Category Archives: Competitions
Games without frontiers: A brief look at the psychology of play
In a previous blog I examined my favourite board game (Scrabble) and the extent to which someone could become addicted to it. Today’s blog takes a broader look at the psychology of play more generally. Arguably, many of the topics that I research involve the psychology of playing games with video games and gambling games being my two most obvious areas of interest.
It’s been argued by myself (and others) that the ritualized play of several childhood games provides ‘training’ in the acquisition of gambling behaviour and that some games are pre-cursors to actual gambling (e.g., playing marbles, card flipping, etc.). Some authors (such as Igor Kusyszyn) hold the view that gambling is in itself ‘adult play’. Unsurprisingly, Freud was one of the first people to concentrate on the ‘functions’ of play and concluded that play in all its varieties (a) provides a wish-fulfilment, (b) leads to conflict reduction, (c) provides temporary leave of absence from reality, and (d) brings about a change from the passive to the active.
Since Freud, most psychologists have concentrated on the idea of ‘conflict reduction’ and in doing so have ignored his other three postulations. A more modern approach in the 1970s by Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi asserted that during play a person can “concentrate on a limited stimulus field, in which he or she can use skills to meet clear demands, thereby forgetting his or her own problems and separate identity” (and provides one of the reasons that a small minority of people can develop problems playing games). Seminal research on the sociology of play by Roger Caillois states notes that play is a “free and voluntary activity”, “a source of joy and amusement” and “bounded by precise limits of time and space” whereas Erving Goffman views it as a “world building activity”.
Games provide the opportunity to prove one’s superiority, the desire to challenge and overcome an obstacle, and a medium by which to test one’s skill, endurance and ingenuity. Games, unlike some activities (including life itself!), tell us whether we have won or lost. As observed by James Smith and Vicki Abt in the 1980s:
“…in the context of a competitive and materialistic culture that has become increasingly regimented and standardized with little room for individual creativity and personal achievement, games (including gambling) offer the illusion of control over destiny and circumstance”.
Perhaps the best categorisation of game types was formulated by Roger Caillois who listed four classifications – agon (competition), alea (chance), mimicry (simulation), and ilinx (vertigo). In the context of games involving gambling, alea and agon are crucial in that they offer a combination of skill, chance and luck. As was previously asserted, most people desire opportunities to test their strength and skill against an adversary, and those games which offer a component of skill or talent combined with luck and chance provide the most favourable conditions. This is particularly prevalent in males who are deemed ‘masculine’ if during the socialization process they show (socially) important traits such as courage, independence, and bravery.
According to Caillois, play is “an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money” and is a “free and voluntary activity that occurs in a pure space, isolated and protected from the rest of life”. According to Caillois, play is best described by six core characteristics:
- It is free, or not obligatory.
- It is separate (from the routine of life) occupying its own time and space.
- It is uncertain, so that the results of play cannot be pre-determined and so that the player’s initiative is involved.
- It is unproductive in that it creates no wealth and ends as it begins.
- It is governed by rules that suspend ordinary laws and behaviours and that must be followed by players.
- It involves make-believe that confirms for players the existence of imagined realities that may be set against ‘real life’.
Back in 2000, I published an article on the psychology of games in Psychology Review and what makes a good game. I noted that:
- All good games are relatively easy to play but can take a lifetime to become truly adept. In short, there will always room for improvement.
- 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.
- There needs to be competitions and tournaments. Without somewhere to play (and likeminded people to play with) there will be little development within the field over long periods of time.
- Finally – and very much a sign of the times – no leisure activity can succeed today without corporate sponsorship of some kind.
I was recently interviewed by Lucy Orr for an article on board games for The Register – particularly about the psychology of winning. For instance, why is winning so important? I responded to Orr by pointing out that winning makes us feel good both psychologically and physiologically. Winning something – especially if it is a result of something skilful rather than by chance – can feel even better (unless the chance winning is something life changing like winning the lottery). Winning something using your own skill can demand respect from other competitors and brings about esteem (that can feed into one’s own self-esteem). Winning can be a validation that what you are doing is worthwhile. Other parts of my interview were not used.
I was asked whether beating other people makes winning more rewarding? Of course it does. Any time we engage in a behaviour that feels good we want to do it again (and again). Winning can be reinforcing on many different levels. There may be financial rewards, social rewards (peer praise, admiration and respect from others), psychological rewards (feeling better about oneself and feeling that the activity is a life-affirming and life-enhancing activity that feeds into self-esteem), and physiological rewards (increases in adrenaline and serotonin that trigger dopamine and makes us feel happy).
For some people, winning can become addictive. You can’t become addicted to something unless you are constantly reinforced and rewarded for engaging in the behaviour, and (as mentioned above) there are many different types of rewards (e.g., financial, social, psychological and physiological). Any (or all of these) could lead to repetitive and habitual behaviour and in a small minority of cases be addictive. However, as I have noted in a number of my papers, doing something to excess is not addiction. The difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasm and an addiction is that excessive enthusiasms add to life and addictions take away from it. For most people, winning behaviour – particularly in the context of playing board games – will be highly rewarding without being in any way problematic
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Brown, J. (2011). Scrabble addict. Sabotage Times, May 16. Located at: http://sabotagetimes.com/life/scrabble-addict/
Caillois, R. (1961). Man, play and games. Paris: Simon and Schuster.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1976). Play and intrinsic rewards. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 16, 41-63.
Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction Ritual: Essays on face-to-face behavior. Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor.
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). The psychology of games. Psychology Review, 7(2), 24-26.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of context in online gaming excess and addiction: Some case study evidence. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 119-125.
Kusyszyn, I. (1984). The psychology of gambling. Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 474, 133-145.
