Category Archives: Crime

Don’t blame the game: Parents, videogame content, and age ratings

Back in March 2015, BBC News reported that parents of children in 16 Cheshire county schools had been sent a letter saying that head teachers would report them to the authorities if they allowed their children to play videogames that are rated for adults (i.e., games that have an ‘18’ rating). The teachers claimed that popular games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty are too violent to be played by those under the age of 18 years. They also stated that such games increased sexualised behaviour and left children vulnerable to sexual grooming. The schools also threatened to report parents who let their children play such games because it was a form of parental neglect. The author of the letter, Mary Hennessy Jones, was quoted as saying that:

“We are trying to help parents to keep their children as safe as possible in this digital era. It is so easy for children to end up in the wrong place and parents find it helpful to have some very clear guidelines”.

I’m sure the letter to parents was written with the best of intentions but as a parent of three ‘screenagers’ and someone that has spent almost three decades researching the effects of video games on human behaviour, this appears to be a very heavy-handed way to deal with the issue. Although it is illegal for any retailer to sell ‘18’ rated games to minors, it is not illegal for children to play such games, or illegal for parents to allow their children to play such games. Many parents need to be educated about the positives and negatives of playing video games but reporting them to the “authorities” is not the right way forward.

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Back in the early 1990s I was probably the only academic in the UK carrying out scientific research on children’s video game playing. In fact, I was proud of my role in getting age ratings onto all video games in the first place, and for writing the text for educational information leaflets for parents (outlining the effects of excessive playing of such games) sponsored by the National Council for Educational Technology. There are many positive benefits of playing video games (something that I wrote about in a previous article for The Conversation).

I know from first-hand experience that children often play games that are age-inappropriate. Two years ago, my (then) 13-year old son said he was the only boy in his class that did not play or own the Call of Duty video game. This is also borne out by research evidence. One study that I was involved in found that almost two-thirds of children aged 11- to 13-years of age (63%) had played an 18+ video game. Unsurprisingly, boys (76%) were more likely than girls (49%) to have played an 18+ video game. Children were also asked about how often they played 18+ video games. Of the two-thirds who had played them, 8% reported playing them “all the time”, 22% reported playing them “most of the time”, 50% reported playing them “sometimes”, 18% reported playing them “hardly ever”. Again, boys were more likely than girls to play 18+ video games more frequently. Children were asked how they got access to 18+ plus video games. The majority had the games bought for them by family or friends (58%), played them at a friend’s house (35%), swapped them with friends (27%), or bought games themselves (5%). This research certainly appears to suggest that parents and siblings are complicit in the playing of age-inappropriate games.

There is a growing amount of scientific literature that has examined the content of video games designed for adults. For instance, a study led by Dr. Kimberley Thompson and published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine attempted to quantify the depiction of violence, blood, sexual themes, profanity, substances, and gambling in adult (18+) video games and to assess whether the actual game content matched the content descriptor on the packaging. Although content descriptors for violence and blood provided a good indication of content in the 36 games examined, the authors concluded that 81% of the games studied (n=29) lacked content descriptors of other adult content. Other studies carried out by the same research team have found that adult content can be found in lots of games aimed at young children and teenagers.

Another study led by Dr. David Walsh published in Minerva Pediatrica tested the validity of media rating systems (including video games). Results showed that when the entertainment industry rated a product as inappropriate for children, parents also agreed that it was inappropriate. However, parents disagreed with many industry ratings that were designated as containing material as suitable for children. The products rated as appropriate for adolescents by the industry were of the greatest concern to parents.

The issue of children and adolescents playing 18+ games is no different from the debates about children and adolescents watching 18+ films. However, based on anecdotal evidence appears that parents are more likely to adhere to age ratings on films than they are on video games. This is one area that both media researchers and media educators need to inform parents to be more socially responsible in how they monitor their children’s leisure activity. A school sending out a threatening letter to parents is unlikely to change parental behaviour. Education and informed debate is likely to have a much greater effect in protecting our children from the potential harms of video game playing.

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

 Further reading

Anderson, C.A., Gentile, D.A., & Dill, K.E. (2012). Prosocial, antisocial and other effects of recreational video games. In D.G. Singer, & J.L. Singer (Eds), Handbook of Children and the Media, Second Edition, (pp. 249-272). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B.J., Sakamoto, A., Rothstein, H.R., & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in eastern and western countries: a meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 151-173.

Bartlett, C. P., Anderson, C.A. & Swing, E.L. (2009). Video game effects confirmed, suspected and speculative: A review of the evidence. Simulation and Gaming, 40, 377-403.

Ferguson, C. J. (2007). Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: A meta analytic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12, 470-482.

Ferguson, C. J. (2013). Violent video games and the supreme court: Lessons for the scientific community in the wake of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association. American Psychologists, 68, 57-74.

Ferguson, C. J., San Miguel, S. & Hartley, T. (2009).  Multivariate analysis of youth violence and aggression: The influence of family, peers, depression and media violence. Journal of Paediatrics, 155, 904-908.

Gentile, D. A. & Stone, W. (2005). Violent video game effects in children and adolescents: A review of the literature. Minerva Pediatrics, 57, 337-358.

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Video games and aggression: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 4, 203-212.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Video game violence and aggression: Comments on ‘Video game playing and its relations with aggressive and prosocial behaviour’ by O. Weigman and E.G.M. van Schie. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 147-149.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Age ratings on video games: Are the effective? Education and Health, 28, 65-67.

Griffiths, M.D. & McLean, L. (in press). Content effects: Online and offline games. In P. Roessler (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Media Effects. Chichester: Wiley.

Grüsser, S.M., Thalemann, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Excessive computer game playing: Evidence for addiction and aggression?  CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 290-292.

Ivory, J.D., Colwell, J., Elson, M., Ferguson, C.J., Griffiths, M.D., Markey, P.M., Savage, J. & Williams, K.D. (2015). Manufacturing consensus in a divided field and blurring the line between the aggression concept and violent crime. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 4, 222–229.

McLean, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). The psychological effects of videogames on young people. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 31(1), 119-133.

McLean, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Violent video games and attitudes towards victims of crime: An empirical study among youth. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 2(3), 1-16.

Mehroof, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online gaming addiction: The role of sensation seeking, self-control, neuroticism, aggression, state anxiety and trait anxiety. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13, 313-316.

Come undone: The strange case of the ‘ejaculate fetishist’

In a previous blog I briefly examined semen fetishes and the acts of ‘bukkake’ (most commonly seen in hard core pornographic films where a group of men all simultaneously ejaculate over a women or man), and ‘gokkun’ (where a man or woman consumes the semen of one or more men from a drinking receptacle, e.g., cups, glasses, beakers, etc.). In that article I noted that while there is a fair amount of (non-academic) literature about bukkake, references to semen fetishes appear to be rare with nothing published in academic journals.

However, since writing that article, a case study of a 39-year old man with an ‘ejaculate fetish’ was published in the Journal of Psychiatry by three Turkish medics (Dr. Safak Taktak, Dr. Mustafa Karakus and Dr. Salih Murat Eke) –  ‘The Man Whose Fetish Object is Ejaculate: A Case Report’. (In fact, Dr. Taktak has published a number of interesting case studies of paraphilic behaviour including shoe fetishism and paraphilias more generally [see ‘Further reading’ below]). Following a crime of molestation, the man had been arrested by Turkish police. (In fact, it turned out the man had already spent 10 years in prison for armed robbery when he was in his twenties and was released from jail when he was 31 years old).

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The judicial authorities demanded that the man had to undergo a psychiatric assessment because one of his behaviours was the buying of ejaculate from young men that he would then smear on his genitals for sexual satisfaction. The act of smearing semen on his body had begun in prison when he would smear semen on bodily wounds and provided (presumably therapeutic) relief (as the prison did not provide medicine or cream for bodily injuries). The paper also claimed that the act of taking semen from each other and applying it to wounds and sores was commonplace in the prison he was at. Following his release from prison, he continued the habit and “became obsessed with it and he bought semen from different people on a monthly basis and spread it on the genital area”. Fifteen days prior to his psychiatric assessment, he was accused of molesting a 16-year old adolescent while trying to buy semen from him. The adolescent was reported as saying:

“A man held my arm and said that he had a job for me and he would give money if I do that job. I told him if I can do, I would do. He said he would be there [an hour and a half] later, and told me to find him. After he came, he told me that he buys human sperm, and asked me if I give him sperm, which surprised me a lot. Then he took three or four plastic bags out of the pocket of his jacket full of white things. He said these bags are the sperms that he bought from three or four kids. In exchange of sperm, he gave things like money, stereos and televisions”.

The adolescent’s father found out what had happened to his son and caught the man who had wanted his son’s semen. The man told the father that he wanted the semen to alleviate itchiness. During the psychiatric examination by the authors, the man was described as having mildly depressive emotions, natural psychomotor activity, sufficient cognitive function, and no delusions and/or hallucinations. He also had a history of alcohol and marijuana abuse (but since leaving prison he had stopped abusing these substances). Using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) the authors said he had inconsistent behaviour, difficulty in controlling his impulses, was angry and short tempered, displayed antisocial behaviour, was sexually deviant, had obsessive sexual thoughts, was socially isolated, and had a negative self-perception. They also wrote that his psychological profile suggested an antisocial or schizoid personality disorder.

The paper also noted that his father has also been in prison on a number of occasions, and that his mother and her relatives looked after him and his younger brother, and that they had “a hard life” while growing up. From the age of 11-12 years old, he started masturbating regularly (sometimes a few times a day). During early adolescence he began engaging in frotteurism (rubbing his genitals up against other people) particularly on bus journeys. Now, as a man, he claimed he could not masturbate without the use of other people’s semen. He began buying other individuals’ semen when he got out of prison (“from 30 young men in exchanges for money”) and always carried semen with him wherever he went.

