Category Archives: Popular Culture

To pee or not to pee? Another look at paraphilic behaviours

Strange, bizarre and unusual human sexual behaviour is a topic that fascinates many people (including myself of course). Last week I got a fair bit of international media coverage being interviewed about the allegations that Donald Trump hired women to perform ‘golden showers’ in front of him (i.e., watching someone urinate for sexual pleasure, typically referred to as urophilia). I was interviewed by the Daily Mirror (and many stories used my quotes in this particular story for other stories elsewhere). I was also commissioned to write an article on the topic for the International Business Times (and on which this blog is primarily based). The IBT wanted me to write an article on whether having a liking for strange and/or bizarre sexual preferences makes that individual more generally deviant.

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Although the general public may view many of these behaviours as sexual perversions, those of us that study these behaviours prefer to call them paraphilias (from the Greek “beyond usual or typical love”). Regular readers of my blog will know I’ve written hundreds of articles on this topic. For those of you who have no idea what parahilias really are, they are uncommon types of sexual expression that may appear bizarre and/or socially unacceptable, and represent the extreme end of the sexual continuum. They are typically accompanied by intense sexual arousal to unconventional or non-sexual stimuli. Most adults are aware of paraphilic behaviour where individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from sex with children (paedophilia), the giving and/or receiving of pain (sadomasochism), dressing in the clothes of the opposite sex (transvestism), sex with animals (zoophilia), and sex with dead people (necrophilia).

However, there are literally hundreds of paraphilias that are not so well known or researched including sexual arousal from amputees (acrotomophilia), the desire to be an amputee (apotemnophilia), flatulence (eproctophilia), rubbing one’s genitals against another person without their consent (frotteurism), urine (urophilia), faeces (coprophilia), pretending to be a baby (infantilism), tight spaces (claustrophilia), restricted oxygen supply (hypoxyphilia), trees (dendrophilia), vomit (emetophilia), enemas (klismaphilia), sleep (somnophilia), statues (agalmatophilia), and food (sitophilia). [I’ve covered all of these (and more) in my blog so just click on the hyperlinks of you want to know more about the ones I’ve mentioned in this paragraph].

It is thought that paraphilias are rare and affect only a very small percentage of adults. It has been difficult for researchers to estimate the proportion of the population that experience unusual sexual behaviours because much of the scientific literature is based on case studies. However, there is general agreement among the psychiatric community that almost all paraphilias are male dominated (with at least 90% of all those affected being men).

One of the most asked questions in this field is the extent to which engaging in unusual sex acts is deviant? Psychologists and psychiatrists differentiate between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders. Most individuals with paraphilic interests are normal people with absolutely no mental health issues whatsoever. I personally believe that there is nothing wrong with any paraphilic act involving non-normative sex between two or more consenting adults. Those with paraphilic disorders are individuals where their sexual preferences cause the person distress or whose sexual behaviour results in personal harm, or risk of harm, to others. In short, unusual sexual behaviour by itself does not necessarily justify or require treatment.

The element of coercion is another key distinguishing characteristic of paraphilias. Some paraphilias (e.g., sadism, masochism, fetishism, hypoxyphilia, urophilia, coprophilia, klismaphilia) are engaged in alone, or include consensual adults who participate in, observe, or tolerate the particular paraphilic behaviour. These atypical non-coercive behaviours are considered by many psychiatrists to be relatively benign or harmless because there is no violation of anyone’s rights. Atypical coercive paraphilic behaviours are considered much more serious and almost always require treatment (e.g., paedophilia, exhibitionism [exposing one’s genitals to another person without their consent], frotteurism, necrophilia, zoophilia).

For me, informed consent between two or more adults is also critical and is where I draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable. This is why I would class sexual acts with children, animals, and dead people as morally and legally unacceptable. However, I would also class consensual sexual acts between adults that involve criminal activity as unacceptable. For instance, Armin Meiwes, the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’ gained worldwide notoriety for killing and eating a fellow German male victim (Bernd Jürgen Brande). Brande’s ultimate sexual desire was to be eaten (known as vorarephilia). Here was a case of a highly unusual sexual behaviour where there were two consenting adults but involved the killing of one human being by another.

Because paraphilias typically offer pleasure, many individuals affected do not seek psychological or psychiatric treatment as they live happily with their sexual preference. In short, there is little scientific evidence that unusual sexual behaviour makes you more deviant generally.

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

Further reading

Abel, G. G., Becker, J. V., Cunningham-Rathner, J., Mittelman, M., & Rouleau, J. L. (1988). Multiple paraphilic diagnoses among sex offenders. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 16, 153-168.

Buhrich, N. (1983). The association of erotic piercing with homosexuality, sadomasochism, bondage, fetishism, and tattoos. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 12, 167-171.

Collacott, R.A. & Cooper, S.A. (1995). Urine fetish in a man with learning disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 39, 145-147.

Couture, L.A. (2000). Forced retention of bodily waste: The most overlooked form of child maltreatment. Located at: http://www.nospank.net/couture2.htm

Denson, R. (1982). Undinism: The fetishizaton of urine. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 27, 336–338.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Compassion, dominance/submission, and curled lips: A thematic analysis of dacryphilic experience. International Journal of Sexual Health, 27, 337-350.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Sexual interest as performance, intellect and pathological dilemma: A critical discursive case study of dacryphilia. Psychology and Sexuality, 7, 265-278.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilias: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Bizarre sex. New Turn Magazine, 3, 49-51.

Massion-verniory, L. & Dumont, E. (1958). Four cases of undinism. Acta Neurol Psychiatr Belg. 58, 446-59.

Money, J. (1980). Love and Love Sickness: The Science of Sex, Gender Difference and Pair-bonding, John Hopkins University Press.

Mundinger-Klow, G. (2009). The Golden Fetish: Case Histories in the Wild World of Watersports. Paris: Olympia Press.

Skinner, L. J., & Becker, J. V. (1985). Sexual dysfunctions and deviations. In M. Hersen & S. M. Turner (Eds.), Diagnostic interviewing (pp. 211–239). New York: Plenum Press.

Spengler, A. (1977). Manifest sadomasochism of males: Results of an empirical study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 6, 441–456.

Under the influence: Ten things I’ve learned from David Bowie

It’s now been a year since the tragic death of David Bowie and this is my fourth blog on him in that period (my others being my personal reflections on the psychology of Bowie, Bowie and the Beatles, and Bowie and the occult). Outside of my own friends and family, it’s still Bowie’s death that has affected me the most psychologically but at least I still have his music to listen to. Bowie inspired millions of people in many different ways. This blog looks at the things that I have learned from Bowie and how he influenced my career.

Persevere with your life goals – Most people are aware that it took years for Bowie to have has first hit single (‘Space Oddity’, 1969), five years after his first single (‘Liza Jane’, 1964). Even after the success of ‘Space Oddity’, it took another three years before he had his second hit single (‘Starman’, 1972) and in the early 1970s there were many who thought he would be a ‘one-hit wonder’ and a small footnote in music history. Bowie never gave up his quest for musical stardom and is arguably one of the best examples of the proverb If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I’ve often told others that they key to success is being able to learn from your mistakes and being able to handle rejection (which for academics is having papers rejected, grant bids rejected, and attempts at promotion rejected, etc.). Bowie personified perseverance and for this quality alone I am very grateful as it has been the bedrock of my career to date.

Encourage teamwork and collaboration – Despite being a solo artist for the vast majority of his post-1969 career (Tin Machine being the most high-profile notable exception), Bowie was (like me) a ‘promiscuous collaborator’ and much of his success would not have been possible without a gifted team around him whether it be his inner circle of musicians (Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Robert Fripp, Mike Garson, etc.), his producers (Tony Visconti, Nile Rogers, Ken Scott, etc.), co-writers and inspirators (Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, John Lennon, etc.), or those he jointly released music with (Mott The Hoople, Queen, Arcade Fire, Pet Shop Boys, Placebo, to name just a few). I have carried out and published research with hundreds of people during my 30-year academic career, and like Bowie, some are one-off collaborations and others are lifelong collaborations. Bowie taught me that although I can do some things by myself, it is the working with others that brings out the best in me.

Experiment to the end – Bowie was never afraid to experiment and try new things whether it was musical, pharmacological, spiritual, or sexual. Mistakes were part of the learning process and he pursued this – especially musically – until the very end of his life (for instance, on his ★ [Blackstar] album where he employed a local New York jazz combo led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin). Failure is success if we learn from it and this is one of the maxims that I live my life by. Bowie taught me that you can have lots of other interests that can be rewarding even if you are not as successful as your day job. Bowie liked to act (and obviously had some success in this area) and also liked to paint (but had much less success here than his other artistic endeavours). By any set of criteria, I am a successful academic but I also like to write journalistically and engage in a wide variety of consultancy (areas that I have had some success) and I like writing poetry (something that I have not been successful financially – although I did win a national Poetry Today competition back in 1997 and have published a number of my poems). Bowie taught me that success in one area of your life can lead to doing other more experimental and rewarding activities even if they are not as financially lucrative.