Orr, L. (2016). Winner! Crush your loved ones at Connect Four this Christmas. The Register, December 16. Located at: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/12/15/beating_your_family_and_winning_this_christmas/
Smith, J. F. & Abt, V. (1984). Gambling as play Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, 474, 122-132.
Walsh, J. (2004). Scrabble addicts. The Independent, October 9. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/scrabble-addicts-535160.html
Teaming with gain: Are daily fantasy sports a form of gambling?
Fantasy sports games have been popular for many years and involves individuals assuming the role of a professional sports team manager (typically football) and assembling a virtual team of sportsmen to compete against other players within a private or public league. For decades, the game was played out across the whole season with the winners being those that had accumulated the most points (with the points gained being based on the real-life statistics of individual sportsmen using a predetermined scoring system).
However, fantasy sports have changed dramatically over the last few years. Although the game can still be played over a whole season, the playing of daily fantasy sports (DFS) has become increasing popular (particularly in countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia) and can operate over much shorter time periods. In DFS, players can pay to play and this has led to the blurring of lines of whether the activity is a game or whether it is gambling. As Dr. Dylan Pickering and his colleagues noted in a 2016 issue of Current Addiction Reports:
“Daily fantasy sports (DFS) is the most recent and controversial of FS games…It is an accelerated version of FS conducted over much shorter time periods: generally a single game (per day) or weekly round of competition. Users pay entry fees ranging from US 25 cents to US $5000 per league, which is deposited into a prize pool typically paid out to the highest ranked users in the contest. A portion of the entry fees also goes to the operator as commission. Accordingly, DFS, as such, is most associated with wagering. Currently, the US DFS market is dominated by ‘FanDuel’ and ‘DraftKings’ (combined with about 95 % of the market)”.
According to figures in the same paper, in the USA, the fantasy sports (FS) market is currently estimated to be between $3 billion and $4 billion. In 2015, approximately 57 million Americans played FS. Research suggests that the prevalence rates are higher in North America than elsewhere with 19% of Canadian adults and 16% of American adults engaging in FS compared to 10% of British adults and 6% of Australian adults (Pickering et al., 2016). However, these figures relate to FS rather than DFS and many FS players do not pay money to participate in the game and simply play for fun. Some research by Dr. Joris Drayer and colleagues in a 2013 issue of the European Sport Management Quarterly also suggests that those who engage in playing DFS do not typically engage in other forms of gambling. Furthermore, in a 2011 issue of Journal of Sport Management, Dr. Brendan Dwyer and Dr. Yongjae Kim reported that compared to more traditional forms of gambling, the elements of fun, excitement, competition play a bigger role than winning money in the playing of DFS games.
A study carried out by Dr. Ryan Martin and Dr. Sarah Nelson published in a 2014 issue of Addictive Behaviors found that college students who were FS users (free and fee-based) were five times more likely to incur gambling problems than non-FS users, and students who played FS for money had significantly higher rates of gambling problems than those who played in free leagues. A more recent 2016 study by Loredana Marchica and Dr. Jeff Derevensky in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction examined data from national surveys of collegiate athletes and reported a steady rise in FS participation among college students between 2004 and 2012. They reported that approximately half of the male and a quarter of the female college athletes who qualified as at-risk or problem gamblers also reported wagering on FS.
There has been much debate (particularly by US legislators) as to whether playing DFS for money is classed as a legitimate form of gambling. If gambling is defined as “an agreement between two or more parties to deliberately stake something of value (typically money) with intent to profit on the outcome of an event that is determined wholly, or partially by chance” (by Pickering and colleagues), then DFS could well be a form of gambling as they argue:
“DFS can be construed as representing a form of gambling: (a) DFS includes an agreement between an individual and others, (b) money is staked on the relative performances of athletes across a certain number of sporting events with the outcome determined by both chance and skill, and (c) chance is involved given that multiple unknown factors can influence outcomes. In this regard, similarities are found in horse and sports wagering where some skill in selecting horse/sports outcomes is present, but unpredictable variables influence results (i.e., chance)…Literature from the legal field asserts that gambling must contain three elements: (a) consideration (staking something of value in order to participate), (b) chance (luck is a substantial factor in determining results), and (c) prizes (cash, merchandise, services, or points) are redeemable…While the first and third elements are clearly present in DFS, the second element, chance, is the source of current disagreement”.
The US legislation on gambling rests on whether an activity is more skill than chance determined. If DFS is predominantly a game of skill it is not deemed to be a form of gambling. The DFS operators claim that DFS games are not gambling because of the “substantial” amount of skill involved in the selection and management of FS teams. But is this any different for the professional gambler who bets on horse racing given the many factors that the person gambling has to take into account (the form of the horse, the skill of the jockey, the weather conditions, the state of the track, the number of other horses involved in the race, etc.). Similarly, poker and blackjack are both games that players can win big if they are skilful. Personally, I believe that playing DFS games for money is definitely a form of gambling, and even if it isn’t legally classed as a form of gambling, the games contain structural elements (including high event frequencies, low entry fee per game, lots of games, etc.) that can facilitate excessive use and expose vulnerable players to harm. DFS operators also allow team line-ups from a previous sporting event to populate other events which increases the speed of play, another factor that can facilitate habitual use. Furthermore, as Dr. Samantha Thomas and her colleagues argued in a recent 2015 report, the enhanced participatory role that fantasy games introduce could facilitate the illusion of control as they perform actions, making bettors overestimate the importance of skills and knowledge for the outcome of the competitions.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Drayer, J., Dwyer, B., & Shapiro, S. L. (2013). Examining the impact of league entry fees on online fantasy sport participation and league consumption. European Sport Management Quarterly, 13(3), 339-335.
Dwyer, B., & Kim, Y. (2011). For love or money: Developing and validating a motivational scale for fantasy football participation. Journal of Sport Management, 25(1), 70-83.