The authors noted that unlike most other fetishes, the sexualisation of semen as a fetish did not occur until he was in prison (i.e., adulthood rather than childhood or adolescence). I’m not sure why (based on the evidence in the paper) but they also speculated that the man’s semen fetish was used to overcome low self-esteem and a sense of failure” and that the fetish behaviour “occurred from a trauma caused by the bad attitude of [his] parents at an early age, and [that] such negative experiences contributed to the emergence of fetish behavior”. The paper also claimed that: “He discovered the fetish object to deal with the anger for the negative events he faced when he was in prison for ten years for armed robbery. Impulse control is likely to be impaired because of the adverse conditions created by the prison”.

They also described the man’s semen fetish as a “mental illness” (in fact, the paper seemed to imply that all fetishes are mental illnesses which is clearly not the case as most non-normative sex is non-problematic for those engaging in such behaviour). However, by diagnosing the man has having a mental illness, it meant that he was not mentally competent enough to stand trial. The paper concluded that:

“In our case, the number of [victims] is few, but [our patient is] respectively harmless to the victims and not dangerous. He cannot control his urges and behaviors. For [these] kind of cases, generally, diminished criminal responsibility is decided but for this case, it was decided that he has no criminal responsibility”.

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

Further reading

BBC News (2010). Israel jails man for ‘holy semen’ sex abuse. April 26. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8644637.stm

Kuro5hin (2002). A modern craving. August 5. Located at: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/8/5/71044/01543

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(3), 276.

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., Kaplan, A., & Eke, S.M. (2015) Shoe fetishism and kleptomania comorbidity: A case report. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2, 14-19.

Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Unsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20 years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, in press.

Wikipedia (2012). Bukkake. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bukkake

Wikipedia (2012). Gokkun. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gokkun

No laughing matter: A brief look at scary clowns and coulrophobia

A few days ago, the Nottingham Trent University Press Office asked if I would be interested in speaking to BBC Online News about coulrophobia (i.e., a fear of clowns). Obviously this is not my specialist area and the only article I’ve ever written about clown psychology was a previous blog on coulrophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from clowns) and an article on the psychology of fancy dress. It turned out that the BBC were writing a story about the British police being inundated with clowns scaring people by jumping out and chasing them. More specifically, the story claimed:

“Police across England have been called to dozens of incidents in which pranksters dress as ‘creepy clowns’ to deliberately scare people. The culprits are said to be following a trend that started in the US [and has spread to other countries, including Canada, Australia and France]. A 30-year-old man was arrested in Norwich after someone dressed as a clown jumped out from behind a tree and “terrified” a woman in a public park. On Sunday Thames Valley Police said it had been called to 14 incidents in 24 hours. In County Durham on Friday, four children were followed to school by a man in a clown outfit who was armed with what turned out to be a plastic machete. In a separate clowning caper in County Durham on Friday, police in Peterlee posted a photo on their Facebook page of items including two masks confiscated from two 12-year-olds who officers said had gone to a primary school to scare children. Meanwhile, in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, a man dressed as a clown and carrying a baseball bat was reported to have chased a 10-year-old child through a park. Gloucestershire Police said it had received six reports of ‘clowns’ behaving suspiciously or carrying knives. In one instance a child was followed. A cyclist in Eastbourne, Sussex, was left ‘shaken’ after someone dressed as a clown jumped out from a bush brandishing what he believed was an offensive weapon. And in Sudbury, Suffolk, a boy was chased by “several people dressed as clowns”.

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As there was little academic research in coulrophobia, I felt I was as qualified as anyone to speculate on the roots of coulrophobia. I told the BBC that clowns tend to be scary because of their exaggerated looks and evil representation in films. Obviously, the vast majority of individuals are not scared of clowns in a day-to-day context but a clown’s face has become part of a scare culture. I noted that there is a stereotype of the nasty, evil, eerie clown. If you look at clowns facially what you tend to find is part of their face or feet are exaggerated, they have huge noses, scary mouths, huge elongated shoes, and wildfire hair. I also made reference to the cinematic trope of the evil clown. If you look at everything from Heath Ledger as The Joker in Batman to the clown in Stephen King‘s It. These clowns or characters with clown faces are either killers or they are doing really nasty things. Even if you have not come into contact with clowns, you’re likely to be influenced by what you see in television and films. According to the Wikipedia entry on coulrophobia:

“Clown costumes tend to exaggerate the facial features and some body parts, such as hands and feet and noses. This can be read as monstrous or deformed as easily as it can be read as comical. The significant aberrations in a clown’s face may alter a person’s appearance so much that it enters the so-called ‘uncanny valley’ in which a figure is lifelike enough to be disturbing, but not realistic enough to be pleasant—and thus frightens a child so much that they carry this phobia throughout their adult life. According to psychology professor Joseph Durwin at California State University, Northridge, young children are ‘very reactive to a familiar body type with an unfamiliar face. Researchers who have studied the phobia believe there is some correlation to the uncanny valley effect. Additionally, the fact that much clown behavior is ‘transgressive’ (anti-social behavior) can create feelings of unease”.

A couple of weeks ago after the spate of US clown attacks, Professor Frank McAndrew wrote an article for The Conversation on the psychology of what creeps us out about clowns. He compared his own thinking to that of the Canadian psychologist Dr. Rami Nader. More specifically, Professor McAndrew noted:

“[Dr. Nader] believes that clown phobias are fueled by the fact that clowns wear makeup and disguises that hide their true identities and feelings. This is perfectly consistent with my hypothesis that it is the inherent ambiguity surrounding clowns that make them creepy. They seem to be happy, but are they really? And they’re mischievous, which puts people constantly on guard. People interacting with a clown during one of his routines never know if they are about to get a pie in the face or be the victim of some other humiliating prank. The highly unusual physical characteristics of the clown (the wig, the big red nose, the makeup, the odd clothing) only magnify the uncertainty of what the clown might do next”.

No-one knows why the spate of clown attacks have occurred in the UK (or elsewhere). My own take on it is that the flurry of media stories about the phenomenon has probably contributed to some copycat cases (which then led one news story to the headline based on my radio interview with Talk Radio: Killer clown attacks: Leading professor says sensationalist media has fuelled ‘Clownpocalypse’”) although there are likely to be other reasons (given that Halloween is coming up). As a psychologist I am far more interested in why someone would attack others dressed as a clown in the first place.

Here, I see a lot of similarities with online behaviour in that dressing up as a character is like the taking on of another persona when people are online carrying out anti-social acts such as trolling. While the psychological core and personality of an individual online or dressed up in an outfit with a mask (or thick hideous make-up) is still that same person, the anonymity provided by the nature of online interactions and the anonymity provided by wearing a different face or mask both lead to the person becoming more disinhibited and doing things that they would never do in a normal face-to-face situation. In essence, such people are taking on other identities – at least momentarily – and carrying out anti-social acts that they would normally not do. However, there will also be those who carry out such attacks because they get crazed and/or sadistic pleasure from doing so. Their motives may be as simple as boredom, revenge and/ or just wanting to ‘have a laugh’ – the main motives that have been found in my own research among people who troll online.

The current spate of clown attacks may well die down as quickly as they have come about and I’m sure as the media reporting decreases there will be less of such attacks (at least I am hoping so).

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

Further reading

BBC News (2016). ‘Creepy clown’ police warnings as craze spreads. October 10, Located at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37605841

Dolan, L. (2016). Killer clown attacks: Leading professor says sensationalist media has fuelled ‘Clownpocalypse’. Talk Radio, October 11. Located at: http://talkradio.co.uk/news/killer-clown-attacks-leading-professor-says-sensationalist-media-has-fuelled-clownpocalypse#eO77SQMbGBWXECHO.99

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Adolescent trolling in online environments: A brief overview. Education and Health, 32, 85-87.

Hayden, D. (2016). ‘Creepy clowns’ craze: Professionals hit out at pranksters. BBC News, October 11. Located at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37611993

McAndrew, F.T. (2016). The psychology behind why clowns creep us out. The Conversation, September 29. Located at: https://theconversation.com/the-psychology-behind-why-clowns-creep-us-out-65936

Thacker, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory study of trolling in online video gaming. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 2(4), 17-33.

Wikipedia (2016). Coulrophobia. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coulrophobia

Wikipedia (2016). Uncanny valley. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

Zidbits (2011). Why are some people afraid of clowns? October 20. Located at: http://zidbits.com/2011/10/why-are-some-people-afraid-of-clowns/

Confession session: The psychology of apology

(Please note: The following blog is an extended version of an article that was first published earlier this year in the Nottingham Post).

Back in March 2016, Nottingham Labour Councillor Alan Rhodes made a public apology after the former social worker Andris Logins was jailed for 20 years for rape and abuse of children at a Nottinghamshire care home. Mr Rhodes said: “It was our role to keep children safe and we clearly didn’t” and that “we failed in our duty of care”. Although most of us apologise for all sorts of things each day, it’s becoming increasingly common for a ‘non-celebrities’ to say sorry in a public way – particularly for historical events that the person giving the apology had no part in.

There are three main ways of saying sorry. The first is the apology with no excuse, when we don’t try to justify what we’ve done. We simply take full responsibility and promise it will never happen again. Secondly, there’s the excuse apology when we say we’re sorry but also add it wasn’t our fault. For instance, we might blame someone else, an accident, human error, or a lapse of judgement. With the third type of apology, we don’t feel we’ve done wrong, but offer some sort of justification. If we’ve wronged someone, we might say they deserved it. We might even feel what we’ve done is so trivial it’s not even worth bothering about. Dr. Aaron Lazare, author of the 2005 book On Apology, says that an apology is one of the most profound interactions that two human beings can have between one another

But why do we apologise? Psychologist Dr. Guy Winch views apologies as linguistic tools that help us acknowledge violations of social expectations and norms. He also says that apologies help us take direct responsibility for the impact of our actions on other individuals and provide a way of asking for forgiveness. Consequently, we are able to repair our relationships with those individuals, restore our own social standing, and help ease guilt and/or shame. Confessing and saying sorry is a simple way to get rid of all those negative feelings. The guilt created by transgressions, such as lying on a CV, or cheating in an exam, can eat away at some people for years.