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Push yourself (even in the bad times) – One of the things I love about Bowie was his ability to carry on working and being productive even when he was not at his physical best. Nowhere is this more exemplified than working on the ★ LP while undergoing chemotherapy for his liver cancer. There are also other times in his life such as when he was at the height of his cocaine addiction in 1975 where he produced some of the best music of his career (most notably the Young Americans and Station to Station LPs, the latter of which is one of my all-time favourite records). I have had a few low periods in my life due to various health, relationship and/or personal issues but I have learned through experience that work is a great analgesic and that even when you are at your lowest ebb you can still be highly productive.

Have a Protestant work ethic – Bowie was arguably one of the most hard-working musicians of all time and had what can only be described as a Protestant work ethic from the early 1960s right up until his heart attack in 2004. I am a great believer in the philosophy that “you get out what you put in” and Bowie exemplified this. Andy Warhol told Lou Reed while he was in the Velvet Underground that he should work hard, because work is all that really matters (and was the subject of the song ‘Work’ on the seminal Songs For Drella LP by Reed and John Cale). Bowie also appeared to live by this mantra and is something that I adhere to myself (and is why I am often described as being a workaholic). While Bowie isn’t my only role model in this regard, he’s certainly the most high-profile.

Lead by example but acknowledge your influences – Bowie had a unique gift in being able to borrow from his own heroes but turn it into something of his own (without ever forgetting his own heroes and influences – his Pin Ups LP probably being the best example of this). One of my favourite phrases is Don’t jump on the bandwagon, create it”, and this has as underpinned a lot of the research areas that I have initiated and is something that I learned from Bowie. Maybe Bowie is a case of the quote often attributed to Oscar Wilde that “talent borrows, genius steals”.

Promote yourself – If there is one thing that Bowie was gifted in as much as his songwriting, it was his own art of self-promotion. Bowie always had the knack to generate news stories about himself and his work without seemingly trying. By the end of his career, it was the act of not saying anything or doing any personal publicity that was just as newsworthy. Bowie intuitively knew how to garner media publicity on his own terms in a way that very few others can. (I also argued that another one of my heroes – Salvador Dali – did the same thing in one of my articles on him in The Psychologist back in 1994). I’d like to think I am good at promoting my work and Bowie is one of my role models in this regard.

Be opportunistic and flexible – If there is one thing besides working hard that sums up my career to date, it is being opportunistic and flexible. As a voracious reader of all things Bowie since my early teens, I always loved Bowie’s sense of adventure and just following paths because they might lead you to something unexpected. Whether it was his use of the ‘cut up’ technique for writing lyrics (developed by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs), his use of Brian Eno’s ‘oblique strategy’ cards, or his love of studio improvisation (such as on the Berlin trilogy albums and the Outside LP), Bowie showed that inspiration for his musical and lyrical ideas could come from anywhere – from a person, from a fleeting observation, from something he read, from something he heard or saw in film or TV programme, and from his own life experiences. I too have taken this approach to my work and believe I am a much better person for it.

Be a mentor to others – Whatever career path you follow, mentors are key in developing talent and Bowie was a mentor to many people that he personally worked with (including many of the artists I named in the section on encouraging teamwork and collaboration above) as well as being an inspirational influence to those he never met (including myself).

Learn from those younger and less experienced than yourself – Paradoxically, despite being an influence on millions of people across many walks of life, Bowie was never afraid to learn from those much younger than himself and exemplified the maxim that you’re never too old to learn new things. He loved innovation and ideas and would soak it up from whoever was around him. As I have got older, this is something that I value more and am never afraid to learn from those much younger or seemingly less experienced than myself – particularly my PhD students.

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

Further reading

Buckley, D. (2005). Strange Fascination: David Bowie – The Definitive Story. London: Virgin Books.

Cann, K. (2010). Any Day Now: David Bowie The London Years (1947-1974). Adelita.

Goddard, S. (2015). Ziggyology. London: Ebury Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Heroes: Salvador Dali. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 240.

Hewitt, P. (2013). David Bowie Album By Album. London: Carlton Books Ltd.

Leigh, W. (2014). Bowie: The Biography. London: Gallery.

Pegg, N. (2011). The Complete David Bowie. London: Titan Books.

Seabrook, T.J. (2008). Bowie In Berlin: A New Career In A New Town. London: Jawbone.

Spitz, M. (2009). Bowie: A Biography. Crown Archetype.

Trynka, P. (2011). Starman: David Bowie – The Definitive Biography. London: Little Brown & Company.

Betting kicks in flicks: A brief look at gambling on film

As a researcher in the gambling studies field and an avid watcher of films, it comes as little surprise that I love watching films where gambling is key to the plot. Occasionally, I write academic papers about gambling portrayals in film (most notably an in-depth look at my favourite gambling film, The Gambler – the original 1974 film starring James Caan in the title role and not the more recent 2014 remake starring Mark Wahlberg – which I published in a 2004 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction). I wrote about this paper in a previous blog and I have also written a few blogs where gambling films are central to the articles such as my blog on Philip Seymour Hoffman and his film Owning Mahowny, my blog on the psychology of Columbo (where I argued that gambling and gamblers are central to many of the plot lines), and my blog on the psychopathology of Star Wars (where problem gambling is one of the many disorders that features in the film’s franchise).

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The world of gambling and gamblers has been portrayed in many films and in many different ways throughout the years (e.g., The Sting, The Cincinnati Kid, Casino, Owning Mahoney, Rain Man). However, I argued (way back) in a 1989 issue of the Journal of Gambling Behavior that many of these film representations tend to cast gambling in an innocuous light, and often portray gamblers, largely male, as hero figures. I made this observation without doing any systematic review of films containing gambling and my thoughts were purely impressionistic.

A decade ago, Dr. Nigel Turner and his colleagues published a lovely study in the Journal of Gambling Issues examining ‘images of gambling’ in films. They built on Jeffrey Dement’s 1999 book Going for broke: The depiction of compulsive gambling in film. They noted that:

“Dement’s (1999) book, Going for Broke is a thorough examination of movies that depict pathological gambling. He examined a number of films in terms of the extent to which the portrayals delivered accurate and appropriate messages about problem gambling. Although some movies accurately portray the nature of pathological gambling at least during some segments, Dement found that many movies about pathological gambling had irresponsibly happy endings. Film images in some cases reflected societal views on gambling. However, images in films may also alter societal views of gambling (Dement, 1999)…Dement focused only on movies that were about problem and pathological gambling. Many films that depict gambling or have images of gambling that are not about pathological gambling per se. In [our] article we will extend Dement’s work by looking more broadly at films about gambling”.

In their study, Turner and colleagues content analysed 65 films (from an initial list of “several hundred films”) mainly from the two decades prior to the publication of the study. The authors recounted that:

Many of the films we discuss are personal favourites that we have watched several times (e.g., Rounders, The Hustler, Vegas Vacation, The Godfather). Some of the films reviewed in this article have been also discussed by [other scholars]. Some films were included because they were found listed as gambling films in film catalogues or by Web searches for ‘gambling movies’ (e.g., Get Shorty). Other films were suggested to us by recovering pathological gamblers, counsellors specializing in problem gambling, recreational gamblers, video rental store employees, and postings to the bulletin board of Gambling Issues International (a listserve for gambling treatment professionals). Our examination of movies was restricted to movies released in cinemas (i.e., not television), and filmed in English (with one exception, Pig’s Law)…In all cases, either the first or second author viewed each film. In some cases both authors viewed the same film separately. The authors then discussed the themes that they thought were depicted in the film. The authors then collected the descriptions of movies and organized them into general themes”. 

After viewing (and re-viewing) the films, the authors found eight themes (often overlapping) represented in the movies watched. More specifically these were the themes of: (1) pathological gambling (films such as Fever Pitch, The Gambler, Owning Mahowny, Pig’s Law, etc.), (2) the magical skill of the professional gambler (Rain Man, Two For The Money, The Cincinatti Kid, Maverick, etc.), (3) miraculous wins as happy endings (The Cooler, The Good Thief, Two For The Money, etc.), (4) gamblers are suckers (Casino, Croupier, Two For The Money, etc., (5) gamblers cheat (Rounders, The Sting, House of Games, The Grifters, etc.), (6) gambling is run by organized crime (The Godfather, Casino, Get Shorty, etc.), (7) the casino heist (Ocean’s Eleven, The Good Thief, Croupier, etc.), and (8) gambling as a symbolic backdrop to the story (Leaving Las Vegas, Pay It Forward, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, etc.).

After this initial content analysis, Dr. Turner and his colleagues organized these eight themes into a general taxonomy of films. They reported that:

“First these films can be divided into two categories: films in which gambling is a central focus of the film, and others where gambling is a relatively minor topic but serves a symbolic role in the film. The films that are about gambling can be further divided into those that present generally negative views of gambling (e.g., pathology, crime, cheating) and those that present a generally positive image of gambling (e.g., magical skills and miraculous wins). The positive image is mainly related to the ability of the player to win (by skill or by miracle), but some of these films also add additional positive images by hinting at a glamorous and exciting lifestyle (The Good Thief, James Bond films, Rounders). Negative images of gambling are more common than positive images of gambling. Negative images were further divided into pathological gambling, suckers, cheaters, organized crime, and robbing casinos”.

They also go on to note that: very few films show ordinary people gambling non-problematically:

“Throughout the history of movies, gambling-related stories have been present. Movies about gambling are most often inhabited by problem gamblers (e.g., The Gambler), cheats (e.g., Shade), criminals (e.g., The Godfather, Ocean’s Eleven), spies (e.g., Diamonds are Forever), people with incredible luck (e.g., Stealing Harvard), and professional gamblers (e.g., Rounders, The Hustler). With the exception of The Odd Couple (1968), we have come across few movies that show ordinary people gambling in a non-problematic manner”.

