Category Archives: Popular Culture

Distraction plans: Excessive smartphone use and pain perception

In a previous blog I outlined many physical syndromes that had been reported in the 1980s medical literature, a number of which related to excessive video game playing. This included ‘Space Invader’s Wrist’ (published in the New England Journal of Medicine), ‘Pseudovideoma’ (Journal of Hand Surgery), ‘Pac-Man Phalanx’ (Arthritis and Rheumatism) and ‘Joystick Digit’ (Journal of the American Medical Association). More recently, other new medical complaints have been reported related to excessive mobile phone use including a report of ‘Blackberry thumb’ in a 2013 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. 

Earlier this month saw the publication of a case report involving a tendon rupture in a man excessively playing a video game on his smartphone. The report appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine by Dr. Andrew Doan and his colleagues (the same Dr. Doan that reported a case study of someone “addicted” to Google Glass that I examined in a previous blog). The authors of the latest report wrote:

“We describe a patient with rupture of the extensor pollicis longus tendon associated with excessive video game play on his smartphone. A 29-year-old, right hand–dominant man presented with chronic left thumb pain and loss of active motion. Before the onset of symptoms, he reported playing a video game on his smartphone all day for 6 to 8 weeks. He played with his left hand while using his right hand for other tasks, stating that ‘playing was a kind of secondary thing, but it was constantly on.’ When playing the video game, the patient reported that he felt no pain. He reported no injuries or prior operations to either hand. He denied a history of inflammatory arthritis, quinolone use, or other predisposing medical condition for ten-don rupture. On physical examination, the left extensor pollicis longus tendon was not palpable, and no tendon motion was noted with wrist tenodesis. The thumb metacarpophalangeal range of motion was 10° to 80°, and thumb interphalangeal range of motion was 30° to 70°. The findings on physical examination of the patient’s right hand were unremarkable. The clinical diagnosis was rupture of the left extensor pollicis longus tendon. A magnetic resonance imaging study of his left hand revealed tendon attenuation and rupture of the tendon. Radiographic studies of the wrist found no bone spurs or prior or current fractures. The patient subsequently underwent an extensor indicis proprius (1 of 2 tendons that extend the index finger) to extensor pollicis longus tendon transfer. During surgery, rupture of the extensor pollicis longus tendon was seen between the metacarpophalangeal and wrist joints”

One of the things that I found interesting was that despite the tendon rupture, when the man was actually playing the game, he felt no pain. This is something I know only too well from personal experience. Unfortunately, I have a chronic and degenerative spinal complaint (herniated discs in my neck) but I feel no pain whatsoever when I am cognitively distracted. I find that work is a much better analgesic than dihydrocodeine (i.e., when I am working I feel no pain whatsoever). However, playing video games come a close second as when I am engaged in video game playing (even on simple casual games), the fact that it takes up all my cognitive resources means that I don’t feel any pain. This is nothing new and many medics are aware of the therapeutic benefits of gaming. There are now many studies showing that children undergoing chemotherapy need much less pain relief if they play video games after their treatment compared to children that don’t play video games. (In fact I’ve written a number of papers and book chapters on ‘video game therapy’ – see ‘Further reading’ below). This case report then went on to say:

“Video games suppress pain perception in pediatric patients and during burn treatments. Visual distraction and neuroendocrine hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal arousal provide a plausible explanation for why the patient did not feel pain from his injury. Without the expected physiologic negative pain feedback, excessive gaming may have led to tendon attenuation and subsequent attritional rupture of the tendon. Attritional rupture at the midtendon differs from high- energy ruptures that occur where the tendon is thinnest or be- tween tendon and bone. Although this is only a single case report, research might consider whether video games have a role in clinical pain management and as nonpharmacologic alternatives during uncomfortable or painful medical procedures. They may also have a role in reducing stress. It may be interesting to ascertain whether various games differ in their ability to reduce the perception of pain…Research might also consider whether pain reduction is a reason some individuals play video games excessively, manifest addiction, or sustain injuries associated with video gaming”.

This conclusion does appear to suggest that the authors are unaware of the many hundreds of studies that have examined the therapeutic benefits of gaming (in fact there’s even an academic journal dedicated to such studies appropriately called the Games For Health Journal). As I have noted in a number of my writings about video gaming as a medical intervention for children:

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

Consequently, videogames have also been used in a number of studies as ‘distractor tasks’. This latest case report highlights the simultaneous potential positive and negatives of gaming within a single individual but also highlights the fact that video gaming is both mobile and spreading to many more types of hardware. I’m now wondering which medical team will be the first to write about a new medical syndrome relating to the new Apple Watch.

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

Further reading

Behr, J.T. (1984). Pseudovideoma. Journal of Hand Surgery, 9(4), 613.

Gibofsky, A. (1983). Pac‐Man phalanx. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 26(1), 120.

Gilman, L., Cage, D.N., Horn, A. Bishop, F., Klam, W.P. & Doan, A.P. (2015). Tendon rupture associated with excessive smartphone gaming. JAMA Internal Medicine, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.0753

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). The therapeutic use of videogames in childhood and adolescence. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 8, 547-554.

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

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

Griffiths, M. D., Kuss, D.J., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. (2013). Videogames as therapy: A review of the medical and psychological literature. In I. M. Miranda & M. M. Cruz-Cunha (Eds.), Handbook of research on ICTs for healthcare and social services: Developments and applications (pp.43-68). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCowan, T.C. (1981). Space Invader’s wrist. New England Journal of Medicine, 304,1368.

Osterman, A. L., Weinberg, P., & Miller, G. (1987). Joystick digit. Journal of the American Medical Association, 257(6), 782.

O’Sullivan, B. (2013). Beyond BlackBerry thumb. CMAJ, 185, 185-186.

Soe, G.B., Gersten, L. M., Wilkins, J., Patzakis, M. J., & Harvey, J.P. (1987). Infection associated with joystick mimicking a spider bite. Western Journal of Medicine, 146(6), 748.

Yung, K., Eickhoff, E., Davis, D. L., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2014). Internet Addiction Disorder and problematic use of Google Glass™ in patient treated at a residential substance abuse treatment program. Addictive Behaviors, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2014.09.024.

Deal love: Bargain hunting as an addiction

“Bargain hunting may save money, but for some people, looking for the next ‘great deal’ becomes an addiction. The call of the clearance rack wins out over practical matters – like whether you need or want what you found, or even have a place to put it” (Tesh Media, ‘Are You Addicted To Bargain Hunting?’)

A couple of weeks ago, I did some background research for a newspaper interview on the psychology of bargain hunting (only for the journalist then to interview somebody else about it). Instead of wasting all the material collected, I decided to use it for this article. Most of the material in this article borders on ‘pop psychology’ but I found it interesting nonetheless. For instance, in a recent article on the BBC News website, the (anonymous) author provided some basic rules on how to be a more savvy shopper and bargain hunter (which I am quoting verbatim):

  • “Try to avoid stores that are too busy with loud music. This can confuse and distract you from judging what is a genuine offer.
  • Ask the sales rep to repeat the sales details in a clear and slow manner and if possible ask him/her to write them down.
  • Before you make a decision take a break, count from one to ten and think again about the benefits and perils of the offer.
  • Can you shop alone? Peer pressure has been proven to be a key indicator for individuals buying products that they do not need.
  • Never shop when you are feeling emotionally upset. Purchasing to overcome any mood or behavioural troubles is not beneficial in the long term.
  • Go shopping after a meal or when in a good and clear mood. There is evidence that shopping when you feel peckish can make you spend more than intended”.

As soon as we enter any shop (online or offline) we are being bombarded with psychological tactics in an attempt to get us to buy more products (such as selling products that have a price ending in 99p). The BBC article interviewed consumer psychologist Dr. Dimitri Tsivrikos who said:

“These prices are obviously used to convince you that you are spending less than you actually are. A price reduction makes it even more tempting. The bargain price is appealing to you because it challenges the status quo. The retailer appears not to be in complete control of the final price of the product, and this makes you feel that you are now in control. And because of that you feel you can negotiate the final price that you have to pay – whether that is the sale price or even a buy one get one free deal…Brain studies have shown that when we are excited by a bargain, this interferes with your ability to clearly judge whether it is actually a good offer or not”.

When I started researching online, I came across a number of articles claiming that for a small minority, bargain hunting was addictive (as the opening quote demonstrates). In another article on the Tesh Media website, reference was made to April Lane Benson’s edited book I Shop, Therefore I Am. According to that article (which merges bargain hunting addiction with shopping addiction more generally):

“[Benson] says that when it comes to bargain-hunting addictions, what people buy isn’t as important as how big the price reduction is. In fact, the bigger the price cut, the more tempting a purchase is. After all, if something’s 80% off the original price – you’re saving 80 percent! What you may not consider is that by not buying, you’ll save 100%. Bargain addicts also make illogical purchases, like grabbing up sale-price auto parts for cars they don’t own, or bargain kid’s clothes for children they don’t have…So, why is a bargain-hunting addiction so common? Tim Kasser, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois, says it’s a way for people to ease insecurities, and feel more competent and in control. In fact, shopping addicts often don’t realize they have a problem, even when the bags and bills start stacking up. It usually takes a big event to bring it to their attention, like divorce, a new baby, unemployment, or retirement. Or they simply max out their credit cards, and have no more spending power”

In the same article published on the Tech Media website, it claimed the five signs of being ‘addicted’ to bargain hunter were:

  • “You hit sales and clearance racks when you feel angry or blue. Or you feel guilty after shopping and hide your purchases.
  • You spend more money than you can afford.
  • You see sales as opportunities you can’t pass up.
  • Another clue you’re a bargain addict: You spend so much time tracking down deals that it intrudes on your time with family and friends.
  • You often forget what you bought, and find things in your closets you’ve never used”.

Obviously some of these ‘warning signs’ tap into what I believe are the core components of addiction (such as the fourth bullet point that taps into ‘conflict’), however, most of the criteria have nothing to do with ‘addiction’ whatsoever. Using bargain-hunting as a way of making oneself feel better mirrors what is found in other addictions, but characteristics such as not being able to pass up a bargain, and forgetting what has been bought are not core signs of addiction but are idiosyncratic consequences that specifically relate to bargain hunting. Another online article also noted:

“According to new survey findings from Consumer Reports, 23% of women say they sometimes buy things they don’t need just because they’re on sale. For most of us, getting a discount is enough of a reward: 80% say they would hunt for a bargain even if money weren’t an issue for them. In general, the survey found bargain shopping has increased significantly, from 76% in 2011 to 83% today. That shift may be due in part to the growing use of smartphone coupons, which has increased from 11% in 2011 to 24% today. Human psychology may help explain the irresistible allure of a discount. Research suggests that people tend to enjoy bargains, regardless of whether any financial gain is involved. You might even be able to blame your bargain hunting on Mom and Dad, because some experts say genetic differences make certain people predisposed to finding pleasure in raiding the sale rack”.

