity, and (iii) potentially adequate data for development of standardized norms for adolescent populations. However, the key limitations included: (a) inconsistent coverage of core addiction indicators, (b) varying cut-off scores to indicate clinical status, (c) a lack of a temporal dimension, (d) untested or inconsistent dimensionality, and (e) inadequate data on predictive validity and inter-rater reliability. An emerging consensus suggested that pathological video-gaming is commonly defined by (1) withdrawal, (2) loss of control, and (3) conflict.

Most of the tools in current use have been modified from other questionnaires without their reliability and validity being tested. This includes those based on internet addiction (e.g., Kimberley Young’s Internet Addiction Test), pathological gambling (using the DSM–IV criteria), or behavioural addictions. An additional problem is that many of the measures focus exclusively on Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) users. In order to cover the whole range of online gamers, I recently helped co-develop an empirically based questionnaire consisting of 18 items called the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ) that we published in the journal PLoS ONE.

In a recent 2011 study, some of my Hungarian colleagues (led by Dr. Koronczai) claimed in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking that a suitable measure should fit the following six criteria. It should have: (i) comprehensiveness (i.e., examining more, possibly all, aspects of problematic online gaming); (ii) brevity (in order to assess the more impulsive population as well and to facilitate incorporation into time-limited surveys); (iii) reliability and validity for different methods of data collection (e.g., online, paper-and-pencil self-rating, face-to-face); (iv) reliability and validity for different age groups (e.g., adolescents and adults); (v) cross-cultural reliability and validity; (vi) been validated on clinical samples. The measure should also serve as a basis for defining cutoff scores for dependence.

The POGQ is a short comprehensive measure and therefore fits to the first two requirements. It was also found to be a psychometrically adequate measure in a large convenience sample of adult online gamers. However, there is great need for a measure that is also suitable for survey type research in an offline data collection setting, and is reliable and valid for adolescents. Therefore, we modified the original POGQ to a 12-item version and applied it to an offline adolescent sample using pen-and-pencil data collection method (and published the findings in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking). This way both the third and the fourth points of the six criteria above were fulfilled.

The aim of or most recent study was twofold. The first goal was to explore the psychometric properties of the POGQ on a nationally representative adolescent sample as until recently it had only been used on adult gamer samples. The second goal was to assess the prevalence of problematic online gaming in a nationwide adolescent sample, as there have been only two nationally representative studies carried out on adolescents in the US and Germany.

The results of or study showed that the 12-item POGQ-SF had appropriate psychometric properties according to the statistical analysis performed on a nationally representative sample of adolescents. The analysis showed that 8.2% of gamers (4.6% of the whole sample) belonged to the at-risk group. We also found an additional 13.3% of adolescents (23.9% of gamers) showed symptoms of problematic online gaming above the average. Gamers belonging to the at-risk class were more likely to be male, more likely to play for five or more hours a day, have lower grade point average, have lower self-esteem, and higher depression score than gamers belonging to the other two classes. All these results are in line with findings of other studies confirming the validity of the measurement tool.

Despite the robustness of the study, an important limitation was that it was only carried out among Hungarian adolescents. For generalizability it must be applied and psychometrically tested on cross-cultural samples as well (see the aforementioned Criterion 5). It is also a future goal to confirm the POGQ on clinical samples (Criterion 6). This would allow all the six criteria requirements presented in the introduction to be met. The current POGQ is both short (Criterion 2) and comprehensive (Criterion 1), and assesses problematic online gaming in different age groups (Criterion 4) with different data collection methods (Criterion 3). We hope that the POGQ will facilitate future research and will serve as an adequate tool for assessing problematic online gaming.

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

Further reading

Demetrovics, Z., Urbán, R., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J., Griffiths, M.D., Pápay, O. & Oláh, A. (2012). The development of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ). PLoS ONE, 7(5): e36417. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036417.

Gentile, D. (2009). Pathological video-game use among youth ages 8 to 18: A national study. Psychological Science, 20, 594-602.

Gentile, D.A., Choo, H., Liau, A., et al. (2011). Pathological video game use among youths: A two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127, E319-E329.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Koronczai, B., Urban, R., Kokonyei, G., et al. (2011). Confirmation of the three-factor model of problematic internet use on off-line adolescent and adult samples. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14, 657–664.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in children and adolescents: A review of empirical reearch. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Pápay, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J. Kökönyei, G., Felvinczi, K., Oláh, A., Elekes, Z., Demetrovics, Z. (2013). Psychometric properties of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire Short-Form (POGQ-SF) and prevalence of problematic online gaming in a national sample of adolescents. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0484.

Rehbein, F., Kleimann, M, & Mossle, T. (2010). Prevalence and risk factors of video game dependency in adolescence: results of a German nationwide survey. CyberPsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 13, 269–277.

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