Category Archives: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
While researching an article on compulsive masturbation, I quite by chance came across a recent paper published by Wolter Seuntjens in the Journal of Unsolved Questions entitled ‘The Masturbation Fantasy Paradox: An Overlooked Phenomenon?’ (And yes, I too was amazed that there was a journal with such a name, although it colloquially calls itself JUNQ).
Seuntjens noted in his paper that masturbation is an activity that is often accompanied by fantasizing. However, he uses anecdotal evidence and material found in biographic and literary works to suggest some people are completely unable to fantasize about the person they are in love with during masturbation. This he describes as the ‘Masturbation Fantasy Paradox’ (MFP), a “putative phenomenon” that “may be a particular case of a more general principle put forward by Sigmund Freud”. Freud wrote an essay in 1912 concerning the paradoxes of love and desire. More specifically, in ‘On the universal tendency to debasement in the sphere of love’ Freud noted that “where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love”.
The whole thesis of the paper appears to rests on a few choice selections from autobiographical material supplied by comic actor and broadcaster (and all-round polymath) Stephen Fry, journalist and columnist Dermod Moore, and French writer and poet (and founder of the Surrealist movement) André Breton. More specifically, the extracts chosen by Seuntjens were:
- Extract 1: “Although I was to develop, like every male, into an enthusiastic, ardent and committed masturbator, he was never once, nor ever has been, the subject of a masturbatory fantasy. Many times I tried to cast him in some scene. I was directing for the erotic XXX cinema in my head, but it always happened that some part of me banished him from the set, or else the very sight of him on screen in the coarse porn flick running in my mind had the effect of a gallon of cold water. Sex was to enter our lives, but he was never wank fodder, never” (Stephen Fry in Moab is My Washpot).
- Extract 2: “I have no racy stories about shady events after lights-out in the tent. In fact, having recently discovered masturbation, I found camp frustrating for the lack of opportunity for relief. The fly-infested latrines were the only possible venues, but, unaccountably, self-abuse lost its allure there. However, I was in love with a boy in my patrol. I never really thought about sex with him, but we would roll around on the damp grass in mock combat, laughing and shouting “Help! Homo! Rape!” loudly enough, supposedly, to disguise our covert desire from the others. And from each other” (Dermod Moore in Diary of a Man [about his experience as a Boy Scout]).
- Extract 3: “In 1930, André Breton, while discussing sexuality in the loosely formed group of surrealists, remarked comparably: What do you think about when you masturbate? André Breton: It is accompanied by a series of fleeting images of different women (dream women) or I knew or know but never a woman I have loved”.
These three selections are presented as “direct observations” and then followed by an extract from a book The Ultimate Aphrodisiac by John Hole. In the novel, the book’s main protagonist Norman Ranburn says:
- Extract 4: “It didn’t matter that he might be in love with her. Love meant nothing at his age. Except, he discovered with some fascination, that he didn’t want to besmirch and overlay his vision of her with a dirty wanker’s fantasy”.
Unsurprisingly, Seuntjens notes there is no scientific research into the MFP and also claims there is little research on masturbatory fantasizing more generally. His first port of call are Nancy Friday’s books My Secret Garden (the best selling book on female sexual fantasies) and Men in Love, Men’s Sexual Fantasies: The Triumph of Love Over Rage. Two of Friday’s respondents arguably describe the MFP when they are reported as saying:
- Extract 5: “The funny thing is, when I’m dating someone I really care for, I never fantasize about them…Usually my thoughts center around a man I find fantastically attractive and very nice, i.e., a customer, a stranger on the street, someone I don’t know too well” (‘Beth Anne’).
- Extract 6: “By age twenty, still a virgin, I had had a succession of enchanting teen-age affairs – but since nice girls didn’t have sexual organs and certainly didn’t fuck, I didn’t even attempt to fondle a breast or introduce ‘French’ kissing. I didn’t even feel free to fantasize my latest love for masturbation purposes, usually resorting to her sister or one of her less attractive girl friends instead. One’s love had to be kept on a special Pedestal” (‘Don’).
Friday then goes onto speculate (in her book Forbidden Flowers: More Women’s Sexual Fantasies) that:
“One of the ironies of fantasy is that the hero of our erotic reveries is rarely the man we love. Perhaps it is the very fulfillment and satisfaction we get from him that leaves nothing to the imagination, and so we need these strangers in the night to people our imaginary sexual worlds. They bring us the excitement of the unknown”.
In an arguably more scientific piece of research, Seuntjens made reference to Dr. Brett Kahr’s 2007 book Sex and the Psyche that included reference to his British Sexual Fantasy Research Project comprising 13,553 participants and additional and in-depth face-to-face interviews with a further 122 people. Dr. Kahr made no direct reference to MFP but did note a more negative reason as to why some people do not fantasize about people they love:
“Many of the people whom I interviewed told me that they did not want to fantasize about the partner with whom they had had a row only hours before, the same partner who had spent all their money and had bored them with endless stories about their tedious work colleagues”.
Although the evidence presented by Seuntjens for the MFP was (at best) arguably anecdotal, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. If it does exist, the obvious question to ask why some people may ‘suffer’ from the MFP while others don’t. As Seuntjens concluded:
“If Freud intended the paradox primarily for the physical act of sex, the Masturbation Fantasy Paradox describes the phenomenon for the mental process of fantasizing. The Masturbation Fantasy Paradox, if it is a genuine phenomenon, may prove to be a special case of the more general paradox of love and desire so pointedly expressed in Freud’s dictum”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Freud, S. (1912). On the universal tendency to debasement in the sphere of love’. ‘Contributions to the psychology of love II’ in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (1957), Vol. XI, London: Hogarth Press.
Friday, N. (1973). My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies. New York: Pocket Books.
Friday, N. (1975). Forbidden Flowers: More Women’s Sexual Fantasies. London: Arrow Books.
Friday, N. (1980). Men in Love, Men’s Sexual Fantasies: The Triumph of Love Over Rage. London: Arrow Books.
Fry, S. (1997). Moab is My Washpot. London: Hutchinson.
Hole, J. (1996). The Ultimate Aphrodisiac. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Kahr, B. (2007). Sex and the Psyche. London: Allen Lane
Moore, D. (2005). Diary of a Man. Dublin: Hot Press Books.
Pierre, J. (1992). Investigating Sex – Surrealist Discussions 1928-1932 (translated by Malcom Imrie). New York: Verso.
Seuntjens, W. (2013). The Masturbation Fantasy Paradox: An overlooked phenomenon? Journal of Unsolved Questions, 3(1), 9-12
Back in November 2000, I appeared in numerous tabloid newspapers around the world in a story about ‘gardening addiction’ (such as one in the Daily Mail – ‘Professor says gardening is addictive’). It all began after I was interviewed by a journalist from the New Scientist magazine (Andy Coghlan). Coghlan wanted my reaction to a study published in the journal Biological Psychology led by my friend and colleague, Dr. Gerhard Meyer (with who I later co-edited the book Problem Gambling in Europe in 2009). Meyer and his colleagues had carried out a study on blackjack players and showed that they increased their heart rates while gambling (something that I also found in an earlier study I published on arousal in slot machine gamblers in a 1993 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors). Meyer’s study also found that blackjack gamblers playing for money also had increased levels of salivary cortisol compared to blackjack gamblers playing for points.