This paragraph provided a hyperlink to some genuine academic research carried out by Dr. Peter Darke and his colleagues (published in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology). They carried out a couple of experiments examining both the financial and non-financial motivations underlying bargain hunting. They reported that:

“Subjects read scenarios that described the purchase of a television set. Scenarios differed in terms of whether a bargain was received, whether there was personal financial gain, and whether the sale was acquired through skill or luck. The results suggest that subjects generally enjoyed bargains regardless of any financial gain, thereby implying that nonfinancial motives might also be involved. Surprisingly, bargains acquired skillfully were not enjoyed more than lucky bargains. Thus, achievement motives could not explain why subjects enjoyed bargains when there was no associated financial gain. Instead, it seemed that acquiring a bargain was primarily considered a matter of luck”.

I was also interested in the claims that bargain hunting might be underpinned by genetic influences. These claims were made by Mark Ellwood in his 2013 book Bargain fever: How to shop in a discounted world. Ellwood summarized his book in an article for Time magazine and wrote:

“As it turns out, a passion for finding bargains is genetically preprogrammed in all humans, although it’s activated much more in some than others. Spotting special offers triggers a release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter that I like to think of as ‘buyagra’. Dopamine is such a powerful chemical that our brains have developed a built-in system to clean it up as quickly as possible. One in four Caucasians has an otherwise harmless flaw in what’s known as the COMT gene. While the rest of us can flush our brains free of dopamine with the efficiency of a Dyson, those with an iffy COMT gene can brandish only a hand broom. It takes more time and effort to flush their brains clean of buyagra – and so they are physiologically more prone to splurge, especially on bargains”.

Ellwood claimed that as soon as “bargain addicts sees one ‘Sale’ sign – cue a jolt of dopamine – they’re hooked”. More specifically, he goes on to argue that:

“Of course, a propensity for bargain hunting isn’t purely genetic…Many hardcore coupon cutters I’ve interviewed cite hardscrabble childhoods or food-bank visits as the foundation of their frugality. Certainly, in the past decade, deal hunting has gone from a sign of indigence to one of intelligence; thanks to the roiling economy and an uncertain future, more people have migrated to the markdown section than ever before…Internet-equipped smartphones turned price comparison into a one-step process in your palm — the practice known as showrooming that’s so detested by retailers. But in our search for bargains, we would do well to ask ourselves whether we are really trying to economize or whether we’re being driven by an even stronger impulse: the chemical drive to get a good price”.

Given that I believe shopping can be an addiction in a minority of individuals, it doesn’t take too much of a leap to suggest bargain hunting could be an addiction (or even a sub-type of shopping addiction). However, as far as I am aware, there has never been any empirical research examining ‘bargain hunting addiction’ more specifically. Based on the few online articles that I read, it certainly appears that we are living in a time and an age where such research would be worth carrying out.

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

Further reading

BBC News (2015). The psychology of shopping for bargains. Located at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/consumer/23818336

Benson, A.L. (2000). I Shop Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self. Jason Aronson Inc. Publishers.

Consumer Reports (2014). America’s bargain-hunting habits. What shoppers will and won’t do to save a buck. April 30. Located at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/04/america-s-bargain-hunting-habits/index.htm

Darke, P. R., & Freedman, J. L. (1995). Nonfinancial Motives and Bargain Hunting1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25(18), 1597-1610.

Davenport, K., Houston, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Excessive eating and compulsive buying behaviours in women: An empirical pilot study examining reward sensitivity, anxiety, impulsivity, self-esteem and social desirability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 474-489.

Ellwood, M. (2013). The genetics of bargain hunting. Time, October 21. Located at: http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/21/the-genetics-of-bargain-hunting/

Ellwood, M. (2013). Bargain fever: How to shop in a discounted world. London: Portfolio.

Lebowitz, S. (2014). Extreme bargain hunters: How far would you go for a deal. LearnVest, May 2. Located at: http://www.learnvest.com/2014/05/extreme-bargain-hunters-how-far-would-you-go-for-a-deal-123/

Maraz, A., Eisinger, A., Hende, Urbán, R., Paksi, B., Kun, B., Kökönyei, G., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Measuring compulsive buying behaviour: Psychometric validity of three different scales and prevalence in the general population and in shopping centres. Psychiatry Research, 225, 326–334.

Tesh Media Group (2015). Are you addicted to bargain hunting? Located at: http://www.tesh.com/story/money-and-finance-category/are-you-addicted-to-bargain-hunting/cc/12/id/9141

Williams, A. (2013). Bargain fever: The new secrets of shopping in a discounted world. The Week, November 5. Located at: http://theweek.com/articles/457383/bargain-fever-new-secrets-shopping-discounted-world

Mould on tight: A brief look at plaster cast fetishism

Back in the early 2000s I remember watching Plaster Caster, a documentary film that looked at the life of artist and groupie, Cynthia Plaster Caster (i.e., Cynthia Albritton). Cynthia is in/famous for her plaster casting of rock star penises such as Jimi Hendrix and Noel Redding (both in the Jimi Hendrix Experience), Eric Burdon (The Animals), Wayne Kramer (MC-5), Jello Biafra (The Dead Kennedys), and Pete Shelley (Buzzcocks), She began her career in erotic plaster casting in 1968 but now includes women as her artistic clients (and typically makes plaster casts of their breasts). Her plaster casting skills have also been immortalized in song by both Kiss (‘Plaster Caster’) and Jim Croce (‘Five Short Minutes’). As her Wikipedia entry points out:

“In college, when her art teacher gave the class an assignment to ‘plaster cast something solid that could retain its shape’, her idea to use the assignment as a lure to entice rock stars to have sex with her became a hit, even before she made a cast of anyone’s genitalia. Finding a dental mould making substance called alginate to be sufficient, she found her first client in Jimi Hendrix, the first of many to submit to the idea. Meeting Frank Zappa, who found the concept of ‘casting’ both humorous and creative as an art form, Albritton found in him something of a patron”.

However, sexual plaster casting does not begin and end with Cynthia Plaster Caster. In a previous blog, I briefly mentioned the practice of mummification within a sadomasochistic context. According to Dr. Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, mummification is:

“An extreme form of bondage in which the person is wrapped from head to toe, much like a mummy, completely immobilizing him. Materials used may be clingfilm, cloth, bandages, rubber strips, duct tape, plaster bandages, bodybags, or straitjackets. The immobilized person may then be left bound in a state of effective sensory deprivation for a period of time or sensually stimulated in his state of bondage – before being released from his wrappings”.

One type of restrictive mummification practice not mentioned by Dr. Aggrawal is that of plaster cast fetishism. Although there is little academic research on the topic, a quick Google search throws up many dedicated online sites and hundreds of video clips for sale and/or sharing. For instance, I came across the Casted Angel website (that claims to be the oldest ‘cast and bandage site’), the Cast Fetish website, the Cast Paradise website, and the Fantacast website (please be warned that if you click on any of the links, all of these sites are sexually explicit)

The Wikipedia entry on mummification reports that such activity is typically used to enhance the feelings of total bodily helplessness (which would be totally fulfilled by those engaging in plaster cast fetishism), and is incorporated with sensation play (i.e., a group of erotic activities that facilitate particular physical sensations upon a sexual partner). As a 2010 article on ‘The Erotic Secrets of the Mummy’ notes:

“A variant of this extreme and spectacular form of bondage is mummification made with plaster…Anyone who has taken an arm or leg immobilized by a cast can imagine how restrictive it is to use this material for bondage. Obviously there are safety precautions which must be taken: you must cover the body of the person to be bound with a protective layer (e.g. plastic) so the plaster does not come into direct contact with skin, and make sure to have safety scissors around for easy removal of the bindings. It is also important to note that mummification increases body temperature and therefore sweating, so you must make sure to hydrate the person being bound. An example of complete plaster mummification can be seen in a nonsexual context, in the comedy After Hours by Martin Scorsese”.

As well as being a form of extreme mummification, plaster cast fetishism is also a sub-variant of ‘cast fetishism’ that according to the Encyclopedia Dramatica comprises erotic “concentration on orthopedic casts (plaster, polymer, bandage, etc.) It is usually related to the fetishes of feet, stockings, shoes and amputees”. Cast fetishists derive sexual pleasure and arousal from people (typically the opposite sex) wearing casts on their limbs (but may also be additionally aroused by people using crutches or who have a limp). I’ve come across dozens of people who have posted in online forums and claiming they have cast fetishes and/or fixations. Here are just a few:

  • Extract 1: “It is no bad thing to have a cast fetish when you have an ongoing foot injury. This morning I got [a plaster cast] for my left leg as my foot is giving trouble. Wanting to keep my foot up when riding in my friend’s car I put the window down and rested my cast on the top of the door. The wind blowing across my bare casted toes as we drove down the street was just the ultimate turn-on!”
  • Extract 2: “Since I was a child I had a strong fetish for casts and bandages. When I was 6 or 7 years old I saw a girl in at the local hospital, with a freshly applied plaster [cast] in her right leg, and how she cleaned her toes with a damp cloth. That’s still one of the memories that arouses me. Two years ago, I had a girlfriend, who came to know about my fetish, it was kinda difficult for me to say, but she liked the idea and I put her in a homemade [plaster cast], then I painted her toenails and put a toe-ring. It was a shame that it was one night only and the plaster didn’t dry at all, but it was so good to stay with her and kiss her toes wiggling out of her cast. It was one of the most pleasant nights that I’ve had”.
  • Extract 3: “I have been in love with casts since about 13 yrs old. I have had the chance to [wear a] dual hip [cast] and several short and long term casts but want to wear possibly a full body one day if I find the right cast partner”.
  • Extract 4: I’ve had an interest seeing girls in casts for quite some time now. I think it started when I was a little kid and broke my leg. Probably since then I have always wanted to be in a cast, but didn’t want to hurt myself! I just recently discovered the ease and community around the world of recreational casting. I have a short leg cast and it’s an amazing feeling!”
  • Extract 5: “I have always had a fascination for seeing people in a cast, and in particular girls in long leg casts. It may have something to do with the restricted movement I don’t know. I am not interested in the associated, implied pain aspect but more the caring aspect. I always thought that this was an idea peculiar to me but, I was recently inspired to search the net and found a whole community subscribing to the cast fetish idea with many images…I have never fractured a limb so I have never had a cast but, I have made a couple of attempts at self-casting”
  • Extract 6: “I love being in a cast. For years I have studied the casting processes in both plaster and fiberglass. I have honed these skills to the point [that] nobody, [not] even an orthopedic assistant can tell it was not applied professionally”
  • Extract 7: “I have always wanted to have a cast on my leg and or arm. I have tried hitting my hand on the ground but I still have not fractured it…I would even pay someone to break both my arm and leg”

One of the most detailed I have come across is this one:

“I have a strong sexual attraction to, and erotic fascination with, the sight of the female leg wearing an orthopaedic cast, particularly along its full extent, from toes to hip. Now in my mid-forties, I have been aware of this ‘interest’ since my early teens, which might explain my particular attraction to plaster casts, as were the norm at such a time, which somehow seem heavier and more of a physical entity than contemporary casts. For many years, I assumed this peculiar attraction to be mine alone, and looked forward to those rare occasions when I might see a woman with a leg in plaster in public or otherwise find a picture in a newspaper or magazine, which I would collect. However, since the advent of the internet, I have become aware that a number of like-minded souls exist all over the world, that the ‘cast fetish’ is out there in the world of cyberspace, is shared and enjoyed by people and is practised recreationally in the real, everyday world by those who have the inclination and means to do so”.

