Category Archives: Problem gamblng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back tracking: A brief look at using big data in gambling research

I’ve been working in the area of gambling for nearly 30 years and over the past 15 years I have carrying out research into both online gambling and responsible gambling. As I have outlined in previous blogs, one of the new methods I have been using in my published papers is online behavioural tracking. The chance to carry out innovative research in both areas using a new methodology was highly appealing – especially as I have used so many other methods in my gambling research (including online and offline surveys, experiments in laboratories and ecologically valid settings, offline focus groups, online and offline case study interviews, participant and non-participation observation, secondary analysis of survey data, and analysis of various forms of online data such as those found in online forums and online diary blogs).

Over the last decade there has been a big push by gambling regulators for gambling operators to be more socially responsible towards its clientele and this has led to the use of many different responsible gambling (RG) tools and initiatives such as voluntary self-exclusion schemes (where gamblers can ban themselves from gambling), limit setting (where gamblers can choose how much time and/or money they want to lose while gambling), personalized feedback (where gamblers can get personal feedback and advice based on their actual gambling behaviour) and pop-up messages (where gamblers receive a pop-up message during play that informs them how long they have been playing or how much money that have spent during the session).

However, very little is known about whether these RG tools and initiatives actually work, and most of the research that has been published relies on laboratory methods and self-reports – both of which have problems as reliable methods when it comes to evaluating whether RG tools work. Laboratory experiments typically contain very few participants and are carried out in non-ecologically valid settings, and self-reports are prone to many biases (including social desirability and recall biases). Additionally, the sample sizes are also relatively small (although bigger than experiments).

The datasets to analyse player behaviour are huge and can include hundreds of thousands of online gamblers. Given that my first empirical paper on gambling published in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 1990 was a participant observational analysis of eight slot machine gamblers at one British amusement arcade, it is extraordinary to think that decades later I have access to datasets beyond anything I could have imagined back in the 1980s when I began my research career. The data analysis is carried with my research colleague Michael Auer who has a specific expertise in data mining and we use traditional statistical tests to analyse the data. However, the hardest part is always trying to work out which parameters to use in assessing whether the RG tool worked or not. The kind of data we have includes how much time and money that players are spending on the gambling website, and using that data we can assess to what extent the amount of time and money decreases as a result of using limit setting measures, or receiving personalized feedback or a pop-up message.

One of the biggest problems in doing this type of research in the gambling studies field is getting access to the data in the first place and the associated issue of whether academics should be working with the gambling industry in the first place. The bottom line is that we would never have been able to undertake this kind of innovative research with participant sizes of hundreds of thousands of real gamblers without working in co-operation with the gambling industry. (It should also be noted that the gambling companies in question did not fund the research but provided simply provided access to their databases and customers). In fact, I would go as far as to say the research would have been impossible without gambling industry co-operation. Data access provided by the gambling industry has to be one of the key ways forward if the field is to progress.

Unlike other consumptive and potentially addictive behaviours (smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, etc.), researchers can study real-time gambling (and other potentially addictive behaviours like video gaming and social networking) in a way that just cannot be done in other chemical and behavioural addictions (e.g., sex, exercise, work, etc.) because of online and/or card-based technologies (such as loyalty cards and player cards). There is no equivalent of this is the tobacco or alcohol industry, and is one of the reasons why researchers in the gambling field are beginning to liaise and/or collaborate with gambling operators. As researchers, we should always strive to improve our theories and models and it appears strange to neglect this purely objective information simply because it involves working together with the gambling industry. This is especially important given the recent research by Dr. Julia Braverman and colleagues published in the journal Psychological Assessment using data from gamblers on the bwin website showing that self-recollected information does not match with objective behavioural tracking data.

The great thing about online behavioural tracking data collected from gamblers is that it is totally objective (as it provides a true record of what every gambler does click-by-click), is collected from real world gambling websites (so is ecologically valid), and has large sample sizes (typically tens of thousands of online gamblers). There of course some disadvantages, the main ones being that the sample is unrepresentative of all online gamblers (as the data only comes from gamblers at one website) and nothing is known about the person’s gambling activity at other websites (research has shown that online gamblers typically gamble at a number of different websites and not just one). Despite these limitations, the analysis of behavioural tracking data (so-called ‘big data’) is a reliable and cutting-edge way to assess and evaluate online gambling behaviour and to assess whether RG tools actually work in real world gambling settings with real online gamblers in real time.