With regards to problem and pathological gambling they conclude that:

“Some movies provide important insights into the nature of pathological gambling (e.g., The Gambler, Owning Mahowny, The Hustler). However, others make light of the disorder or indulge in the wishful thinking common with pathological gamblers (e.g., Let It Ride, The Cooler, Fever Pitch, The Good Thief). In some movies people develop a problem too quickly (Viva Rock Vegas, Lost in America). Some films take the view that all gamblers are addicted (Croupier, Two for the Money)…Most films about pathological gambling depict a narrow segment of the problem gambling population focusing on the male “action” gambler (see also Griffiths, 2004). Most pathological gamblers simply do not embezzle millions of dollars as in Owning Mahowny or take stupid risks just for the thrill of it as in The Gambler. Films rarely show gamblers hooked on slot machines or other electronic gambling machines even though such machines, where they are available, now account for a majority of problem gamblers in treatment”.

Obviously the sample of films chosen was selective and there were over a hundred films that weren’t analysed. However, even though the study was published ten years ago I don’t think the results (if repeated on more contemporary films) would be particularly different.

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

Further reading

Dement, J.W. (1999) Going for broke: The depiction of compulsive gambling in film. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Gambling in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 66-83.

Griffiths, M. (2004). An empirical analysis of the film ‘The Gambler’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1(2), 39-43.

Gluss, H.M. & Smith, S.E., (2002). Reel people: Finding ourselves in the movies. Keylight: Los Angeles.

Turner, N. E., Fritz, B., & Zangeneh, M. (2007). Images of gambling in film. Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 117-143.

Ga(y)ming studies: The importance of sexuality in video gaming

Back in May 2014, hundreds of news outlets reported on Nintendo’s decision not to allow gamers to play as gay characters and form same-sex relationships in the life-simulation game Tomodachi Life. Understandably, there was disquiet and outrage from a number of quarters despite Nintendo’s statement that “Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game [and] not trying to provide social commentary”. Their statement at the time appeared to fan the flames rather than silence the critics.

I have been researching video game play for almost three decades and I’ve always found issues surrounding character formation, sexuality, and gender in gaming of great psychological interest. In one of our studies we found that a majority of gamers (57%) had gender-swapped their game character with female gamers (68%) being more likely to gender swap than male gamers (54%). We argued that gender swapping enabled gamers to play around and experiment with various aspects of their in-game character that are not so easy to do in real life. For others it was just fun to see if they felt any different playing a different gendered character. What makes our findings interesting is that in most instances, the gamers had the opportunity to choose the gender of their character and to develop other aspects of their character before they began to play. Choosing to gender swap may have had an effect on the gamers’ styles of play and interaction with other gamers. Whatever the reasons, it was clear from our research that the development of gamers’ online characters and avatars was important to them.

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One of the reasons for the importance of online gaming identities may be because it subverts traditional parasocial interaction (PI). PI is a concept used by psychologists that has traditionally described one-sided, parasocial interpersonal relationships in situations where one individual knows a great deal about someone else, but where the other person knows little about the other (the most common being the relationship between celebrities and their fans).

A study led by Nicholas Bowman (and published in a 2012 issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking [CPBSN]) argued that the playing of video games challenges this concept “as the distance between game players and characters is greatly reduced, if not completely removed, in virtual environments.” The study claimed that online gaming encourages the “psychological merging of a player’s and a character’s mind” and is critical in the development of character attachment. In this context, the sexuality of a character for a player may be of fundamental psychological importance.

This appears to be confirmed in a paper by Melissa Lewis and colleagues (also published in CPBSN) who developed a scale to assess ‘character attachment’ (the connection felt by a video game player toward a video game character”). They found that character attachment had a significant relationship with self-esteem, addiction, game enjoyment, and time spent playing games.

American researcher Dr. Adrienne Shaw has carried out a number of studies into lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) representation in video games from a cultural production perspective. She was one of the first academics in the gaming studies field to note that there was a relative lack of LGBT representation in video games. Other areas of the entertainment media (e.g., music, film, and television) appear to have much greater LGBT representation than in video games so it does beg the question of why the gaming industry appears to be behind in this respect. I recall writing a paper back in 1993 (in The Psychologist) where I argued that most video games at the time were designed by males for other males. This arguably alienated female gamers but eventually led to developers introducing strong female characters into video games (the most notable being Lara Croft in Tomb Raider). Maybe the appearance of LGBT characters and role models within games will increase over time but I’m not holding my breath.

In a more recent paper in a 2012 paper in the journal New Media and Society, Dr. Shaw claimed that the demand for minority representation in video games “often focuses on proving that members of marginalized groups are gamers” and that the gaming industry should focus on appealing to such players via targeted content. However, she argues that an individual’s identity as a gamer will intersect with “other identities like gender, race, and sexuality.” She then goes on to say that the negative connotations about being an online gamer may lead to such marginalized groups not wanting to engage in gaming. She concluded that “those invested in diversity in video games must focus their attention on the construction of the medium, and not the construction of the audience…[This] is necessary to develop arguments for representation in games that do not rely on marking groups as specific kinds of gaming markets via identifiers like gender, race, and sexuality.”

Nintendo’s decision not to allow gay relationships to form within Tomodachi Life was ill-judged, ill-informed, and outdated. Games in which identity content can be generated by its users needs to reflect the world in which the gamers’ live. In short, there should be no compromise when it comes to allowing gamers to choose their sexuality within the game.

(N.B. A version of this article first appeared in The Conversation)

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

Further reading

Bowman, N. D., Schultheiss, D., & Schumann, C. (2012). “I’m attached, and I’m a good guy/gal!”: how character attachment influences pro-and anti-social motivations to play massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(3), 169-174

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Are computer games bad for children? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 6, 401-407.

Griffiths, M.D., Arcelus, J. & Bouman, W.P. (2016). Video gaming and gender dysphoria: Some case study evidence. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 34(2), 59-66.

Hussain, Z., & Griffiths, M. D. (2008). Gender swapping and socializing in cyberspace: An exploratory study. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11(1), 47-53.

Lewis, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Confronting gender representation: A qualitative study of the experiences and motivations of female casual-gamers. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 28, 245-272.

Lewis, M. L., Weber, R., & Bowman, N. D. (2008). “They may be pixels, but they’re MY pixels:” Developing a metric of character attachment in role-playing video games. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11(4), 515-518.

McLean, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Female gamers: A thematic analysis of their gaming experience. International Journal of Games-Based Learning, 3(3), 54-71.

Shaw, A. (2009). Putting the gay in games cultural production and GLBT content in video games. Games and Culture, 4(3), 228-253.

Shaw, A. (2012). Do you identify as a gamer? Gender, race, sexuality, and gamer identity. New Media and Society, 14(1), 28-44.

Shaw, A. (2015). Gaming at the edge: Sexuality and gender at the margins of gamer culture. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

More of the write stuff: Why do people write blogs?

Given the large number of blogs I have published, I consider being a ‘blogger’ one of my core identities (although admittedly this is subsumed within my identity as a ‘writer’). I am often asked why I blog and why I blog so much (some would say excessively) which prompted me putting together the article you are now reading.

Academically, there have been a number of studies that have carried out research into why people blog. For instance, Dr. Bonnie Nardi and colleagues published a paper in Communications of the ACM, (2004) and concluded that bloggers are “driven to document their lives, provide commentary and opinions, express deeply felt emotions, articulate ideas through writing, and form and maintain community forums”. In 2008, Dr. Chin-Lung Hsu and Dr. Judy Lin published the results of a small survey of 212 bloggers in the journal Information and Management. Using the theory of reasoned action (a theory I have also used in relation to some of my gambling attitude research – see ‘Further reading’), they found that “ease of use and enjoyment, and knowledge sharing (altruism and reputation) were positively related to attitude toward blogging…[and that] social factors (community identification) and attitude toward blogging significantly influenced a blog participant’s intention to continue to use blogs”.

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A 2007 paper by Dr. Su-Houn Liu and colleagues in the journal Issues in Information Systems surveyed 177 bloggers following a qualitative study where they interviewed five bloggers about their motivation for blogging. From the interviews they generated ten motivations to blog – five that were intrinsic (killing time; having space to store data and files; enjoying sharing life with others; pouring out feelings; gaining achievement) and five that were extrinsic (looking forward to others’ responses; finding good topics after talking with others; constantly connecting with known people; making new friends; understanding others’ feelings and opinions). Using these motivations they hypothesized that blogging motivation would be positively related to blogging intention and that a blogger’s intention would be positively related to the amount of blogging. In the survey results, they found that the two most important motivations for blogging were (i) pouring out feelings and (ii) connecting with people. The results also showed that bloggers who had (i) both high intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for rewards had higher levels of blogging intention, and (ii) higher blogging intention were willing to take more time to maintain their blog and post more articles.