I was asked by Coghlan whether I thought gambling could be a genuine addiction, even though it didn’t involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance. I systematically went through my addiction components model (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse) and spent about 15 minutes talking about my research on various behavioural addictions. When the New Scientist article was published, the only quote attributed to me was the following:
“Some people say you can’t have addiction unless you take a substance, but I would argue that gambling taken to excess is an addiction. If you accept that, you then accept that sex, computer games, even gardening, can be addictive. It opens up the floodgates to everything else”.
I had quite deliberately used the example of gardening to make the point that addiction should be assessed by standard addiction criteria and that if any behaviour fulfils all the criteria for addiction it should be classed as such irrespective of what the behaviour is. I also said in my interview with the New Scientist that I had never come across a case of gardening addiction but that it was theoretically possible. The New Scientist story was re-written by many different news outlets around the world. My comments were included in all of these stories. Some of these stories were reported with the focus being on the gambling study (such as the one reported by the BBC which you can read here). Others such as the Daily Mail and the New York Post (NYP) made my comments as the focus of the story. Here is what the NYP reported under the headline ‘Garden-variety junkies hooked on hobby’:
“Before you stop to smell the roses, you might want to think twice. People who enjoy gardening are as physically addicted as junkies and alcoholics, researchers claim. The findings by scientists at Bremen University in Germany are controversial because many experts refuse to believe that behavior can be addictive…The scientists also found the same is true of sex and gambling. They studied gamblers and measured the amounts of a stress hormone linked to addiction. Dr. Gerhard Meyer asked 10 gamblers in a casino to play blackjack, staking their own money. While the volunteers played, Meyer measured changes in their heart rates and levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. He then asked them to play for points rather than money, as a ‘control’ situation. Both heart rates and cortisol concentrations were markedly higher when the gamblers played for money…People who use addictive narcotics also have increased cortisol levels, which, in turn, can trigger the ‘addiction chemicals’ dopamine and seretonin in the brain. ‘Some people say you can’t have addiction unless you take a substance, but I would argue that gambling taken to excess is an addiction’, psychologist Mark Griffiths said. ‘If you accept that, you then accept that sex, computer games, even gardening, can be addictive. It opens up the floodgates to everything else’. If the new research is correct, gardening, gambling and sex, which involve pleasurable rewards for effort expended, could set up an addictive chemical pathway in the brain…Meyer says his findings might reduce the culpability of people who have committed crimes. If lawyers can attribute their clients’ crimes to physiological cravings rather than acts of free will, they may receive lighter sentences, he says”.
I spent much of the week in the media trying to get what I had actually said into context (and even appeared on Channel 4’s Big Breakfast television show defending what I had said). The Daily Mail article had sought comment from TV’s most high profile gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh who said: “[Gardening] is a very addictive pursuit. Once you’ve discovered the thrill of making things grow, you can’t stop. I get very twitchy if I can’t get outside and garden for a few days. It is an addiction – but a positive, useful addiction”. While I have no doubt Titchmarsh believed gardening to be a positive addiction (and would fulfil Dr. Bill Glasser’s criteria for positive addiction that I examined in a previous blog), it wouldn’t be an addiction using my own criteria. I wrote a letter to the New Scientist that they published on November 22 (2000) under the title ‘All kinds of addiction’. In that letter I wrote:
“My alleged comments about gardening addiction have been taken totally out of context and I would like to set the record straight, particularly as many of the national media appeared to have had a laugh at my expense following your press release on this story. My comments were made in reaction to the research by Meyer on gambling addiction, and whether I thought gambling was a true addiction because it didn’t involve a drug. I replied that any behaviour, be it gambling, sex, eating, Internet use, playing computer games or even, theoretically, gardening, that features all the core components of addiction, that is to say, mood-modifying effects, withdrawal symptoms, build-up of tolerance, total preoccupation with the activity, loss of control, neglect of everything else in their lives and relapse can be classed as an addiction. This was not reported in your article, leaving me wide open to misinterpretation. For the record, I have never said that gardening is addictive. What I have said is that any behaviour that fulfils the criteria for addiction can be operationally defined as addiction”.
On the same day (November 22), the Daily Mail also published an edited version of the letter I sent to the New Scientist buried away on page 73 (which you can read here) under the title ‘Eh, not quite’. In retrospect, I can smile about the whole incident, but I wasn’t smiling at the time. In a 2005 paper in the Journal of Substance Use, I subtly included a reference to the ‘gardening addiction’ story (or rather the lack of it) in a paper examining the nature of addiction:
“It is also important to acknowledge that the meanings of ‘addiction’, as the word is understood in both daily and academic usage, are contextual, and socially constructed (Howitt, 1991; Irvine, 1995; Truan, 1993). We must ask whether the term ‘addiction’ actually identifies a distinct phenomenon – something beyond problematic behaviour – whether socially constructed or physiologically based. If so, what are the principal features of this phenomenon? If we argue that it is hypothetically possible to be addicted to anything, it is still necessary to account for the fact that many people become addicted to alcohol but very few to gardening. Implicit within our understanding of the term ‘addiction’ is some measure of the negative consequences that must be experienced in order to justify the use of this word in its academic or clinical context. It seems reasonable at this stage to suggest that a combination of the kinds of rewards (physiological and psychological) and environment (physical, social and cultural) associated with any particular behaviour will have a major effect on determining the likelihood of an excessive level of involvement in any particular activity”.
I have still to come across anyone that I would say is genuinely addicted to gardening. However, I did come across an interesting paper on unusual compulsive behaviours caused by individuals receiving medication for Parkinson’s disease. The paper was published in a 2007 issue of the journal Parkinsonism and Related Disorders by Dr. Andrew McKeon and his colleagues. They reported seven case studies of unusual compulsive behaviours after treating their patients with dopamine agonist therapy (i.e., treatment that activates dopamine receptors in the body). One of the cases involved a man who developed a gardening compulsion:
“A 53-year-old male with [Parkinson’s disease] for 13 years became intensely interested in lawn care. He would use a machine to blow leaves for 6 [hours] without rest, finding it difficult to disengage from the activity, as he found the repetitive behavior soothing. He also developed compulsive gambling”.
This case study at least suggests that someone can develop addictive and/or compulsive like behaviour towards gardening but is obviously isolated and very rare (and in this case brought on by the medication taken). I am not aware of any empirical research on gardening addiction since my comments on the topic back in 2000. However, I still stick to my assertion that if the rewards are present (i.e., psychological, social, physiological, and/or financial), it is theoretically possible for people to become addicted to almost anything – even gardening.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Glasser, W. (1976). Positive Addictions. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.
Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Tolerance in gambling: An objective measure using the psychophysiological analysis of male fruit machine gamblers. Addictive Behaviors, 18, 365-372.
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). All kinds of addiction New Scientist, November 22, p 58.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.
Hoffmann, B. (2000). Garden-variety junkies ‘hooked’ on hobby: Study. New York Post, November 10. Located at: http://nypost.com/2000/11/10/garden-variety-junkies-hooked-on-hobby-study/
Howitt, D. (1991). Concerning Psychology. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
Irvine, J. M. (1995). Reinventing perversion: Sex addiction and cultural anxieties. Journal of the History of Sexuality, 5, 429–450.
Meyer, G., Hauffa, B. P., Schedlowski, M., Pawlak, C., Stadler, M. A., & Exton, M. S. (2000). Casino gambling increases heart rate and salivary cortisol in regular gamblers. Biological Psychiatry, 48(9), 948-953.
Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.