“As the online aspect of this fetish has developed over recent years, I now find I am able to better satisfy my visual needs through the large number of available images, of both medically and recreationally-worn leg casts. I have obsessively built a large collection of pictures of women wearing leg casts, and frequently enjoy these. Sometimes I feel a certain frustration that my need to satisfy the desire to find and see more images consumes more time than I have available to ‘waste’, but this is not something over which I have full control – it is a compulsion and needs to be fulfilled in this way, in the manner of such a condition, even if it never seems possible to have quite enough of such images, there is always the thrill of the anticipation of finding a new, ‘perfect’ picture of a cast and its wearer. I have always assumed that my obsession is based on the aesthetics of the leg cast, being related as it is to my general attraction to women’s legs, feet, toes, boots, etc. The leg cast is very much an ‘object of desire’ in its appearance and in the manner it objectifies the leg inside, I enjoy the way a cast looks and find this arousing”.

“However, I wonder whether my ‘interest’ may have other underlying, hidden causes and inspirations, and exactly what might have triggered this fetish? I wonder this because although I have never had occasion to wear a cast myself (and thus experienced the physical restrictions imposed by one), and neither has anyone with whom I might spend regular, extended periods of time, such as a family member or close friend, I have often imagined that female friends might have to have a leg in plaster that I might be around them, or that I might meet and form a relationship with a woman in such a situation (not that I have any desire to see anyone come to harm, suffer an injury, etc, but I would love to see the effect of such – the wearing of a cast – if it ever occurred). I have a very strong desire to be in the presence of a leg cast as it is being worn, that I might interact with it and the wearer, that I might experience the sexuality of such, and it is something about which I have frequent sexual fantasies, being the most arousing situation I am able to imagine”.

In a short 2006 article on ‘Women with Plaster Casts’ at the online Trendhunter website, Hernando Gomez Salinas wrote about the Cast Fetish website and then used the writings of Sigmund Freud to provide some theoretical insight into the fetish:

“According to Freud, fetishism is considered a paraphilia or sexual deviation as a consequence of an infantile trauma with the fear of castration. When a kid discovers the absence of penis in his mother, he looks away from her terrified, and the first object he stares at after the trauma turns into his fetish object. So, according to Freud, it is possible that the fans of [the Cast Fetish webpage] saw their fathers or a relative with a plaster cast”

I am not a fan of Freud’s theorizing, and I personally believe that the origin of such fetishes is most likely behavioural conditioning (classical and/or operant). However, given the complete lack of empirical research, this was the only article I came across that featured anything vaguely academic in relation to the fetishizing of plaster casts. It would appear from both anecdotal evidence that plaster cast mummification (particularly within a BDSM context) comprises a significant minority interest and is probably nowhere near as rare as some other sexual behaviours that I have covered in my previous blogs.

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

Further reading

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

Forbidden Sexuality (2004). Mummification bondage. Located at: http://www.forbiddensexuality.com/mummification_bondage.htm

Salinas, H.G. (2006). Women with plaster casts. Trend Hunter, November 29. Located at: http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/weird-fetishism-women-with-plaster-casts

Wikipedia (2013). Sensation play (BDSM). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensation_play_(BDSM)

Wikipedia (2013). Total enclosure fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_enclosure_fetishism

Wikipedia (2013). Mummification (BDSM). Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummification_(BDSM)

Prophet share: A case study of ‘addiction to fortune telling’

In the latest issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, there are two papers that I co-authored on muscle dysmorphia as an addiction (see ‘Further reading’ below). The reason I mention this is because in the same issue there was a case study report by Dr. Marie Grall-Bronnec and her colleagues of a woman (Helen) that was ‘addicted’ to fortune tellers. As noted in their paper:

“Clairvoyance consulting, also known as fortune teller consulting, is a behavior that may seem harmless, but can also become excessive. Fortune telling is defined as the practice of predicting information about a person’s life, using for example…astrology, cartomancy or crystallomancy”.

As I have noted in a number of my previous blogs, I subscribe to the view that if there are clinical criteria for addiction and a behaviour fulfils the criteria, it should be classed as an addiction (irrespective of the behaviour). This has led to accusations of me “watering down the concept of addiction” because such criteria have been applied to behaviours as diverse as gardening and chewing gum. According to the authors of the ‘fortune telling addiction’ paper:

“Helen is a 45-year-old woman who declares early on suffering from ‘a clairvoyance addiction’…She has no particular medical history, except for two major depression episodes after romantic breakups, and does not take any medication. She regularly sees a psychiatrist for support psychotherapy because of negative life events (sexual abuse and death in her family). She is divorced and does not have any children. Her career as a manager seems to fully satisfy her. She decides to seek treatment on account of her excessive financial expenditures due to the consultation of fortune tellers. Another motivation that explains her decision is her age. Indeed, she says she is entering a new phase in her life, after renouncing to the idea of becoming a mother one day”.

According to the paper, Helen had been consulting fortune tellers since she was 19 years old. She started using such people for educational and career advice as she claimed that she was poor at reaching important decisions herself and thought the life choices she made would be wrong. The authors noted that her first meeting with a clairvoyant was an event that gave her a feeling of reassurance. In her mid-twenties, her visits to clairvoyants escalated significantly and ended up losing control of her use of fortune telling”. At that particular time, she was visiting clairvoyants to get relationship advice from them (e.g., “Does he really love me?” and “How long will our relationship last?”). Her current ‘addiction to clairvoyants’ dates back to her mid- to late-30s when she got divorced after the failure of her marriage:

“She repeatedly returned to fortune telling to reassure herself about the future of her relationship, and increasingly so as it deteriorated. The breakup worsened the disorder. Since her divorce, she consults fortune tellers – not always the same person – on the phone or online, in a compulsive way, more and more often (up to every day), for longer and longer periods of time (up to 8 hours a day) and spends each time more and more money (up to 200 euros per session). As she is never satisfied with the fortune tellers’ predictions, she will consult again very soon after the latest call or connection. Every choice she has to make, from the most trivial (going to the movies) to the most important (making relationship decisions), leads her to irrationally consult a fortune teller”

Before each consultation she said he got very excited at the prospect and that the experience relieved all of her psychological discomfort (at least in the short-term). However, not long after consultations she would feel incredibly guilty. The paper also reported that during consultations with the fortune tellers, she was totally convinced that they could see her future and that their predictions would come true. He authors went on to report:

“This excessive behavior gives her some kind of reassurance and allows her to make up for her lack of self-confidence. In that sense, the excessive behavior could be considered as an attempt at self-medication or as a way to cope with negative emotions. However, Helen knows that her belief in the fortune tellers’ ability to predict the future is completely irrational. This brings major adverse consequences, particularly in financial terms: despite a comfortable income, she is indebted. She also says having low self-esteem, due to her in- ability to resist her strong urge to consult fortune tellers, and due to her being isolated from the others because of the time spent consulting fortune tellers. Helen succeeds in limiting the consultation of fortune tellers during short periods of time, when her financial situation becomes too critical”.

The authors of the report also used different sets of addiction criteria to determine whether Helen was truly addicted to consulting clairvoyants. They also used my own six criteria (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse). Here are the authors own description of the behaviour using my components model:

  • Salience: “Consulting fortune tellers becomes the most important activity in Helen’s life and dominates her thinking (preoccupation and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behavior (she has progressively quit all her leisure activities, particularly going out with friends)”.
  • Mood modification: “Helen says feeling excitement before each consultation, but also feels nervous tension and anxiety. This excessive behavior gives her some kind of reassurance and the excessive behavior could be considered as an attempt at self-medication or a way to cope with negative emotions”.
  • Tolerance: “Over time, Helen has been feeling a growing need to consult fortune tellers, and the consultations have to last longer to obtain the same effect of relief”.
  • Withdrawal: “When she attempts to resist the urge to consult or has to refrain from consulting fortune tellers (in the case of her financial situation being too critical, for example), she feels tense and nervous”.
  • Conflict: “Helen knows that her use of fortune telling is problematic, and that it brings very negative consequences. However, she cannot refrain from consulting fortune tellers, leading to an intra-psychic conflict and guilt”.
  • Relapse: “Over the years, Helen has made repeated efforts to reduce and stop this problematic behavior. Her clinical course is characterized by relapses and remissions”.

Based on the evidence presented, there is clear evidence that Helen’s behaviour was problematic. Whether it was genuinely addictive is debatable but the authors provided some evidence that (in this case at least) the behaviour appeared to include some addictive aspects. The authors conclude that in addition to individual risk factors, other situational and structural characteristics may have played a role in the development of problematic behaviour concerning Helen’s ‘addiction’:

Regarding the risk factors related to the object of addiction (i.e. fortune telling use), one might mention, inter alia, the possibility to consult online, which guarantees anonymity. Furthermore, the Internet increases both accessibility and availability. Finally, the money spent during fortune telling sessions seems virtual, which makes it all the more easy to spend. Increased risks related to the Internet have already been described on gambling (Griffiths, Wardle, Orford, Sproston & Erens, 2009). Regarding socio-environmental risk factors, today’s society encourages the need for control and does not give way to uncertainty. In Helen’s case, all the conditions were met for the fortune telling use to become excessive, and we are tempted to conclude that it is an addictive-like phenomenon”.

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

Further reading

Foster, A.C., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Muscle Dysmorphia: Could it be classified as an Addiction to Body Image? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 1-5.

Grall-bronnec, M. Bulteau, S., Victorri-Vigneau, C., Bouju, G. & Sauvaget, A. (2015). Fortune telling addiction: Unfortunately a serious topic about a case report. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 4, 27-31.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M. (2005). A “components” model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191–197.

Griffiths, M.D., Foster, A.C. & Shorter, G.W. (2015). Muscle dysmorphia as an addiction: A response to Nieuwoudt (2015) and Grant (2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 11-13.

Griffiths, M., Wardle, H., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2009). Sociodemographic correlates of internet gambling: Findings from the 2007 British gambling prevalence survey. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 199–202.

Hughes, M., Behanna, R. & Signorella, M. L. (2001). Perceived ac- curacy of fortune telling and belief in the paranormal. Journal of Social Psychology, 141(1), 159–160.

Shein, P. P., Li, Y. Y. & Huang, T. C. (2014). Relationship between scientific knowledge and fortune-telling. Public Understanding of Science, 23(7), 780–796.