There also appear to be gender differences. Research studies have tended to find that women appear to say sorry far more than men, because men feel they’re ‘one down’ to someone if they offer an apology. In contrast, women will say sorry for things they haven’t done because they prefer to smooth things over quickly and keep relationships going. However, the differences may be more nuanced. One study found no differences between men and women in the number of the proportion of offenses that prompted apologies but men apologized less frequently than women because they had a higher threshold for what constitutes offensive behaviour. Another study found that men apologized more frequently to women than they did to other men.

We also appear to have developed a ‘confessional culture’ over recent years in which celebrities and politicians are keener than ever to publicly admit to their private indiscretions. It could be that we’re more forgiving of public figures and that because we know more about the pressures of fame, we empathise with them. Another reason might be we no longer care because we don’t think what someone does in the private life affects their job. One thing we do expect from public figures is for their apologies to be sincere.

Arguably one of the most high profile examples was former US president Bill Clinton and his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Although Clinton continually denied for seven months any such relationship, when he eventually said sorry in August 1998, it was seen as sincere and many people sympathised with him. By apologising sincerely, or appearing to, public figures demonstrate they’re human, with weaknesses just like the rest of us.

bill-clinton-monica-lewinsky

These days, celebrities are quick to admit to what they’ve done. Lots of actors, comedians, singers and sports people have confessed to their addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling before checking into high profile clinics like The Priory. For some, it’s no doubt a cynical move to help their public image. By apologising promptly, they’re seen as being brave, and any bad publicity will die down more quickly. Those who offer belated, grudging apologies see their image suffer.

Apologies can also help those who receive them. Police forces up and down the country have piloted schemes where criminals are confronted by their victims and offered a chance to apologies (known as ‘restorative justice’). Many victims say the one thing they’d really appreciate is an apology, and they’re often grateful to receive on. As the saying goes, “sorry seems to be the hardest word” but it has the potential to mean so much to so many.

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

Further reading

Bachman, G. F., & Guerrero, L. K. (2006). Forgiveness, apology, and communicative responses to hurtful events. Communication Reports, 19(1), 45-56.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Saying sorry can make you feel so much better. The Sunday Post, January 23, p. 30-31.

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sorry may be the hardest word but more people than ever are saying it. Nottingham Post, April 11, p.14.

Fehr, R., & Gelfand, M.J. (2010). When apologies work: How matching apology components to victims’ self-construals facilitates forgiveness. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113(1), 37-50.

Frantz, C.M., & Bennigson, C. (2005). Better late than early: The influence of timing on apology effectiveness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41(2), 201-207.

Lazare, A. (2005). On Apology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scher, S. J., & Darley, J. M. (1997). How effective are the things people say to apologize? Effects of the realization of the apology speech act. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 26(1), 127-140.

Struthers, C. W., Eaton, J., Santelli, A. G., Uchiyama, M., & Shirvani, N. (2008). The effects of attributions of intent and apology on forgiveness: When saying sorry may not help the story. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(4), 983-992.

Takaku, S. (2001). The effects of apology and perspective taking on interpersonal forgiveness: A dissonance-attribution model of interpersonal forgiveness. Journal of Social Psychology, 141(4), 494-508.

Takaku, S., Weiner, B., & Ohbuchi, K.I. (2001). A cross-cultural examination of the effects of apology and perspective taking on forgiveness. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 20(1-2), 144-166.

Winch, G. (2013). Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts. London: Penguin.

“Just one more thing”: The psychology of ‘Columbo’

My favourite TV detective has always been Columbo (played by Peter Falk). I have watched every single one of the 69 episodes (as my family will attest) many times. While I am working, I will often have Columbo on in the background in the way that other people have music on in the background (although I do the latter as well). For those reading this that have not come across Columbo, here is a brief synopsis from Wikiquote:

“Columbo (1968, 1971-1978, 1989-2003) was an American crime fiction television show about Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He uses his deferential and absent-minded persona to lull criminal suspects into a false sense of security, by harassing and pestering suspects non-stop – without letting them know that they’re suspects – under the pretense that he’s simply being a pesky detective, in order to spy on them and agitate them into giving up clues”.

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I have asked myself many times why I love the iconic show so much and it’s hard to put my finger on any single reason. One of the things I love about the show is that almost all the episodes are a ‘reverse whodunit’ (often referred to as an ‘open mystery’) in which the viewer knows the identity of the murderer(s) and we watch to see how Lt. Columbo uncovers who the killer or killers are. (I say “almost all” because there are actually a few episodes that are more typical ‘whodunits’ such as 1976’s ‘Last Salute To The Commodore’, 1992’s ‘No Time To Die’ [involving a kidnapping rather than a murder] and 1994’s ‘Undercover’). Another aspect I love is the inherent contradictions in Lt. Columbo’s day-to-day behaviour. His dishevelled clothing (the infamous beaten-up raincoat), his apparently bumbling absent-minded nature, and his habit of going off-topic in conversations, but knowing that he is actually one of the most astute and clever detectives that you are ever likely to meet (he would no-doubt fit the description of the stereotypical ‘absent-minded professor’). As a psychologist I find him fascinating. As an article about Columbo on the Cult TV Lounge rightly notes:

“The emphasis is on the psychological duel between detective and suspect, with (mercifully) no interest in social commentary and few concessions to the ‘realism’ that would become more and more of a fetish in TV cop shows during the course of the 70s. This is pure entertainment and it’s all the better for it”.

And finally, it is Lt. Columbo’s brilliant trademark ‘false exits’ that wrongfoot all the murderers. After most informal interrogations with the murderer, Columbo leaves the scene, only to return a few seconds later with the opening gambit of “there’s just one more thing” (or a variant of the phrase) only for it to be the most important question that he “forgot to ask”. As an obituary at the In The Dark website on Peter Falk noted:

“The more trivial the “thing” is, the more damning it proves. As an application of psychology, it’s a superb tactic and it slowly but surely grinds down the criminal’s resistance. Often the murderer’s exasperation at Columbo’s relentless badgering leads to rash actions and errors; the second murder, if there is one, is never as carefully planned as the first”.

As the selected (emboldened) quotes above show, psychology is an integral part of Columbo’s appeal. I was also surprised to find that clinical psychologists and forensic psychologists have used Lt. Columbo’s modus operandi in their day-to-day work. (In fact, even some writers claim that if you want to be a better writer you should watch Columbo according to an article by Shahan Mufti in the New York Times; also, a number of marketing gurus claim that Lt. Columbo can teach marketers a thing or two – check out ‘10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo’). For instance, in an article on motivational interviewing (MI) via the Australian Mental Health Academy describe the ‘Columbo approach’:

“Proponents of motivational interviewing owe a debt of gratitude to the 1970s television series Columbo…[Columbo] was a master of the skill of ‘deploying discrepancies’, and MI therapists/practitioners can use the same skill to get clients to help them make sense of their (the clients’) discrepancies. With the Columbo approach, an interviewer makes a curious enquiry about discrepant behaviours without being judgmental or blaming. In a non-confrontational manner, information that is contradictory is juxtaposed, allowing the therapist to address discrepancies between what clients say and their behaviour without evoking defensiveness or resistance. Wherever possible when deploying discrepancies, practitioners are encouraged to end the reflection on the side of change, as clients are more likely to elaborate on the last part of the statements”

The article then goes on to explicitly describe specific MI interventions using the ‘Columbo approach’. Another online article by Greg Lhamon (‘A simple trick to make a powerful last impression’) describes the ‘Columbo Technique’. Here is an abridged version:

“One way in which you can leave someone with a powerful last impression is to use…“the Columbo Technique”…named after the lovable yet shrewd TV detective from the 1970s…He was unassuming and appeared almost absent-minded as he questioned a murder suspect. Yet his seemingly random line of questioning was the process by which he built an airtight case against the suspect. At the conclusion of every interview, he did something unique: he’d thank the suspect profusely, step toward the door, stop, and then turn back, and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” Then he’d ask one last question, a particularly damning question that let the suspect know that Lieutenant Columbo was onto him. Like every form of good communication, sincerity is critical. It cannot be contrived. The goal is simply to make a strong, memorable point, not to manipulate someone. The process is simple: (1) hold back a critical piece of information and reserve it for the end of the meeting, (2) right before you part company, share the information or ask a question, and (3) enjoy the response you receive”.

A 2009 article in the American Bar Association Journal reported that the best way to interrogate a suspect is to ‘Think Columbo’. The advice given was that police should focus on what suspects say rather than their behaviour (such as fidgeting, sweating, and averting eyes during an interview). After reviewing interrogation tapes, Professor Ray Bull, a British forensic psychologist told the Times newspaper that British police use an investigative interviewing technique:

“These interviews sound much more like a chat in a bar. It’s a lot like the old Columbo show, you know, where he pretends to be an idiot but he’s gathered a lot of evidence.”

The ABA article also included comments from American psychologist Kevin Colwell, who said that suspects that lie in police interviews “often prepare a script that doesn’t have much detail”. Colwell recommended using interview techniques where the individual undergoing questioning should talk about the event in question more than once “adding details in retelling the event about things such as sounds and smells” and asking the person “to recall the event in reverse” and that:

“Those who tell the truth tend to add 20% to 30% more external detail than do those who are lying. Those who are adept at lying may start to feel more strain if the interviewer introduces evidence throughout the questioning that has been previously uncovered. Detective Columbo, it turns out, was not just made for TV”.