McKeon, A., Josephs, K. A., Klos, K. J., Hecksel, K., Bower, J. H., Michael Bostwick, J., & Eric Ahlskog, J. (2007). Unusual compulsive behaviors primarily related to dopamine agonist therapy in Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 13(8), 516-519.
Truan, F. (1993). Addiction as a social construction: A postempirical view. Journal of Psychology, 127, 489-499.
In previous blogs, I have examined lots of strange types of addictive and compulsive behaviours including compulsive singing, compulsive hoarding, carrot eating addiction, Argentine tango addiction, compulsive nose-picking, compulsive punning, compulsive helping, obsessive teeth whitening, compulsive list-making, chewing gum addiction, hair dryer addiction, wealth addiction, and Google Glass addiction (to name just a few).
However, while doing some research for a paper I am writing on ‘fishing addiction’ (yes, honestly), I came across an interesting paper on unusual compulsive behaviours caused by individuals receiving medication for Parkinson’s disease ([PD] a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system) and multiple system atrophy ([MSA] a degenerative neurological disorder in which nerve cells inside the brain start to degenerate and with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease).
In the gambling studies field there are now numerous papers that have been published showing that some Parkinson’s patients develop compulsive gambling after being treated for PD. According to the Parkinsons.co.uk website, those undergoing PD treatment can have many side effects including addictive gambling, obsessive shopping, binge eating, and hypersexuality. The website also notes other types of compulsive behaviour that have been associated with PD medication including “punding or compulsive hobbyism [when someone does things such as collecting, sorting or continually handling objects]. It may also be experienced as (i) a deep fascination with taking technical equipment apart without always knowing how to put it back together again, (ii) hoarding things, (iii) pointless driving or walking, and (iv) talking in long monologues without any real content”.
The paper that caught my eye was published in a 2007 issue of the journal Parkinsonism and Related Disorders by Dr. Andrew McKeon and his colleagues. They reported seven case studies of unusual compulsive behaviours after treating their patients with dopamine agonist therapy (i.e., treatment that activates dopamine receptors in the body). The paper described some compulsive behaviours that most people would not necessarily associate with being problematic. Below is a brief description of the seven cases that I have taken verbatim from the paper.
- Patient 1: “A 65-year-old female with PD for 9 years developed compulsive eating, and also felt compelled to repetitively weigh herself at frequent intervals during the day and at night. She found her behavior both purposeless and repetitive. Obsessive thoughts were also a feature, as the patient ‘had to’ weigh herself three times each occasion she used the weighing scales”.
- Patient 2: “A 67-year-old female with PD for 8 years played computer games and solitaire card games for hours on end, often continuing to do so through the night. She did not enjoy the experience and found it purposeless, but did so as she felt she had ‘to be doing something’. She also developed compulsive eating and gambling”.
- Patient 3: “A 48-year-old male with PD for 5 years, with little prior interest, developed an intense interest and fascination with fishing. His wife was concerned that he fished incessantly for days on end, and his interest did not abate despite never catching anything. This patient also developed compulsive shopping, spending large amounts of time and money in thrift stores”.
- Patient 4: “A 53-year-old male with PD for 13 years became intensely interested in lawn care. He would use a machine to blow leaves for 6h without rest, finding it difficult to disengage from the activity, as he found the repetitive behavior soothing. He also developed compulsive gambling”.
- Patient 5: “The wife of a 52-year-old male with an 11-year history of PD complained that her husband now spent all of his time on his hobbies, to the detriment of their marriage. The patient made small stained glass windows, day and night. In addition, he would frequently stay awake arranging rocks into piles in their yard, intending to build a wall, but never doing so. He would start multiple projects but complete nothing. He was also noted to have become hypersexual, demanding sexual intercourse from his wife several times daily”.
- Patient 6: “This 60-year-old male, with a history of alcohol abuse and ultimately diagnosed with MSA, relentlessly watched the clock, locked and unlocked doors and continually arranged and lined up small objects on his desk. He also became hyperphagic and hypersexual, developing an intense fascination with pornographic films”.
- Patient 7: “The wife of a 59-year-old male with PD for 1 year described how her husband dressed and undressed several times daily. On one occasion, while guests were at their house for dinner, he spent most of his time in his bedroom repeatedly changing from one pair of trousers into another. This behavior deteriorated considerably on increasing levodopa dose to 1100mg/day, and on a subsequent occasion after reducing quetiapine from 100 to 75 mg/day”.
These cases highlight that the compulsive behaviours that develop following dopamine agonist therapy often co-occur with one or more other compulsive behaviour and that much of these behaviours are repetitive and unwanted. As the authors noted:
“The temporal association between medication initiation and the onset of these behaviors led to our suspicion that medications were causative. In the aggregate, these patients illustrate that the behaviors provoked by drug therapy in parkinsonism cover a broad spectrum, ranging from purposeless and repetitive to complex, reward-oriented behaviors. Punding is the term typically applied to the former, and was seen in Patient 5 (arranging rocks into piles) and Patient 6 (lining up small objects on a desk)…Previous descriptions of pathological behaviors occur- ring with dopaminergic therapy in PD have been notable for the absence of obsessive thoughts accompanying compulsive behaviors, unlike Patient 1 who was remark- able for a counting ritual accompanying repetitive use of a weighing scale. In six of the seven cases, other reward- seeking behaviors (gambling, shopping, hypersexuality or overeating) were present and contemporaneous with these other unusual compulsive behaviors. This suggests that all of these behaviors, while phenomenologically distinct, are all part of the range of psychopathology encapsulated by obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders”.
According to the Parkinsons.co.uk website, PD sufferers are more likely to experience impulsive and compulsive behaviour if the person is (i) diagnosed with Parkinson’s at a young age, (ii) male, (iii) single and live alone, (iv) a smoker, and (v) someone with a personal or family history of addictive behaviour. The same article also notes that if the PD sufferer has “a history of ‘risk-taking’, such as gambling, drug abuse or alcoholism, [they] may be more likely to develop dopamine addiction”. This is where the PD sufferer takes more of their medication than is needed to control their Parkinson’s symptoms (and known as dopamine dysregulation syndrome). Similarly, Dr. McKeon and colleagues concluded:
“Previously described associated clinical features include a prior history of depressed mood (four patients in this series), disinhibition, irritability and appetite disturbance…A history of problems with impulse control prior to the diagnosis of PD may be a risk factor for developing compulsive behaviors with dopaminergic therapies…although this only pertained to Patient 6…The compulsions were not found to be troublesome by three patients, with complaints regarding behavioral change coming from the patient’s spouse. Our observations affirm the need to check with both patient and family at follow-up visits for the emergence of a variety of troublesome pathological behaviors that may result from dopaminergic therapy, particularly dopamine agonists”.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Dodd, M. L., Klos, K. J., Bower, J. H., Geda, Y. E., Josephs, K. A., & Ahlskog, J. E. (2005). Pathological gambling caused by drugs used to treat Parkinson disease. Archives of Neurology, 62, 1377-1381.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.
Klos, K. J., Bower, J. H., Josephs, K. A., Matsumoto, J. Y., & Ahlskog, J. E. (2005). Pathological hypersexuality predominantly linked to adjuvant dopamine agonist therapy in Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders, 11, 381-386.
McKeon, A., Josephs, K. A., Klos, K. J., Hecksel, K., Bower, J. H., Michael Bostwick, J., & Eric Ahlskog, J. (2007). Unusual compulsive behaviors primarily related to dopamine agonist therapy in Parkinson’s disease and multiple system atrophy. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders, 13(8), 516-519.