Mourning sickness? A brief look at disaster tourism

Last week I did an interview with the Daily Mail about disaster tourism and why people flock to see disaster areas. I briefly mentioned the topic in a previous blog that I wrote on people that collect murder memorabilia (‘murderabilia’) and argued that the psychology behind disaster tourism and murderabilia were very similar. According to the Wikipedia entry:

“Disaster tourism is the act of travelling to a disaster area as a matter of curiosity. Disaster tourism took hold in the Greater New Orleans Area in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are now guided bus tours to neighbourhoods that were severely damaged and/or totally destroyed by the flooding”.

The same article also highlights the March and April 2010 eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. The article noted that disaster tourism quickly sprang up following the first eruption, with tour companies offering trips to see the volcano. Academically, disaster tourism is closely associated with ‘Dark Tourism’ and also has its own Wikipedia page:

“Dark tourism (also black tourism or grief tourism) has been defined as tourism involving travel to sites historically associated with death and tragedy. More recently it was suggested that the concept should also include reasons tourists visit that site, since the site’s attributes alone may not make a visitor a ‘dark tourist’. Thanatourism, derived from the ancient Greek word thanatos for the personification of death, refers more specifically to violent death; it is used in fewer contexts than the terms ‘dark tourism’ and ‘grief tourism’. The main draw to dark locations is their historical value rather than their associations with death and suffering”.

When I started researching this blog I was quite surprised by the amount of academic writing on the topic (although the vast majority of it is theorizing rather than the collection of empirical data). The academic field appears to have been kick-started by the publication of Malcolm Foley and John Lennon’s 2000 book Dark tourism: The attraction of death and disasters. Most of the papers I read speculated on the many motivations that people have for visiting places associated with death along with typologies of different kinds of dark tourism and what dark tourism means in a wider social and cultural context. In 2012, Dr. Maximiliano Korstanje speculated that “dark tourism could be a mechanism of resiliency helping society to recover after a disaster or catastrophe, a form of domesticating death in a secularized world”. However, many academics have different views and/or explanations. Before looking at some of the academic theorizing, I wanted to share some of the pros and cons of disaster tourism from an article on the WiseGeek site (‘What is disaster tourism?’) as non-academic articles seem to get straight to the point without the caveats and psychosocial babble:

“Disaster tourism is the practice of traveling to areas that have recently experienced natural or man-made disasters. Individuals who participate in this type of travel are typically curious to see the results of the disaster and often travel as part of an organized group. Many people have criticized disaster tourism as exploitation of human misery and a practice that demeans and humiliates local residents. Others argue that tourism to devastated areas can offer a boost to the local economy and raise awareness of the incident, both of which are often needed after a tragedy. When a geographical region suffers a major incident, the media may spend a great deal of time reporting on the situation and the plight of local residents…As a result, some people will actually visit the affected areas so they can experience the situation firsthand. These individuals are typically motivated by curiosity and do not necessarily plan to participate in relief efforts…In some cases, those who participate in disaster tourism will simply travel to an area on their own, while others will purchase a package tour from a travel business”.

Many of the more populist articles on disaster tourism and dark tourism would have readers believe that the phenomenon is new, but it isn’t. Throughout human history there are dozens of examples of people visiting places associated with death and destruction. As I argued in my interview with the Daily Mail, people are intrigued by death and the macabre (and was the subject of a previous blog I wrote on people’s fascination with death).

As a child I remember going on school trips to battlefields, visiting graveyards and cemeteries, and making brass rubbings from burial places in churches and cathedrals. As an adult I have visited Ground Zero in New York and Alcatraz prison island off San Francisco. Is this really that far removed from dark tourism? Many academic writers such as Dr. Philip Stone (who has written paper after paper on dark tourism and has his own ‘Institute for Dark Tourism Research at the University of Central Lancashire, UK) note that war-tourism is a small subset “of the totality of tourist sites associated with death and suffering”. He makes reference to people visiting assassination sites (e.g., the building where President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas), Holocaust sites (such as the Auschwitz concentration camp), celebrity death sites (of Elvis Presley, James Dean, Buddy Holly, etc.), terrorism sites, major disaster sites (e.g., plane crash sites, tsunami sites), slavery heritage attractions, and ‘entertainment’ locations (such as Vienna’s Funeral Museum, Whitby’s ‘Dracula Experience’, the Tower of London). In short, he argues that a full categorisation of dark tourism is extremely complex. He also goes on to say that:

“Despite the diverse range of sites and tourist experiences, Tarlow (2005) identifies dark tourism as ‘visitations to places where tragedies or historically noteworthy death has occurred and that continue to impact our lives’ – a characterisation that aligns dark tourism somewhat narrowly to certain sites and that, perhaps, hints at particular motives. However, it excludes many shades of dark sites and attractions related to, but not necessarily the site of, death and disaster…Consequently, Cohen (2011) addresses location aspects of dark tourism through a paradigm of geographical authenticity and sense of victimhood. Meanwhile, Biran, Poria, and Oren (2011) examine sought benefits of dark tourism within a framework of dialogic meaning making…Jamal and Lelo (2011) also explore the conceptual and analytical framing of dark tourism, and suggest notions of darkness in dark tourism are socially constructed, rather than objective fact….dark tourism may be referred to more generally as the ‘act of travel to tourist sites associated with death, suffering or the seemingly macabre’ (Stone, 2006)”

I was also surprised to learn from Dr. Stone and other papers that dark tourism has been given lots of other names in the academic literature including ‘morbid tourism’, ‘fright tourism’, ‘horror tourism’, ‘black spot tourism’, ‘hardship tourism’, ‘grief tourism’, ‘tragedy tourism’, ‘[extreme] thanatourism’, ‘warfare tourism’ and ‘genocide tourism’ all of which concern “milking the macabre” and “dicing with death”.

Dr. Jeffrey Podoshen (2013) has noted that an interest in death is general, and not person-specific and leads to the conclusion that there are a wide variety of potential manifestations related to dark tourism consumption motivations. Various academics have speculated that the motivations for dark tourism include sensation seeking and voyeurism. Citing the work of Dr. Richard Sharpley, he notes that “schadenfreude sparks dark tourism interest and likens these tourists to rubber-neckers who gaze at the tragedy of others”. However, as Philip Stone and Richard Sharpley note in a 2008 issue of the Annals of Tourism:

“The question of why tourists seek out such dark sites has attracted limited attention. Generally, visitors are seen to be driven by differing intensities of interest or fascination in death, in the extreme hinting at tasteless, ghoulish motivations. More specific reasons vary from morbid fascination or ‘rubber-necking’, through empathy with the victims, to the need for a sense of survival/continuation, untested factors which, arguably, demand verification within a psychology context”.

A recent study by Dr Takalani Mudzanani published in a 2014 issue of the Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences examined why people visited the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum in South Africa (named after one of the pupils who died during the Soweto riots). Via 15 in-depth interviews his study highlighted factors such as novelty, escapism, enhancement of kinship relations, nostalgia, education and the media played an important role in motivating visitors to visit the site. Finally, it’s worth noting that there are also those in the field that believe there are levels of dark tourism (such as Dr. William Miles in a 2002 issue of the Annals of Tourism Research) who talk of dark, darker, darkest tourism. Furthermore, most academics in the area would agree that dark tourism is not a single concept (something that with just a brief dip into this fascinating literature I totally agree with).

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

Further reading

Dann, G. M., & Seaton, A. V. (2001). Slavery, contested heritage and thanatourism. International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration, 2(3-4), 1-29.

Foley, M., & Lennon, J. (2000). Dark tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 19(1), 68-78.

Lennon, J. & Foley, M. (2000). Dark tourism: The attraction of death and disasters. London: Thomson Learning.

Miles, W. F. (2002). Auschwitz: Museum interpretation and darker tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 29(4), 1175-1178.

Mudzanani, T. (2014). Why is Death so Attractive? An Analysis of Tourists’ Motives for Visiting the Hector Peterson Memorial and Museum in South Africa. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(15), 570-574.

Podoshen, J. S. (2013). Dark tourism motivations: Simulation, emotional contagion and topographic comparison. Tourism Management, 35, 263-271.

Sharpley, R., & Stone, P.R. (Eds.). (2009). The darker side of travel. Channel View Publications.

Stone, P. (2005). Dark tourism consumption: a call for research. E-Review of Tourism Research (eRTR), 3(5), 109-117.

Stone, P. (2006). A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitions. Tourism: An Interdisciplinary International Journal, 54(2), 145-160.

Stone, P. R. (2011). Dark tourism and the cadaveric carnival: mediating life and death narratives at Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds. Current Issues in Tourism, 14(7), 685-701.

Stone, P. & Sharpley, R (2008). Consuming dark-tourism a thanatological perspective. Annals of Tourism Research, 35, 574–595.

Korstanje, M. & Ivanov, S. (2012). Tourism as a form of new psychological resilience: The inception of dark tourism. Cultur: Revista de Cultura e Turismo, 6(4), 56-71.

Miles, W. F. (2002). Auschwitz: Museum interpretation and darker tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 29(4), 1175-1178

Strange, C., & Kempa, M. (2003). Shades of dark tourism: Alcatraz and Robben Island. Annals of Tourism Research, 30(2), 386-405.

The beast inside: What does your favourite animal say about you?

Every couple of months I get calls from the media asking me to comment on what some particular aspect or preference of human behaviour says about someone’s personality and/or demeanour. Most recently, I appeared on my local radio station (BBC Radio Nottingham) being interviewed about men’s and women’s favourite animals. The ‘hook’ of the story was a survey carried out by the polling organization YouGov on 190,000 people. The story appeared in the Daily Telegraph with the headline ‘Men identify with lobsters, women with miniature pigs’:

“Asked to pick the most stereotypically ‘manly’ of animals, we might opt for a shark, bear or bull. But a new poll by YouGov has found that lobsters may be the manliest animal of them all. The survey of 190,000 people asked respondents to name their favourite animal. The results were then broken down along gender lines. The animal which was most favoured by men compared to women was the lobster, followed by the alligator and stickleback fish. Meanwhile, miniature pigs, cats and ponies were disproportionately favoured by women. Completing the ‘masculine’ top ten were sharks, eagles, octopuses, ants, narwhals, scorpions and spiders. The next most ‘feminine’ animals were donkeys, chinchillas, pandas, rabbits, guinea pigs, zebras and – perhaps the most bizarre feature of this already bizarre survey – African pygmy hedgehogs. ‘In general, men are more likely to have sympathy for heroic, aggressive or creepy animals while women are more likely to prefer the cute, beautiful and exotic types,’ a researcher from YouGov wrote. He also noted that there were no mammals in the most typically male animals, while every animal in the women’s top 20 was a mammal, apart from the penguin and butterfly. The results were deemed ‘statistically significant’, with the full breakdown of preferred animals by gender available here”. 