Marchica, L., & Derevensky, J. (2016). Fantasy sports: A growing concern among college student-athletes. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-15. Epub ahead of print.
Martin, R. J., & Nelson, S. (2014). Fantasy sports, real money: Exploration of the relationship between fantasy sports participation and gambling-related problems. Addictive Behaviors, 39(10), 1377-138.
Pickering, D., Blaszczynski, A., Hartmann, M., & Keen, B. (2016). Fantasy sports: Skill, gambling, or are these irrelevant issues? Current Addiction Reports, 3(3), 307-313.
Thomas, S., Bestman, A., Pitt, H., Deans, E., Randle, M., Stoneham, M., & Daube, M. (2015). The marketing of wagering on social media: An analysis of promotional content on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Victoria, Australia: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.
Tickled: The strange (but true) story of competitive endurance tickling, catfishing, and trolling
Last month, an article that I wrote on knismolagnia (in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from tickling or being tickled) was featured in an online article in Vox about the documentary Tickled and the world of ‘competitive endurance tickling’ (CET). Given that endurance sports are by definition ‘extreme’ and that I have examined other extreme sports and endurance events in my previous blogs, I thought that CET would make an interesting topic to examine. Tickled was co-directed by the New Zealand journalist David Farrier and the videographer Dylan Reeve but turned out to be a far more interesting film than just about CET. It all started when Farrier came across an online advert placed by Jane O’Brien Media (JOBM):
“This is a shout out to TICKLISH MALE ATHLETIC FITNESS MODELS (aged 18-25) IN THE USA (all 50 states), CANADA, UK, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND AND JAPAN. What I’m shooting lately is unique. It’s been exploring several situations in which attractive, ticklish, and masculine guys are actually tickled in two different restrained formats, then involved in demonstrating some tickling skills themselves. Presently, I’ve been shooting all-male casts. It is important for you to understand from the get-go that this is not a fetish, or adult-oriented content endeavour. Also, no nudity or implied nudity work is a part of anything that I ever shoot. I repeat: recent shoots have featured all-male casts. This is a completely athletic activity with major competitive and endurance elements involved, including strategy and teamwork. I’m focused on Competitive Reality Endurance Tickling”.
It was when Farrier saw the phrase “Competitive Reality Endurance Tickling” that his journalistic instincts started to stir. The website advert said that successful applicants would be put up in a Los Angeles (US) hotel, have to wear Adidas branded clothes, and be paid US$1500 to participate. One of the CET participants Jordan Schillachi said in an online video: “This is a very competitive company…There’s probably 600 guys every 30 minutes sending pictures to want to get in”. By way of further background, the Wikipedia entry on Farrier noted that:
“In early 2014 Farrier began production of the feature-length documentary ‘Tickled’, which he co-directed with videographer Dylan Reeve. The project began when Farrier sought to do a ‘light entertainment’ piece about videos purported to depict ‘Competitive Endurance Tickling’. His inquiry to Jane O’Brien Media, the videos’ producer, was met with a hostile refusal to talk with him, prompting Farrier and Reeves to investigate further, and the film relates their efforts to find out more about the people involved in making the videos, and the person or persons behind them”.
If you type the words ‘competitive endurance tickling’ into Google, all the links that come up in the first two pages all concern the film Tickled and the various news reports and/or film reviews about it. The JOBM videos featuring CET all feature “young athletic men” who restrain and tickle each other and “compete to see who can stand to be tickled the longest”. Farrier simply wanted to find out more about the so-called ‘sport’ and contacted JOBM about the ‘sport’ and the videos it produced. Farrier received a “hostile” and homophobic response from JOBM that focused on Farrier’s bisexuality and asserting that CET is a “passionately and exclusively heterosexual athletic endurance activity”. The hostility Farrier received and the legal threats he received from JOBM spurred Farrier into making the film. Arguably using bullying tactics, JOBM tried their best to stop the documentary being made. Farrier and Reeve subsequently located where JOBM operated from in Los Angeles, and turn up unannounced at their premises but are turned away at the door of the JOBM offices. The Wikipedia entry on the film noted:
“Their research uncovers information about a person known as Terri DiSisto (or ‘Terri Tickle’), a pioneer of recruiting and distributing tickling videos online, in the 1990s. They interview another tickling-video producer, whose operations are a low-key affair. They speak to a few former participants in O’Brien’s videos, who describe coercive and manipulative treatment by the producers, such as defamation campaigns against them, exposing their personal information and contacting school or work associates to discredit them, in retaliation for challenging or speaking out against the company. A local recruiter in Muskegon, Michigan describes ‘audition’ videos he’d helped make, being published without the participants’ consent. Farrier and Reeve chance upon documents which link O’Brien to David D’Amato, the former school administrator behind the ‘Terri Tickle’ alias, who served a six-month prison sentence for disabling computer systems at two different universities on multiple dates. They determine that D’Amato now lives on a substantial inheritance from his father, a successful lawyer. After considerable effort to locate him, they confront him on the street, to which he responds with additional legal threats. Before returning to New Zealand, Farrier contacts D’Amato’s step-mother for comment; she implicitly confirms his “tickling” past, and he informs her of D’Amato’s ongoing involvement in it”.