Nirenberg, M. J., & Waters, C. (2006). Compulsive eating and weight gain related to dopamine agonist use. Movement Disorders, 21, 524-529.
Pontone, G., Williams, J. R., Bassett, S. S., & Marsh, L. (2006). Clinical features associated with impulse control disorders in Parkinson disease. Neurology, 67, 1258-1261.
Voon, V., Hassan, K., Zurowski, M., De Souza, M., Thomsen, T., Fox, S.,…& Miyasaki, J. (2006). Prevalence of repetitive and reward-seeking behaviors in Parkinson disease. Neurology, 67, 1254-1257.
Back in 2002, I had a little piece published on excessive collecting behaviour in the Guardian newspaper (‘Addicted to hoarding’). In it I wrote:
“I have always been interested in why we have what seems like an innate ability to collect. I would almost go as far as to say that we are ‘natural born hoarders’. Furthermore, there has been surprisingly little research in this area and Freud’s theories on the topic are unfortunately almost empirically untestable. I would also add that for some people, collecting is at the pathological end of the behavioural continuum. There are some that are (for want of a better word) ‘addicted’ to collecting and there are some with obsessive-compulsive disorders who simply cannot throw away anything”.
Since then I’ve published a few articles on the psychology of collecting in this blog and is probably one of the reasons that I have had a few approaches over the last couple months from journalists asking me about the psychology behind various forms of collecting. (In fact, I’ve also been approached to write an academic chapter on the phenomenon too). Two of the most recent media requests included journalists writing articles on why people collect retro video games (which I hope to write about in a future blog) and another on why people collect ‘sexual trophies’.
I have to admit that I am no expert on sexual trophies so I did a little reading on the topic. According to one definition I came across, a sexual trophy is “any item or piece of clothing gained from a sexual encounter as proof of a successful sexual conquest”. To tie in with the release of US comedy I Just Want My Pants Back, MTV conducted a [non-academic] survey and reported that one in three young British people (aged between 18 and 34 years) admitted to owning some sort of sex trophy with one in six of them (16%) claiming they had two or more sex-based trophies (a group that MTV termed ‘Sexual Magpies’).
However, when it comes to the collecting ‘sexual trophies’, I would argue that most academic research that I have come across on the topic relates to more criminal sexual deviance rather than day-to-day sexual encounters. For instance, in the 2010 book Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Dr. Eric Hickey described the case of man – who was a voyeur – from Georgia (US) that used to break into houses and steal women’s underwear. On his eventual arrest they found over 400 pairs of knickers that he had stolen. More disturbing are cases such as this excerpt from a story in the Daily Telegraph. This is arguably more typical of what I perceive to be sexual trophy hunters:
“A company manager and ‘pillar of the community’ has been exposed after 20 years as a serial sex attacker known as the Shoe Rapist. James Lloyd, 49, a long-standing Freemason who took the footwear of his victims as trophies, was finally caught through advances in DNA techniques. Police later found more than 100 pairs of stiletto shoes hidden behind a trap door at the printing works where he was employed… As well as taking their shoes, he often stole jewellery from the women, mainly in their teens and early 20s, between 1983 and 1986” (Daily Telegraph, July 18, 2006).
However, Dr. Hickey’s book describes even worse acts of sexual trophy collecting. He noted that many serial killers are “known for their habits of collecting trophies or souvenirs. Others have collected lingerie, shoes, hats, and other apparel”. A sizeable section of the book concentrates on the types of serial killers that are popular in the media (such as those that commit ‘lust murders‘) and are the subject of many Hollywood films such as the series of films with (my favourite fictional psychopath) Hannibal Lecter. As Hickey notes:
“These are the rapists who enjoy killing and, often, indulging in acts of sadism and perversion. These are the men who have engaged in necrophilia, cannibalism, and the drinking of victims’ blood. Some like to bite their victims; others enjoy trophy collecting – shoes, underwear, and body parts, such as hair clippings, feet, heads, fingers, breasts, and sexual organs…[and] evoke our disgust, horror, and fascination”.
One of the cases discussed is 1950s US serial killer Harvey Glatman (known in the media as ‘The Lonely Hearts Killer’) who used to take photographs of the women he murdered. Citing the work of Dr. Robert Keppel (another expert in serial murder cases and author of Serial Murder: Future Implications for Police Investigations), Dr. Hickey wrote:
“His photos were more than souvenirs, because in Glatman’s mind, they actually carried the power of his need for bondage and control. They showed the women in various poses: sitting up or lying down, hands always bound behind their backs, innocent looks on their faces, but with eyes wide with terror because they had guessed what was to come”.
Other murderers described by Dr. Hickey included a man that liked to surgically remove (and keep) the eyeballs from his sexual victims (most probably 1990s’ serial killer Charles Allbright) and another that skinned his victims and made lampshades, eating utensils, and clothing. In his overview of necrophilic homicide (i.e., those individuals that kill others in order to engage in sexual activity), Hickey also mentions that such necrosadistic murderers often engage in other paraphilias related to necrophilia “including partialism or the desire to collect specific body parts that the offenders finds sexually arousing. This may include feet, hands, hair, and heads, among others”. Hickey also noted that:
“Another important characteristic of these lust killers was the ‘perversion factor’. This subgroup was often prone to carry out bizarre sexual acts. These acts most commonly included necrophilia and trophy collection. Jerry Brudos severed the breasts of some of his victims and made epoxy molds. Brudos, like others, also photographed his victims in various poses, dressed and disrobed. The photos served as trophies and a stimulus to act out again”.
Later in the book, Dr. Hickey examines the case of Jerry Brudos in more detail (please be warned that some of the things written here may offend those of a sensitive nature):
“At an early age, Jerry Brudos developed a particular interest in women’s shoes, especially black, spike-heeled shoes. As he matured, his shoe fetish increasingly provided sexual arousal. At 17, he used a knife to assault a girl and force her to disrobe while he took pictures of her. For his crime he was incarcerated in a mental hospital for 9 months. His therapy uncovered his sexual fantasy for revenge against women, fantasies that included placing kidnapped girls into freezers so he could later arrange their stiff bodies in sexually explicit poses. He was evaluated as possessing a personality disorder but was not considered to be psychotic…He continued to collect women’s undergarments and shoes. Prior to his first murder, he had already assaulted four women and raped one of them. At age 28, Jerry was ready to start killing…He took [his first victim] to his garage, where he smashed her skull with a two-by-four. Before disposing of the body in a nearby river, he severed her left foot and placed it in his freezer. He often would amuse himself by dressing the foot in a spiked-heel shoe. His fantasy for greater sexual pleasure led him…to strangle [another victim] with a postal strap. After killing her, he had sexual intercourse with the corpse, then cut off the right breast and made an epoxy mold of the organ. Before dumping her body in the river, he took pictures of the corpse. Unable to satisfy his sexual fantasies and still in the grasp of violent urges, he found his third victim…After sexually assaulting her, he strangled her in his garage, amputated both breasts, again took pictures, and tossed her body into the river”.