A study by Dr. Chris Fullwood and colleagues in a 2009 issue of CyberPsychology and Behavior carried out a content analysis of MySpace blogs and concluded that “most blogs were written in a positive tone, and the main motivations for blogging appeared to be writing a diary and as an emotional outlet”. They found no significant gender differences but reported that the blog’s purpose and style differed across age groups. For instance, bloggers aged over 50 years were more likely to use their blog as “an emotional outlet with a negative tone”. Those aged between 18 and 29 years “used a semiformal language style” on their blog. A 2007 paper by Dr. Rong-An Shang and colleagues published in the PACIS Proceedings examined why people blog by investigating the impacts of task and technology characteristics on user evaluation of blogs and blog usage. They found that self-presentation, need for sociality, and the perception of social presence best explained why people blogged.

Despite the academic research into why people blog, the topic has been covered in dozens of online articles often with much longer lists of motivations as to why people blog and the benefits that can be got from blogging. (I include my own online article on this topic as to why I blog, and I would also draw you attention to the published articles I have had on the benefits of blogging – see ‘Further reading’ below). So here is a more definitive list that I have compiled from many different websites:

  • To express thoughts and opinions – Blogs provide one of the easiest ways to write things for a potentially global audience. I often use my blogs to establish initial thoughts and ideas that can then be finessed and built upon more rigorously in more formal later published work. The best thing about blogs is that they are free, easy to set up, and you can publish something within seconds of finishing what you write.
  • To connect and network with like-minded people – Blogs on specific topics can help in making contact with individuals that have similar thoughts and opinions. In short, blogs can be an aid to online networking. If you run a business, blogs can also be used to connect with your customers.
  • To be free and creative – Writing blogs should be fun to do but they can also be an exercise in creativity and freedom. Similarly, blogs can be an extra creative outlet in which you can put into words thoughts and ideas that are hard to put into use elsewhere in your life.
  • To become a more organized and better communicator, thinker and writer – Blog writing is a skill that can be developed and they can be used to become a better communicator. How you write something can sometimes be more important than what you want to say. Increased writing can also help you to become more organized in your thinking.
  • To help focus thinking – Not only can blog writing make thinking become more organized, it can help making thinking more focused. Once I have chosen a topic to write about, my thinking becomes very focused and while writing everything else is in the periphery. I would also argue that your mindset becomes more objective and ‘well rounded’ the more blogs that you write.
  • To help and inspire other people – Blogs can provide informative help to almost anything you can think of. Although a small amount of the feedback I get about my blog is negative the overwhelming majority is supportive and celebratory. It’s even better if someone says that your blog inspired that person to do something positive.
  • To advertise and promote something – Blogs can be used to promote or market a product, a business and/or even yourself. Blogs can be an excellent vehicle for self-promotion and personal branding. Good blogs get you noticed and could be good for your career. Your next employer might even be one of your regular blog readers. I have also realized that blogs can be a great way to attract potential clients for consultancy opportunities.
  • To establish expertise and create awareness – Blogs are a great way to help individuals establish themselves as an expert in a specific topic or area and can help in creating awareness of specific issues. One of the side benefits is that you also become more expert in researching a topic. Reading your old blogs can also help you in becoming more reflective and critical about your thinking.
  • To make a difference (to oneself and/or others) Blogs that are specific and issue-based can be used to educate and/or change opinion in someone else. Your writing might help make a difference in their lives (such as learning about something they didn’t know before reading your blog). Writing can be therapeutic and some people write blogs as a journal or diary. Sometimes ‘making a difference’ can be to the bloggers themselves. For instance, my blogs on survivor guilt and the death of David Bowie were primarily to help myself rather than anyone else reading.
  • To keep up to date with a specific interest or topic and gain knowledge – Being a regular blogger means that you have to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the area being written about. At the same time it increases your knowledge base.
  • To make money – Making money from blogs may not be at the top of people’s lists but good bloggers can get paid for some of their efforts.
  • To help time management and other life skills – Writing a regular blog takes time and dedication but can also help you become better in time management. My blogs complement the other things I do in my life (both professionally and personally) and I plan my blog writing around other areas of my life. Why watch a dull TV show when I could be bettering myself writing a blog? In short, it could lead to some healthier life habits.
  • To boost self-esteem and ego needs – The one thing I love about blogging is that I have a running record of how many people have accessed my blog, which articles they are reading, where they were referred from, and who has re-blogged my writing. This all contributes to my overall sense of self-worth and helps raise my self-esteem. Positive feedback makes you feel good. In short, blog ‘success’ is measurable.

Many of the reasons I’ve listed above form part of my own motivations for blogging but the main reason I write my blogs is that I love writing them because others seem to like reading them. In short I have a passion for it. 

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

Further reading

Becker, J. (2016). 15 reasons I think you should blog. Becoming Minimalist, January 14. Located at: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/15-reasons-i-think-you-should-blog/

Bullas, J. (2010). 12 reasons why people blog. jeffbullas.com. Located at: http://www.jeffbullas.com/2010/07/23/12-reasons-why-people-blog/

Fullwood, C., Sheehan, N., & Nicholls, W. (2009). Blog function revisited: A content analysis of MySpace blogs. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12(6), 685-689.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). How writing blogs can help your academic career. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 87, 39-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Top tips on…Writing blogs. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 90, 13-14.

Gunnellus, S. (2014). Top 10 reasons to start  blog. About Tech, December 16. Located at: http://weblogs.about.com/od/startingablog/tp/Top-Ten-Reasons-to-Blog.htm

Hsu, C.L., & Lin, J.C.C. (2008). Acceptance of blog usage: The roles of technology acceptance, social influence and knowledge sharing motivation. Information and Management, 45(1), 65-74.

Kim, H.N. (2008). The phenomenon of blogs and theoretical model of blog use in educational contexts. Computers and Education, 51(3), 1342-1352.

Li, J., & Chignell, M. (2010). Birds of a feather: How personality influences blog writing and reading. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 68(9), 589-602.

Liu, S.H., Liao, H.L., & Zeng, Y.T. (2007). Why people blog: an expectancy theory analysis. Issues in Information Systems, 8(2), 232-237.

Nardi, B.A., Schiano, D. J., & Gumbrecht, M. (2004). Blogging as social activity, or, would you let 900 million people read your diary? In Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (pp. 222-231). ACM.

Reich, D. (2011). 9 reasons you should blog. Forbes, October 15. Located at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danreich/2011/10/15/9-reasons-you-should-blog/#616c4f2a5ab0

Shang, R.A., Chen, Y.C., & Chen, C.M. (2007). Why people blog? An empirical investigation of the task technology fit model. PACIS 2007 Proceedings, 5. PACIS.

Suyeoka, B. (2016). 6 things that blogging can do for you. Huffington Post, September 25. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandon-suyeoka/6-things-that-blogging-ca_b_3973092.html

Thacker, N. (2011). 10 reasons why you need a blog. Life Hack, October 15. Located at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danreich/2011/10/15/9-reasons-you-should-blog/#616c4f2a5ab0

Websudasa (2015). Top 10 reasons why people blog. Shout Me Loud, July 16. Located at: http://www.shoutmeloud.com/top-10-reasons-why-people-blog.html

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Adolescent lottery and scratchcard players: Do their attitudes influence their gambling behaviour? Journal of Adolescence, 27, 467-475.

Sense and sense-ability: A brief look at ‘virtual reality addiction’

Ever since I started researching into technological addictions, I have always speculated that ‘virtual reality addiction’ was something that psychologists would need to keep an eye on. In 1995, I coined the term ‘technological addictions’ in a paper of the same name in the journal Clinical Psychology Forum. In the conclusions of that paper I asserted:

“There is little doubt that activities involving person-machine interactivity are here to stay and that with the introduction of such things [as] virtual reality consoles, the number of potential technological addictions (and addicts) will increase. Although there is little empirical evidence for technological addictions as clinical entities at present, extrapolations from research into fruit machine addiction and the exploratory research into video game addiction suggest that they do (and will) exist”.

Although I wrote the paper over 20 years ago, there is little scientific evidence (as yet) that individuals have become addicted to virtual reality (VR). However, that is probably more to do with the fact that – until very recently – there had been little in the way of affordable VR headsets. (I ought to just add that when I use the term ‘VR addiction’ what I am really talking about is addiction to the applications that can be utilized via VR hardware rather than the VR hardware itself).

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VR’s potential in mass commercial markets appears to be finally taking off because of mass-produced affordable hardware such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and the (ultra-cheap) Google Cardboard (in which a smartphone can be inserted into cardboard VR headset frame). Last year, a report by the marketing and consulting company Tractica claimed that spending on virtual reality hardware could be as much as $21.8 billion (US) by 2020. A more recent report by online and digital market research company Juniper estimated that global sales of VR headsets would rise from 3 million in 2016 to 30 million by 2020. Three markets are likely drive sales, and they all happen to be areas that I research into from an addiction perspective – video gaming, gambling, and sex. I’ve noted in many of my academic papers over the years (particularly my early papers on online gambling addiction and online sex addiction) that when new technological advances occur, the sex and gambling industries always appear to be the first to invest and produce commercial products and services using such technologies, and VR is no different. As an online article in Wareable by Dan Sung on VR sex noted:

“What [VR] headsets offer is immersion; 180-degree (or more), stereoscopic action with you as the star of the show and the adult actors and actresses looking deep and lustfully into your eyes as they tend to your genitalia. It’s small wonder that users have been donning their headsets and earphones in numbers and praying to their god that nobody walks in. Yet gambling and porn are synonymous with addiction, and increasingly, questions are being asked about whether the VR revolution could finally ensnare us humans into virtual worlds”.