To get access to such data you have to cultivate a trusting relationship with the data providers. It took me years to build up trust with the gambling industry because researchers who study problem gambling are often perceived by the gambling industry to be ‘anti-gambling’ but in my case this wasn’t true. I am ‘pro-responsible gambling’ and gamble myself so it would be hypocritical to be anti-gambling. My main aim in my gambling research is to protect players and minimise harm. Problem gambling will never be totally eliminated but it can be minimised. If gambling companies share the same aim and philosophy of not wanting to make money from problem gamblers but to make money from non-problem gamblers, then I would be prepared to help and collaborate.

You also need to be thick-skinned. If you are analysing any behavioural tracking data provided by the gambling industry, then you need to be prepared for others in the field criticizing you for working in collaboration with the industry. Although none of this research is funded by the industry, the fact that you are collaborating is enough for some people to accuse you of not being independent and/or being in the pockets of the gambling industry. Neither of these are true but it won’t stop the criticism. Nor will it stop me from carrying on researching in this area using datasets provided by the gambling industry.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity (revisited): A response to Braverman et al (2013). Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 921-931.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.

Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Auer, M., Schneeberger, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity: A simulation study. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 16, 269-273.

Braverman, J., Tom, M., & Shaffer, H. J. (2014). Accuracy of self-reported versus actual online gambling wins and losses. Psychological Assessment, 26, 865-877.

Griffiths, M.D. (1990). Addiction to fruit machines: A preliminary study among males. Journal of Gambling Studies, 6, 113-126.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2011). Approaches to understanding online versus offline gaming impacts. Casino and Gaming International, 7(3), 45-48.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2015). Research funding in gambling studies: Some further observations. International Gambling Studies, 15, 15-19.

Accentuating the positives: A brief overview of our recent papers on responsible gambling

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, gaming addiction, youth gambling, and sex addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on responsible gambling.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Social responsibility in gambling has become a major issue for the gaming industry. The possibility for online gamblers to set voluntary time and money limits are a social responsibility practice that is now widespread among online gaming operators. The main issue concerns whether the voluntary setting of such limits has any positive impact on subsequent gambling behaviour and whether such measures are of help to problem gamblers. In this paper, this issue is examined through data collected from a representative random sample of 100,000 players who gambled on the win2day gambling website. When opening an account at the win2day site, there is a mandatory requirement for all players to set time and cash-in limits (that cannot exceed 800 <euro> per week). During a 3-month period, all voluntary time and/or money limit setting behaviour by a subsample of online gamblers (n = 5,000) within this mandatory framework was tracked and recorded for subsequent data analysis. From the 5,000 gamblers, the 10 % most intense players (as measured by theoretical loss) were further investigated. Voluntary spending limits had the highest significant effect on subsequent monetary spending among casino and lottery gamblers. Monetary spending among poker players significantly decreased after setting a voluntary time limit. The highest significant decrease in playing duration was among poker players after setting a voluntary playing duration limit. The results of the study demonstrated that voluntary limit setting had a specific and significant effect on the studied gamblers. Therefore, voluntary limits appear to show an appropriate effect in the desired target group (i.e., the most gaming intense players).

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.

To date, empirical research relating to responsible gambling features has been sparse. A Delphi-based study rated the perceived effectiveness of 45 responsible gambling (RG) features in relation to 20 distinct gambling type games. Participants were 61 raters from seven countries and included responsible gambling experts (n = 22), treatment providers (n = 19) and recovered problem gamblers (n = 20). The most highly recommended RG features could be divided into three groups: 1) Player initiated tools focused on aiding player behavior; 2) RG features related to informed-player choice; 3) RG features focused on gaming company actions. Overall, player control over personal limits were favoured more than gaming company controlled limits, although mandatory use of such features was often recommended. The study found that recommended RG features varied considerably between game types, according to their structural characteristics. Also, online games had the possibility to provide many more RG features than traditional (offline games). The findings draw together knowledge about the effectiveness of RG features for specific game types. This should aid objective, cost-effective, evidence based decisions on which RG features to include in an RG strategy, according to a specific portfolio of games. The findings of this study will available via a web-based tool, known as the Responsible Gambling Knowledge Centre (RGKC).