Arguably the most infamous ‘sexual trophy collector’ was 1980s US serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, the so-called ‘Milwaukee Cannibal’. In Dr. Hickey’s account he noted that:
“Restraining Dahmer, the officers looked around the apartment and counted at least 11 skulls (7 of them carefully boiled and cleaned) and a collection of bones, decomposed hands, and genitals. Three of the cleaned skulls had been spray-painted black and silver. These were to be part of the shrine fantasized by Dahmer. A complete skeleton suspended from a shower spigot and three skulls with holes drilled into them were found throughout the apartment…Chemicals, including muriatic acid, ethyl alcohol, chloroform, and formaldehyde, were also discovered, along with several Polaroid photographs of recently dismembered young men. A complete human head sat in the refrigerator”.
Another infamous case from the early 1970s (that I admit I had never heard of until I read Dr. Hickey’s book) was Ed Kemper, a cannibalistic killer who also collected human trophies and keepsakes of his victims. Citing the book Hunting Humans by Dr. Elliot Leyton, it was reported that:
“At the age of 23, Ed started killing again, a task that would last nearly a year and entail eight more victims. He shot, stabbed, and strangled them. All were strangers to him, and all were hitchhikers. He cannibalized at least two of his victims, slicing off parts of their legs and cooking the flesh in a macaroni casserole. He decapitated all of his victims and dissected most of them, saving body parts for sexual pleasure, sometimes storing heads in the refrigerator. Ed collected ‘keepsakes’ including teeth, skin, and hair from the victims. After killing a victim, he often engaged in sex with the corpse, even after it had been decapitated. In his confession Kemper stated five different reasons for his crimes. His themes centered on sexual urges, wanting to possess his victims, trophy hunting, a hatred for his mother, and revenge against an unjust society (Leyton, 1986)”.
The most obvious question related to these depraved acts is why such people do it in the first place. Writing in the Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime, Nicole Mott provides an answer:
“A trophy is in essence a souvenir. In the context of violent behavior or murder, keeping a part of the victim as a trophy represents power over that individual. When the offender keeps this kind of souvenir, it serves as a way to preserve the memory of the victim and the experience of his or her death. The most common trophies for violent offenders are body parts but also include photographs of the crime scene and jewelry or clothing from the victim. Offenders use the trophies as memorabilia, but also to reenact their fantasies. They often masturbate or use the trophies as props in sexual acts. Their exaggerated fear of rejection is quelled in front of inanimate trophies. Ritualistic trophy taking, as is found with serial offenders, acts as a signature. A signature is similar to a modus operandi (a similar act ritualistically performed in virtually all crimes of one offender), yet it is an act that is not necessary to complete the crime”
In one of my previous blogs on the psychology of collecting more generally, I referred to a paper by Dr. Ruth Formanek in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. She suggested five common motivations for collecting: (i) extension of the self (e.g., acquiring knowledge, or in controlling one’s collection); (ii) social (finding, relating to, and sharing with, like-minded others); (iii) preserving history and creating a sense of continuity; (iv) financial investment; and (v), an addiction or compulsion. She also claimed that the commonality to all motivations to collect was a passion for the particular things collected. Personally, I think that the acquisition of sexual trophies – even in the most deranged individuals – can be placed within this motivational typology in that such individuals clearly have a passion for what they do and I would argue that the behaviour is an extension of the self that to some individuals may be a compulsion or addiction.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Branagh, N. (2012). Third of UK owns sex trophy. March 26. Located at: http://www.studentbeans.com/mag/en/sex-relationships/third-of-uk-owns-sex-trophy
Du Clos, B. (1993). Fair Game. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks.
Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Addicted to hoarding. The Guardian (Review Section), August 10, p.19.
Formanek, R. (1991). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 275-286.
Hickey, E. W. (Ed.). (2003). Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. London: Sage Publications
Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Keppel, R. D. (1989). Serial Murder: Future Implications for Police Investigations. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.
Leyton, E. (1986a). Hunting Humans. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
Leyton, E. (1986b). Compulsive Killers: The Story of Modern Multiple Murder. New York: New York University Press.
It’s hard for me to believe that this is the 500th article that I have published on my personal blog. It’s also the shortest. I apologise that it is not about any particular topic but a brief look back at what my readers access when they come across my site. (Regular readers might recall I did the same thing back in October 2012 in an article I wrote called ‘Google surf: What does the search for sex online say about someone?’). As of August 26 (2014), my blog had 1,788,932 visitors and is something I am very proud of (as I am now averaging around 3,500 visitors a day). As I write this blog, my most looked at page is my blog’s home page (256,262 visitors) but as that changes every few days this doesn’t really tell me anything about people like to access on my site.
Below is a list of all the blogs that I have written that have had over 10,000 visitors (and just happens to be 25 articles exactly).
- Coprophilia (40,001)
- Urophilia (38,933)
- Somnophilia (22,291)
- Trampling fetishes (20,651)
- Urethral manipulation (20,234)
- Scrotal infusion (20,041)
- Genital bisection (18,715)
- Felching (18,193)
- Vorarephilia (16,566)
- Insect sting fetishes (16,236)
- Transformation fetishes (15,731)
- Amputee fetishes (15,467)
- Macrophilia (15,322)
- Sexual masochism (13,937)
- Formicophilia (13,655)
- Eproctophilia (13,295)
- Lactophilia (12,656)
- Equinophilia (12,434)
- Spit fetishes (12,259)
- Menophilia (11,855)
- Paraphilic infantilism (11,590)
- Zoophilia (11,235)
- Transvestic fetishism (10,661)
- Forniphilia (10,046)
- Necrophilia (10,020)
The first thing that struck me about my most read about articles is that they all concern sexual fetishes and paraphilias (in fact the top 30 all concern sexual fetishes and paraphilias – the 31st most read article is one on coprophagia [7,250 views] with my article on excessive nose picking being the 33rd most read [6,745 views]). This obviously reflects either (a) what people want to read about, and/or (b) reflect issues that people have in their own lives.
I’ve had at least five emails from readers who have written me saying (words to the effect of) “Why can’t you write what you are supposed to write about (i.e., gambling)?” to which I reply that although I am a Professor of Gambling Studies, I widely research in other areas of addictive behaviour. I simply write about the extremes of human behaviour and things that I find of interest. (In fact, only one article on gambling that I have written is in the top 100 most read articles and that was on gambling personality [3,050 views]). If other people find them of interest, that’s even better. However, I am sometimes guided by my readers, and a small but significant minority of the blogs I have written have actually been suggested by emails I have received (my blogs on extreme couponing, IVF addiction, loom bands, ornithophilia, condom snorting, and haircut fetishes come to mind).
Given this is my 500th article in my personal blog, it won’t come as any surprise to know that I take my blogging seriously (in fact I have written academic articles on the benefits of blogging and using blogs to collect research data [see ‘Further reading’ below] and also written an article on ‘addictive blogging’!). Additionally (if you didn’t already know), I also have a regular blog column on the Psychology Today website (‘In Excess’), as well as regular blogging for The Independent newspaper, The Conversation, GamaSutra, and Rehabs.com. If there was a 12-step ‘Blogaholics Anonymous’ I might even be the first member.
“My name is Mark and I am a compulsive blogger”
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Blog eat blog: Can blogging be addictive? April 23. Located at: https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/blog-eat-blog-can-blogging-be-addictive/
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Stats entertainment: A review of my 2012 blogs. December 31. Located at: https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/stats-entertainment-a-review-of-my-2012-blogs/
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). How writing blogs can help your academic career. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 87, 39-40.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Stats entertainment (Part 2): A 2013 review of my personal blog. December 31. Located at: https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/stats-entertainment-part-2-a-2013-review-of-my-personal-blog/
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Top tips on…Writing blogs. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 90, 13-14.