I was interviewed by Sung for the same article and I made a number of different observations about VR sex. I commented that in terms of people feeling reinforced, aroused, rewarded, sex is the ultimate in things that are potentially addictive. Sex is one of those activities that is highly reinforcing, it’s highly rewarding and how people feel is probably better than the highs and buzzes from other behaviours. Theoretically, I can see that VR sex addiction would be possible but I don’t think it’s going to be on the same scale as other more traditional addictions. The thing about VR (and VR sex) – and similarly to the internet – is that it’s non-face-to-face, it’s non-threatening, it’s destigmatising, and it’s non-alienating. VR sex could be like that whether it’s with fictitious partners, someone that you’re actually into, or someone that you’ve never met before. Where VR sex is concerned, if you can create a celebrity in a totally fictitious way, that will happen. There may be celebrities out there that will actually endorse this and can make money and commercialise themselves to do that. It can work both ways. Some people might find it creepy while others might see something they can make money from.

In one of my previous blogs I looked at the area of ‘teledildonics’, a VR technology that has been around for over two decades (in fact I was first interviewed on this topic on a 1993 Channel 4 television programme called Checkout ’93). Dan Sung also interviewed Kyle Machulis who runs the Metafetish teledildonics website for his article. He said that in relation to VR sex there is a problem with haptics (i.e., the science of applying tactile sensation and control to interaction with computer applications):

 “We’re good on video and audio but haptics is a really, really hard problem…A lot of toys out there right now are horrible and it’s very hard to come up with something quality. So, instead, what the porn industry is aiming for right now is immersion. It may not feel better but they’re so much closer to the action that it may be better, and I think we’re on the cusp of that right now.” First, we need consumer hardware. We need things to be released and available to customers to see if it’s really going to take off or not. But when this happens – late this year, the beginning of next – as soon as the headsets are available, the media is ready and waiting…Of course, there’s straight women, gay men and gay women to develop for too but, for a lot of people, the perfect porn experience is doing something that’s not even physically possible – either through the laws of physics or the laws of land, and that’s something that only VR can solve…Even so, what we saw in teledildonics in gaming is that people used them to begin with but there’s always a lot of fall off with new technologies like this. So, there’s going to be a hardcore set of people who stay with VR porn but it’s hard to say how popular it will be beyond that. We’re all still guessing at the moment. This time next year it will be a completely different story”.

Another area that we will need to monitor is how the gambling industry will harness VR technology. The most obvious application of VR in the gambling world is in the online gambling sector. I can imagine some online gamblers wanting their gambling experiences to be more immersive and for their online gambling sessions to be more akin to gambling offline surrounded by the sights and sounds of an offline gambling venue. There is no technical reason that I know of why people that gamble via their computers, laptops, smartphones or tablets could not wear VR headsets and be playing poker opposite a virtual opponent while still sat on the sofa at home. As Paul Swaddle (CEO of Pocket App) noted in a recent issue of Gambling Insider:

We already know that participation in online gambling is snowballing, so if the entertainment industry can use VR to simulate the experience of being inside a video game, or social media sites can give you the opportunity to not just see your friends’ pictures, but to walk through them, why shouldn’t online casinos be able to do the same? VR may actually be the hook that mobile and online casinos need to draw in more millennials, with the average age of players in mobile casinos currently being 40 [years old], and the average age of mobile gamblers in general being 35 [years old]. Millennials simply aren’t engaging with mobile and online casinos to the same extent as older generations, and I suspect that this is down to younger players being much more used to immersive and sociable gaming, as a result of the cutting-edge developments that are being constantly rolled out in the video gaming industry”.

I agree with Swaddle’s observations as the gambling industry are constantly thinking about the ways to bring in newer players. Today’s modern screenagers love technology and do not appear to have any hang-ups about using wearable technology including Fitbit and the Apple Watch. As Swaddle goes on to say:

“By using 
VR technology to transport players and their friends to exciting locations for their online gambling experience, such as a famous casino in Las Vegas, or a smoky basement room in 1920s New York, or even to the poker table in the James Bond film Casino Royale, mobile and online casinos may stand a better chance of drawing in younger audiences if they use VR to gamify the casino experience”.

Again, this makes a lot of sense to me and I wouldn’t bet against this happening. Swaddle thinks that such VR gambling experiences will become commonplace in the years to come and that the gambling industry needs to get on the VR bandwagon now. 

Perhaps of most psychological concern is the use of VR in video gaming. There is a small minority of players out there who are already experiencing genuine addictions to online gaming. VR takes immersive gaming to the next level, and for those that use games as a method of coping and escape from the problems they have in the real world it’s not hard to see how a minority of individuals will prefer to spend a significant amount of their waking time in VR environments rather than their real life.

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

Further reading

Ashcroft, S. (2015). VR revenue to hit $21.8 billion by 2020. Wareable, July 29. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/vr-revenues-could-reach-dollar-218-billion-by-2020-1451

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

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Gambling on the internet: A brief note. Journal of Gambling Studies, 12, 471-474.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2001).  Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D., Király, O., M. Pontes, H.M. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). An overview of problematic gaming. In Starcevic, V. & Aboujaoude, E. (Eds.), Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise (pp.27-55). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Juniper Research (2016). White paper: The rise of virtual reality. Available from: http://www.juniperresearch.com/document-library/white-papers/the-rise-of-virtual-reality

Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Koronczai, B., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Assessment of problematic internet use and online video gaming. An overview of problematic gaming. In Starcevic, V. & Aboujaoude, E. (Eds.), Mental Health in the Digital Age: Grave Dangers, Great Promise (pp.46-68). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stables, J. (2016).  Gambling, gaming and porn: Research says VR is set to blast off. Wareable, September 15. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/gaming-gambling-and-porn-research-says-vr-is-set-to-blast-off-1682

Swaddle, P. (2016). Is virtual reality the future of mobile and online gambling? Gambling Insider, 23, June 3, p.9

Sung, D. (2015). VR and vice: Are we heading for mass addiction to virtual reality fantasies? Wareable, October 15. Located at: http://www.wareable.com/vr/vr-and-vice-9232

Tractica (2015). Virtual reality for consumer markets. Available at: https://www.tractica.com/research/virtual-reality-for-consumer-markets/

Stars in their eyes: Another look at Celebrity Worship Syndrome

Last week I did a number of media interviews about Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS) including the Metro newspaper (‘From Beyonce to Elvis, here’s the ugly truth about why we worship celebrities’) and the International Business Times (‘Crazy about Kylie Jenner? Professor of Behavioural Addiction explains celebrity obsession’). I also wrote an article for the Huffington Post. The ‘hook’ for all these stories was the DVD release of the film Kill The King (also known by the title Shangri La Suite) which tells the story of two 20-year old damaged lovers – Jack and Karen (played by Luke Grimes and Emily Browning) – who head to Los Angeles to kill rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley in the summer of 1974. While Jack’s obsession with Elvis is somewhat extreme, over the last two decades there has been an increasing amount of research into CWS.

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CWS has been described as an obsessiveaddictive disorder where an individual becomes overly involved and interested (in short, completely obsessed) with the details of the personal life of a celebrity. Any person who is ‘in the public eye’ can be the object of a person’s obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music. Research suggests that CWS exists and that according to Dr. John Maltby and his colleagues (see ‘Further reading’ below) there are three independent dimensions of celebrity worship. These are on a continuum and named (i) entertainment-social, (ii) intense-personal, and (iii) borderline pathological.

  • The entertainment-social dimension relates to attitudes where individuals are attracted to a celebrity because of their perceived ability to entertain and to become a social focus of conversation with likeminded others.
  • The intense-personal dimension relates to individuals that have intensive and compulsive feelings about a celebrity.
  • The borderline-pathological dimension relates to individuals who display uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies relating to a celebrity.

Among adults, their research has shown that there is a correlation between the pathological aspects of CWS and poor mental health such as high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, and poorer body image. Among teenage females there is a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image (basically, teenage girls who identify with celebrities have much poorer body image compared to other groups). In addition, most celebrity-obsessed individuals often suffer high levels of dissociation and fantasy-proneness. Maltby’s research suggests about 1% of his participants have obsessional tendencies towards celebrities.

Research has also shown that worshipping celebrities can have both positive and negative consequences. People who worship celebrities for entertainment and social reasons have been found to be more optimistic, outgoing, and happy. Those who worship celebrities for personal reasons have been found to be more obsessive, more depressed, more anxious, more solitary, more impulsive, more anti-social and more troublesome. My own thoughts on CWS and celebrity culture are provided below and are from the interviews I did with the Metro and the International Business Times (IBT).

IBT: In a world filled with Kardashians, social media and vast consumerism, why do you think people are more obsessed with celebrities than ever?

MG: The first thing I would say is that most people are not obsessed with celebrities but there are probably a lot more people who are obsessed compared to a couple of decades ago (although this is speculation on my part as no research has ever examined the prevalence of celebrity obsession among a nationally representative sample). One study did estimate about 1% of their sample being obsessed with celebrities but there is no comparative study prior to that. However, I do think that the numbers of people who have celebrity obsessions has increased over the last 20 years and much of this is most likely due to the rise of celebrities using social media (and the fact that celebrities can now interact – if they want – hour by hour with their fan base) and the increase in general media coverage surrounding celebrity and celebrity lives (including a large increase in reality TV starring celebrities and an increase in the number of celebrity gossip magazines). These types of media and social media can give rise to what we psychologists call parasocial relationships. With respect to celebrities, parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships, where fans express interest, time, money, and/or emotion in and/or on the celebrity (while the celebrity is totally unaware of the fan in any singular or specific sense).