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Certain gambling operators now provide social responsibility tools to help players gamble more responsibly. One such innovation is the use of pop-up messages that aim to give feedback to the players about the time and money they have thus far spent gambling. Most studies of this innovation have been conducted in laboratory settings, and although controlled studies are indeed more reliable than real-world studies, the non-ecological validity of laboratory studies is still an issue. This study investigated the effects of a slot machine pop-up message in a real gambling environment by comparing the behavioural tracking data of two representative random samples of 400,000 gambling sessions before and after the pop-up message was introduced. The study comprised approximately 200,000 gamblers. The results indicated that, following the viewing of a pop-up message after 1000 consecutive gambles on an online slot machine game, nine times more gamblers ceased their gambling session than did those gamblers who had not viewed the message. The data suggest that pop-up messages can influence a small number of gamblers to cease their playing session, and that pop-ups appear to be another potentially helpful social responsibility tool in reducing excessive play within session.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.

Many recent studies of internet gambling—particularly those that have analysed behavioural tracking data—have used variables such ‘bet size’ and ‘number of games played’ as proxy measures for ‘gambling intensity’. In this paper it is argued that the most stable and reliable measure for ‘gambling intensity’ is the ‘theoretical loss’ (a product of total bet size and house advantage). In the long run, the theoretical loss corresponds with the Gross Gaming Revenue generated by commercial gaming operators. For shorter periods of time, theoretical loss is the most stable measure of gambling intensity as it is not distorted by gamblers’ occasional wins. Even for single bets, the theoretical loss reflects the amount a player is willing to risk. Using behavioural tracking data of 100,000 players who played online casino, lottery and/or poker games, this paper also demonstrates that bet size does not equate to or explain theoretical loss as it does not take into account the house advantage. This lack of accuracy is shown to be even more pronounced for gamblers who play a variety of games.

Hanss, D., Mentzoni, R.A., Griffiths, M.D., & Pallesen, S. (2015). The impact of gambling advertising: Problem gamblers report stronger impacts on involvement, knowledge, and awareness than recreational gamblers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 483-491.

Although there is a general lack of empirical evidence that advertising influences gambling participation, the regulation of gambling advertising is hotly debated among academic researchers, treatment specialists, lobby groups, regulators, and policymakers. This study contributes to the ongoing debate by investigating perceived impacts of gambling advertising in a sample of gamblers drawn from the general population in Norway (n = 6,034). Three dimensions of advertising impacts were identified, representing perceived impacts on (a) gambling-related attitudes, interest, and behavior (“involvement”); (b) knowledge about gambling options and providers (“knowledge”); and (c) the degree to which people are aware of gambling advertising (“awareness”). Overall, impacts were strongest for the knowledge dimension, and, for all 3 dimensions, the impact increased with level of advertising exposure. Those identified as problem gamblers in the sample (n = 57) reported advertising impacts concerning involvement more than recreational gamblers, and this finding was not attributable to differences in advertising exposure. Additionally, younger gamblers reported stronger impacts on involvement and knowledge but were less likely to agree that they were aware of gambling advertising than older gamblers. Male gamblers were more likely than female gamblers to report stronger impacts on both involvement and knowledge. These findings are discussed with regard to existing research on gambling advertising as well as their implications for future research and policy-making

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.

Over the last few years, there have been an increasing number of gaming operators that have incorporated on-screen pop-up messages while gamblers play on slot machines and/or online as one of a range of tools to help encourage responsible gambling. Coupled with this, there has also been an increase in empirical research into whether such pop-up messages are effective, particularly in laboratory settings. However, very few studies have been conducted on the utility of pop-up messages in real-world gambling settings. The present study investigated the effects of normative and self-appraisal feedback in a slot machine pop-up message compared to a simple (non-enhanced) pop-up message. The study was conducted in a real-world gambling environment by comparing the behavioral tracking data of two representative random samples of 800,000 gambling sessions (i.e., 1.6 million sessions in total) across two conditions (i.e., simple pop-up message versus an enhanced pop-up message). The results indicated that the additional normative and self-appraisal content doubled the number of gamblers who stopped playing after they received the enhanced pop-up message (1.39%) compared to the simple pop-up message (0.67%). The data suggest that pop-up messages influence only a small number of gamblers to cease long playing sessions and that enhanced messages are slightly more effective in helping gamblers to stop playing in-session.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Understanding positive play: An exploration of playing experiences and responsible gambling practices. Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 1715-1734.