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Blogging the limelight: A personal account of the benefit of excessive blogging. May 8. Located at: https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/blogging-the-limelight-a-personal-account-of-the-benefits-of-excessive-blogging/
Griffiths, M.D., Lewis, A., Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Kuss, D.J. (2014). Online forums and blogs: A new and innovative methodology for data collection. Studia Psychologica, in press.
I have just come back from a two-week holiday in Portugal and managed to catch up with reading a lot of non-academic books. Two of the books I took with me were Paul Trynka’s biography of Iggy Pop (Open Up and Bleed ) and Brett Callwood’s biography of The Stooges, the band in which Iggy Pop first made his name (The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underworld ). Just before I left to go on holiday I also read Dave Thompson’s book Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (2009). This engrossing reading has been accompanied by me listening to The Stooges almost non-stop for the last month – not just their five studio albums (The Stooges , Fun House , Raw Power , The Weirdness , and Ready To Die ) but loads of official and non-official bootlegs from the 1970-1974 period. In short, it’s my latest music obsession.
Although I say it myself, I have been a bit of an Iggy Pop aficionado for many years. It was through my musical appreciation of both David Bowie and Lou Reed that I found myself enthralled by the music of Iggy Pop. Back in my early 20s, I bought three Iggy Pop albums purely because they were produced by David Bowie (The Idiot , Lust For Life , and Blah Blah Blah ). Thankfully, the albums were great and over time I acquired every studio LP that Iggy has released as a solo artist (and a lot more aside – I hate to think how much money I have spent on the three artists and their respective bands over the years). Unusually, I didn’t get into The Stooges until around 2007 after reading an in-depth article about them in Mojo magazine. Since then I’ve added them to my list of musical obsessions where I have to own every last note they have ever recorded (official and unofficial). When it comes to music I am all-or-nothing. Maybe I’m not that far removed from my musical heroes in that sense. I’m sure my partner would disagree. She says I’m no different to a trainspotter who ticks off lists of numbers.
One thing that connects Pop, Reed and Bowie (in addition to the fact they are all talented egotistical songwriters and performers who got to know each other well in the early 1970s) is their addictions to various drugs (heroin in the case of Pop and Reed, and cocaine in the case of Bowie – although they’ve all had other addictions such as Iggy’s dependence on Quaaludes). This is perhaps not altogether unexpected. As I noted in one of my previous blogs on whether celebrities are more prone to addiction than the general public, I wrote:
“Firstly, when I think about celebrities that have ‘gone off the rails’ and admitted to having addiction problems (Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr, Alec Baldwin) and those that have died from their addiction (Whitney Houston, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse) I would argue that these types of high profile celebrity have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected”.
Nowhere is this more exemplified than by Iggy Pop. Not only would Iggy take almost every known drug to excess, it seemed to carry over into every part of his lifestyle. For instance, reading about Iggy’s sexual exploits, there appears to be a lot of evidence that he may have also been addicted to sex (although that’s speculation on my part with the only evidence I have is all the alleged stories in the various biographies of him). Another thing that amazes me about Iggy Pop was that he decided to give up taking drugs in the autumn of 1983 and pretty much stuck to it (again mirroring Lou Reed who also decided to clean up his act and go cold turkey on willpower alone). Spontaneous remission after very heavy drug addictions is rare but Iggy appears to have done it. Maybe Iggy gave up his negative addictions for a more positive addiction – in his case playing live. David Bowie went as far as to say that playing live was an “obsessive” for Iggy. As noted in Paul Trynka’s biography:
“[His touring] was simultaneously impressive and inexplicable. David Bowie used the word’ obsessive’ about Iggy’s compulsion to tour – but there was an internal logic. Jim knew he’d made his best music in the first ten years of his career, and he also believed he’d blown it…but he knew his own excesses or simple lack of psychic stamina were a key reason why the Stooges crashed and burned. Now he had to still prove his stamina, to make up for those weaknesses of three decades ago”.
Iggy Pop is (of course) a stage name. Iggy was born James Newell Osterberg (April 21, 1947). The ‘Iggy’ moniker came from one of the early bands he drummed in (The Iguanas). I mention this because another facet of Iggy Pop’s life that I find psychologically interesting is the many references to ‘Iggy Pop’ being a character created by Jim Osterberg (in much the same way that Bowie created the persona ‘Ziggy Stardust’ – ironically a character that many say is at least partly modeled on Iggy Pop!). Many people that have got to know Jim Osterberg describe him as intelligent, witty, talkative, well read, and excellent social company. Many people that have been in the company of Iggy Pop describe him as sex-crazed, hedonistic, outrageous, a party animal, and a junkie (at least from the late 1960s to the early to mid-1990s). It’s almost as if a real living character was created in which Jim Osterberg could live out an alternative life that he could never do as the person he had become growing up. Iggy Pop became a persona that Jim Osterberg could escape into. When things went horribly wrong (and they often did), it was Iggy’s doing not Osterberg’s. It’s almost as if Osterberg had a kind of multiple personality disorder (now called ‘dissociative identity disorder’ [DID]). One definition notes:
“[Dissociative identity disorder] is a mental disorder on the dissociative spectrum characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately control a person’s behavior, and is accompanied by memory impairment for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness…Diagnosis is often difficult as there is considerable comorbidity with other mental disorders”.
I don’t for one minute believe ‘Jim/Iggy’ suffers from DID but a case could possibly made based on the definition above. Some of the things he did on stage in the name of ‘entertainment’ included gross acts of self-mutilation such as stubbing cigarettes out on his naked body, flagellating himself, cutting his chest open with knives and broken glass bottles. He was a sexual exhibitionist and appeared to love showing his penis to the watching audience. On one infamous occasion, he even dry-humped a large teddy bear live on a British children’s television show. (Maybe Iggy is a secret plushophile? Check out the clip on here on YouTube).
In 1975, Iggy was admitted to the Los Angeles Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI) and underwent treatment (including psychoanalysis) under the care of American psychiatrist Dr. Murray Zucker. After he had completely detoxed all the drugs in his body, Iggy was diagnosed with hypomania (a mental affliction also affecting another of my musical heroes, Adam Ant). This condition was described by Iggy’s biographer Paul Trynka:
“Bipolar disorder [is] characterised by episodes of euphoric or overexcited and irrational behaviour, succeeded by depression. Hypomanics are often described as euphoric, charismatic, energetic, prone to grandiosity, hypersexual, and unrealistic in their ambitions – all of which sounded like a checklist of Iggy’s character traits”.
Dr. Zucker later told Paul Trynka that hypomania tends to get worse with age and it hadn’t with Iggy and therefore the diagnosis of a bipolar disorder may have been wrong. Dr. Zucker now wonders whether “the talent, intensity, perceptiveness, and behavioural extremes” of Iggy were who he truly was “and not a disease…that Jim’s behaviour was simply him enjoying the range of his brain, playing with it, exploring different personae, until it got to the point of not knowing what was up and what was down’. In short, Dr. Zucker (who maintained professional contact with Iggy during the 1980s) claimed Iggy was perhaps “someone who went to the brink of madness just to see what it was like”. Dr. Zucker also claimed that Iggy (like many in the entertainment industry) was a narcissist (“excessive for the average individual” but “unsurprising in a singer…this unending emotional neediness for attention, that’s never enough”). In fact, Iggy went on to write the song ‘I Need More‘ (and was also the title of his autobiography) which pretty much sums him up many of his pychological motivations (at least when he was younger).