IBT: Do you know what happens in the mind when we form an obsession or infatuation with some things? 

MG: Celebrity infatuations are nothing to particularly worry about because they tend to be intense but relatively short-lived admiration for the person. Celebrity obsessions can be of a lot more concern. At their simplest level, a celebrity obsession is when someone constantly thinks about a particular celebrity in a way that most people would describe as abnormal. This can be to the point where the obsession conflicts with most other things in the individual’s life including job or education, other relationships, and other hobbies. A person’s whole life can revolve around the celebrity and such individuals can end up spending way beyond their disposable income by buying their merchandise (CDs, DVDs, books, perfumes, clothing lines, etc.) and/or seeing them live on stage (singing, acting, etc.). There is no single explanation as to why someone might develop a celebrity obsession but many appear to start with a sexual attraction to the celebrity in question and have fantasies of what they would do if they met the object of their desire. Research has shown that there is a correlation between the pathological aspects of celebrity worship and poor mental health such as high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, and poorer body image. Among teenage females there is a relationship between intense-personal celebrity worship and body image (basically, teenage girls who identify with celebrities have much poorer body image compared to other groups). In addition, most celebrity-obsessed individuals often suffer high levels of dissociation and fantasy-proneness.

IBT: What does it have to take about a ‘celebrity’ for people to become obsessed?

MG: At a micro-level, any person who is ‘in the public eye’ can be the object of a person’s obsession (e.g., authors, politicians, journalists), but research and criminal prosecutions suggest they are more likely to be someone from the world of television, film and/or pop music. This is most likely because such celebrities tend to be more popular and have bigger followings in the public eye in media and on social media. At a micro-level, we are all individuals it could be something very idiosyncratic but given that the little research carried out tends to report that celebrity worshippers are sexually attracted to their celebrity of choice, then being good looking (at least in the eyes of the beholder) appears to be a common denominator.

IBT: How do you think today’s modern obsession with celebrity influenced and resounded throughout Kill the King?

MG: One of Jack’s reasons for being sent to a rehab centre – in addition to a drug addiction problem – is because of his “increasingly abnormal obsession” with Elvis Presley. While Jack’s obsession with Elvis is somewhat extreme and arguably a type of ‘Celebrity Worship Syndrome’, his character doesn’t seem to overlap too much with modern day celebrity worshippers. Jack’s character is more akin to celebrity stalkers or celebrity assassins (like John Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman) than the archetypal young female totally obsessed and besotted with their favourite pop star or actor. Given that Kill The King was set in 1974 and celebrity obsession (and Celebrity Worship Syndrome) is a more modern day phenomenon, I wouldn’t have expected that much overlap anyway.

Metro: Should we be worried about this kind of social media ‘bond’, seeing as icons like John Lennon were assassinated by fans who became obsessed with them?

MG: The chances of those things happening are few and far between. If someone is absolutely hooked on the idea of killing a celebrity, they’ll go and do it. I don’t think it’s to do with the rise of the mass media or anything like that. Most research says fandom is actually good for people. It gives them a hobby. Fans talk to other fans. It brings us together, and it can be life-affirming. I’m a massive, massive David Bowie fan. I’m a record collector, too and I’m probably more on the obsessive side than most people. But I don’t think I’m a worse person for that.

Metro: So what’s the difference between you and someone who spends thousands and thousands of pounds on plastic surgery to look more like their idol?

MG: Those are the real extreme cases. The good news is that recent research has shown that less than one per cent of people are really unhealthily obsessed with stars. And of those people, most are not going to do things that have negative effects on their life. In my opinion, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an unhealthy obsession is that enthusiasm adds to life, and addictions or obsessions take away from it. For most people, even those who have a compulsive element to their fandom like myself, it doesn’t have a negative effect on their quality of life. It’s probably better to buy records and memorabilia than designer handbags. Sometimes it’s not just about money, it’s about the time you spend as well. For one person, an obsession can be fine, and for another it can be very problematic. If a fan works in Tesco and they’re following their hero around the country, watching them night after night on tour and buying merchandise, they just don’t have the disposable income to do it. I could do that, thanks to my salary, but I can’t afford the time.

Metro: Is there a link between someone’s social background and their preference for celebrity culture?

MG: I don’t know the scientific link there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the lower the socio-economic class you’re in the more likely you are to be involved and like celebrity culture. ‘Gogglebox’ stars, for instance. The middle class, well-to-do people like current affairs, news and politics and those who are less well-off are probably more interested in EastEnders and things like that.

Metro: Are there any psychological issues that lead to celebrity worship?

MG: Those with celebrity worship syndrome tend to have worse mental health. They’re more likely to be anxious, depressed, to have high stress levels, increased bouts of illness and a poor body image. But it’s a case of the chicken or the egg, because these people might self-medicate through these parasocial relationships with celebs they’ll never even meet. 

Metro: What are the effects of celebrity culture? Particularly for young people?

MG: We know that young people are not as engaged with politics. They just don’t trust politicians, and it’s linked to the rise of social media. Celebrities have more pull, and followers, than [British Prime Minister] Theresa May or [leader of the Labour Party] Jeremy Corbyn will ever have. I’m not in a position to say whether people should be more interested in X or Y. Certain things in life make people feel good. As humans we seek out things that get us high, aroused, excited –  or we seek out things which tranquilise and numb us. Celebrities tend to give us a thrill. 

Metro: Are celebrities vulnerable themselves?

MG: I certainly wouldn’t like to be in a position where cameras are waiting outside my house. Stardom can bring positive things, but also a lot of unexpected negatives too. We have to remember at the end of the day that celebrities are just human beings, with all the same emotional foibles and weaknesses we have – and sometimes they’re magnified times a hundred because of the pressure and stress of the spotlight. And the internet, too. It’s no wonder some of them fall prey to serious addictions. 

Metro: People like Amy Winehouse? She’s the most recent example I can think of.

MG: Before she died, Amy Winehouse had got to that stage where she was very famous, and she was earning a lot of money. And that meant she was surrounded by sycophants and ‘yes’ people. Those kinds of people say things they think you want to hear, and they’re not necessarily looking out for you. Amy was surrounded by people thinking about their own wages and careers. No, it’s not a surprise when these things happen, and people could see it coming. Like with Kurt Cobain’s death. Amy didn’t get the help she needed. We can say that in hindsight.’

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

Further reading

BBC News (2003). Worshipping celebrities ‘brings success. August 13. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3147343.stm

Chapman, J. (2003). Do you worship the celebs? Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-176598/Do-worship-celebs.html

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Does ‘Celebrity Worship Syndrome’ really exist? Huffington Post, November 18. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-mark-griffiths/does-celebrity-worship-sy_b_13012170.html

McCutcheon, L.E., Lange, R., & Houran, J. (2002). Conceptualization and measurement of celebrity worship. British Journal of Psychology, 93, 67-87.

Maltby, J., Houran, M.A., & McCutcheon, L.E. (2003). A Clinical Interpretation of Attitudes and Behaviors Associated with Celebrity Worship. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 191, 25-29.

Maltby, J., Houran, J., Ashe, D., & McCutcheon, L.E. (2001). The self-reported psychological well-being of celebrity worshippers. North American Journal of Psychology, 3, 441-452.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E., Gillett, R., Houran, J., & Ashe, D. (2004). Celebrity Worship using an adaptational-continuum model of personality and coping. British Journal of Psychology. 95, 411-428.

Maltby, J., Giles, D., Barber, L. & McCutcheon, L.E. (2005). Intense-personal Celebrity Worship and Body Image: Evidence of a link among female adolescents. British Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 17-32.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E,. Gilett, R., Houran, J. & Ashe, D.D. (2004), ‘Personality and Coping: A Context for Examining Celebrity Worship and Mental Health. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 411-428.

Maltby, J., Day, L., McCutcheon, L.E., Houran, J. & Ashe, D. (2006). Extreme celebrity worship, fantasy proneness and dissociation: Developing the measurement and understanding of celebrity worship within a clinical personality context. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 273-283.

Wikipedia (2012). Celebrity Worship Syndrome. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebrity_Worship_Syndrome

Higher and higher: Can psychoactive substance use enhance creativity?

In a previous blog I examined whether celebrities are more prone to addictions. In that article I argued that many high profile celebrities have the financial means to afford a drug habit like cocaine or heroin. For many in the entertainment business such as being the lead singer in a famous rock band, taking drugs may also be viewed as one of the defining behaviours of the stereotypical ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ lifestyle. In short, it’s almost expected. There is also another way of looking at the relationship between celebrities and drugs and this is in relation to creativity, particularly as to whether the use of drugs can inspire creative writing or music. For instance, did drugs like cannabis and LSD help The Beatles create some of the best music ever such as Revolver? Did the Beach BoysBrian Wilson’s use of drugs play a major role in why the album Pet Sounds is often voted the best album of all time? Did the use of opium by Edgar Allen Poe create great fiction? Did William S. Burroughs’ use of heroin enhance his novel writing?