The film exposes a ‘tickling ring’ that appears to have been operation for a couple of decades. The Vox article reports that the film tells three simultaneous stories:
“The first and most basic [story] is about people who like tickling and being tickled. The second, deeper story is about catfishing – the kind of systematic, continual deception you sometimes encounter when manipulative individuals obscure their identities online. The catfisher at the center of ‘Tickled’ may be shrouded in mystery, at least until the film really gets going, but they aren’t the stereotypical lonely human on the internet. Whoever’s responsible orchestrates an elaborate plot involving lawyers, a battery of legal threats and actual lawsuits, a cadre of real minions who willingly helped carry out the ruse, and a host of nubile young men who get paid to be tickled. And that leads to [the film’s] third and most compelling story, which is a story about power. ‘Tickled’ is what happens when you put power, wealth, and privilege into the hands of an internet troll with a single-minded goal: to crush his enemies and film people being tickled. ‘Tickled’ is a procedural; the process of how Farrier and Reeve uncover their story takes up most of the documentary’s narrative…‘Tickled’ occasionally gets into the nitty-gritty details of confirming the catfisher’s ultimate identity – by investigating website domains, stock photos, and more – in a way that might bore some viewers. But the clues Farrier and Reeve unearth along the way are generally so weird and unique that many people will find it riveting”.
The Vox article went on to question whether CET is just a creative name for a sexual fetish (which is where my previous article on knismolagnia made an appearance). Farrier’s view was that the videos might perhaps be about JOBM producing homoerotic fetish videos that they could make money from. (JOBM strenuously denied they sold the videos for such purposes. “This is not a fetish, or adult-oriented content endeavor”). The Vox article also said:
“Tickled explores the nature of tickling fetishes and the personalities of the people who wind up monetizing them: The documentary features one film producer who quit his day job after realizing he could make thousands of dollars a month by catering to people with this very specific fetish”.
When Farrier began writing about CET in 2014, online readers responded by saying that his writings reminded them of stories about an internet troll that had been operating with a similar modus operandi a couple of decades previously. Farrier cam to the conclusion that the troll and JOBM might in fact be one and the same. As Farrier observed:
“If you Googled ‘tickling videos’ and ‘internet,’ the story came up, so we made that connection very, very quickly. The circumstantial coincidence of how they [both] operated was very obvious, but going deeper than that was harder for us. To actually prove any of it – that’s the journey of this documentary. It’s good to go in cold and just let it unfold in front of you, and then, at the end of it, you should spend a little time thinking it all through again and decide how you feel. That’s what we did experiencing the whole thing, and I think that’s good for you as an audience as well”.
So if you want to know whether Farrier’s suspicions were confirmed, you’ll have to go and watch the film – but I’ll just end by noting that JOBM have now produced their own website (‘Tickled, The Truth’) to counter Farrier’s claims.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Blackwell, S. (2016). Tickling. Prodomme. Located at: http://www.prodomme.com/fetishes/tickling
Farrier, D. (2014). Homophobia and competitive tickling. 3 News, May 7. Located at: https://web.archive.org/web/20140603201419/http://www.3news.co.nz/Homophobia-and-competitive-tickling/tabid/418/articleID/343206/Default.aspx
Him and Her Sex Blog (2012). Knismolagnia. February 12. Located at: http://himandhersexblog.tumblr.com/post/17661996177/knismolagnia
Right Diagnosis (2012). Knismolagnia. Located at: http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/k/knismolagnia/intro.htm
Romano, A. (2016). New documentary ‘Tickled’ takes you into a world of sexual fetishes, catfishing, and internet secrets unearthed. Vox, June 21. Located at: http://www.vox.com/2016/6/21/11963566/tickled-competitive-tickling-documentary-explained
Wikipedia (2012). Catfishing. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catfishing
Wikipedia (2012). Tickled. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickled
Wikipedia (2012). Tickling game. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tickling_game
Clothes of play: The psychology of fancy dress
Yesterday, my local paper (The Nottingham Post) interviewed me for a Halloween story about the psychology of fancy dress (which you can read here). Before I was interviewed, I did a search of academic literature databases and couldn’t find a single academic paper that had been published on the topic. Although this didn’t surprise me, it did mean that everything I said to the journalist was opinion and speculation (at best). The first thing I did was think all the different situations in which people wear fancy dress costumes and this is what I came up with:
- Those that wear fancy dress as part of a calendar event or festival (e.g., Halloween or the Mardi Gras)
- Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of an organized fancy dress event (e.g., a fancy dress party, a fancy dress competition, a murder mystery party, or a one-off occasion such as an event we had here in Nottingham [March 8, 2008] to break the world record for the most people dressed as Robin Hood (1,119 individuals dressing up breaking the previous record of 607).
- Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of their job (e.g., a clown, a strip-o-gram, an actor, Santa in a shop store at Christmas, etc.).
- Those that wear fancy dress costumes as a form of disguise (such as bank robbers dressed in the masks and clothes to hide their identities).
- Those who wear fancy dress costumes as a way of raising money (e.g., people in the London marathon who are sponsored while wearing ridiculous costumes).
- Those who wear fancy dress costumes as part of an external group event such as a group all dressing identically on a hen night/stag night, or groups of people that go to football matches or Test cricket matches. This could also apply to individuals who dress up as characters from plays or musicals while watching the said stage shows (e.g., dressing up like a Rocky Horror Picture Show character (e.g., Frank N. Furter) or dressing up like Dorothy while attending a Wizard of Oz ‘sing-a-long’ show). This might also apply to groups of people like the Furry Fandom who dress up as animals and meet up socially to explore different sides of their ‘fursona’ (i.e., their animal persona).
- Those that wear fancy dress costumes as part of sexual role-play or other sexual acts (for more detail, see my previous blogs on uniform fetishism and Nazi fetishism).
- Those that wear fancy dress as part of a cult or ritualistic event such as devil worship (although such people may argue that they are not dressing up but merely wearing their expected ‘uniform’).
- None of the above (e.g., people that wear fancy dress costumes as the result of losing a bet).