The DJ that interviewed me hadn’t realised that the poll wasn’t about male and female ‘top 10’ favourite animals but was actually about the top differences between men and women’s favourite animals. Although the interview was enjoyable it had no scientific value whatsoever – so why did I do it? Well, I think the main reason was to please my university’s Press Office, but also in the back of my mind was a little exercise that one of my psychology lecturers made us do in a tutorial 30 years ago.

We were asked to name our three favourite animals and then to write three adjectives to describe the animals we had chosen. I chose the coelacanth* (rare, long-living, unchanging), the South American condor (high-flying, distinctive, endangered), and the duck-billed platypus (unique, nature-defying, electro-sensitive) – thankfully I was able to check my 1985 diary to check what adjectives I had used all those years ago. We were then told by our lecturer that: (i) our first choice represented how we think we are, (ii) the second choice represented how we think other people perceive us, and (iii) the third represented how we really are. Given that I am sharing it here, gives you an indication that I wasn’t overly unhappy with the outcome (and I’d like to think there is some truth in the insight given the adjectives I chose at the time – but that’s more to do with wishful thinking than science).

At best, these kinds of ‘personality insights’ are little more than pop psychology (although arguably fun to do). Arguably the most well-known ‘animal personality test’ can be found in Roy Feinson’s 1998 book The Animal In You: Discover Your Animal Type and Unlock the Secrets of Your Personality (and you can also check out the Animal In You website). According to the website:

“Are you a wolf, rugged and misunderstood, or more like the introspective mole? Take the Animal In You personality test and find out! To identify the animal that best matches you simply answer the questions as honestly as you can. For even more accurate results, you might want to get ratings from people that know you well or have them take the test for you! This test is based on the best selling book The Animal in You by Roy Feinson, which explores how biological and social pressure conspire to form our personalities. If you find it to be uncannily accurate, it’s due to the test’s sophisticated algorithms. When you’ve entered your personal data, the test will build a mathematical model that corresponds to your unique personality, match it to our database of animal profiles and choose the ones closest to you. Though you may have one or two other possible results, remember that each person properly matches only one animal personality”.

I have to admit that I have not personally taken the test myself, but I don’t see that much difference between this type of test and those that you find in astrology books. I have a little more faith in the Myers-Briggs Test (MBT; developed by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Myers) that is not a test of animal personality per se but has been extrapolated into animal personality types. The MBT draws on the theories of Carl Jung who theorized that there are four principal psychological functions by which humans experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. In the MBT, these dichotomies (as outlined by the online article ‘What’s your animal personality type?’) are:

  • Worldview: Extroversion (E) or Introversion (I) 
- i.e. would you rather play with your pals or hang out at home with a book?
  • Information: Sensing (S) or Intuition (N) 
- i.e. when taking in something new, do you prefer to take it simply, at face value or interpret / add meaning based on your gut?
  • Decisions: Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
 – i.e. when making up your mind about something, do you primarily rely on logic and structure, or do you gravitate towards emotion and empathy?
  • Structure: Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
 – i.e. would you rather things in your life to be decided and set, or do you like to stay open to whatever options might come along?

Based on your scores on these four dimensions, your personality can (supposedly) be mapped onto one of the following animals: owl (INTP; ‘wise and clam’), fox (ESTP; ‘subtle and opportunistic’), sloth (ISFP; ‘harmless and sensitive’), lion (ENTJ; ‘king of the jungle’), deer (ISFJ; ‘territorial and protective’), octopus (INTJ; ‘solitary hunter’), cat (ISTP; ‘secret and unpredictable’), otter (ESFP; ‘fun and entertaining’), wolf (INFJ; ‘rare and fascinating’), dolphin (ENFP; ‘spontaneous and creative’), honey bee (ESTJ; ‘strict and aggressive’), beaver (ISTJ; ‘slow but tough’), dog (ENFJ; ‘loyal and affectionate’), meerkat (INFP; ‘free spirited and kind’), parrot (ENTP; ‘charming and clever’), and elephant (ESFJ; ‘gentle and caring’). Finally, if you are interested in taking the test, you can do so here.

 

*The Wikipedia entry on coelacanths note they “constitute a now rare order of fish…They follow the oldest known living lineage of Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish and tetrapods), which means they are more closely related to lungfish, reptiles, and mammals, than to the common ray-finned fishes…Since there are only two species of coelacanth and both are threatened, it is the most endangered order of animals in the world. The West Indian Ocean coelacanth is a critically endangered species. Coelacanths were thought to have undergone extinction 66 million years ago…The first recorded coelacanth fossil, found in Australia, was of a jaw that dated back 360 million years…The fossil record is unique because coelacanth fossils were found 100 years before the first live specimen was identified. In 1938, Courtenay-Latimer rediscovered the first live specimen…caught off the coast of East London, South Africa. In 1997, a marine biologist on honeymoon discovered the second live species…in an Indonesian market”.

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

Further reading

Barton, S.A. (2012). What’s your animal personality type? BuzzFeed, June 20. Located at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/whats-your-animal-personality-type#.wtJJblrrQ

Dahlgreen, W. (2015). Lobsters for men, miniature pigs for women. YouGov UK, March 1. Located at: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/03/01/animals-gender/

Feinson, R. (1998). The Animal In You: Discover Your Animal Type and Unlock the Secrets of Your Personality. London: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Healthy Living Editors (2012). What animal matches your personality? Care2.com, October 21. Located at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/whats-your-animal-personality.html

Merz, T. (2015). Men identify with lobsters, women with miniature pigs. Daily Telegraph, March 2. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/relationships/11444854/Men-identify-with-lobsters-women-with-miniature-pigs.html

Wikipedia (2015). Coelacanth. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coelacanth

Wikipedia (2015). Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers–Briggs_Type_Indicator

Coining it in: Neologisms and ‘New Syndrome’ Syndrome

One of things I am very proud of in my academic career is the coining of the term ‘technological addiction’ back in 1995 (an umbrella term that I invented to describe a number of different person-machine addictions including slot machine addictions, video game addiction, television addiction, etc.). I’m also proud of coining the term ‘aca-media’ (relating to academics like myself that use the media to disseminate our research). A neologism (i.e., the name for a newly coined term) is often (according to Wikipedia) directly attributable to a specific event, person, publication, or period.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, there seemed to be a real upsurge is the naming of ‘new syndromes’ in the medical literature including many relating to excessive use of technology (such as ‘Space Invader’s Wrist’) and other leisure activities (such as ‘Cuber’s Thumb’ relating to excessive use of the Rubik’s Cube) – both of which made their appearance in 1981 issues of the New England Journal of Medicine. Other videogame medical complaints include ‘Pseudovideoma’ (in a 1984 issue of the Journal of Hand Surgery), ‘Pac-Man Phalanx’ (in a 1983 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism) and ‘Joystick Digit’ (in a 1987 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association). Another videogame-related medical complaint (in this case an infection), was reported in a 1987 issue of the Western Journal of Medicine by Dr. G.B. Soe and colleagues:

“We wish to focus WJM readers’ attention on another complication associated with video games-one that originally presented as an “infected spider bite. A 17-year-old right-handed boy noted progressive swelling and redness of his left hand seven days before admission. Two days before admission he was given penicillin intramuscularly and oral cephalexin to take at home. The swelling did not subside and the hand became very painful, so he came to the medical center for treatment. On admission his mother reported that she had seen many spiders around the house with a violin pattern on their backs, and that her son had probably been bitten by a spider…After seven days of parenteral antibiotic therapy, the edema, erythema and fever had disappeared and the patient was discharged home. Further questioning revealed that the young man was spending almost all of his time playing his favorite video game, which involved a fighting kung fu character. The patient used his left hand in manipulating a ball-shaped joystick to move the figure up, down, left and right, and his right in operating buttons to kick and jab. Extensive use of the joystick resulted in blisters on his left palm. He rubbed the blisters off, and an infection resulted that progressed to abscess formation. Neuromuscular complications of video games (‘pseudovideoma’, ‘Pac-Man phalanx’, ‘firing-finger syndrome’ and ‘Space Invaders wrist’) have been reported, as well as video game-induced seizures, but we have not come across any reports of an infectious complication of video games. Perhaps video game players should wear gloves to protect their palms, similar to ones worn by golfers and baseball players, who also need to get a firm grip on their respective sticks”.

Another one that I’d never heard of is ‘Nurd Knuckles’ coined by Dr. J.B. Martin in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1982:

“I wish to describe a case of painful knuckles associated with the use and manipulation of a new, allegedly therapeutic product, a Nurd. A Nurd is a head 10 cm across with a smiling face and large ears, reminiscent of the character Yoda of ‘Star Wars’. It is made of malleable material that can be stretched, twisted or deformed in any direction, yet with release of tension quickly resumes its original shape without a trace of distortion. A 32-year-old public school teacher presented with painful knuckles of his right hand. His students, perhaps feeling that their teacher was under increased stress during the marking of exams, had given him a Nurd for Christmas, and during a particularly trying day he had found occasion to use it. He repeatedly stretched its ears and twisted its neck without ill effect; however, on punching it he suffered sharp pain of his fourth and fifth metacarpophalangeal joints. On examination the joints were found to be reddened, with point tenderness over the fifth metacarpal head; there was no evidence of deformity. He was advised to stop beating his Nurd, and the pain subsided. While the Nurd is very plastic, yielding to the linear tension of stretching and twisting, it is very resistant to compression. Punching a Nurd does not cause the surface to give way, and, since the force of the blow is returned to the fist, it is conceivable that a fracture might result. Therefore, although stretching and twisting Nurds does not cause any harm, users should be cautioned against punching their Nurd. The Nurd is advertised as being a ‘punchable, stretchable, pushable and likeable alternative to tension, migraine headaches, drug abuse, alcoholism and manic depression’, but these claims are unsubstantiated. A MEDLINE search of the medical literature shows that no retrospective or prospective case control studies or controlled double blind crossover studies have been undertaken. Before the clinical efficacy of the Nurd can be taken seriously in the treatment of this broad spectrum of disease, full clinical trials must be completed. Subjects entering into trials must, however, be duly informed of the hazards of punching Nurds”.

Another one that caught my attention was a new affliction (‘Breaker’s Neck’) caused by the craze of ‘break dancing’ reported by Dr. Bertha Ramirez and her colleagues in a 1984 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. (The reason why I say it caught my eye is that I am currently involved in some research on ‘dancing addiction’ with some of my Hungarian colleagues and we have just had a new paper accepted in the journal PLoS ONE concerning the development of our ‘Dancing Motives Inventory’ – see ‘Further Reading’ below).

To be added to the rapidly growing list of socially acquired injuries, we report a case of traumatic cervical subluxation caused by a new dance technique. This technique, labeled ‘breaking’ by its devotees, involves a modified head stand, in which the dancer, using his arms and hands for balance, spins rapidly on his head, neck, or shoulders to the rhythm of disco music. He then lowers his body to the floor and performs a series of rotational motions using his arms as a fulcrum…A 15-year-old boy was seen in our pediatric emergency room complaining that, on awakening two days previously, he felt a ‘snap’ in his neck, followed by persistent neck stiffness. He reported having ‘danced on his head’ the night prior to this incident. On physical examination, his head was tilted to the left with an inability to flex”.