Another reason I love Columbo because a number of episodes featured psychologists and/or psychiatrists as the killer, most of who used their psychological expertise to carry out an ingenious murder. This included the episodes ‘Prescription Murder’ (1968 – the first ever episode; Dr. Ray Flemming who uses his high intelligence rather than his psychiatric expertise to murder his wife), ‘Double Exposure’ (1973; Dr. Bart Kepple, a consumer psychologist who uses subliminal advertising to lure his victim to be killed), ‘A Deadly State Of Mind’ (1975; Dr. Marcus Collier, a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to make his victim jump from a high rise apartment), ‘How To Dial A Murder’ (1978; Dr. Eric Mason, a behavioural psychologist who uses classical conditioning to train his dogs to kill his victim), and ‘Sex And The Married Detective’ (1998; Dr. Joan Allenby, a sex therapist who uses her knowledge of psychosexual roleplay to ensnare and kill her lover). In one episode (‘How To Dial A Murder’), Columbo and the psychologist Dr. Eric Mason have an interesting exchange:

Dr. Eric Mason: You’re a fascinating man, Lieutenant. Columbo: To a psychologist, sir? Dr. Eric Mason: You pass yourself off as a puppy in a raincoat happily running around the yard digging holes all up in the garden, only you’re laying a mine field and wagging your tail.

As an ex-Professor of Gambling Studies, another aspect that I have noticed is how many episodes of Columbo feature gamblers and gambling that are often integral to the storyline. Gambling is a key feature in the episodes ‘Double Shock’ (1973; the murderer Norman Paris, a banker, is featured at a Las Vegas casino running up gambling debts), ‘A Friend in Deed’ (1974; the murderer Mark Halperin, a deputy police commissioner, is shown in his opening scene to be a regular casino gambler), ‘Uneasy Lies The Crown’ (1990; the murderer, Dr. Wesley Corman is a dentist and a compulsive gambler), ‘Death Hits The Jackpot’ (1991; photographer and murder victim Freddy Brower wins a $30 million on the lottery and is killed by his uncle Leon Lamarr), ‘A Bird In The Hand’ (1992; would-be murderer Harold McCain, a compulsive gambler tries to murder his millionaire uncle, owner of a US football team), ‘All in The Game’ (1993; murder victim Nick Franco is a playboy and high stakes poker player killed by his lover Laura Staton), and ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (1995; Randy McVeigh the murder victim owes money for gambling debts to the Mafia and is killed by his brother Graham who has ‘inherited’ his brother’s debt).

In another episode (‘Troubled Waters’, 1975), it turns out that the killer (Hayden Danzinger, an autocar executive) is also a regular casino gambler but this only comes to light late in the episode when Lt. Columbo talks to his wife (Sylvia Danzinger). Here we learn that Lt. Columbo thinks about slot machines:

Columbo: You see that fellow over there playing the slot machines? Waste of money. I’ve played it 44 times. I won once right at the beginning and I never won again. Sylvia Danzinger: You can’t beat ‘em. I don’t even try. Columbo: You’re not a gambler? Sylvia Danzinger: No, I prefer more quiet activities. Columbo: That’s funny. I was under the impression you and your husband went to Las Vegas quite a few times. Sylvia Danzinger: Oh, no. Hayden goes often but without me. I wouldn’t be caught dead there.

I’ve often wondered if gambling was an important issue (positive or negative) for Peter Falk in his private life, because when he wasn’t playing Lt. Columbo, it wasn’t unusual for him to be in gambling-related acting roles. Most notably, he played an ageing bookmaker Vinnie in the 1988 film Money Kings (also known under the title Vig, a film about the illegal world of gambling), and the 1988 film Pronto he played Harry Arno, a sports bookmaker who stole money from the local mafia boss Jimmy Capatorto. He also played the poker player Waller in a 1960 episode of Have Gun – Will Travel (‘Poker Fiend‘), and in the 1970 film Husbands he played Archie Black, one of three men undergoing mid-life crises following the death of their friend who then who all go to Europe to gamble, drink, and womanise.

If you’ve got this far, I’ll just leave you with the answers to a couple of my favourite Columbo trivia questions. The most asked question concerning Lt. Columbo (like Inspector Morse) is what was his first name. (When asked the same question in the series itself, Columbo would answer ‘Lieutenant’!). Lt. Columbo never once revealed his first name verbally in the series but did once flash his police badge in an early episode (‘Dead Weight’; Episode 3, Series 1) and accidentally revealed his name was Frank. The second most asked question is how Peter Falk lost his eye. Falk had his eye removed at the age of three years (due to cancer) and had a glass eye for the rest of his life. Although Falk had a glass eye, fans debated for years whether Lt. Columbo had only one eye. The answer was revealed in the 25th anniversary episode (‘A Trace of Murder’) when Lt. Columbo asked the murderer (Patrick Kinsley, a forensic expert) to look at something with him because “three eyes are better than one”!

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

Further reading

Burns, S. (2016). The Columbo Episode Guide. Located at: http://www.columbo-site.freeuk.com/episode.htm

Changing Minds (2013). The Columbo Technique. Located at: http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/columbo_technique.htm

Dawidziak, M. (1989). The Columbo Phile. Mysterious Press.

D For Doom (2015). Columbo, Season 1 (1971). Cult TV Lounge, July 3. Located at: http://cult-tv-lounge.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/columbo-season-one-1971.html

Haynes, N. (2012). Guide to TV detectives: No.1. The Guardian, January 23. Located at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/jan/23/natalie-haynes-detectives-columbo

Henley, J. (2013). 10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo – yes, Columbo. Rock The Deadline, November 24. Located at: http://rockthedeadline.com/blog/content-marketing/10-things-marketers-can-learn-from-columbo-yes-columbo/

Mental Health Academy (2015). Principles and techniques of motivational interviewing. January 12. Located at: http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/principles-and-techniques-of-motivational-interviewing/

Mufti, S. (2013). Want to write better? Watch Columbo. New York Times (The 6th Floor), September 25. Located at: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/want-to-write-better-watch-columbo/?_r=2

Telescoper (2011). In memorium: Peter Falk (1927-2011). In The Dark, https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/in-memoriam-peter-falk-1927-2011/

Weiss, D.C. (2009). The best way to interrogate: Think Columbo. American Bar Association, May 12. Located at: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/the_best_way_to_interrogate_think_columbo/

Wikipedia (2016). Columbo. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbo

Wikipedia (2016). List of Columbo episodes. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Columbo_episodes

Wikipedia (2016). Peter Falk. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Falk

Wikiquote (2016). Columbo. Located at: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Columbo

Getting to the point: A brief look at injection fetishes

In a previous blog I examined ‘medical fetishism’. One of the sub-types of medical fetishism comprises individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from being the recipients of a medical or clinical procedure (typically some kind of bodily examination). This includes genital and urological examinations (e.g., a gynaecological examination), genital procedures (e.g., fitting a catheter or menstrual cup), rectal procedures (e.g., inserting suppositories, taking a rectal temperature, prostate massage), the application of medical dressings and accessories (e.g., putting on a bandage or nappy, fitting a dental retainer, putting someone’s arm in plaster), and the application and fitting of medical devices (e.g., fitting a splint, orthopaedic cast or brace).

One type of medical fetish that I did not mention was that involving individuals that have ‘injection fetishes’. Obviously this fetish appears to be a very niche sexual behaviour within medical fetishism but there are various online forums and websites that cater for individuals who derive sexual pleasure from the giving or receiving of injections (or watching such acts). For instance, there is a dedicated forum within the Voy.com website where individuals share their injection stories, the Real Injection website (which features stories and clips from films and news stories where injections are administered), the Needing Needles page on Tumblr (which mainly consists of photographic pictures featuring hypodermic needles), The Injection Girls website (which doesn’t appear to be overtly sexual but would be highly arousing for those with an injection fetish), the Fetish Clinic website (featuring lots of medical fetish videos including injections), and even a dedicated Facebook page on the topic.

In researching this article I came across many online accounts (of various degrees of detail) of people claiming to have an injection fetish. I can’t vouch for the veracity of the statements but they appeared genuine to me:

  • Extract 1: “I am an injection fetish person. [I] Iike to watch injection pictures [and] videos particularly a female being the administrator”.
  • Extract 2: “At [the] age of 18 [years] I was hospitalized for a week. I had to [have an] injection every day [from a] nurse…On [the] first two days she told me to lower my pants [to give the] injection. [She] slowly injected the needle in my fatty butt. On [the] third day I told her to [take] down my jeans by herself. First she hesitated, but [did] it. [The] next day she came and [did it without me asking]. She lowered my jeans…[and] gave [me the] injection on [my] butt…She gave me injections and then made me horny by keeping her hand & finger on [where she had injected me. It felt] uncomfortable. but she still smiled. She obviously teased me and on the same day I [returned] home with an injection fetish”.
  • Extract 3: “I ejaculate [and am] more happy if a nice woman dressed in nurse [gives] me an injection…I like very much the preparation protocol before injection…I have [had] this fetish since I received [my] first injection made by a nurse when I was 10 years old…This is a nice fetish. I know that is not very common but I know some people [who] like it, so we are not alone [in having] curious pleasures”.
  • Extract 4: “I have an injection fetish…When I was younger I got a shot from a nurse and after injected she was getting very fresh and touchy with me. I could not turn her down when she said we must go somewhere and get it on…I have never felt so satisfied after she [injected] me. That’s where it started. She was forceful and demanding. The [injection] shot was large and scary. I wasn’t real thrilled about getting it but she said it [was in my] best interest. So I bent over. She swabbed me. I was a bit resistant. She was persuasive in her words…It was hurting. Then while she was injecting that was hurting too. I was squirming and moaning. But I would love for this to happen again someday”
  • Extract 5: “I have an ‘injection fetish’. That means that I get only sexually attracted when thinking about women getting injections in their butt. I also like to have fantasies about myself getting injections in the butt by woman. This fetish is apparently rare, but also not that uncommon…As such, a fetish might not be something bad, but this one prevents me from having orgasm in normal sexual intercourse. The female vagina does not sexually really attract me…It basically destroys any relationship because I cannot have an orgasm or ejaculate during normal sexual intercourse…Has this specific type of medical fetish (or similar ones…suppositories, enemas, gyno) been researched in medical/psychological science? Once I know where this [fetish] is from, I can understand it and I can control it…To me, it appears I had this fetish from day one (of course, that was not the case, but [that is how] it feels)”.