The reason for compiling a list like this was to get a better idea of what the psychological motivation is behind dressing in a fancy dress costume. Although most people might say that the main reason for dressing up in fancy dress is because it’s a fun and/or exciting thing to do, the list I compiled clearly shows the range of motivations is much greater than one might initially suspect. I’m not claiming that my list is exhaustive, but it shows that reasons for wearing costumes are many and varied. Reasons could be financial (to earn money, to raise money for charity), sexual (particular fancy dress outfits being arousing either to the wearer or the observer), psychological (feeling part of a united group, attention-seeking, exploring other facets of an individual’s personality), practical (concealing true identity while engaged in a criminal act), and/or idiosyncratic (trying to break a world record). For others it might be coercive (e.g., being forced to dress up as a form of sexual humiliation, or punishment for losing a bet).
One of the most well known social psychologists, Professor Michael Argyle made a passing reference to fancy dress in relation to self-identity his 1992 book The Social Psychology of Everyday Life. He noted:
“It is not only punks and skinheads who put on fancy dress; Scottish country dancers, bowls players, musicians and many others have their special costumes. Mass forms of leisure do not help to give a sense of identity, with the exception of supporting sports teams, which certainly does. It is the more engrossing and less common forms of leisure that do most for identity”.
It’s debatable whether this really refers to fancy dress but for some people, fancy dress will always be about either self-identity and/or group identity. I also came across an online article by British psychologist Dr. Catherine Tregoning that looked at what people engage in most at Halloween and what it says about them in relation to their occupation (I ought to add that the article was on a job-hunting website). At Halloween, do you watch horror films? Do you carve pumpkins? Do you go on ghost hunts? Do you like dressing up in Halloween costumes? If you do, Dr. Tregoning claimed that:
“This may mean you’re the type to keep reinventing yourself and often change career! Or do you operate in different guises in your current role, changing your personality and presenting your outward self differently according to who you’re with or the task in hand? Or do you need some form of escapism from your day job? If you’re good at acting a part on Halloween – then use your skills to “act” confident in an interview or “act” calm under pressure when delivering a presentation”
Another article by Rafael Behr published in The Guardian examined the politics and psychology of fancy dress. In relation the psychology, Behr’s views had some crossover with the interview I did with my local newspaper on the topic:
“Children love dressing up, especially in clothes that make them feel grown up. Adults like dressing up because it reminds them of that feeling of being children getting excited about dressing like a grownup. What this indicates is that actually being a grownup is generally overrated and involves spending a lot of time in disappointing clothes. Anyone who goes to a party in fancy dress will feel a pang of anxiety immediately before arrival that they have made a mistake and it is not a fancy dress party at all. If you have this feeling before arriving at a wedding or funeral, go home and change. Only senior members of the clergy are allowed to wear ridiculous clothes in churches”.
Finally, another online article that examined dressing up for Halloween was one by psychotherapist Joyce Matter who examined whether fancy dress costumes bring out a person’s alter ego (or as she termed it, an individual’s “shadow side”).
“Do we all reveal our shadow sides with our costume choices? Do those aspects of self that we have repressed express themselves uncontrollably when we are at Spirit Halloween? Perhaps…Expressive play can be one of the most cathartic experiences as well as giving us the freedom to discover hidden aspects of self that may contain valuable resources we are repressing. A refusal or inability to do so reveals difficulty with self-acceptance and perhaps a preoccupation with the opinions of others…Through my work as a therapist, I have come to believe the shadow side is not necessarily dormant characteristics that are negative—they often contain positive aspects of self which we have not been free to embody. Once we honor and integrate them, they can become powerful strengths”.
As an adult, I have never put on fancy dress for Halloween. In fact, the only time I have dressed up in anything approaching fancy dress was when I played a French butler during a murder mystery evening with friends. As there is no scientific research on the topic I don’t know if I am typical of middle-aged men or whether I am just content with my life that I don’t feel the need to act out or experiment within the confines of costume role-play.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Argyle, M. (1992). The Social Psychology of Everyday Life. London: Routledge
Behr, R. (2014). The rules: Fancy dress. The Guardian, January 25. Located: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/25/etiquette-guide-to-fancy-dress
Lyons, C. (2014). Dressing for the part. The Stylist. Located at: http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/dressing-for-the-part
Marter, J. (2013). Your Halloween costume may reveal your shadow side. Psych Central, October 6. Located at: http://blogs.psychcentral.com/success/2013/10/your-halloween-costume-may-reveal-your-shadow-side/
Mehmi, N. (2010). How to pick your fancy dress costume to attract the opposite sex. E-Zine Articles, December 3. Located at: http://ezinearticles.com/?How-To-Pick-Your-Fancy-Dress-Costume-To-Attract-The-Opposite-Sex&id=6485736
Tregoning, C. (2013). Halloween is coming!…..What your take on it might say about your career! Jobs.ac.uk, October 6. Located at: https://blogs.jobs.ac.uk/psychology/2013/10/06/halloween-is-coming-what-your-take-on-it-might-say-about-your-career/
Play to win: A brief look at competitive video gaming
To date, competitive gaming has not been widely researched or recognized in the scientific and professional literature on video games. As the name suggests, competitive gaming comprises players who regularly compete in tournaments organized and run by the gaming community, often for large monetary gains. Secondary benefits include the recognition and admiration of other gaming community members. Such tournaments are now often run by companies that host the events at large convention centers in major cities (e.g., New York City, Los Angeles, Seoul, etc.).
Despite three decades of worldwide growth in competitive gaming, little empirical investigation has catalogued these activities. Although empirical studies are lacking, studies have noted that competitive games now use Internet radio coverage with play-by-play commentaries, large-screen televised projections of game footage, sizeable live audiences, and cash prizes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For elite competitive gamers (i.e., professional gamers), the activity is a full-time job. Many games played competitively appear to demand high levels of sophistication in strategizing, planning, multi-tasking, and timing to master.