This study is one of the first to explore in detail the behaviors, attitudes and motivations of players that show no signs of at-risk or problem gambling behavior (so-called ‘positive players’). Via an online survey, 1484 positive players were compared with 209 problem players identified using the Lie/Bet screen. The study identified two distinct groups of positive players defined according to their motivations to play and their engagement with responsible gambling (RG) practices. Those positive players that played most frequently employed the most personal RG strategies. Reasons that positive players gave for gambling were focused on leisure (e.g., playing for fun, being entertained, and/or winning a prize). By contrast, problem gamblers were much more focused upon modifying mood states (e.g., excitement, relaxation, depression and playing when bored or upset). The present study also suggests that online gambling is not, by default, inherently riskier than gambling in more traditional ways, as online gambling was the most popular media by which positive players gambled. Furthermore, most positive players reported that it was easier to stick to their limits when playing the National Lottery online compared to traditional retail purchasing of tickets. Problem players were significantly more likely than positive players to gamble with family and friends, suggesting that, contrary to a popular RG message, social play may not be inherently safer than gambling alone. It is proposed that players (generally) may identify more with the term ‘positive play’ than the term ‘RG’ which is frequently interpreted as being aimed at people with gambling problems, rather than all players.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.

Over the last few years, online gambling has become a more common leisure time activity. However, for a small minority, the activity can become problematic. Consequently, the gambling industry has started to acknowledge their role in player protection and harm minimization and some gambling companies have introduced responsible gambling tools as a way of helping players stay in control. The present study evaluated the effectiveness of mentor (a responsible gambling tool that provides personalized feedback to players) among 1,015 online gamblers at a European online gambling site, and compared their behavior with matched controls (n = 15,216) on the basis of age, gender, playing duration, and theoretical loss (i.e., the amount of money wagered multiplied by the payout percentage of a specific game played). The results showed that online gamblers receiving personalized feedback spent significantly less time and money gambling compared to controls that did not receive personalized feedback. The results suggest that responsible gambling tools providing personalized feedback may help the clientele of gambling companies gamble more responsibly, and may be of help those who gamble excessively to stay within their personal time and money spending limits.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity (revisited): A response to Braverman et al (2013). Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 921-931.

Auer, M., Schneeberger, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity: A simulation study. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 16, 269-273.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The use of behavioural tracking methodologies in the study of online gambling. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013517480

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2011). Approaches to understanding online versus offline gaming impacts. Casino and Gaming International, 7(3), 45-48.

Luccini, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Preventing and treating problem gamblers in Italy. Responsible Gambling Review, 2, 20-26.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Putting responsible gambling, theory and research into practice. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 1-5.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Selecting the right responsible gambling features, according to the specific portfolio of games. Responsible Gambling Review, 1(1), 51-63.

Loud and proud: A psychological (and personal) look at the ‘Sin of Pride’

A number of years ago, I was asked to write an article on “The Sin of Pride” for the British Psychological Society. Before writing that article, I knew very little about the topic. To me it was the title of an record album by The Undertones that I bought in 1983 when I was 16 years old from Castle Records in Loughborough. I perhaps learned a bit more about it when I watched 1995 film Sevendirected by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt (which coincidentally just happens to be one of my all-time favourite films).

After agreeing to write the article I did a bit of research on the subject (which admittedly meant I did a quick Google search followed by a more considered in-depth search on Google Scholar). While I’m no expert on the topic I can at least have a decent pub conversation about it if anyone is prepared to listen. Just to show my complete ignorance, I wasn’t even aware that the sin of pride was the sin of all sins (although I could in a pub quiz be relied upon to name the seven deadly sins).

I was asked to write on this topic because I was seen as someone who is very proud of the work that I do (and for the record, I am). However, I have often realized that just because I am proud of things that I have done in my academic career it doesn’t necessarily mean others think in the same way. In fact, on some occasions I have been quite taken aback by others’ reactions to things that I have done for which I feel justifiably proud (but more of that later).