Unlike the others quoted here, this last extract is from a person also provided further description about himself. He was 39 years of age when he posted his comments and claimed to have developed the fetish in childhood some time between the ages of six to eight years. He claims not to know where the fetish originated, and his only description of his childhood was that he had a father who used to beat him and who wouldn’t let him bring any friends to his house (including girlfriends). Although the accounts here are brief, all five are males, and three of the five extracts mention getting an injection from a nurse at some point on their lives had kick-started their injection fetish and would appear to suggest that associative pairing took place and that their sexual arousal from injections arises as a result of classical conditioning.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are also hard-core pornographic films where injections are central to the ‘plot’ – the 2011 film Lethal Injection being the most infamous example. (I say “infamous” because many newspapers – such as a piece in the Daily Mail – reported that China’s leading state-run news agency Xinhua posted the screen shots from the film on its website under the headline ‘Actual Record of Female Inmate’s Execution – Exposing the World’s Darkest Side’ and claimed it showed a real execution by lethal injection in the United States. In the film itself, a doctor has sex with a woman after she has been given a lethal injection and arguably is more about necrophilia and lust murders than it is about injection fetishes).

Academically, I’m not aware of any research specifically focusing on injection fetishes although a paper by Dr. Allen Bartholomew published back in 1973 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry alluded to behaviours that have similarities to injection fetishes. Bartholomew was studying the characteristics of intravenous drug users and noted three cases of autohaemofetishism (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from sight of blood drawn into a syringe during intravenous drug practice, something that I briefly mentioned in a previous blog on vampirism as a sexual paraphilia). He also noted three cases of ‘injection masochism’ in which users were sexually aroused from giving themselves injections. In both of these two features, it was argued by Bartholomew that both of the two features were considered to be brought about by classical conditioning.

More recently, in 2012 issue of the journal Rhizomes in Emerging Knowledge, Dr. Varpu Rantala examined the recurrence of drug injection scenes in contemporary mainstream cinema from a cultural studies perspective. She argued that in cinematic terms:

Injection is a fetish – not only of drug users but a collective one. The injection shots momentarily fix the images of what is thinkable and sayable about intravenous drug use, centering it on an overindulgence in injection and reducing ‘addicted bodies”.

However, the word ‘fetish’ in this context is not being used in any sexual sense. She also makes reference to the portrayal of drug addicts in the work of US writer William Burroughs. Again, this is not used in a sexual sense but she does make some interesting observations about obsession and addiction:

The coolness in Burroughs’s description of a junkie is paradoxically both ice-cold and mobilizing, or attractive, as understood in relation to the attraction image. These images may also be fetishized. Intravenous drug users may develop a fetish for injection, the ‘needle fixation’, an addiction to the injection itself that is often experienced as both repulsive and seductive (Pates et al 2001). But, it seems that “needle fixation” is not only about intravenous drug users: this kind of ambiguous fascination with the injection image as part of late modern mainstream everyday audiovisual culture may even be described a ‘cinematic obsession’: as the ‘hold [of drugs] on the modern imagination [is] seemingly as strong as the hold it has over those addicted to it’ (Boothroyd 2007, 9), ‘it is the ambiguity and duality of the symbolism [of the syringe] that is the source for conflict, and intense pleasurable obsession’ (Fitzgerald 2010, 205). The recurrence of these images in their over-indulgence of sensuous material of extreme explicitness reminds one of the processes of addiction as unwilled repetition of excessive sensual experience: a cinematic addiction…Repetitive, fixed and fetishized, late modern drug injection images are clichés that may ‘penetrate each one of us’ (Deleuze 2005, 212). This may also be about an intense encounter that moves us. In case of the injection shot, they form a place of intensity in a film; an attraction image (Gunning 1990) that reaches towards the viewer and that Williams (1991) has further discussed with respect to porn, horror and melodrama”

Finally, (and staying with films), a few years ago there was an interesting article on the Hannibal Studio Lo website (a site dedicated to critical analysis of all things Hannibal Lecter). Unfortunately, the website is no longer on the internet but one of the contributors to the site made the observation that the author of all the ‘Hannibal Lecter’ books (Thomas Harris) has (in his writing) a fetish for injections, a love-hate relationship for the meaning of getting an injection and its purpose”. The article made references to the many passages in Harris’ books that concern injections but asserts that:

“The most impressive descriptions of injections in the [novel] of ‘Hannibal’ are those given by Dr. Lecter to Clarice Starling. Appearing in Chapter 94 there is a ‘Tiny sting of the finest needle – Starling did not even look down’ and in Chapter 91 there is ‘Day and evening again, the smell of fresh flowers in the house, and once the faint sting of a needle’. The essence of those injections, which would lead her from one life to another and help her cross the final threshold to her transformation. So what do you think is the significance of injections according to the Harris realm? Could it be that one of the ingredients of a dark and profound romance is the intimate enigmatic comfort of Hannibal’s injections? I think it is very interesting to note how Harris’s equation promises that from an ambiguous act that could be considered controlling, true freedom and tranquility are born”.

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

(Note: the original weblink for the article concerning Thomas Harris’ “fetish for injections” was at: http://www.hannibalstudiolo.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1095&start=-1&sid=0f25ca4b4c2dca0bd9f85038ae600a03)

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Bartholomew, A. A. (1973). Two features occasionally associated with intravenous drug users: A note. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 7(3), 206-207.

Bizarre Magazine (2010). Medical fetishism. December 1. Located at: http://www.bizarremag.com/fetish/fetish/10393/medical_fetish.html?xc=1

Boothroyd, D. (2007). Cinematic heroin and narcotic modernity. In Ahrens, R. and Stierstorfer, K. (eds.), Symbolism: An International Annual of Critical Aesthetics (pp. 7-28). New York: AMS Press.

Deleuze, G. (2005a) Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. London: Continuum.

Fitzgerald, J. (2010). Images of the desire for drugs. Health Sociology Review, 12(2), 205-217.

Pates, R.M., McBride, A.J., Ball, N. & Arnold, K (2001). Towards an holistic understanding of injecting drug use: An overview of needle fixation. Addiction Research and Theory, 9, 3-17.

Rantala, V. (2012). Hardcore: Schizoanalysis as audiovisual thinking of cinematic drug injection images. Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, 24, 1-12

Wikipedia (2012). Medical fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_fetishism

Williams, L. (1991). Film bodies: Gender, genre and excess. Film Quarterly, 44(4), 2-13.

Imitate modern: Why do people commit copycat killings?

The nine people murdered in Munich a couple of days ago by 18-year-old German-Iranian gunman David Ali Sonboly made headlines around the world. It has been claimed that Sonboly (who subsequently killed himself) was obsessed with mass shootings” and that the police found lots of material in his room about mass killings including the massacre by Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik. Whether the murders by Sonboly are ‘copycat’ killings remains to be determined but there are dozens of other cases where copycat killings have been proven.

Back in 2014, the gruesome killing of two prostitutes in Hong King by British banking trader Rurik Jutting drew comparisons with the fictional character Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street investment banker and serial killer in the film American Psycho (based on the Bret Easton Ellis book of the same name).

As you might expect, a copycat murder is defined as a murder that has been modelled, motivated and/or inspired either by a real life murderer that has been reported by the print or broadcast media, or is based on a murderer portrayed in books, television or film. The term ‘copycat killer’ has been in use for almost 100 years and was first used in relation to murders that mimicked those of Jack the Ripper. Early research by criminologists began to speculate that the sensationalist publicity in the print media about the Ripper murders was the inspiration for Ripper-like copycat killings.

In addition to murder, copycat crimes have been shown to occur in many other equally destructive acts including suicides, murder-suicides, familicides, and rampage killings. Arguably the most well known writing on the topic was Loren Coleman’s 2004 book The Copycat Effect. Coleman believes that because shocking crimes receive widespread media publicity it makes the perpetrators infamous. He argues that the notoriety and ‘fame’ that serial killers receive is one of the main reasons why copycats commit similar crimes. Put more simply, copycats may believe that by committing heinous crimes, they may end up being the subject of a book or film themselves. The Copycat Effect is so well known that it was even the subject of a Hollywood film – the 1995 psychological thriller Copycat starring Sigourney Weaver as a criminal psychologist involved in a case where each murder in the film is made by a serial killer meticulously copying previous high profile murderers such as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer (the ‘Milwaukie Cannibal’), David Berkowitz (the ‘Son of Sam’), and the Hillside Strangler (actually two men, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono).

But is the media to blame for copycat murders? Well, partly – but not totally. Research has shown that although most people convicted of copycat murders admit to being motivated by something they had seen on the news or in a film, they already had a criminal record (often violent crime) and/or were mentally ill before they began killing. What this suggests is that media coverage and fictionalized accounts of serial killers tend to affect those that already have a criminal predisposition and/or mental health issues rather than have a more widespread effect on people more generally. In such extreme and minority cases, it does appear that watching or reading about high profile murderers (e.g., Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein) or infamous fictionalised killers (e.g., Dexter Morgan in Dexter or Patrick Batemen in American Psycho) does at the very least give emotionally undeveloped people ideas on how they could kill someone.