Academic studies have shown that certain competitive games, if used properly, can also promote prosocial behaviour and skill development. Furthermore, professional success in competitive gaming seemingly requires persistent practice and sophisticated skill sets. It is likely that these positive effects are more substantial than the effects of games played on a casual level. Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of gaming more generally in lieu of the positive effects of competitive gaming, particularly in relation to improved spatial cognitive benefits. Studies have also suggested that video games can provide an enriched medium for strategic problem solving. Other studies support the differences between novice and advanced levels of play in video games. For instance, research has demonstrated measurable differences between novice and expert game players, the latter group often demonstrating enhanced short-term memory, executive control/self-monitoring, pattern recognition, visual-spatial abilities (e.g., object rotation), and task-switching efficiency, along with more efficient problem-solving skills.
Competitive gaming has the potential to change the dynamics and motivations of gaming. For instance, if a player can make a financial living and career from playing a video game, it becomes an occupation rather than a hobby. This raises interesting questions about the role of context in excessive gaming and potential addiction. Although there is ongoing scientific debate on the nature and extent of adverse consequences associated with excessive digital technology use, I have noted (in a 2010 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction) that long hours of video game use alone do not indicate video game addiction (i.e., heavy use on its own is not a sufficient criterion for addiction). Therefore, in order to evaluate problematic video game use, researchers must consider possible negative consequences players are experiencing in their lives. When video game players are capable of financially supporting themselves from their play, this matter becomes more complex. For example, how would one categorize a professional video game player who was making over $100,000 per year playing video games, but was also experiencing social difficulties as a result of excessive video game use? This point is not meant to imply that a successful professional gamer is incapable of suffering pathological effects from game use, but rather to raise the distinct possibility that professional gamers will view their use as non-problematic due to the success they experience.
When it comes to competitive gaming, many players will play excessively and spend hours and hours every single day either practicing or competing. For many competitive gamers, their whole life is dominated by the activity and may impact on their relationships and family life. However, this does not necessarily mean they are addicted to playing the games because the excessive game playing is clearly a by-product of the activity being their job. However, it could perhaps be argued that they are addicted to their work (and in this case, their work comprises video game playing).
Workaholics have been conceptualized in different ways. For instance, in a 2011 review I published in The Psychologist, I noted that workaholics are typically viewed as one (or a combination) of the following. They are (i) viewed as hyper-performers, (ii) work as a way of stopping themselves thinking about their emotional and personal lives, and (iii) are over concerned with their work and neglect other areas of their lives. Some of these may indeed be applied to competitive gamers (particularly the reference to ‘hyper-performers’ and the fact that other areas of their lives may be neglected in pursuit of their ultimate goal). Some authors note that there is a behavioural component and a psychological component to workaholism. The behavioural component comprises working excessively hard (i.e., a high number of hours per day and/or week), whereas the psychological (dispositional) component comprises being obsessed with work (i.e., working compulsively and being unable to detach from work). Again, these behavioural and psychological components could potentially be applied to competitive gamers.
I have also noted that there are those who differentiate between positive and negative forms of workaholism. For instance, some (like myself) view workaholism as both a negative and complex process that eventually affects the person’s ability to function properly. In contrast, others highlight the workaholics who are totally achievement oriented and have perfectionist and compulsive-dependent traits. Here, the competitive gamer might be viewed as a more positive form of workaholism. Research appears to indicate there are a number of central characteristics of workaholics. In short, they typically: (i) spend a great deal of time in work activities, (ii) are preoccupied with work even when they are not working, (iii) work beyond what is reasonably expected from them to meet their job requirements, and (iv) spend more time working because of an inner compulsion, rather than because of any external factors. Again, some or all of these characteristics could be applied to competitive gamers.
Furthermore, competitive gaming is not the sole means by which proficient gamers can financially support themselves. Researchers (such as Dr. Edward Castranova) studying the economics of synthetic worlds (e.g., digital gaming environments) have observed that gamers also procure income by marketing virtual objects in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). These digital objects often include avatars, or characters controlled by players that interact with gaming environments and other players. Each avatar has unique physical attributes and skills that a player may select, purchase, and/or develop over many hours of game play (e.g., the gradual enhancement strength, speed, weapon-wielding abilities, etc.).
As noted above, competitive gamers are likely to play for extended periods of time and sacrifice other areas of their lives if they have the potential to make a living from gaming. This single-minded dedication may become a problem for some players because the goal of becoming a professional gamer is often unrealistic. There are currently no precise figures relating to the number of competitive game players, but anecdotal evidence suggests that few professional gamers generate sufficient income to support themselves financially. Although viability may change in the future, at present, the great majority of competitive gamers have little chance of becoming successful and financially independent professionals. For this reason (i.e., the motivation to become a professional), competitive gamers may be more susceptible to excessive use than the average video game player. Additionally, even successful professional gamers are likely to play for extended periods of time, as playing less than eight hours each day could mean that they are not practicing enough compared to other professional players. Those who work with (and treat) problematic video game players should keep this factor in mind (especially given that excessive video game use may increase as competitive gaming receives more bona fide recognition as a possible career choice).
Competitive gaming, as with video game playing more generally, has psychosocial advantages and disadvantages and is thus an important area to consider when evaluating gaming as a whole. It may be critical to include questions about competitive gaming (and context more generally) in measures evaluating the degree, extent, and “addictive” potential of video game use. Furthermore, it would appear essential for psychologists to inquire about competitive gaming in a clinical interview during which a client reports playing video games. If clients turn out to be competitive gamers, this will likely distinguish them in many ways from a person who simply plays video games excessively for fun and/or escape.