At a very basic level, the sin of pride is rooted in a preoccupation with the self. However, in psychological terms, pride has been defined by Dr. Michael Lewis and colleagues in the International Journal of Behavioral Development as “a pleasant, sometimes exhilarating, emotion that results from a positive self-evaluation” and has been described by Dr. Jessica Tracy and her colleagues (in the journal Emotion) as one the three ‘self-conscious’ emotions known to have recognizable expressions (shame and embarrassment being the other two). From my reading of the psychological literature, it could perhaps be argued that pride has been regarded as having a more positive than negative quality, and (according to a paper in the Journal of Economic Psychology by my PhD supervisors – Professor Paul Webley and Professor Stephen Lea) is usually associated with achievement, high self-esteem and positive self-image – all of which are fundamental to my own thinking. My reading on the topic has also led to the conclusion that pride is sometimes viewed as an ‘intellectual’ or secondary emotion. In practical (and psychological) terms, sin is either a high sense of one’s personal status or ego, or the specific mostly positive emotion that is a product of praise or independent self-reflection.

One of the most useful distinctions can be made about sin (and is rooted in my own personal experience), is what Lea and Webley distinguish as ‘proper pride’ and ‘false pride’. They claim that:

“Proper pride is pride in genuine achievements (or genuine good qualities) that are genuinely one’s own. False pride is pride in what is not an achievement, or not admirable, or does not properly belong to oneself. Proper pride is associated with the desirable property of self-esteem; false pride with vanity or conceit. Proper pride is associated with persistence, endurance and doggedness; false pride with stubbornness, obstinacy and pig-headedness.”

As I noted above, there have been times when I have been immensely proud of doing something only for friends and colleagues to be appalled. ‘Proper pride’ as Lea and Webley would argue. One notable instance was when I wrote a full-page article for The Sun on ‘internet addiction’ published in August 1997. I originally wanted to be a journalist before I became a psychologist, and my journalist friends had always said that to get a full-page ‘by line’ in the biggest selling newspaper in the UK was a real achievement. I was immensely proud – apart from the headline that a sub-editor had dubbed my piece ‘The Internuts’ – and showed the article to whoever was around.

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I had always passionately argued (and still do) that I want my research to be disseminated and read by as many people as possible. What was better than getting my work published in an outlet with (at the time) 10 million readers? My elation was short-lived. One close colleague and friend was very disparaging and asked how I could stoop so low as to “write for the bloody Sun?” Similar comments came from other colleagues and I have to admit that I was put off writing for the national tabloids for a number of years. (However, I am now back writing regularly for the national dailies and am strong enough to defend myself against the detractors).

In 2006, I was invited to the House of Commons by the ex-Leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan-Smith and invited to Chair his Centre For Social Justice Working Party on Gambling and write a report as part of the Conservative Party’s ‘Breakdown Britain’ initiative. Anyone who knows me will attest that my political leanings are left of centre and that I working with the Conservatives on this issue was not something I did without a lot of consideration. I came to the conclusion that gambling was indeed a political issue (rather than a party political issue) and if the Conservative Party saw this as an important issue, I felt duty bound to help given my research experience in the area. I spent a number of months working closely with Iain Duncan-Smith’s office and when the report was published I was again very proud of my achievement.

However, as soon as the report came out I received disbelieving and/or snide emails asking how I could have “worked with the Conservatives”. I have spent years trying to put the psychosocial impact of gambling on the political agenda. If I am offered further opportunities by those with political clout, I won’t think twice about taking them. I am still immensely proud of such actions despite what others may think.

Pride is ultimately a subjective experience and the two personal experiences that I outlined above will not put me off doing what I want to do. I shall continue to engage in activities where I think my work can have an impact and shall work with (and write for) those that can help me disseminate my research findings to as many people as possible.

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

Further reading

Averill, J.R. (1991). Intellectual emotions. In: C.D. Spielberger, I.G. Sarason, Z. Kulesar & G.L. van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion: Anger, Anxiety and Curiosity [Vol. 14] pp.3-16. New York: Hemisphere.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). The internuts (internet addiction). The Sun, August 13, p.6.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling addiction in the UK. In K. Gyngell (Ed.), Breakdown Britain: Ending the Costs of Social Breakdown (pp.393-426). London: Social Justice Policy Group.

Kemper, T.D. (1987). How many emotions are there? Wedding the social and autonomic components. American Journal of Sociology, 93, 263-289.

Lawler, E.J. (1992). Affective attachments to nested groups: A choice-process theory. American Sociological Review, 57, 327-339.

Lea, S.E.G. & Webley, P. (1997). Pride in economic psychology. Journal of Economic Psychology, 18, 323-340.