Copycat murderers do appear to realise that the more shocking and heinous the killing, the more newsworthy it will be. This also appears to have had an impact on films too. It appears some cinema-going audience want to see more depraved, deranged and twisted ways in which people can be killed (as evidenced by the so-called ‘torture porn’ franchises of Saw and Hostel). The more blood and pain, the better. Methods to kill in such films may be the inspiration of copycat killers to come.

Although there is a relationship between copycat killers and what they have seen or read about in the media, there are many other risk factors that have been associated with (and have an interplay with) copycat killings. Men are more likely to be copycat killers than females, and many copycat killers are young adults (below the age of 30 years). Copycat killers are more likely to suffer from personality (and other mental health) disorders, come from socially dysfunctional and alienating family backgrounds, be emotionally vulnerable, be trusting of the media, and – as noted above – a previous criminal history (as well as self-identifying with criminals they have watched or seen in fact and/or fiction).

Psychologists have also noted there appears to be a natural human inhibition against killing (even in acts of lawful killing such as fighting in a war). However, if individuals adopt some kind of a persona, such inhibitions can be reduced (often referred to by psychologists as ‘depersonalization’). If copycat killers temporarily take on the persona of the person they are copying in addition to the act of killing, this may also play a contributory role in some of their actions. American evolutionary psychologist Dr.Nigel Barber has also noted in relation to rampage killing that: “Most copycats have their private agenda in a rampage killing but seek to tie it in to other events that received a lot of publicity. In this way, they bask in the reflected publicity, so to speak. In many cases, the rampage killer wants to commit suicide but opts to take others with him”.

Although there are many reasons as to how and why an individual becomes a copycat killer, the evidence does seem to suggest that the media perhaps need to take a more cautionary approach when reporting the details of murders, and also suggests that the police and other criminal agencies should not go into every detail about how the murders were committed. Such actions alone will not stop copycat killings, but it may help reduce the overall number occurring in the first place.

(Material in this blog first appeared in an article I wrote for The Independent in November 2014 – see ‘Further reading’ below)

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

Further reading

Barber, N. (2012). Copycat killings: Making sense of the senseless. Psychology Today, July 27. Located at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201207/copycat-killings

Boyle, K. (2001). What’s natural about killing? Gender, copycat violence and Natural Born Killers. Journal of Gender Studies, 10(3), 311-321.

Coleman, L. (2004). The copycat effect: How the media and popular culture trigger the mayhem in tomorrow’s headlines. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Fox, J.A., & Levin, J. (2014). Extreme killing: Understanding serial and mass murder. London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Hong Kong murder: Why do people commit copycat killings? The Independent, November 4. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/hong-kong-murder-why-do-people-commit-copycat-killings-9838892.html

Kunich, J.C. (2000). Natural born copycat killers and the law of shock torts. Washington University Law Quarterly, 78(4), 1157-1270.

Surette, R. (2002). Self-reported copycat crime among a population of serious and violent juvenile offenders. Crime and Delinquency, 48(1), 46-69.

Wikipedia (2016). Copycat crime. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_crime

Selective memories: Charles Darwin, obsession, and Internet dating

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘obsession’ as “(i) a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal; (ii) someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently, [and] (iii) an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing”. By these definitions my good friend and work colleague Dr. Mike Sutton would himself admit that he has had (for the last three or four years) an obsession with the work of English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Scottish landowner and fruit farmer Patrick Matthew (1790-1874). Dr. Sutton is a criminologist and we have published various articles and book chapters over the last 15 years on various topics including emails with unintended consequences, far right wing groups on the internet, and (most recently) the crime substitution hypothesis (which I’ve covered in a previous blog).

Over the past few years, I can’t think of a single conversation that we have had that both Darwin and Matthew’s didn’t get talked about at some point. In 2014, Sutton published his book Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret (“Nullius in verba” is Latin for “on the word of no one” or “take nobody’s word for it”) and as a result of it has experienced a torrent of verbal abuse on social media. So why has Dr. Sutton been the victim of such abuse? In a nutshell, Sutton has asserted that Darwin is a fraud and that his main thesis on natural selection was stolen from Matthew without any acknowledgement. Furthermore, using a new methodological technique that Sutton developed, he believes Darwin lied about his knowledge of Matthew’s work.

Over the last few years, I have read over a dozen of Sutton’s online articles about Darwin and Matthew, and I was also one of the first people to read Sutton’s book before it was published. Sutton’s work is meticulous, rigorous, and fully referenced. Most of his critics have never read (or simply don’t want to read) his book. Instead they appear to take potshots at his research and reputation without bothering to read the original source.

The first thing to note concerns Sutton’s methodology. His method – sometimes referred to ‘internet dating’ in his articles (but nothing to with people meeting up online, so apologies if the use of the words ‘internet dating’ in my article lured you to read this blog on false pretences) but called ‘Internet Date-Detection’ (ID) in his book – relies on the 30+ million books and documents that the Google Books Library Project has digitized and dating back centuries. Using the ID method, Sutton has used a search engine to track down obscure books, articles, and letters (and short phrases within these documents) to work out who published what and when with pinpoint accuracy. (For instance, back in the 1990s, I thought I had first coined the word ‘screenager’ but Sutton used his ID method and proved that others before me had used the word in print prior to my own articles).

The second thing to note is that all Darwinists concede that the process of natural selection was first written about in Patrick Matthew’s 1831 book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (written 28 years before Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection). However, Darwin claimed he had never read the book (which might be the case) but also claimed in 1860, 1861, and in every edition of the Origin of Species thereafter, that no other naturalist, and no one at all, in the preceding 28 years had read Matthew’s original ideas on macroevolution by natural selection because it was buried away in the book’s appendix. Darwin claimed he had independently formulated the theory of evolution through natural selection. At around the same time as Darwin, the naturalist Alfred Wallace (1823-1913) also (independently of Darwin and supposedly of Matthew) developed a theory of natural selection and together their papers were read on their behalf before the Linnean Society, and then published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London in 1858.

Using 21st century search engine technology via his ID method, Sutton originally discovered that – as opposed to the various claims of Darwin and the world’s leading Darwin scholars that no naturalists (or no one at all) read Matthew’s (1831) original ideas before 1858 – in fact Matthew’s book was cited 25 times before that date, seven of whom were naturalists, four of whom were known to Darwin and Wallace, and three that played major roles and had major influence on the exact same topic (botanist Prideaux John Selby, publisher and geologist Robert Chambers, and botanist John Loudon).

Like Sutton, a number of recent scholars – most notably the microbiologist Dr. Milton Wainwright – have researched some of the same historical ground as Sutton (arguing that Darwin and Wallace were beaten to a theory of macroevolution by Matthew). Whereas Wainwight wrote his papers after reading some of the original key texts from the early 1800s, Sutton used the ID technique to collate every single book, article and letter written by anyone in the period up to 1859 that had been digitized in the Google Books Library Project. What Sutton found is fascinating and does seem to indicate that Darwin lied about his knowledge of Matthew’s work. Darwin certainly lied after 1860 by claiming that no naturalist had read Matthew’s ideas because Matthew had twice written to inform Darwin that the opposite was true. Using the ID method, Sutton conclusively demonstrated that:

  • Matthew’s original (1831) theory concerning the “natural process of selection” was only slightly different to Darwin’s (1859) the “process of natural selection”. Darwin also used the same analogy as Matthew had written in the opening chapter of Origin of the Species when discussing artificial versus natural selection, but claimed the analogy as his own without citing Matthew.
  • Matthew’s prior-published conception of macroevolution by natural selection was not unread by naturalists and biologists before Darwin and Wallace replicated it. In fact, seven people cited the book in the pre-1859 literature, and Darwin and Wallace (and their influencers) knew four of these people well.
  • Matthew’s conception of natural selection was not just contained solely in the appendix of his 1831 book but was also in the main text. In fact, Matthew even referred Darwin to some of the relevant extracts in the main text of his book (something that Darwin admitted in a letter to his closest friend Joseph Hooker [1817-1911], the botanist and explorer). In short, Darwin lied when he asserted that Matthew’s ideas were only contained in the appendix of his book.

Sutton has been trying to get the Royal Society to acknowledge Matthew as the originator of the macroevolution by natural selection. Sutton notes in his essay on Rational Wiki:

“As Robert Merton (1957) made clear in the classic and authoritative text on priority in science, the Royal Society has not officially changed its position on the rules of priority since those rules were established in the first half of the 19th century. Since that time, the Arago Effect (Strevens 2003), is the rule that has always been seen as a totally inflexible principle and has been followed as such in all other disputes over priority for discovery in science, except in the Matthew, Darwin and Wallace case. The Arago Effect, described by Merton, and also by Strevens, as a norm in cases of scientific discovery, is that being first to publish to the public, and most importantly in print, is everything when it comes to deciding who has priority for an idea or discovery in cases where one scientist claims to have made the same discovery independently of another”.

In the same essay, Sutton then discusses Richard Dawkins‘s reasoning for not giving Matthew priority of scientific discovery (i.e., that his work went “unnoticed”):

“Totally ignoring the Arago Effect convention of priority for scientific discovery, Richard Dawkins (2010) has built upon prior rationale for denying Matthew full priority over Darwin by creating a new, unique in the history of scientific discovery, ‘Dawkins’s Demand Rule’. Effectively, Dawkins demands that Matthew should not have priority over Darwin and Wallace based upon the recently proven fallacious premise (Sutton 2014) that Matthew’s unique views went unnoticed. Moreover, Dawkins demands also that Matthew should have ‘trumpeted his discovery from the rooftops’. However in making this post-hoc demand, Dawkins does not, as other writers (e.g. Desmond and Moore 1991; Secord 2000) have done with regard to the fears and difficulties of writing on natural selection at this time, which faced Darwin and Chambers, explain that the first half of the 19th century was a time of great social unrest, tension and violent rioting, which made writing on the topic of natural selection a great threat to the social controlling interests of natural theology. Is Dawkins willfully ignorant of the fact that in the year 1794 Pitt passed his notorious Two Acts against ‘Seditious Meetings’ and ‘Treasonable Practices’? In particular, the former curtailed topics of discussion at institutional scientific societies by requiring them to be licensed and proscribing discussion of either religion or politics (Sutton 2015). Perhaps it is for reasons of historical ignorance that Richard Dawkins, whilst holding forth as an expert on the history of science, fails also to address the issue that Matthew’s Chartist political ideas were in his book and that he linked these seditious ideas quite clearly to the implications of his heretical natural selection discovery. Consequently, it should go without saying, that this meant his unique ideas were especially both seditious and heretical in the 1830s and 1840s. How then was Matthew meant to trumpet his discovery when he had effectively silenced himself from doing so under the scientific conventions that followed in the wake of the laws of the land? Matthew explained this very fact to Darwin in 1860, in his second letter in the Gardeners’ Chronicle”.