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To investigate the question of whether drug use enhances creativity, I and my research colleagues Fruzsina Iszáj and Zsolt Demetrovics have just published a review paper in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction examining this issue. We carried out a systematic review of the psychological literature and reviewed any study that provided empirical data on the relationship between psychoactive substance use and creativity/artistic creative process that had been published in English in peer-reviewed journals or scientific books. Following a rigorous filtering process, we were surprised to find only 19 studies that had empirically examined the relationship between drug use and creativity (14 empirical studies and five case studies).

Six of the 19 studies (four empirical papers and two case reports) were published during the 1960s and 1970s. However, following the peak of psychedelia, only three papers (all of them empirical) were published in the following 20 years. Since 2003, a further 10 studies were published (seven empirical papers and three case studies). The majority of the studies (58%) were published in the USA. This dominance is especially true for the early studies in which six of the seven empirical papers and both case studies that were published before mid-1990s were written by US researchers. However, over the past 14 years, this has changed. The seven empirical papers published post-2000 were shared between six different countries (USA, UK, Italy, Wales, Hungary, Austria), and the three case studies came from three countries (USA, UK, Germany).

Seven empirical papers and two case studies dealt with the relationship between various psychoactive substances and artistic creation/creativity. Among the studies that examined a specific substance, six (three empirical papers and three case studies) focused on the effects of either LSD or psilocybin. One empirical study focused on cannabis, and one concerned ayahuasca.

With the exception of one study where the sample focused on adolescents, all the studies comprised adults. More non-clinical samples (15 studies, including case studies) were found than clinical ones (four studies). Three different methodological approaches were identified. Among the empirical studies, seven used questionnaires comprising psychological assessment measures such as the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT).

According to the types of psychoactive substance effect on creativity, we identified three groups. These were studies that examined the effect of psychedelic substances (n=5), the effect of cannabis (n=1), and those that did not make a distinction between substances used because of the diverse substances used by participants in the samples (n=7). In one study, the substances studied were not explicitly identified.

The most notable observation of our review was that the findings of these studies show only limited convergence. The main reason for this is likely to be found in the extreme heterogeneity concerning the objectives, methodology, samples, applied measures, and psychoactive substances examined among the small number of studies. Consequently, it is hard to draw a clear conclusion about the effect of psychoactive substance use on creativity based on the reviewed material.

Despite the limited agreement, most of the studies confirmed some sort of association between creativity and psychoactive substance use, but the nature of this relationship was not clearly established. The frequently discussed view that the use of psychoactive substances leads to enhanced creativity was by no means confirmed. What the review of relevant studies suggests is that: (i) substance use is more characteristic in those with higher creativity than in other populations, and (ii) it is probable that this association is based on the inter-relationship of these two phenomena. At the same time, it is probable that there is no evidence of a direct contribution of psychoactive substances to enhanced creativity of artists.

It is more likely that substances act indirectly by enhancing experiences and sensitivity, and loosening conscious processes that might have an influence on the creative process. This means the artist will not be more creative but the quality of the artistic product will be altered due to substance use. On the other hand, it appears that psychoactive substances may have another role concerning artists, namely that they stabilize and/or compensate a more unstable functioning.

Beyond the artistic product, we also noted that (iii) specific functions associated with creativity appear to be modified and enhanced in the case of ordinary individuals due to psychoactive substance use. However, it needs to be emphasized that these studies examined specific functions while creativity is a complex process. In light of these studies, it is clear that psychoactive substances might contribute to a change of aesthetic experience, or enhanced creative problem solving. One study (a case study of the cartoonist Robert Crumb) showed that LSD changed his cartoon illustrating style. Similarly, a case study of Brian Wilson argued that the modification of musical style was connected to substance use. However, these changes in themselves will not result in creative production (although they may contribute to the change of production style or to the modification of certain aspects of pieces of arts). What was also shown is that (iv) in certain cases, substances may strengthen already existing personality traits.

In connection with the findings reviewed, one should not overlook that studies focused on two basically different areas of creative processes. Some studies examined the actual effects of a psychoactive substance or substances in a controlled setting, while others examined the association between creativity and chronic substance users. These two facets differ fundamentally. While the former might explain the acute changes in specific functions, the latter may highlight the role of chronic substance use and artistic production.

It should also be noted that the studies we reviewed differed not only regarding their objectives and methodology, but also showed great heterogeneity in quality. Basic methodological problems were identified in many of these studies (small sample sizes, unrepresentative samples, reliance on self-report and/or non-standardized assessment methods, speculative research questions, etc.). Furthermore, the total number of empirical studies was very few. At the same time, the topic is highly relevant both in order to understand the high level of substance use in artists and in order to clarify the validity of the association present in public opinion. However, it is important that future studies put specific emphasis on adequate methodology and clear research questions.

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

Further reading

Belli, S. (2009). A psychobiographical analysis of Brian Douglas Wilson: Creativity, drugs, and models of schizophrenic and affective disorders. Personality and Individual Differences, 46, 809-819.

Dobkin de Rios, M. & Janiger, O. (2003). LSD, spirituality, and the creative process. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Edwards, J. (1993). Creative abilities of adolescent substance abusers. Journal of Group         Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 46, 52-60.

Fink, A., Slamar-Halbedl, M., Unterrainer, H.F. & Weiss, E.M. (2012). Creativity: Genius, madness, or a combination of both? Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 6(1), 11–18.

Forgeard, M.J.C. & Elstein, J.G. (2014). Advancing the clinical science of creativity. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 613.

Frecska, E., Móré Cs. E., Vargha, A. & Luna, L.E. (2012). Enhancement of creative expression and entoptic phenomena as after-effects of repeated ayahuasca ceremonies. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44, 191-199

Holm-Hadulla, R.M. & Bertolino, A. (2014). Creativity, alcohol and drug abuse: The pop icon Jim Morrison. Psychopathology, 47,167-73

Iszáj, F. & Demetrovics, Z. (2011). Balancing between sensitization and repression: The role of opium in the life and art of Edgar Allan Poe and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Substance Use and Misuse, 46, 1613-1618

Iszaj, F., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). Creativity and psychoactive substance use: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. doi: 10.1007/s11469-016-9709-8

Jones, M.T. (2007). The creativity of crumb: Research on the effects of psychedelic drugs on the comic art of Robert Crumb. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 39, 283-291.

Jones, K.A., Blagrove, M. & Parrott, A.C. (2009). Cannabis and ecstasy/ MDMA: Empirical measures of creativity in recreational users. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 41(4), 323-329

Kerr, B. & Shaffer, J. & Chambers, C., & Hallowell, K. (1991). Substance use of creatively talented adults. Journal of Creative Behavior, 25(2), 145-153.

Knafo, D. (2008). The senses grow skilled in their craving: Thoughts on creativity and addiction. Psychoanalytic Review, 95, 571-595.

Lowe, G. (1995). Judgements of substance use and creativity in ’ordinary’ people’s everyday lifestyles. Psychological Reports. 76, 1147-1154.

Oleynick, V.C., Thrash, T. M., LeFew, M. C., Moldovan, E. G. & Kieffaber, P. D. (2014). The scientific study of inspiration in the creative process: challenges and opportunities. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 436.

Plucker, J.A., McNeely, A. & Morgan, C. (2009). Controlled substance-related beliefs and use: Relationships to undergraduates’ creative personality traits. Journal of Creative Behavior, 43(2), 94-101

Preti, A. & Vellante, M. (2007). Creativity and psychopathology. Higher rates of psychosis proneness and nonright-handedness among creative artists compared to same age and gender peers. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 195(10), 837-845.

Schafer, G. & Feilding, A. & Morgan, C. J. A. & Agathangelou, M. & Freeman, T. P. &      Curran, H.V. (2012). Investigating the interaction between schizotypy, divergent thinking and cannabis use. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 292–298

Thrash, T.M., Maruskin, L.A., Cassidy, S. E., Fryer, J.W. & Ryan, R.M. (2010). Mediating between the muse and the masses: inspiration and the actualization of creative ideas. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 469–487.

Gaming desires: A brief look at ‘venatophilia’

In a previous blog on sexual paraphilias that have yet to be studied empirically, I briefly mentioned ‘venatophilia’.  In an online article about cartoon quicksand fetishes (which I discuss below), there was mention of a fetish group called ‘Giant Video Game Girls’ and they appear to have coined the term ‘venatophilia’ from the Latin venatus, meaning ‘game’ and describes sexual attraction to or fascination with video game characters. Venatophilia also gets a mention on the Wiktionary protologism page (a page that lists prototype neologisms) where it listed alongside venatology (“the study of games, the act of playing them, and the players and cultures surrounding them”), venatomania (an obsession with games), and venatophobia (a fear of games). Personally I find this somewhat strange as most paraphilias derive from Greek (rather than Latin) names. If this paraphilia exists I would argue that it is a sub-type of toonophilia (sexual attraction to cartoon characters) that I examined in a previous blog.