Lewis, M., Takai-Kawakami, K., Kawakami, K., & Sullivan, M. W. (2010). Cultural differences in emotional responses to success and failure. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34, 53-61

Tracy, J.L., Robins, R.W. & Schriber, R.A. (2009). Development of a FACS-verified set of basic and self-conscious emotion expressions. Emotion, 9, 554-559.

You bet! A brief overview of our recent papers on youth gambling

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, and gaming addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on adolescent gambling.

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Mom, Dad it’s only a game! Perceived gambling and gaming behaviors among adolescents and young adults: An exploratory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 772-794.

  • Gambling and gaming are increasingly popular activities among adolescents. Although gambling is illegal in Portugal for youth under the age of 18 years, gambling opportunities are growing, mainly due to similarity between gambling and other technology-based games. Given the relationship between gambling and gaming, the paucity of research on gambling and gaming behaviors in Portugal, and the potential negative consequences these activities may have in the lives of young people, the goal of this study was to explore and compare the perceptions of these two behaviors between Portuguese adolescents and young adults. Results from six focus groups (comprising 37 participants aged between 13 and 26 years) indicated different perceptions for the two age groups. For adolescents, gaming was associated with addiction whereas for young adults it was perceived as a tool for increasing personal and social skills. With regard to gambling, adolescents associated it with luck and financial rewards, whereas young adults perceived it as an activity with more risks than benefits. These results suggest developmental differences that have implications for intervention programs and future research.

Delfabbro, P.H., King, D.L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). From adolescent to adult gambling: An analysis of longitudinal gambling patterns in South Australia. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 547-563.

  • Although there are many cross-sectional studies of adolescent gambling, very few longitudinal investigations have been undertaken. As a result, little is known about the individual stability of gambling behaviour and the extent to which behaviour measured during adolescence is related to adult behaviour. In this paper, we report the results of a 4-wave longitudinal investigation of gambling behaviour in a probability sample of 256 young people (50 % male, 50% female) who were interviewed in 2005 at the age of 16–18 years and then followed through to the age of 20–21 years. The results indicated that young people showed little stability in their gambling. Relatively few reported gambling on the same individual activities consistently over time. Gambling participation rates increased rapidly as young people made the transition from adolescence to adulthood and then were generally more stable. Gambling at 15–16 years was generally not associated with gambling at age 20–21 years. These results highlight the importance of individual-level analyses when examining gambling patterns over time.

Canale, N., Vieno, A., Griffiths, M.D., Rubaltelli, E., Santinello, M. (2015). Trait urgency and gambling problems in young people: the role of decision-making processes. Addictive Behaviors, 46, 39-44.

  • Although the personality trait of urgency has been linked to problem gambling, less is known about psychological mechanisms that mediate the relationship between urgency and problem gambling. One individual variable of potential relevance to impulsivity and addictive disorders is age. The aims of this study were to examine: (i) a theoretical model associating urgency and gambling problems, (ii) the mediating effects of decision-making processes (operationalized as preference for small/immediate rewards and lower levels of deliberative decision-making); and (iii) age differences in these relationships. Participants comprised 986 students (64% male; mean age = 19.51 years; SD = 2.30) divided into three groups: 16–17 years, 18–21 years, and 22–25 years. All participants completed measures of urgency, problem gambling, and a delay-discounting questionnaire involving choices between a smaller amount of money received immediately and a larger amount of money received later. Participants were also asked to reflect on their decision-making process. Compared to those aged 16–17 years and 22–25 years, participants aged 18–21 years had a higher level of gambling problems and decreased scores on lower levels of deliberative decision-making. Higher levels of urgency were associated with higher levels of gambling problems. The association was mediated by a lower level of deliberative decision-making and preference for an immediate/small reward. A distinct pathway was observed for lower levels of deliberative decision-making. Young people who tend to act rashly in response to extreme moods, had lower levels of deliberative decision-making, that in turn were positively related to gambling problems. This study highlights unique decision-making pathways through which urgency trait may operate, suggesting that those developing prevention and/or treatment strategies may want to consider the model’s variables, including urgency, delay discounting, and deliberative decision-making.

Carran, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Gambling and social gambling: An exploratory study of young people’s perceptions and behavior. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(1), 101-113.