It’s clear that Iggy has been drug-free and fit for many years now although many would say that all of his best musical work came about when he was jumping from one addiction to another – particularly during the decade from 1968 to 1978. This raises the question as to whether musicians and songwriters are more creative under the influences of psychoactive substances (but I will leave that for another blog – I’ve just begun some research on creativity and substance abuse with some of my Hungarian research colleagues). I’ll leave the last word with Dr. Zucker (who unlike me) had Iggy as a patient:
“I always got the feeling [Iggy] enjoyed his brain so much he would play with it to the point of himself not knowing what was up and what was down. At times, he seemed to have complete control of turning this on and that on, playing with different personas, out-Bowie-ing David Bowie, as a display of the range of his brain. But then at other times you get the feeling he wasn’t in control – he was just bouncing around with it. It wasn’t just lack of discipline, it wasn’t necessarily bipolar, it was God knows what”.
Ambrose, J. (2008). Gimme Danger: The Story of Iggy Pop. London: Omnibus Press.
Callwood, B. (2008). The Stooges: A Journey Through the Michigan Underworld. London: Independent Music Press.
Pop, I. & Wehrer, A, (1982). I Need More. New York: Karz-Cohl Publishing.
Thompson, D. (2009). Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed. London: Backbeat Books.
Trynka, P. (2007). Open Up and Bleed. London: Sphere.
Wikipedia (2014). Iggy Pop. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iggy_Pop
“Real happiness consists in not what we actually accomplish, but what we think we accomplish” (Charles Green Shaw, American abstract artist)
Ever since I can remember I have always been someone that compiled lists. Back in my youth it was lists of my favourite pop groups, film stars, sports stars, etc. I still make loads of lists but these days they are more likely to be long ‘to do’ lists (in fact, I’ve even written articles on getting the most out of ‘to do’ lists and being organized – see ‘Further reading’ below) or writing articles in the form of lists (in fact, I used to write what I called ‘psychol-lists’ for the British Psychological Society’s in-house magazine The Psychologist). When I make lists I feel more productive, and they are often the spurs to get things done (as long as I actually do the things on the list).
Obviously, list making can be an important activity in the organizational skills of many working individuals. Based on my own observations, most people make lists so they (i) don’t forget things, (ii) don’t procrastinate, (iii) feel in control and focused in what they are doing, (iv) can relieve stress, and (v) can cross things off the list and feel a sense of accomplishment. However, for a minority of people, making lists appears to be obsessive and a mental health issue. In short, there may be a fine line between being organized and being neurotic. From my own personal experience, I know that writing lists can be related to perfectionism. But life isn’t perfect and not completing activities on ‘to do’ lists can raise stress and worry levels. Ironically, the only way some people can deal with this is to make even more lists of things to do.
Obsessive list making is sometimes referred to as glazomania (check out the ‘Manias’ page at The Scorpio Tales website). Online dictionaries tend to define glazomania as either “a passion for list making” or “an unusual fascination with making lists”. However, the term ‘glazomania’ doesn’t appear to be used much academically. I did come across one recent paper in Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, by Dr. Urs Staeheli that mentioned it:
“Recently, quite a number of coffee-table books have been published that collect different sorts of everyday lists. Some authors even speak of a ‘glazomania‘ (Cagen 2007) – that is, an uncontrolled urge to produce lists and a fascination with list-making”
However, there was no other information provided. I managed to track down the 2007 reference to Sasha Cagen’s book (To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us). The book includes creative list-making exercises with the aim of helping individuals to “get in touch with their passion for life, inside and out of work, and refocus them on what brings them alive”. Cagen now makes a living on writing and giving workshops on the benefits of list making (one of her major clients being Google)
Although the term ‘glazomania’ is seldom used academically or clinically, obsessive list making is often mentioned as one of the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. As one online admission I came across noted:
“I have OCD, and recently my OCD flares up in the form of compulsive list making. This behavior totally affects my ability to be productive because I am constantly afraid of forgetting something and of spending time doing the wrong thing. Does anyone have any tips on how to break the cycle?”
The Wikipedia entry on obsessive-compulsive personality disorder notes that the main symptoms are “preoccupation with remembering and paying attention to minute details and facts, following rules and regulations, compulsion to make lists and schedules, as well as rigidity/inflexibility of beliefs or showing perfectionism that interferes with task-completion. Symptoms may cause extreme distress and interfere with a person’s occupational and social functioning” (my emphasis)
Psychologically, an argument could be made that obsessive list makers are simply trying to create an illusion of control in otherwise chaotic lives. The reason whyindividuals with OCD make lists compulsively is that they often afraid (in some cases, to the point of being phobic) that they will forget something important (even though research shows they do not have memory problems). These (arguably unnecessary) lists provide a reminder to carry out daily activities (i.e. brushing teeth, making breakfast, etc.). As with other OCD-type behaviours, the action of making a list helps the individual to feel psychologically better (albeit temporarily). The etiological roots may lie in the fact that the sufferer may at some point in their past history have been reprimanded severely, or repeatedly, by others for innocently forgetting things that were important. The OCD Types website adds:
“They never learn that they do not need the list to remember things. People with OCD may also make lists to remember things that may be contaminated to later wash or avoid, which also contributes to the OCD process. List-making can be in writing or verbalized aloud”.
In 2010, the BBC reported an exhibition at the Archives of American Art in Washington featuring lists made by eminent artists (everything from “scribbled on scraps of paper” to the “elaborately illustrated” including lists by Pablo Picasso, Alfred Konrad, Oscar Bluemner, Eerp Saarinen and Harry Bertoia). Bluemner even kept lists of lists. The curator of the exhibition (Liza Kirwin) told the BBC that:
“In trying to give order to his life, [Bluemner] obscures the clarity of the inventory of his work. He’s completely obsessed with this type of record keeping…This very mundane and ubiquitous form of documentation can tell you a great deal about somebody’s personal biography, where they’ve been and where they’re going. People can relate to this form of documentation because so many people are list keepers and organise their lives this way”.
In the same article, the BBC interviewed the US psychoanalyst Dr. Michael Maccoby who claimed that there are various types of list makers. However, there was little detail and the only quote in relation to types of list makers claimed: “The extreme is the obsessive who has to make lists of everything. These are people who have an unconscious fear that everything is going to be out of control if they don’t make a list”. As far as I am aware, there is no published empirical research on personality types and list making although there is some psychological literature showing that list making – as part of time management practices – appears to have some beneficial effects on both student grade point averages and workplace productivity.
Finally, a few months ago, an online article by Dr. Carrie Barron at the Psychology Today website provided a brief summary of why making lists is psychologically good for people. I’m not sure about the empirical basis of her claims but they seem to have reasonable face validity. I’ll leave you with her reasons (her verbatim list of “six great benefits”!). In summary, Barron believes that lists:
- “Provide a positive psychological process whereby questions and confusions can be worked through.
- Foster a capacity to select and prioritize. This is useful for an information-overload situation.
- Separate minutia from what matters, which is good for identity as well as achievement.
- Help determine the steps needed. That which resonates informs direction and plan.
- Combat avoidance. Taking abstract to concrete sets the stage for commitment and action. Especially if you add self-imposed deadlines.
- Organize and contain a sense of inner chaos, which can make your load feel more manageable”.