Cartoon quicksand fetishes are an integration of quicksand fetishes (itself a form of ‘stuck fetishism‘ that I examined in a previous blog) and (as mentioned above) cartoon fetishism (‘toonophilia‘). The Motherboard article by Jagger Gravning featured an interview with ‘quicksand artist’ A-020 who draws fictional damsels, women that are stuck in quicksand typically wearing a “tight miniskirt, pantyhose, heels, and boots”. (If you are interested, there is lots of art featuring women stuck in quicksand on the Deviant Art webpage). A-020 said:

 “I’m open with [my quicksand cartoon fetish] online because I’m comfortable under a screenname…Though when it comes to knowing me in person, it’s pretty much a secret! I haven’t been in a situation where I had to reveal this fetish…I was pretty young, maybe 7 or 8, when I started seeing quicksand scenes in a movie or a TV show. Some of those films I recall seeing were Beastmaster, Neverending Story, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Ursus in the Valley of the Lions…Once in a while, I’d fantasize about it”.

Gravning makes the point that there are other fetishes that cartoonists incorporate into their videogame graphics. Some of these are strange behaviors that I outlined in a previous blog – ‘unbirthing’ (i.e., returning to the womb) such as that featuring ‘Princess Peach’ and Pokemon characters (such as those here and here) and vore (vorarephilia). In fact, Zeus Tipado wrote an online article for The Stoned Gamer about the “vore fetish of game characters swallowing each other whole”. There are also online articles that examine the best sexual moments in videogame history. In an online article entitled ‘Gamers as fetishists‘  by Gus Mastrapa on the Joystick Division website notes:

“Nowadays we equate fetishism with perversity, but the roots of the word are about perceiving power in objects or things. A religious idol is a fetish object. In the days when more and more parts of our lives are digital it is easy to fetishize the physical. Gamers, I think, have a bit of a head start. Because the videogames we play have long been about making our imaginations physical – by embodying and creating the ideals and fantasies we carry around with us. I mean just look at the characters in a Final Fantasy game and tell me that gamers aren’t serious fetishists…There’s a huge swath of the gaming community who love JRPGs [Japanese role playing games] like Final Fantasy and Persona – where characters are defined more by what they wear than their facial features. Costumes are a huge concern for these fans…It is easy to pick on anime nerds and their weird fixation with trench coats, boots and nerdy glasses. But this exercise would be pointless without self-examination…Gamer fetishism goes beyond the aesthetic…Games encourage obsession. They draw it out of us or provide a vessel for us to pour it into. And so it makes sense that they’d also be filled with objects of our obsession. Weapons, riches, vehicles, clothing, other people – they’re all things we want because we fill them with our dreams and desires”

Earlier this year, the makers of World of Warcraft launched a new videogame, Overwatch which according to an article in Maxim magazine by Zeynep Yenisey is “an over-sexualized first-person shooter featuring tons of big-breasted anime chicks”. Yenisey reported that after the game was released, there had been an 817% increase on Pornhub for Overwatch-related searches particularly for the buxom character Tracer.

So what is the psychology behind fetishes and sexual attraction to videogame characters? Gravning interviewed the evolutionary psychologist Dr. Catherine Salmon

“If somebody has attached to a character because they play a game a lot and fantasize about that character, it wouldn’t be surprising that they take that character and stick it somewhere else. It’s not surprising that some of the female characters in video games who are heroines and are portrayed as very sexual characters in terms of the way that they’re drawn might end up as the stars of gamers’ sexual fantasies. The social aspect of using familiar characters is another reason for using them in quicksand imagery and other fetishes. If you use a known character for a fetish, it gives your work some degree of a built-in audience, a device often used for fanfiction…There is a community of men who are creating and sharing these stories or these images. If they share an interest in the original material as well, then using that original material creates an additional commonality of interest. It’s one thing to have your sexual fantasies and it’s another thing to share your sexual fantasies. If you’re creating art or fiction and you’re putting it on the web, you’re not just doing it for yourself, it’s not just your fantasy that you’re jerking off to, you’re giving that to other people as well. To do that, you find a built-in community if you’re using a shared character”.

Gravning notes some of the “shared characters” find themselves in “exactly the same situations that these artists fetishize” and asked Dr. Salmon whether witnessing individuals repeatedly stuck in quicksand when a child could possibly lead to such unusual fetishes:

“It could be something like that. Whether it’s quicksand or tar pits, there’s things like that in children’s cartoons. It could be something as simple as that. Part of it is the damsel in distress kind of image. Watching ‘Wonder Woman’ caught in that kind of circumstance when people are younger – [it’s] an image that’s eroticized, a very sexually drawn, very feminine image. And they might enjoy watching that sort of thing or the struggle, as she’s trying to get out of whatever that circumstance is. There are a lot of unusual circumstances in cartoons and fantasy and you may get aroused while you’re watching it and then carry some of that too”.

Gravning also interviewed the sex therapist Dr. Elizabeth Lars (who shares my own view on this by alluding to classical conditioning). Dr. Lars calls such associations “accidents of learning” in which the associations “don’t have to be exactly like the fantasy that comes, it just has to resemble it”. Furthermore, she went on to speculate:

[Quicksand fetishists] probably fantasized and got into the feeling that goes with that, not just watching. It could [also] be identifying with it. The kid imagining himself stuck in quicksand in the victim’s place, for example, could be part of its erotic appeal. You could either be observing it or experiencing it. You could be doing both at the same time in a fantasy. Some evidence certainly suggests that sexual patterns are already there, for sure in males, by the age of eight. They may or may not have begun masturbating to fantasies until adolescence, but something is going on internally at a very young age. This highly influential period of age eight through adolescence is also probably for many a prime time for the ingestion of the bizarre imagery and situations contained in video games and cartoons, which often also incorporate sexualized heroines. It looks like what we call fetishes are remarkably easy to install in the early learning experiences. Same thing about fears too.”

Back in the late 1990s, I had a regular column with the now defunct magazine Arcade. My very first column (which you can download here) was on the psychology of Tomb Raider and the sexualization of lead character Lara Croft and the influence it might have on young boys and emerging adolescents. This is echoed by the neuroscientist Dr. Ogi Ogas who when interviewed by Gravning said that pubertal males probably spending a lot of time with sexualized videogame characters like Lara Croft.

“They are seeing these characters during their formative time. They are kind of perfect and ideal – and you don’t have to actually interact with them. Psychologically, it’s truly like a stripped-down, pure erotic stimuli. So it’s much easier to imprint on that, to fetishize that. Part of the fascination is simply being culturally exposed to characters like Lara Croft…[In relation to quicksand fetishes], the notion of being smothered or trapped is universal in the sense that it exists to greater and lesser degrees all over. It’s not just one or two people that have it. It is found in a lot of places. Clearly our normal brain design is not that far removed from [wanting to be] enveloped. It’s probably something to do with our tactile system, our touch system of the brain, that’s quite naturally wired to our sexual arousal system. The tactile system is also interconnected with sensations like being smothered and being interred, being doused with water. Probably, somehow – and I’m speculating here – that’s what got crossed up for whatever reasons. How someone’s brain entangles sexual arousal with the notion of being trapped or smothered might simply be a perturbation of the neural system. A quirk in the brain, essentially. It could be some randomness in the seemingly infinite complexity of your DNA. So, from a perspective rooted in computational neuroscience, niche sexual desires needn’t be wholly, or at all, explained as the result of social construction or evolutionary adaptation. As we’re learning more about the genetics of brain construction, “we’re coming to understand the genetic expression that leads to different neural wiring is highly variable and dependent on so many things [that] could happen in the womb, things that happen in early life, different environmental things. There’s just myriad, myriad factors that can cause unusual neural wiring to arise.”

Dr. Ogas also claimed are fundamental to the human condition and that one in particular (domination/submission) seems to underlie many fetishes:

“The most important, underappreciated sexual interest in our species is an interest in domination and submission. This interest in manifestations of domination and submission applies to people worldwide. To men, women, whether they be gay, lesbian, straight, or anything else. Everybody. Whether your mindset is to be dominant or submissive sexually is fundamental to your sexual identity even though this interest is thought of culturally as an atypical fetish. The concept that one person has power, one person doesn’t, runs through all forms of erotica across the world”.

Based on what I’ve seen and read online, venatophilia appears to exist although it could be argued that videogame fetishes are just sub-classes of other types of fetishes and paraphilias such as vorarephilia, unbirthing, and stuck fetishism.

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.

Gravning, J. (2016). The fetish for video game characters trapped in quicksand. Motherboard, March 19. Located at: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/quicksand

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Shrink rap: The Croft Report. Arcade, 1 (November), p. 49.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Mastrapa, G. (2011). Gamers are fetishists. Joystick Division, March 9. Located at: http://www.joystickdivision.com/2011/09/gamers_are_fetishists.php

McCombs, E. (2008). Toonophilia: Is it porn? Huffington Post, October 1st. Located at: http://www.asylum.com/2008/10/01/toonophilia-is-it-porn/

Monroe, W. (2012). Fetish of the week: Schediaphilia (toonophilia). ZZ Insider, March 12. Located at: http://www.zzinsider.com/blogs/view/fetish_of_the_week_schediaphilia_toonophilia

Tipado, Z. (2015). Exploring the vore fetish of game characters eating each other whole. The Stoned Gamer, October 25. Located at: http://thestonedgamer.com/features/item/351-exploring-the-vore-fetish-of-game-characters-swallowing-each-other-whole

Yenisey, Z. (2016). How the bizarre ‘overwatch’ fetish is getting gamers hot and bothered. Maxim, May 11. Located at: http://www.maxim.com/entertainment/overwatch-pornhub-2016-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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