  • Background and aims: Gambling-type games that do not involve the spending of money (e.g., social and ‘demo’ [demonstration] gambling games, gambling-like activities within video games) have been accused in both the legal and psychological literature of increasing minors’ propensity towards prohibited forms of gambling thus prompting calls for gambling regulation to capture address such games and subject them to age restrictions. However, there is still a shortage of empirical data that considers how young people experience monetary and non-monetary gambling, and whether they are sufficiently aware of the differences. Methods: Data was collected from 23 qualitative focus groups carried out with 200 young people aged between 14 and 19 years old in schools based in London and Kent. As the study was exploratory in nature, thematic analysis was adopted in order to capture how pupils categorise, construct, and react to gambling-like activities in comparison to monetary forms of gambling without the constrains of a predetermined theoretical framework. Results: Despite many similarities, substantial differences between monetary and non-monetary forms of gambling were revealed in terms of pupils’ engagement, motivating factors, strengths, intensity, and associated emotions. Pupils made clear differentiation between non-monetary and monetary forms of gambling and no inherent transition of interest from one to the other was observed among participants. Only limited evidence emerged of ‘demo’ games being used as a practice ground for future gambling. Conclusion: For the present sample, non-monetary forms of gambling presented a different proposition to the real-money gambling with no inherent overlap between the two. For some the ‘softer’ form minimised the temptation to try other forms of gambling that they were not legally allowed to engage in, but ‘demo’ games may attract those who already want to gamble. Policy implications: Regulators must recognise and balance these two conflicting aspects.

Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Adolescent gambling and gambling-type games on social networking sites: Issues, concerns, and recommendations. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(2), 31-37.

  • Research indicates that compared to the general population, teenagers and students make the most use of social networking sites (SNSs). Although SNSs were originally developed to foster online communication between individuals, they now have the capability for other types of behaviour to be engaged in such as gambling and gaming. The present paper focuses on gambling and the playing of gambling-type games via SNSs and comprises a selective narrative overview of some of the main concerns and issues that have been voiced concerning gambling and gambling-type games played via social network sites. Overall, there is little empirical evidence relating to the psychosocial impact of adolescents engaging in gambling and gambling-type activities on SNSs, and the evidence that does exist does not allow definitive conclusions to be made. However, it is recommended that stricter age verification measures should be adopted for social games via SNSs particularly where children and adolescents are permitted to engage in gambling-related content, even where real money is not involved.

Canale, N., Vieno, A., Griffiths, M.D., Marino, C., Chieco, F., Disperati, F., Andriolo, S., Santinello, M. (2016). The efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for high school students: A preliminary randomized study. Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 946-954.

  • Early onset in adolescent gambling involvement can be a precipitator of later gambling problems. The aim of the present study was to test the preliminary efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for students within a high school-based setting. Students attending a high school in Italy (N= 168) participated in the present study (58% male – age, M = 15.01; SD = 0.60). Twelve classes were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: intervention (N = 6; 95 students) and control group (N = 6; 73 students). Both groups received personalized feedback and then the intervention group received online training (interactive activities) for three weeks. At a two-month follow-up, students in the intervention group reported a reduction in gambling problems relative to those in the control group. However, there were no differences in gambling frequency, gambling expenditure, and attitudes toward the profitability of gambling between the two groups. In addition, frequent gamblers (i.e., those that gambled at least once a week at baseline) showed reductions in gambling problems and gambling frequency post-intervention. Frequent gamblers that only received personalized feedback showed significantly less realistic attitudes toward the profitability of gambling post-intervention. The present study is the first controlled study to test the preliminary efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for students within a high school-based setting. The results indicate that a brief web-based intervention delivered in the school setting may be a potentially promising strategy for a low-threshold, low-cost, preventive tool for at-risk gambling high school students.

Canale, N., Griffiths, M.D., Vieno, A., Siciliano, V. & Molinaro, S. (2016). Impact of internet gambling on problem gambling among adolescents in Italy: Findings from a large-scale nationally representative survey. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 99-106.