Engaging in excessive sporting activity has given rise to a number of medical syndromes. One such consequence is ‘Rower’s Rump’ reported by Drs. K Tomecki and J. Mikesell in a 1987 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. In a previous blog I examined addiction to cycling. In the 1980s there were many medical complaints reported as a result of excessive cycling. One such complaint (given the name of ‘Bicycling nipples’) was highlighted by Dr. B. Powell in a 1983 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association:

“Bicyclists are likely to suffer from a number of maladies, including dysuria, numb penises, and more. During cool or cold weather, another problem, bicyclist’s nipples, may occur. This condition is similar to jogger’s nipples, but it is primarily a thermal injury instead of an irritation secondary to friction, as with the jogger’s complaint. Often the rider is out in the cold weather for some time, and his or her undershirt, jersey, and jacket can become moist from perspiration. Evaporation and the chill of the wind lower the temperature of the nipples. They get downright cold, and they hurt. The pain continues after the ride is over. Indeed, it can continue for several days. The nipples are sore, sensitive to both temperature change and touch”.

After reading this I found out that Dr. Fred Levit had reported a case of ‘Jogger’s Nipples’ in a 1977 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. All of these related nipple conditions are all examples of fissure of the nipple as they are all caused by friction resulting in soreness, dryness or irritation to, or bleeding of, one or both nipples. The Wikipedia entry also notes that “the condition is also experienced by women who breastfeed, and by surfers who do not wear rash guards”. The article also noted that:

“Jogger’s nipple is caused by friction from the repeated rubbing of a t-shirt or other upper body clothing against the nipples during a prolonged period of exercise. The condition is suffered mainly by runners. Long-distance runners are especially prone, because they are exposed to the friction on the nipple for the greatest period of time. However, it is not only suffered by athletes; the inside of a badge, a logo on normal items of clothing, or breastfeeding can also cause the friction which results in this condition”.

Outside of the leisure sphere, there were two case study reports of ‘Diaper Doer’s Hand’ in a 1987 issue of the journal Clinical Rehabilitation by Dr. J.L. Cosgrove and colleagues:

“Three cases of stenosing tenosynovitis occurred three to six months postpartum. Childcare activities aggravated the symptoms of pain and swelling in both patients. In two cases, a specific method of carrying the child was implicated as the mechanism of injury. Although there was no evidence of generalized inflammatory arthritis, all patients had very low positive titres of anti-nuclear antibodies. While it is likely that tenosynovitis was caused by mechanical factors, the possibility of increased susceptibility to inflammatory disease in the postpartum period cannot be discounted. The patients were successfully treated with a low temperature plastic splint, superficial heat and gentle mobilization”.

All of these new syndromes lead to why I put this article together in the first place. I found this letter in the British Medical Journal by Dr. E.P. Hoare entitled ‘New Syndrome Syndrome’ that I found both funny and poignant:

“Your readers will be familiar with tennis elbow, brazier’s ague, and soap packer’s jig not to mention Achilles’ heel. More recently we have heard of Space Invader’s wrist, jogger’s nipples, and the ultimate futility of Cuber’s thumb. May I point out another occupational disease which I have noticed among patrons of the reading room medical journal correspondence column reader’s neck or, more succinctly, the new syndrome syndrome. Symptoms usually begin with muscular contraction of the eyebrows, hyperventilation, and involuntary utterances, which in severe cases can lead to coprolalia. These may be followed by drowsiness, disorientation, hysterical amblyopia, and double vision (of the deja vu variety). If untreated the condition can result in a chronic pain in the neck. Treatment is 200 ml of gin and tonic stat by mouth and complete rest; music can also be helpful. The long-term prognosis is poor, however, unless journal editors can be persuaded to ban further reports of occupational afflictions or at least print a health warning at the head of their correspondence columns”.

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

Further reading

Behr, J.T. (1984). Pseudovideoma. Journal of Hand Surgery, 9(4), 613.

Cosgrove, J. L., Welch, D. A., Richardson, G. S., & Nicholas, J. J. (1987). Diaper doer’s hand: stenosing tenosynovitis in the postpartum period. Clinical Rehabilitation, 1(3), 219-223.

Gibofsky, A. (1983). Pac‐Man phalanx. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 26(1), 120.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Pop psychology and “aca-media”: A reply to Mitchell. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 537-538.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). A moral obligation in aca-media? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 14, 460.

Hite, P. R., Greene, K. A., Levy, D. I., & Jackimczyk, K. (1993). Injuries resulting from bungee-cord jumping. Annals of emergency medicine, 22(6), 1060-1063.

Hoare, E.P. (1982). Points: New syndrome syndrome. British Medical Journal, 285(6352), 1429.

Levit, F. (1977). Jogger’s nipples. New England Journal of Medicine, 297(20), 1127.

Maraz, A., Király, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Why do you dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PLoS ONE, in press.

Martyn, J. B. (1983). Nurd knuckles. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 129(3), 228.

McCowan, T.C. (1981). Space Invader’s wrist. New England Journal of Medicine, 304,1368.

Osterman, A. L., Weinberg, P., & Miller, G. (1987). Joystick digit. Journal of the American Medical Association, 257(6), 782.

Powell, B. (1983). Bicyclist’s nipples. Journal of the American Medical Association, 249(18), 2457-2457.

Ramirez, B., Masella, P. A., Fiscina, B., Lala, V. R., & Edwards, M. D. (1984). Breaker’s neck. Journal of the American Medical Association, 252(24), 3366-3367.

Soe, G.B., Gersten, L. M., Wilkins, J., Patzakis, M. J., & Harvey, J.P. (1987). Infection associated with joystick mimicking a spider bite. Western Journal of Medicine, 146(6), 748.

Tomecki, K. J., & Mikesell, J. F. (1987). Rower’s rump. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 16(4), 890-891.

Torre, P. R., Williams, G. G., Blackwell, T., & Davis, C. P. (1993). Bungee jumper’s foot drop peroneal nerve palsy caused by bungee cord jumping. Annals of emergency medicine, 22(11), 1766-1767.

Waugh, D. (1981). Cuber’s thumb. New England Journal of Medicine, 305, 768.

Brain humour: The Ig Nobels are coming to Nottingham Trent (again)

I apologise in advance, but today’s blog is (i) a not-so thinly disguised plug (well, a blatant plug) for a national event that is being hosted by my university on Wednesday 18th March (2015) and (ii) a just a slight updating of a blog I published a couple of years ago when the Ig Nobels last came to NTU. The new blurb I was sent by our local organizer Phil Banyard proclaims:

“The Ig Nobel Prizes honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative — and spur people’s interest in science, medicine, and technology. The awards are held each year at Harvard University and each award is presented by a Nobel laureate such is the esteem of this event. Over the past few years Marc Abrahams has brought an Ig Nobels tour to the UK in the spring. The tours highlights some of the key awards from the Ig Nobels’ back catalogue and provides a great opportunity to promote science to a wider audience. This year’s programme will feature Marc Abrahams, organiser of the Ig Nobel Prizes, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, and Guardian columnist, together with a gaggle of Ig Nobel Prize winners and other improbable researchers. The programme will include: Chris McManus (Ig Nobel winner, Scrotal asymmetry in ancient Sculpture and man); Richard Stephens (Ig Nobel winner, The effect of swearing on pain); Richard Webb (Tribute to John Hoyland, the father of Nominative Determinism)”.

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If that’s not enough to get you going, I would also like to add that science’s top journal Nature says: “The Ig Nobel awards are arguably the highlight of the scientific calendar” (and who am I to argue?). For those of you who know nothing about the Ig Nobels, they were initiated by one of my favourite journalists, Guardian columnist Marc Abrams. Abrams writes a weekly column for the Guardian called Improbable Research and he is also the editor of the Annals of Improbable Research.

Back in February 2010, I was delighted when Abrams did a whole column on my research into gambling entitled ‘Slot-machine gamblers are hard to pin down: Why are gamblers such a difficult subject for academic study?’ Secretly, I’m very proud that he dedicated a whole column to my research. (In fact, I found out while I was researching the original blog on this topic, is that my research also features in his 2012 book This is Improbable: Cheese String Theory, Magnetic Chickens, and Other WTF Research. Here are some of the things he wrote about my research into gambling:

It’s hard to get good payoffs from slot machines, yes. But it’s also hard to get good information from slot machine gamblers, and that made things awkward for psychologists Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University, and Jonathan Parke, of Salford University. They explained how, in a monograph called Slot Machine Gamblers – Why Are They So Hard to Study? Griffiths and Parke published it a few years ago in the Journal of Gambling Issues. ‘We have both spent over 10 years playing in and researching this area,’ they wrote, ‘and we can offer some explanations on why it is so hard to gather reliable and valid data. Here are three from their long list.

  • First, gamblers become engrossed in gambling. ‘We have observed that many gamblers will often miss meals and even utilise devices (such as catheters) so that they do not have to take toilet breaks. Given these observations, there is sometimes little chance that we as researchers can persuade them to participate in research’ 
  • Second, gamblers like their privacy. They ‘may be dishonest about the extent of their gambling activities to researchers as well as to those close to them. This obviously has implications for the reliability and validity of any data collected.’
  • Third, gamblers sometimes notice when a person is spying on them. “The most important aspect of non-participant observation research while monitoring fruit-machine players is the art of being inconspicuous. If the researcher fails to blend in, then slot-machine gamblers soon realise they are being watched and are therefore highly likely to change their behaviour.’

The gambling machines go by many names, ‘fruit machine’ and ‘one-armed bandit’ also being popular. But Griffiths and Parke don’t obsess about nomenclature. The two are giants in their chosen profession. The International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction ran a paean from a researcher who said: ‘In the problem gambling field we don’t exhibit the same adulation as music fans for their idols, but we have our superstars and, for me, Mark Griffiths is one.’

Professor Griffiths is one of the world’s most published scholars on matters relating to the psychology of fruit-machine gamblers, with at least 27 published studies that mention fruit machines in their title. These range from 1994’s appreciative Beating the Fruit Machine: Systems and Ploys Both Legal And Illegal to 1998’s admonitory Fruit Machine Gambling and Criminal Behaviour: Issues for the Judiciary*. Women get special attention (Fruit Machine Addiction in Females: a Case Study), as do youths (Adolescent Gambling on Fruit Machines and several other monographs). There is the humanist perspective (Observing the Social World of Fruit-Machine Playing) as well as that of the biomedical specialist (The Psychobiology of the Near Miss in Fruit Machine Gambling). Griffiths and Parke collaborate often. Strangers to their work might wish to begin by reading the classic The Psychology of the Fruit Machine. Their fruitful publication record reminds every scholar that, even when a subject is difficult to study, persistence and determination can yield a rewarding payoff”.