Various approaches and strategies could be used to stimulate research into competitive gaming. For example, studies could compare the abilities of professional or high-level competitive gamers with everyday or far less experienced gamers to better understand (a) similarities and contrasts in capacities, and (b) whether skills transfer to other domains. Another possibility is to utilize case studies of highly successful professional gamers. Such in-depth studies can generate descriptive information that can help in formulating hypotheses about potential differences between these individuals and non-competitive gamers and lead to better informed and more rigorous empirical investigations. How and why are some competitive gamers able to succeed while so many other players try and fail? Are some of these characteristics and skills (e.g., persistence and speed of mental processing) similar to those seen in professional athletes or others who are extremely successful in their occupations?
Competitive gaming may offer numerous benefits that could be more pronounced than the positive effects found when games are played casually. It may also be problematic, as competitive gamers might be more likely to sacrifice other areas of their lives if they believe they can become professional players. Most importantly, those researchers in the gaming studies field might keep in mind that competitive and professional gamers are a distinct population and may differ considerably (both psychologically and/or behaviorally) from casual gamers.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Additional input: Kyle Faust and Joseph Meyer
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Thriller killer: A brief look at BASE jumping
According to (the perhaps appropriately named Dr. Matt Pain and his colleague Matthew Pain in a 2005 issue of The Lancet), extreme sports are continuing to grow in popularity. I recounted my own experiences of bungee jumping in a previous blog but even that is tame compared to BASE jumping. A fairly recent 2012 paper by Erik Monasterio, Roger Mulder, Christopher Frampton and Omer Mei-Dan examined the personality characteristics of BASE Jumpers in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology (and on which my blog today is based).
According to Monasterio and colleagues, BASE jumping developed from skydiving (using specially adapted parachutes to jump from fixed objects). The acronym ‘B.A.S.E.’ was coined in the late 1970s by filmmaker Carl Boenish, his wife Jean Boenish, Phil Smith, and Phil Mayfield, and comprises the fixed objects that such individuals can jump off (i.e., Building, Antenna, Span [arch, bridge, or dome], and Earth (a natural formation such as a cliff). According to the Zero P website, there are only about 1,000-1,500 active BASE jumpers and less than 10,000 people have ever even made a BASE jump. Currently there are just over 1,000 people worldwide that have a BASE number. According to the Wikipedia entry, death rates from BASE jumping are high:
“BASE jumping as of 2006 has an overall fatality rate estimated at about one fatality per sixty participants. A study of 20,850 BASE jumps from the same site (the Kjerag Massif in Norway) reported 9 fatalities over the 11-year period from 1995 to 2005, or 1 in every 2,317 jumps. However, at that site, 1 in every 254 jumps over that period resulted in a nonfatal accident. BASE jumping is one of the most dangerous recreational activities in the world, with a fatality and injury rate 43 times higher than parachuting from a plane. As of 29 March 2014 the ‘BASE Fatality List’ maintained by ‘Blincmagazine.com’ records 228 deaths for BASE jumping since April 1981”.
Erk Monasterio and Omer Mei-Dan published a previous paper in the New Zealand Medical Journal and noted that BASE jumping was associated with a five- to 16-fold risk for death or injury when compared with skydiving. Monasterio and colleagues also reported that 72% of experienced BASE jumpers “had witnessed the death or serious injury of other participants in the sport in which 76% had at least one-near miss incident and only 6% had not sustained an injury, near-miss or witnessed a fatality from BASE jumping”. Consequently they argued that it was unsurprising widespread belief that “BASE jumpers are in some way unusual”.
Given how dangerous the sport is, Monasterio and his colleagues carried out the first ever research study into the personalities of BASE jumpers, and whether such personality factors play any contributing role in why BASE jumpers do what they do. Previous research into personality and extreme sports was summarized. Below is Monasterio et al’s summary with all but two of the academic papers cited removed:
“A number of studies have investigated the relationship between personality traits and participation in high-risk physical sports; sensation-seeking is by far the most consistently studied personality factor in the literature. Most of these studies have found that participants in high-risk sports tend to score higher on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking (SS) Scale compared to low risk sports participants and control groups. Zuckerman (1983) defines sensation seeking as ‘the need for varied, novel and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience’. In addition, a smaller number of studies have also considered other personality variables such as neuroticism, extraversion and conscientiousness. Castanier et al. (2010) investigated 302 men involved in high-risk sports (downhill skiing, mountaineering, rock climbing, paragliding, and skydiving) and found that personality types with a configuration of low conscientiousness combined with high extraversion and/or high neuroticism were greater risk-takers”.
What the majority of research studies examining relationships between extreme risk-taking sports and personality have done is investigate the role of sensation seeking. In Monasterio and colleagues’ view, the research carried out to date is “far too narrow as it only provides information about one aspect of personality and ignores other important personality factors that may contribute to participation in risk-taking sports and help to understand the motivation for sports risk-taking behavior in general”. Therefore, the aim of their study was to explore the possible psychobiological contribution to BASE jumping using the temperament and character inventory (TCI) developed by Dr. Robert Cloninger and colleagues in 1994.
For those of you that don’t know, the TCI is a self-report personality questionnaire that assesses both normal and abnormal variation in temperament and character. Monasterio and colleagues assessed their sample of BASE jumpers using the TCI-235 (a self-report questionnaire with 235 items assessing seven basic dimensions of temperament and character). The following text about the seven dimensions and definitions of temperament and character are taken verbatim from the paper:
“Temperament refers to the automatic emotional responses that are thought to be moderately heritable, independent, genetically homogenous and stable over time. There are four temperament dimensions:
- Novelty seeking (a tendency to activate or initiate new behaviors with a propensity to seek out new or novel experiences, impulsive decision-making, extravagance, quick loss of temper, and active avoidance of frustration).