My own reading of all Sutton’s work is that there is no good reason for Matthew not to be credited with being the originator of the theory of macroevolution by natural selection and that Matthew has full priority over Darwin and Wallace.

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

Further reading

Darwin. C.R. (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London. John Murray.

Darwin, C.R. & Wallace, A.R. (1858) On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London.

Dawkins, R. (2010). Darwin’s five bridges: The way to natural selection. In Bryson, B (ed.), Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society. London: Harper Collins.

Desmond, A. & Moore, J. (1991). Darwin. London. Penguin Books.

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.

Griffiths, M.D. & Sutton, M. (2015). Screen time and crime: The ‘Crime Substitution Hypothesis’ revisited. Education and Health, 33, 85-87.

Matthew, P. (1831) On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; With a critical note on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting. Edinburgh. Adam Black.

Matthew, P. (1860). Nature’s Law of Selection (Letter). The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 7 April, pp. 312-313.

Matthew, P. (1860). Nature’s Law of Selection (Letter), Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 12 May, p. 433.

Merton, R.K. (1957) Priorities in scientific discovery: A chapter in the sociology of science. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 635-659.

Secord. J.A. (2000). Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Strevens, M. (2003) The role of priority in science. Journal of Philosophy, 100, 55-79.

Sutton, M. (2014). Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret. Thinker Books.

Sutton, M. (2016). On knowledge contamination: New data challenges claims of Darwin’s and Wallace’s independent conceptions of Matthew’s prior-published hypothesis. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Aspects of Origin), 12: Located at http://www.nauka-a-religia.uz.zgora.pl/index.php/pl/czasopismo/46-fag-2015/921-fag-2015-art-05

Sutton, M. (2016). Patrick Matthew: priority and the discovery of natural selection. Located at: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Essay:Patrick_Matthew:_priority_and_the_discovery_of_natural_selection

Sutton, M. (2016). Darwin’s Greatest Secret Exposed: Response to Grzegorz Malec’s De Facto fact denying review of my book. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Aspects of Origin), 13, 1-10. Located at: http://www.nauka-a-religia.uz.zgora.pl/images/FAG/2016.t.13/art.01.pdf

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Far Right Groups on the Internet: A new problem for crime control and community safety? The Criminal Lawyer, 123, 3-5.

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Emails with unintended criminal consequences. The Criminal Lawyer, 130, 6-8.

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

Wainwright, M. (2008) Natural selection: It’s not Darwin’s (or Wallace’s) theory. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, 15(1), 1-8

Wainwright, M. (2011). Charles Darwin: Mycologist and refuter of his own myth. FUNGI, 4(1), 13-20.

The beast inside: The psychology of animal torture

A few days ago, I was interviewed by the Irish newspaper The Journal about someone deliberately trying to poison a dog by throwing three rat poison-stuffed chorizo sausages into Linda O’Byrne’s garden. But what typically possesses anyone to inflict such acts of intentional animal torture and cruelty (IATC)? In this particular case it may have been done as an act of revenge or as a way to shock O’Byrne to the amusement of the person who did it.

In addition to these reasons, rhere are many types of IATC including individuals that do it (i) as a religious ritual sacrifice, (ii) as an ‘artistic’ sacrifice (e.g., killing animals in films such as the controversial Cannibal Holocaust), (iii) because they have psychological disorders (such as anti-social/psychopathic personality disorders and engage in deliberate acts of zoosadism), and/or (iv) because they have sexually paraphilic disorders (such as crush fetishism in which small animals are crushed for sexual pleasure). Additionally, there is some research showing that in some circumstances, IATC is sometimes used to coerce, control and intimidate women and/or children to be silent about domestic abuse within the home. Although any animal torture is shocking, arguably the most disturbing type of IATC is that which occurs amongst those with anti-social personality disorders.

When the science of behavioural profiling began to emerge in the 1970s, one of the most consistent findings reported by the FBI profiling unit was that childhood IATC appeared to be a common behaviour among serial murderers and rapists (i.e., those with psychopathic traits characterized by impulsivity, selfishness, and lack of remorse). Many notorious serial killers – such as Jeffrey Dahmer – began by torturing and killing animals in their childhood. Dahmer also collected animal roadkill, dissected the remains, and masturbated over the animals he had cut up. Other killers known to have engaged in childhood IATC include child murderer Mary Bell (who throttled pigeons), Jamie Bulger’s murderer Robert Thompson who (who was cruel to household pets), and Moors murderer Ian Brady (who abused animals).

IATC is one of the three adolescent behaviours in what is often referred to the ‘Homicidal Triad’ (the other two being persistent bedwetting and obsessive fire-setting). Some criminologists and psychologists believe that the combination of two or more of these three behaviours increases the risk of homicidal behaviour in adult life. However, scientific evidence for this has been mixed. There has also been research into some of the contributory factors as to why a minority of children engage in IATC. Research has shown that the behaviours in the ‘Homicidal Triad’ (including IATC) are often associated with parental abuse, parental brutality (and witnessing domestic violence), and/or parental neglect.

A number of criminological studies have shown that around a third to a half of all sexual murderers have abused animals during childhood and/or adolescence (although I ought to add that sample sizes in most of these published studies are usually relatively small). However, most research has reported that one of the most important ‘warning signs’ and risk factors (specifically relating to the propensity for sex offending), is animal cruelty if accompanied by a sexual interest in animals. Other researchers have speculated that the zoosadistic acts among male adolescents may be connected to problems of puberty and proving virility.

Another ‘triad’ of psychological factors that have been associated with IATC are three specific characteristics of personality – Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy (the so-called ‘Dark Triad’). Studies carried out by Dr. Phillip Kavanagh and his colleagues have examined the relationship between the three Dark Triad personality traits and attitudes towards animal abuse and self-reported acts of animal cruelty. They found that the psychopathy trait is related to intentionally hurting or torturing animals, and was also a composite measure of all three Dark Triad traits.

In Germany, there have been an increasing number of violent crimes against horses. This offence of ‘horse ripping’ (i.e., violently cutting, slashing and/or stabbing of horses) has been accepted as a criminal phenomenon in Germany and has led to a number of studies on the topic. Horse ripping has been defined as a destructive act “with the aim to harm a horse or the acceptance of a possible injury of a horse, especially killing, maltreatment, mutilation and sexual abuse in sadomasochistic context”. In 2002, German researchers Dr, Claus Bartmann and Dr. Peter Wohlsein reported a study examining 193 traumatic horse injuries over a four-year period. They reported that at least ten of the injuries (including wounds from knives, spears, and guns) were acts of zoosadism.

There is no easy solution to childhood IATC. Given that most children learn anti-social behaviour from those around them, the best way to prevent it is teaching by example. Here, parents are the key. Pro-social behaviour by parents and other role models towards animals (such as rescuing spiders in the bath, feeding birds, treating pets as a member of the family) has the potential to make a positive lasting impression on children.

Note: A version of this article was first published in The Independent.

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

Further reading

Arluke, A., Levin, J., Luke, C., & Ascione, F. (1999). The relationship of animal abuse to violence and other forms of antisocial behavior. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14(9), 963-975.

Bartmann, C.P. & Wohlsein, P. (2002). Injuries caused by outside violence with forensic importance in horses. Dtsch Tierarztl Wochenschr, 109, 112-115.

Beetz, Andrea (2002). Love, Violence, and Sexuality in Relationships between Humans and Animals. Germany: Shaker Verlag.

Beirne, P. (1999). For a nonspeciesist criminology: Animal abuse as an object of study. Criminology, 37(1), 117-148.

Felthous, A.R. (1980). Aggression against cats, dogs, and people. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 10, 169-177.

Furnham, A., Richards, S. C., & Paulhus, D. L. (2013). The Dark Triad of personality: A 10 year review. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(3), 199-216.

Hickey, E. W. (2013). Serial murderers and their victims. Cengage Learning.

James, S., Kavanagh, P. S., Jonason, P. K., Chonody, J. M., & Scrutton, H. E. (2014). The Dark Triad, schadenfreude, and sensational interests: Dark personalities, dark emotions, and dark behaviors. Personality and Individual Differences, 68, 211-216.

Jonason, P. K., & Kavanagh, P. (2010). The dark side of love: Love styles and the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 49(6), 606-610.

Kavanagh, P. S., Signal, T. D., & Taylor, N. (2013). The Dark Triad and animal cruelty: Dark personalities, dark attitudes, and dark behaviors. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(6), 666-670.

Macdonald, J.M. (1963). The threat to kill. American Journal of Psychiatry, 120, 125-130.

Patterson‐Kane, E. G., & Piper, H. (2009). Animal abuse as a sentinel for human violence: A critique. Journal of Social Issues, 65(3), 589-614.

Ressler, R., Burgess, A., & Douglas, J. (1988). Sexual homicide: Patterns and motives. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Schedel-Stupperich, A. (2002). [Criminal acts against horses – phenomenology and psychosocial construct]. Dtsch Tierarztl Wochenschr, 109, 116-119.