All I can say is that after re-reading this, I wonder how I can still get my head through the door.

More recently, one of my papers was actually reported by Marc Abrams on his Improbable Research website. More specifically, my case study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior about eproctophilia (i.e., sexual arousal from flatulence), was given press coverage in over 100 newspaper and magazine stories around the world including those in the UK, Ireland, US, Greece, Italy, Holland, China, and Ghana (e.g., New York Daily News, Huffington Post, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror, The Sun, Metro, Times of Malta, Irish Examiner, Asian Image, and Cosmopolitan). However, it was actually Abrams who first reported the story under the headline Academic Study of a Young Man’s Sexual Attraction to Human Gas”. For those who don’t know, the underlying philosophy of the IR website is to feature “research that makes people laugh and then think”. More specifically, Abrams wrote:

“Professor Mark D Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University has published a remarkable new study. Here’s how we know this study is remarkable:  The university’s press office sent copies of it to many prominent science journalists, remarking that (1) ‘It’s the world’s first paper on eproctophilia – sexual arousal from flatulence’ and (2) ‘Professor Griffiths would be more than happy to talk to you in more detail’. A remarkable number of those journalists immediately sent it on to us at the Annals of Improbable Research. We are, in this blog entry you are reading right now, remarking upon that study. There is more. Lots more. In other respects, too, Professor Griffiths is an expert. So renowned is he that Wikipedia devoted an entire web page to him. One of the many things on which he is an expert is the academic study of gamblers. We have celebrated some of his abundant work on that subject. (We express our thanks, and other emotions, to the many journalists who instinctively decided that they should alert us to the existence of Professor Griffiths’s new line of research.) BONUS (unrelated): The 1998 Ig Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to Dr. Mara Sidoli of Washington, DC, for her illuminating report, ‘Farting as a Defence Against Unspeakable Dread’ [Journal of Analytical Psychology, vol. 41, no. 2, 1996, pp. 165-78.]”

Anyway, if you’d like to go see Marc Abrams in person, here are the further details:

Event: The Ig Nobels: A celebration of Science

Time and date: 6.30 pm, Wednesday 18th March

Location: The Newton Building on the City Campus of the University.

Booking details: The event is free but booking is essential.

Book at: www.ntu.ac.uk/ignobles2015 (direct link here)

Details of their UK events and more information about the Ig Nobels can be found on their website: http://www.improbable.com/improbable-research-shows/complete-schedule/

* I’ve never actually written a paper with this title but I think it’s an inadvertent mix of two or three papers I’ve written with similar titles

 

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

Further reading (i.e., the papers cited by Marc Abrams above)

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The psychobiology of the near miss in fruit machine gambling. Journal of Psychology, 125, 347-357.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Beating the fruit machine: Systems and ploys both legal and illegal. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 287-292.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent Gambling. London: Routledge

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Observing the social world of fruit-machine playing. Sociology Review, 6(1), 17-18.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Fruit machine addiction in females: A case study. Journal of Gambling Issues, 8. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue8/clinic/griffiths/index.html.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Eproctophilia in a young adult male: A case study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1383-1386.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Slot machine gamblers – Why are they so hard to study? Journal of Gambling Issues, 6. Located at: http://jgi.camh.net/doi/full/10.4309/jgi.2002.6.7

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Yeoman, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Adolescent machine gambling and crime (I). Journal of Adolescence, 19, 99-104.

Griffiths, M.D. & Sparrow, P. (1998). Fruit machine addiction and crime. Police Journal, 71, 327-334.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Cybercrime: Areas of concern for the judiciary. Justice of the Peace, 165, 296-298.

Flying ‘high’: A brief look at ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’

As part of my job I do a lot of travel. It’s an occupational necessity. Last year alone I did over 20 work trips abroad that comprised over 50 flights (such as the six flights that I had to take to get to a conference in Uruguay and then back to the UK). One of my research colleagues at a conference in Taiwan jokingly accused me of being ‘addicted’ to flying. Nothing could be further from the truth. For me, flying is little more than a way to get from A to B. However, I have tried to turn my experiences into something more positive and have written a number of short articles providing tips about flying and travelling abroad for outlets such as the British Medical Journal and the PsyPAG Quarterly (see ‘Further Reading’ below).

However, there are a few papers in the academic literature that have proposed the idea of ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’ in the Annals of Tourism Research. One British research team (Drs. Scott Cohen, James Higham and Christina Cavaliere) have written various papers on flying, particularly the dilemma that many business travellers face in wanting to be ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ but knowing that the amount of flying they are doing is contributing to climate change and leaving a ‘carbon footprint’.

One of the papers published by Cohen and his colleagues was entitled ‘Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change’. In their introduction to the topic, the authors referenced my 1996 paper in the Journal of Workplace Learning on behavioural addictions to argue there was now evidence that many behaviours could be potentially addictive even without the ingestion of a psychoactive substance. They then went on to say:

“[Two] articles in the popular press have further implicated frequent tourist air travel as a practice that may constitute behavioural addiction (Hill, 2007; Rosenthal, 2010). In stark contrast to most behavioural addictions, which are characterised by severe negative consequences for individuals directly, the destructive outcome attributable to excessive flying is premised upon air travel’s growing contribution to global climate change. Both Burns and Bibbings (2009) and Randles and Mander (2009) cite Hill’s (2007) interview in ‘The Observer’ with ‘Rough Guides’ founder Mark Ellingham, who coins the term ‘binge flying’ in critiquing the public’s growing appetite for holidays accessed through air travel”.

They also used my 1996 paper to make a number of points to support their premise that excessive flying can be conceptualized as an addiction. More specifically, they noted:

“Griffiths (1996) notes that behavioural addictions may have ‘normative ambiguity’, in that moderate use is accepted but stigma can result from over-enactment of the behaviour, or compulsive consumption (Hirschman, 1992)…Even though addictions are typically conceptualised as purely negative, Griffiths (1996) distinguishes a number of possible addiction benefits that individuals may perceive, such as changes of mood and feelings of escape, positive experiences of pleasure, excitement, relaxation, disinhibition of behaviour and the activity as a source of identity and/or meaning in life…Not only does excessive tourist air travel meet this basic criterion of behavioural addiction where longer-term outlooks are sacrificed for immediate gratification, but tourist experiences also supply many of the psychological benefits that Griffiths (1996) uses to characterise sites of potential behavioural addiction. These include feelings of escape, heightened experiences of pleasure and excitement (a ‘buzz’ or ‘rush’), relaxation, disinhibition of behaviour and the activity as an arena for identity work and searching for meaning in life”.

To support their argument that flying can be an addiction, they assert there are three key characteristics that can be found in addictive behavior that can be applied to flying: (i) a drive or urge to engage in the behaviour, (ii) a denial of the harmful consequences of the behaviour, and (iii) a failure in attempts to modify the behaviour. As regular readers of my blog will know, I operationally define addictive behaviour as comprising six components (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse), and as such, flying would be unlikely to be classed as an addiction by my own criteria. The authors interviewed 30 participants as part of their research but little of the qualitative data presented made any reference to addiction or elements of addictive behaviour. They somehow concluded that:

“Continued movement in consumer discourses towards a mainstream negative perception of the practice of holiday frequent flying may eventually find tourism consumption the further subject of query as an addictive phenomenon. Frequent air travel may then join gambling, smoking, shopping, video games and Internet use, (Clark & Calleja, 2008), amongst others, as ‘pathologised’ sites of behavioural addiction that reflect society’s (re)positioning of certain types of behaviour as socially dysfunctional”.

The concept of ‘binge flying’ and ‘flying addiction’ were more recently critiqued by Dr. Martin Young and colleagues in a 2014 issue of the Annals of Tourism Research. Their view closely matches my own view (and they also cite my 1996 paper on behavioural addictions) when they asserted:

“We take issue with the application of a behavioural addiction framework in the context of consumption generally, and frequent flying specifically. We argue that while the conceptual lens of behavioural addiction may be seductive to some (cf. Hill, 2007), it is, in contrast to the position of Cohen et al. (2011), ultimately counterproductive to the development of a meaningful critical response to the question of frequent flying and environmental damage… There is, of course, a deep irony in even trying to view frequent flying through the lens of addiction. Tourism, traditionally the realm of freedom, unconstraint and abandon (Crompton, 1979; Sharpley, 2003) is now recast as a pathology, associated with the pernicious tendencies of the human psyche.

Dr. Young and colleagues’ paper asserts that the idea that flying in extreme cases could be classed as a behavioural addiction is “unconvincing” (and again is something that I agree with). The paper also adapts the 2013 DSM-5 criteria for gambling disorder (substituting the word ‘gambling’ with ‘flying’) to highlight that while it is theoretically possible for someone to have an addiction to flying, it is highly unlikely even amongst the most frequent of flyers. As they note:

“A diagnosed flying addict (and some may exist) would appear to differ from the frequent flyer who is feeling guilty about the environmental consequences of flying. Indeed, the latter would appear to be entirely rational. Flying may be associated with feelings of guilt and suppression, but so are many other activities, like driving to work, using plastic bags, and using electricity from coal-powered generators. This does not make flying an addiction as defined by the DSM-5. In addition, a flying addict would be addicted to the act of flying when, in reality, people fly as part of a broader tourism or business journey or experience. Flying may be incidental to the motivations for travel, merely an unavoidable part of attaining a particular experience. In other words, the focus of flying addiction is likely to be complicated and shifting, unlike, for instance, gambling addiction, that is more clear-cut”.

Pathologizing a behaviour like flying may be stretching the addiction analogy a little too far, but I don’t see a theoretical reason why someone could not become addicted. However, it’s unknown as to what the actual object of flying addiction might be. Is it the actual flying and being in the air? The thrill of take-offs and landings? Is it the feeling of being attended and catered for (especially when flying business class) by the airline staff? Is it the anticipation associated of visiting somewhere new? All of these suggestions could be empirically tested but probably from a purely motivational view rather than from an addiction perspective.

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

Further reading

Burns, P., & Bibbings, L. (2009). The end of tourism? Climate change and societal challenges. 21st Century Society, 4(1), 31-51.

Clark, M., & Calleja, K. (2008). Shopping addiction: A preliminary investigation among Maltese university students. Addiction Research and Theory, 16(6), 633-649.

Cohen, S. A., Higham, J. E., & Cavaliere, C. T. (2011). Binge flying: Behavioural addiction and climate change. Annals of Tourism Research, 38(3), 1070-1089.

Crompton, J. (1979). Motivations for pleasure vacation. Annals of Tourism Research, 6(4), 408–424.

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Tips on…Business travel abroad, British Medical Journal, 327, S38.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Tips on…Conference travel abroad. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 83, 4-6.