Barron, C. (2014). How making lists can quell anxiety and breed creativity. Psychology Today, March 9. Located at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-creativity-cure/201403/how-making-lists-can-quell-anxiety-and-breed-creativity
Cagen, S. (2007). To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Chicago: Touchstone.
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Psycholo-lists. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 240.
Griffiths, M.D. (1996). More psycholo-lists. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 9, 384.
Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Tips on…To do lists. British Medical Journal Careers, 332, 215.
Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Tips on…’To do’ lists. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 68, 27-28.
O’Brien, J. (2010). The art of list-making. BBC News, March 3. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8537856.stm
OCD Types (2014). About obsessive-compulsive disorder. Located at: http://www.ocdtypes.com/unusual-compulsions.php
Staeheli, U. (2012). Listing the global: Dis/connectivity beyond representation? Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 13(3), 233-246.
Wikipedia (2014). Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsessive–compulsive_personality_disorder
Last week I was one of the millions of football fans that watched the Uruguayan footballer Luis Suárez sink his teeth into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini during the Uruguay versus Italy World Cup match. Straight after the match I jokingly tweeted a link to one of my previous blogs on the psychology of sexual biting (known as odaxelagnia). My tweet simply said “Maybe Luis Suárez has an undiagnosed odaxelagnia disorder” followed by a link to my article. The next day, I got a call from a journalist from Daily Telegraph newspaper (Harry Wallop) who was writing an article on why we find the act of biting so shocking.
I’m admittedly no expert on biting but I spent 15 minutes talking to the Telegraph about some of the possible psychological reasons and explanations for human biting in adults. The journalist specifically wanted to know why the act of biting was so shocking. Very little of what I said made it into the published Telegraph article. In fact, the only quotes attributed to me were embedded within a section involving Freudian explanations for biting:
“Suárez may not be found to have committed an offence. But it is clear that an adult biting another in public is much more disturbing than throwing a punch, even if both might be criminal assault. Dr Mark Griffiths, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, says: ‘How many times in football have we seen fisticuffs, elbowing, even headbutting? All these things are awful, but they have become almost part and parcel of the game. But biting is so rare, that is one of the reasons why it is so shocking’. Also, psychologists explain, biting shocks us because it involves using an intimate and soft body part that one normally associates with pleasure. And here we touch on a basic tenet of Freudianism. According to the founding father of psychoanalysis, all sexual pleasure and anxieties are rooted in different periods of childhood, the first of which is the oral stage, when babies explore the world through their mouths. Toddlers often then go on to bite to attract attention and will continue doing so until a parent teaches them otherwise. Behaviour learnt in the oral stage of development is the explanation, Freudians believe, for everything from a predilection for chewing pencils all the way to full-blown vampirism. It is no coincidence that Freud wrote his seminal work on psychosexual theories within a decade of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The vampire, spreading fear in a sexually repressed society, is a powerful metaphor”.
Anyone that knows me knows that I am no fan of Freudian theory. I find him interesting to read but many of his theories can’t be falsified using the scientific method. If his theories can’t be empirically tested then I have little time to take his theories seriously. (For instance, in my main field of gambling addiction, Signund Freud speculated that gambling was unconscious substitute for masturbation and an act of psychic masochism). However, I do believe that many people have unconscious thoughts and desires and that sometimes people simply do not know why they did what they did. Maybe Suárez’ most recent biting incident was no different. Maybe there was no premeditation and that his bite into Chiellini’s shoulder was simply instinctive. Maybe it was a classically conditioned response going back to his childhood.
One of the most surprising aspects in the aftermath of the whole incident is how Suárez’ teammates, his manager, and even the Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, defended his actions. If an England player had done the same thing, I can’t imagine David Cameron welcoming him back to the country. My partner (who is also a psychologist) and I were talking with our children about Suárez’ actions after the game as they both kept asking about why Suárez would bite someone during a game. We speculated that because Suárez has been great footballer all his life, biting incidents that occurred during his childhood may not have been treated and acted upon in the same way in someone not quite so talented. In short, maybe his biting behaviour was tolerated rather than being punished because he was always told what a gifted individual he was.
While being interviewed by the Telegraph, I also speculated that Suárez’ biting may have been some kind of a stress-based reaction. At the time of the bite in the match, Uruguay were heading out of the tournament (as Italy only needed a draw to progress and the score was 0-0). Maybe Suárez’ felt Uruguay were being pushed into a psychological corner by Italy and the biting was symptomatic of feeling under stress. Although rare, Suárez is not the first sportsman to bite an opponent. Many people will recall Mike Tyson biting a piece out of Evander Holyfield’s ear. Less high profile cases include the rugby union players Johan Le Roux (of South Africa) and Dylan Hartley (England). These other cases somehow seem less shocking than that of Suárez. In the Telegraph article, other psychologists were interviewed. Professor David Wilson (Birmingham City University) was quoted as saying:
“To bite someone, you have to get very close, you have to put your head – the place you want to protect the most in a conflict – right up against them…Think about what this does. It literally marks your partner as belonging to you. In evolutionary terms, there are many animals who bite their mates as a way of controlling them before engaging with them sexually. Try as we might, it is hard to escape the sexual nature of biting. It is sometimes even used as a method of attack during sexual crimes…It is nearly always a form of sadism. Often I’d be looking at children who had been bitten by a paedophile or women who had been bitten on their sexual organs. I really don’t want to over-egg it, but Suárez has a mild psychological issue”.
Dr. Saima Latif wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph and asserted that Suárez needs psychological help (i.e., anger management therapy). He (like I) speculated as to why Suárez had bitten Giorgio Chiellini although Latif’s angle was more Freudian and psychodynamic. He wrote:
“Biting is an act borne of frustration, stress and loss of control. Luis Suárez is likely to have felt humiliated and put down in some way that he wanted to get one over on his opponent…Research shows that the most violent period of our lives is when we are between three and four years old. That is the most aggressive stage of development, because if we don’t get what we want, we fight and lash out. It’s also the stage when the Id takes over; a basic instinct when we can’t control our temperament. It’s a possibility that Suárez thought his provocation would lead to his opponent retaliating and then being sent off. However, given that he may also be sent off for biting, this reasoning is slightly more remote.Perhaps his biting started in childhood and was triggered by something, perhaps he was bitten in turn. To get to the root of the problem and address it effectively he does require psychological therapy which looks at the more deep-seated issues that might be of concern”.
Watching Suárez being interviewed after the game, I’m still amazed how trivial he thought the incident to be (“these things happen in football”). He believed he had done nothing wrong and like a child that has been caught doing something wrong he tried to deflect the blame elsewhere. As Dr. Latif noted:
“Most children, when they are confronted with something they have done, will immediately take recourse in lying. The fact that this is a repeated action shows that it is habitual, rather than pathological. It is his particular technique, which makes you wonder how many time’s he’s done it off the pitch”.
Maybe we’ll never know why biting an opponent is part of Suárez’ non-footballing behavioural repertoire on the field. However, that doesn’t mean we should stop hypothesizing about what caused the behaviour in the first place.
Latif, S. (2014). Luis Suarez needs therapy to overcome urge to bite. Daily Telegraph, June 25. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/players/luis-suarez/10925060/Luis-Suarez-needs-therapy-to-overcome-urge-to-bite.html
Wallop, H. (2014). Luis Suárez and the Bite. Daily Telegraph, June 26. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/players/luis-suarez/10925858/Luis-Suarez-and-the-Bite.html