Wochner, M. & Klosinski, G. (1988). Child and adolescent psychiatry aspects of animal abuse (a comparison with aggressive patients in child and adolescent psychiatry). Schweiz Arch Neurol Psychiatry, 139(3), 59-67.

The punch bunch: Aggressive behaviour in adult slot machine gamblers

I was idly looking through some of the academic papers I have published over the last 25 years and I was surprised by how a fair number of them examined aggressive behaviour in some way. Many of these concern the effect of video game violence on aggressive behaviour but I have also published papers examining sexual orientation and aggression, mindfulness and aggression, and gambling and aggression (see ‘Further Reading’ below for a selection of these).

Back when I was doing my PhD on slot machine addiction (1987-1990) I spent a lot of my time in amusement arcades watching fruit machine players. One thing that I noticed during my observational studies is how physically aggressive players could be when they lost (such as kicking or punching the machine if they lost a lot of money or being verbally aggressive towards staff and other players when things weren’t going the way they wanted). A number of studies have reported a link between gambling and aggressive behaviour although most of the research has concentrated on domestic violence between gamblers and their partners (i.e., problem gamblers taking out the frustration of losing lots of money on their partners).

In a paper in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, Dr. Adrian Parke and I speculated that there are two main types of aggressive act which are prevalent in slot machine gambling based on environmental and structural design factors – instrumental aggression and emotional aggression. Instrumental aggression differs from emotional aggression because there is an ulterior motive behind the act whereas emotional aggression is a result of being unpleasantly aroused. The Frustration-Aggression theory states that a barrier to expected goal attainment generates emotional aggression. Furthermore, the level of aggression is directly proportional to the (i) level of satisfaction they had expected, (ii) more they are prevented from achieving any of their goals and (iii) more often their attempts are resisted. Psychologists such as Dr. Leonard Berkowitz maintains that it is not the frustration that causes the aggressive urges, but the negative affect elicited by the frustration.

Dr. Parke and I also published some other papers on slot machine aggression during 2004 and 2005 in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction and Psychological Reports. We carried out a non-participant observation study and monitored the incidence of aggressive behaviour in 303 slot machine players over four 6-hour observation periods in a UK amusement arcade. We concluded that aggression was prevalent in the UK gambling arcade environment with an average of seven aggressive incidents per hour.

We also reported that the majority of aggressive incidents were verbal. Verbal aggression was directed towards members of staff, other gamblers and also the slot machines themselves. Verbal aggression towards members of staff, from an objective point of view, appeared to be caused by a misinterpretation of staff reactions towards incurred losses. With cues available to determine which slot machine will be profitable to play, selecting a machine with which the gambler incurs a loss can be interpreted as poor slot machine gambling skill. The psychologists Dr. Brad Bushman and Dr. Roy Baumeister argue that threatened egotism (an explicit dispute against one’s self value) is a strong risk factor for aggression reprisal. It is probable that in this situation the gamblers were motivated to rebuke such evaluations through an affrontive reprimand. For example:

“After losing all of the money he entered the premises with, participant 6 becomes verbally aggressive to an arcade staff member: ‘I should bring a bat into this place and break the fucking machine…What would you do? You wouldn’t have the balls to call the police.” (Parke & Griffiths, 2005; p. 53)

Given the apparent disproportionate aggressive reaction to minor provocation from staff members, there is scope to propose that rather than being a primary source of frustration and aggression, the phenomenon is evidence of Triggered Displaced Aggression. Displaced Aggression theory contends that individuals who are provoked but who are constrained against retaliating directly to the primary source may displace such anger onto unaccountable individuals. Triggered Displaced Aggression theory extends this position, by stating that after a preclusion of direct retaliation against the provocateur, minor triggers will produce an incommensurate level of aggression. Applying this theory to the phenomenon of verbal aggression towards staff members, it is probable that the gambler while frustrated and negatively aroused may be motivated to displace disproportionately high aggressive reactions onto staff members based on minor triggers such as amusement at incurred losses.

We also reported that verbal aggression directed towards other slot machine gamblers was probably a response to predatory play from opposing slot machine gamblers. With structural design factors enabling identification of slot machines that are profitable to play, naturally the environment becomes competitive. Gamblers become callous in their machine selection because the most effective way to make profits is to target machines that other gamblers have lost considerably on. Again, for the individual, self-esteem is likely to be diminished by permitting opponents to profit from experiencing loss. As a result it is probable that attempts are made to deflect such predatory behaviour with aggressive reprimands. For example:

“Participant 3 had gambled a considerable amount of money on one machine, and had no funds to continue playing. Participant 4 immediately began to play the same machine and win. Participant 3 retorted in an aggressive tone: ‘You watching me lose my money before. Wait till I lose everything and then play mate?’” (Parke & Griffiths, 2005; p.54)

Verbal aggression towards other slot machine gamblers could be understood from perspective of the Cognitive Neo-associationistic Model. (Fundamentally, this model suggests that aversive events produce negative affect, which transforms all associated stimuli into potential triggers of aggression). Applying this theory to the verbal aggression phenomenon, it is reasonable to propose that the experience of losing transforms environmental factors, such as opposing gamblers, into sources of aggression. Berkowitz has advocated two tiers of aggression activation. The first stage is simultaneous emotions of rudimentary fear and anger. The second stage is a second order evaluative phase where the individual considers the actual liability of environmental factors in anger creation. Naturally, as Berkowitz states, the individual’s attributional processes dictate whether they will actualise aggressive emotions. Put simply, an acknowledgement of the ability to isolate slot machines that are profitable to play based on identifying losing gamblers, is potentially a risk factor for acting aggressively towards other gamblers.

Finally, verbal aggression towards the slot machine is considered to be an emotionally aggressive act as a means to vent frustration rather than instrumentally preserve status as suggested above. Invariably, verbal emotional aggression was expressed through vilification and attribution of negative human characteristics to the machine such as sadism. Interestingly, such vilification was primarily sexually aggressive and constituted a feminisation of the slot machine. For example:

“This bitch is fucking me around…Are you going to fuck me around again this week?” (Parke & Griffiths, 2005; p.54)

We argued that the physical aggression towards the slot machine was believed to be an extension of tension release that was previously observed with verbal aggression towards the slot machine. For example:

“After considerable losses, Participant 8 began to slam the glass of the machine. After experiencing a near miss Participant 8 subsequently kicked the base of the machine.” (Parke & Griffiths, 2005; p.55)

Physical aggression was not directed towards opposing gamblers – perhaps identifying a boundary of conduct in order to remain within the gambling environment, as it was probable that such behaviour would result in getting thrown out of the premises. Essentially this does not equate to gamblers not be motivated to act physically aggressive to other slot machine gamblers, rather it only represents a reluctance to actualise such behaviour in the gambling environment.

It is probable that aggressive behaviour observed in the slot machine gambling environment is not solely based on structural and environmental factors. Individual differences of the gamblers are likely to affect the prevalence of aggressive behaviour, based on propositions of the General Aggression Model that suggests that trait hostility can develop through life experiences. It is possible that the participants in our observational study held aggression-related biases. For example, Dr. Karen Dill and her colleagues argue that trait hostility precipitates a hostile expectation bias (the expectation that aggressive behaviour will be used by others instrumentally) and a hostile perception bias (the propensity of interpreting interpersonal interactions as aggressive). For gamblers, it is probable that trait hostility is exacerbating aggressive reactions towards provocation from environmental and structural game design factors. Overall, our research concluded that gambling-induced aggression is a manifestation of the underlying conflict of engaging in dysfunctional behaviour while consciously acknowledging its detrimental effects.

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

Additional input: Dr. Adrian Parke (University of Lincoln, UK)

Further reading

Anderson, C.A. & Bushman, B.J. (2002). Human Aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27-51.

Berkowitz, L. (1993). Aggression: Its causes, consequences, and control. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Berkowitz, L. (1989). The frustration-aggression hypothesis: Examination and reformulation. Psychological Bulletin, 106, 59-73.

Berkowitz, L. (1990). On the formation and regulation of anger and aggression: A cognitive-neoassociationistic analysis. American Psychologist, 45, 494-505.

Bushman, B. J. & Baumeister, R. F. (1998). Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 219-229.

Dill, K.E., Anderson, C.A., Anderson, K.B. & Deuser, W.E. (1997). Effects of personality on social expectations and social perceptions. Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 272-292.

Dollard, J., Doob, L.W., Miller, N.E., Mowrer, O.H. & Sears, R.R. (1939). Frustration and Aggression. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Video games and aggression. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 10, 397-401.

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Video games and aggression: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 4, 203-212.

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, A. & Parke, J. (2003). Violence in gambling environments: A cause for concern? Justice of the Peace, 167, 424-426.

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, A. & Parke, J. (2005). Gambling-related violence: An issue for the police? Police Journal, 78, 223-227.

Grüsser, S.M., Thalemann, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Excessive computer game playing: Evidence for addiction and aggression? CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 290-292.

Mehroof, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online gaming addiction: The role of sensation seeking, self-control, neuroticism, aggression, state anxiety and trait anxiety. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13, 313-316.

Miller, N. Pederson, W.C., Earleywine, M. & Pollock, V.E. (2003). A theoretical model of triggered displaced aggression, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 75-97.

Miller, N.E. (1941). The frustration-aggression hypothesis. Psychological Review, 48, 337-342.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Aggressive behavior in slot machine gamblers : A preliminary observational study. Psychological Reports, 95, 109-114.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Aggressive behaviour in adult slot machine gamblers: A qualitative observational study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 2, 50-58.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Aggressive behaviour in adult slot machine gamblers: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 15, 255-272.

Sergeant, M.J.T., Dickins, T.E., Davies, M.N.O., & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Aggression, empathy and sexual orientation in males. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 475-486.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W., Slade, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness and other Buddhist-derived interventions in correctional settings: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18, 365-372.