Higham, J. Cohen, S. & Cavaliere, C. (2013). ‘Climate breakdown’ and the ‘flyer’s dilemma': Insights from three European societies. In: Fountain, J. & Moore, K. (Eds.). CAUTHE 2013: Tourism and Global Change: On the Edge of Something Big (pp. 321-324). Christchurch, N.Z.: Lincoln University.

Hill, A. (2007). Travel: The new tobacco. The Observer, May 6. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2007/may/06/travelnews.climatechange

Hirschman, E. C. (1992). The consciousness of addiction: Toward a general theory of compulsive consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(2), 155-179.

Randles, S., & Mander, S. (2009a). Practice(s) and ratchet(s): A sociological examination of frequent flying. In S. Gössling & P. Upham (Eds.), Climate change and aviation: Issues, challenges and solutions (pp. 245-271). London: Earthscan.

Rosenthal, E. (2010, 24 May). Can we kick our addiction to flying? Guardian, May 24. Located at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/24/kick- addiction-flying

Sharpley, R. (2003). Tourism, tourists and society. Huntingdon: Elm Publications.

Young, M., Higham, J.E.S. & Reis, A.C. (2014). ‘Up in the air’: A conceptual critique of flying addiction. Annals of Tourism Research, 49, 51-64.

Boxing clever? Another look at television binge watching

Last Thursday (January 29), I was watching the newspaper review on Sky News when one of the reviewers referred to a story in the Daily Mail about the negative effects of box-set bingeing (‘Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat’). Having examined the psychology of box-set bingeing in a previous blog, the story instantly grabbed my attention (and also because I love box-set bingeing when I get the time). (I also discovered in researching this article that in November 2013, the Oxford Dictionary announced that the word ‘binge-watch’ [defined as “to watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession” was a contender for its word of the year but was eventually beaten by the word ‘selfie’).

The Daily Mail story was based on some research led by doctoral researcher Ms. Yoon Hi Sung (at the University of Texas). Unfortunately, the research is not publicly available as it hasn’t actually been published yet. In fact, the study is from a conference paper that will be presented in May 2015 (at the Conference of the International Communication Association in Puerto Rico in May). Ms. Sung said that his findings “should be a wake-up call”. In typical Daily Mail style, a number of claims were made (which are listed below verbatim):

  • “Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat
  • Watching TV for long periods of time can lead to obesity and exhaustion.
  • ‘Binge-watchers’ are more likely to lack self-control and have addictions.
  • University of Texas researchers said it’s no longer a ‘harmless addiction’.
  • They said people will watch TV as a distraction when they are feeling low”.

Unfortunately there was little detail of the method used or much about 316 participants aged 18 to 29 years (e.g., how the participants were recruited, how representative the sample was of all those who engage in box-set bingeing, etc.) but the Daily Mail was adamant that box-set bingeing is bad for your health. More specifically, the journalist Daniel Bates wrote:

“People who suffer from low moods are more likely to spend hours or days viewing multiple episodes of their favourite programme online or on DVD box set. But by doing so they could neglect work, relationships and even their family. The researchers from the University of Texas at Austin said that binge-watching should no longer be considered a ‘harmless addiction’ and that people should think twice before settling in for a long session in front of the TV…The findings showed a direct link. The worse somebody felt, the more likely they were to watch a lot of TV in an apparent attempt to avoid their low mood”.

Ms. Sung was quoted as saying:

“Even though some people argue that binge-watching is a harmless addiction, findings from our study suggest that binge-watching should no longer be viewed this way. Physical fatigue and problems such as obesity and other health problems are related to binge-watching and they are a cause for concern. When binge-watching becomes rampant, viewers may start to neglect their work and their relationships with others. Even though people know they should not, they have difficulty resisting the desire to watch episodes continuously”.

Not having access to the details of the study make it difficult to make methodological criticism but as a Professor of Gambling Studies I would bet my bottom dollar that the claims go beyond the data. As far as I am aware there has never been any academic study of box set viewing behaviour (either watching ‘on demand’ via interactive television or DVD box-sets) but I did come across some commercial research carried out by the company MarketCast in 2013 (and reported in a Variety magazine article entitled ’10 insights from studies of binge watchers’ by Marc Fraser). In the study, over 1000 US television viewers, the report claimed that there were “elevated binge levels” when watching box-set television series on demand such as House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Walking Dead, True Blood, and Sons of Anarchy. As Fraser reported:

“As networks grapple with the potential effect of binge-viewing to their bottom line, what they’re starting to learn is less threatening than some early analysts have suggested. The good news for broadcasters is that bingeing actually creates more viewers for TV shows, MarketCast found, which should broaden the audience for advertisers and their commercials when new episodes air. That’s primarily because most binge viewers are just trying to catch up on a series they may have missed, and tend to tune into a series during its regular airings. For example, 65% of those surveyed said they would watch new episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’ without bingeing when the series returned, while another 58% said they would tune into ‘The Walking Dead’ in similar fashion. At the same time, despite the large amount of time required for bingeing, other forms of entertainment aren’t seeing a large decrease as a result of binge-viewing, the study [found]”.

The MarketCast study also reported that 5% of their study participants said bingeing was the only way that they watched their favourite TV shows, and just under one-third of the sample planned to use the bingeing method of viewing their favourite TV series in the future. Here are some of the other key findings listed in the report:

  • There are four types of binge-viewers. Those who binge (i) because they don’t like to wait a week to find out what happens next, (ii) because friends tell them they’re missing out; (iii) to watch TV shows they’ve seen before, and (iv) when they are ill or housebound because of injury,
  • The main reasons for box-set bingeing are to (i) catch up on TV series that were missed when they first aired, (ii) avoid having to watch adverts (and save time), and (iii) avoid waiting to see what happens next.
  • Two-thirds of the sample (67%) claimed to have had at least one binge-watching experience.
  • Those who binge watch only are typically males under the age of 30 years (although there is no overall difference between males and females in binge watching behaviour). (Another piece of market research by Magid Generational Strategies in early 2013 reported tat 70% of binge viewers are aged 16 to 35 years).
  • More binge watching is done alone (56%) and at home (98%). Binge watching is also done while travelling (13%) and/or while on holiday (16%).
  • Box-set bingeing occurs online (e.g., via on-demand services) more than offline (e.g., DVD box-sets).
  • Drama is most watched genre for bingeing (60%), followed by comedy (45%), and reality shows (26%).

Fraser also made reference to another piece of market research by Solutions Research Group that examined 1,200 Canadian subscribers of Netflix and their viewing habits related to the television series House of Cards (that puts all 13 episodes online simultaneously). The study found that one in three viewers watched all 13 episodes within four weeks of first airing).

Another news story I came across (in Australia’s Herald Sun) provided a more positive spin and claimed in the headline ‘Binge-viewing box sets on the couch now the best way to build romance’. The article by journalist Megan Miller reported:

“For more and more couples, churning through a lazy 12-episode series is a romance rekindler that takes less effort than a meal somewhere nice and is cheaper than a beach holiday. It can be done without leaving the comfort of one’s home (or even one’s flannie pyjamas) and provides valuable couple time as well as down time from the rigours of work and family. Everyone’s on board. Barack and Michelle Obama are said to be hooked on spy drama ‘Homeland’ and our own PM Tony Abbott loves sitting down with wife Margie to an [episode] (or three) of ‘Downton Abbey’”.

It appears that the inspiration for the herald Sun story may have been the “couple Phoebe and Mike, both 31 [years of age], were so addicted to cult hit Breaking Bad they took discs with the latest series on their Fijian honeymoon earlier this year, desperate to race back to their villa each night to keep up with the escapades of meth-maker Walter White”. Miller then interviewed Melbourne-based psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack who commented that:

“Doing something you both enjoy is at the heart of engaging in a binge session in front of the box. Shared interests create a bond and connection that’s great for relationships. Cuddling up on the couch and snuggling while watching a show that you both get enjoyment from gives a common interest and some relaxed time together…New partners may watch shows together for the sake of the other, not because they hold a great interest in it. An established relationship is one where the two people have a greater level of comfort together, and don’t depend on the environment to help impress the other. At a later point in a relationship the two are relaxed with one another and can negotiate each other’s interests and needs, and find a mutually interesting series that is exciting for both of them”.

All of the articles I have read on the topic describe binge-watching as an ‘addiction’ (at least in passing). Although there is a small literature on ‘television addiction’ (for a recent review in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions by my colleague Dr. Steve Sussman – see ‘Further reading’ below) I know of no empirical research on the topic of ‘binge-viewing addiction’. However, I did come across an arguably tongue-in-cheek list of signs in an article in the Daily Edge:

  • The thought of a day doing nothing except watching a box set makes you genuinely excited.
  • You have avoided a social engagement to stay in and watch something.
  • At least once, you have woken up early specifically to watch the latest episode.
  • You’ve had this thought – ‘Just one more episode’ or ‘Not sure if an actual memory or something I saw on TV’.
  • You have accidentally drooled on at least one sofa cushion during a binge.
  • You have cheated on your loved one with a box set. By which we mean, watching ahead while they’re out/on the phone to their mam/have gone to bed. AKA ‘Netflix Adultery’.
  • You have had that moment where you get up from the couch, and have to shake food out of the folds of your clothes.
  • You tell yourself you could stop at any time.
  • When it’s all over, you feel confusion, shame and regret.

Even though these signs were probably written in jest, they would probably have good face validity should anyone decide to construct a new instrument to assess binge-watching addiction. However, even with the new study by the researchers at the University of Texas, I’m still to be convinced that box-set bingeing is a serious health concern – at least based on the scientific evidence.

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

Further reading

Bates, D. (2015). Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat. Daily Mail, January 29. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2931572/Love-marathon-TV-session-warning-sign-lonely-depressed.html

Daily Edge (2014). 11 signs of you’re suffering from a binge-watching problem. Located at: http://www.dailyedge.ie/binge-watching-problem-signs-1391910-Apr2014/

Graser, M. (2013). Marathon TV viewers tend to be millenials playing catch up on shows; say they’ll watch new seasons as they air. Variety, March 7. Located at: http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/10-insights-from-studies-of-binge-watchers-1200004807/

Koepsell, D. (2013). In defence of the box set binge: a global shared culture. New Statesman, December 29. Located at: http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/12/defence-box-set-binge-global-shared-culture

Kompare, D. (2006). Publishing flow DVD Box Sets and the reconception of television. Television & New Media, 7(4), 335-360.

Miller, M. (2014). Binge-viewing box sets on the couch now the best way to build romance. Herald Sun, December 13. Located at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/bingeviewing-box-sets-on-the-couch-now-the-best-way-to-build-romance/story-fni0fit3-1226782514245?nk=0ed250e88a2970045f6fc84123b03f10

Spangler, T. (2013). Poll of online TV watchers finds 61% watch 2-3 episodes in one sitting at least every few weeks. Variety, December 13. Located at: http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/netflix-survey-binge-watching-is-not-weird-or-unusual-1200952292/

Sussman, S., & Moran, M.B. (2013). Hidden addiction: Television. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(3), 125-132.

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