- Harm avoidance (a tendency to inhibit behaviors with a propensity to worry in anticipation of future problems, fear of uncertainty, rapid fatigability, and shyness in the company of strangers).
- Reward dependence (a tendency to maintain behaviors manifested by dependency on the approval of others, social attachments, and sentimentality).
- Persistence (a tendency to be hard-working, industrious, and persistent despite frustration and fatigue
Character refers to self-concepts and individual differences in goals and values that can be influenced by social factors, learning, and the process of maturation. The character dimensions are as follows:
- Self-directedness (which refers to self-determination, personal integrity, self-integrity, and willpower).
- Cooperativeness (which refers to individual differences in identification with and acceptance of other people).
- Self-transcendence (which refers to feelings of religious faith, or viewing oneself as an integral part of the universe in other ways.”
Monasterio and colleagues hypothesized that BASE jumpers would score high on Novelty Seeking and score low on Harm Avoidance (compared to control data). To be included in the study sample, BASE jumpers had to have made at least ten BASE jumps, and been BASE jumping for over six months. The sample participants were recruited from international BASE jump group meetings, adventure website forums, and from personal communication among the international BASE jumping community. The final sample comprised 68 BASE jumpers (59 male; 39 single; mean age 34 years; 28 having sustained a significant injury from BASE jumping).
The results obtained were “partially in line” with the authors’ hypotheses. BASE jumpers did indeed have higher Novelty Seeking scores and lower Harm Avoidance scores. They also scored high on the Self Directedness dimension. However, the mean differences compared to normative data were “modest” and their findings suggested there was no “tightly defined personality profile” among their sample of BASE jumpers. The exception was that a 40% of the BASE jumpers had an extremely low Harm Avoidance score (compared to 5% of the control group). The authors concluded that the eight-fold increase in BASE jumpers suggests that:
“A large proportion have a temperament profile characterized by low [Harm Avoidance]. The finding of low [Harm Avoidance] is not surprising or counterintuitive, as individuals with low scores on this dimension are described as carefree, relaxed, daring, courageous, composed, and optimistic even in situations that worry most people. These individuals are described as outgoing, bold, and confident. Their energy levels tend to be high, and they impress others as dynamic, lively, and vigorous. The advantages of low [Harm Avoidance] are confidence in the face of danger and uncertainty, leading to optimistic and energetic efforts with little or no distress. The disadvantages are related to unresponsiveness to danger, which can lead to foolhardy optimism…In order to participate in extreme sports such as BASE jumping, participants require highly developed skills that can only be acquired by repeated and consistent practice over time, and after undergoing a fairly rigorous apprenticeship. As [Self Directedness] refers to self-determination and maturity, or the ability of an individual to control, regulate and adapt behavior to fit the situation in accord with individually chosen goals and values, it is unsurprising that BASE jumpers scored high on this measure. High [Self Directedness] with an emphasis on discipline and skill acquisition may also help to explain why BASE jumpers engage in risk taking behaviors by normative rather than impulsive/disorganized antisocial means (such as drug use and criminal behavior). Previous research has shown that a combination of high [Novelty Seeking] and low [Harm Avoidance] increases the risk of drug use”.
Despite the interesting findings, there were lots of methodological limitations in the study. The sample was very small (although the authors argued that it was relatively large given the small number of worldwide BASE jumpers – in fact they claimed it included 5-10% of all the world’s BASE jumpers), self-selected (i.e., not random), and relied on self-report (which is not always the most reliable testimony). The authors also pointed out that:
“All participants who volunteered were included. This may have led to selection bias and the sample may represent a population of particularly high-risk-taking BASE jumpers as 42% had suffered serious injury and 72% had witnessed fatality or serious accident, yet persisted in the sport. BASE jumpers who had experienced prior accidents may have been more motivated to share their experience and therefore more likely to participate in the study. As the study included only active jumpers, cautious BASE jumpers, who had given up the sport following an injury or a near-miss experience, may have been excluded. Alternatively, the sampling process may have excluded particularly high-risk groups as less experienced, more impulsive and higher risk taking jumpers may have been involved in fatal accidents at earlier stages of their BASE jumping careers and therefore were unavailable for inclusion in the study…An added limitation may be the forced-choice nature of the TCI questionnaire in which participants score either true or false for each question, whereas the answer may lie somewhere in the middle”.
Despite the limitations, the study is the first of its kind and provides a benchmark on which other studies can build. Engagement in extreme sports is likely to continue despite the high risk of injury or death. Knowing as much as we can about why people engage in such risky behaviour is clearly of great value psychologically.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Castanier, C., Le Scanff, C., & Woodman, T. (2010). Who takes risks in high-risk sports? A typological personality approach. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 81, 478–484.
Cloninger, C. R., Przybeck, T. R., Svrakic, D. M., & Wetzel, R. D. (1994a). Basic description of the personality scales. In C. R. Cloninger (Ed.), The Temperament and Character Inventory (TCI): A guide to its development and use (pp. 19–27). St Louis, MO: Center for Psychobiology of Personality, Washington University.
Monasterio, E., & Mei-Dan, O. (2008). Risk and severity of injury in a population of BASE jumpers. New Zealand Medical Journal, 121, 70–75.
Monasterio, E., Mulder, R., Frampton, C., & Mei-Dan, O. (2012). Personality characteristics of BASE jumpers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 24, 391-400
Pain, M.T., & Pain, M.A. (2005). Essay: Risk taking in sport. Lancet, 366, Suppl 1, S33–34.
Zuckerman, M. (1983). Sensation seeking and sports. Personality and Individual Differences, 4, 285–294.
Zuckerman, M., & Cloninger, C. R. (1996). Relationship between Cloninger’s, Zuckerman’s and Eysenck’s dimensions of personality. Personality and Individual Differences, 21, 283–285.