  • Aims: The primary aim of the present study was to understand the impact of online gambling on gambling problems in a large-scale nationally representative sample of Italian youth, and to identify and then further examine a subgroup of online gamblers who reported higher rates of gambling problems. Design: Data from the ESPAD®Italia2013 (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) Study were used for analyses of adolescent Internet gambling. Setting: Self-administered questionnaires were completed by a representative sample of high school students, aged 15–19 years. Participants: A total of 14,778 adolescent students. Measurements: Respondents’ problem gambling severity; gambling behavior (participation in eight different gambling activities, the number of gambling occasions and the number of online gambling occasions, monthly gambling expenditure); Socio-demographics (e.g., family structure and financial status); and control variables were measured individually (i.e., use of the Internet for leisure activities and playing video games). Findings: Rates of problem gambling were five times higher among online gamblers than non-online gamblers. In addition, factors that increased the risk of becoming a problem online gambler included living with non-birth parents, having a higher perception of financial family status, being more involved with gambling, and the medium preferences of remote gamblers (e.g., Internet cafes, digital television, and video game console). Conclusions: The online gambling environment may pose significantly greater risk to vulnerable players. Family characteristics and contextual elements concerning youth Internet gambling (e.g., remote mediums) may play a key role in explaining problem online gambling among adolescents.

Pallesen, S., Hanss, D., Molde, H., Griffiths, M.D. & Mentzoni, R.A. (2016). A longitudinal study of factors explaining attitude change towards gambling among adolescents. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 59–67

  • Background and aims: No previous study has investigated changes in attitudes toward gambling from under legal gambling age to legal gambling age. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate attitudinal changes during this transition and to identify predictors of corresponding attitude change. Methods: In all 1239 adolescents from a national representative sample participated in two survey waves (Wave 1; 17.5 years; Wave 2; 18.5 years). Results: From Wave 1 to Wave 2 the sample became more acceptant toward gambling. A regression analysis showed that when controlling for attitudes toward gambling at Wave 1 males developed more acceptant attitudes than females. Neuroticism was inversely related to development of acceptant attitudes toward gambling from Wave 1 to Wave 2, whereas approval of gambling by close others at Wave 1 was positively associated with development of more acceptant attitudes. Continuous or increased participation in gambling was related to development of more acceptant attitudes from Wave 1 to Wave 2. Conclusions: Attitudes toward gambling became more acceptant when reaching legal gambling age. Male gender, approval of gambling by close others and gambling participation predicted development of positive attitudes toward gambling whereas neuroticism was inversely related to development of positive attitudes toward gambling over time.

Ciccarelli, M., Griffiths, M.D., Nigro, G., & Cosenza, M. (2016). Decision-making, cognitive distortions and alcohol use in adolescent problem and non-problem gamblers: An experimental study. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.

  • In the psychological literature, many studies have investigated the neuropsychological and behavioral changes that occur developmentally during adolescence. These studies have consistently observed a deficit in the decision-making ability of children and adolescents. This deficit has been ascribed to incomplete brain development. The same deficit has also been observed in adult problem and pathological gamblers. However, to date, no study has examined decision-making in adolescents with and without gambling problems. Furthermore, no study has ever examined associations between problem gambling, decision-making, cognitive distortions and alcohol use in youth. To address these issues, 104 male adolescents participated in this study. They were equally divided in two groups, problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers, based on South Oaks Gambling Screen Revised for Adolescents scores. All participants performed the Iowa gambling task and completed the Gambling Related Cognitions Scale and the alcohol use disorders identification test. Adolescent problem gamblers displayed impaired decision-making, reported high cognitive distortions, and had more problematic alcohol use compared to non-problem gamblers. Strong correlations between problem gambling, alcohol use, and cognitive distortions were observed. Decision-making correlated with interpretative bias. This study demonstrated that adolescent problem gamblers appear to have the same psychological profile as adult problem gamblers and that gambling involvement can negatively impact on decision-making ability that, in adolescence, is still developing. The correlations between interpretative bias and decision-making suggested that the beliefs in the ability to influence gambling outcomes may facilitate decision-making impairment.

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

Further reading

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Adolescent gambling: Risk factors and implications for prevention, intervention, and treatment. In D. Romer (Ed.), Reducing Adolescent Risk: Toward An Integrated Approach (pp. 223-238). London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Asian national adolescent gambling surveys: Methodological issues, protocols, and advice. Asian Journal of Gambling Issues and Public Health, 1, 4-18.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.

Griffiths, M.D. & Linsey, A. (2006). Adolescent gambling: Still a cause for concern? Education and Health, 24, 9-11.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The prevention and treatment of problem gambling in adolescence. In T.P. Gullotta & G. Adams (Eds). Handbook of Adolescent Behavioral Problems: Evidence-based Approaches to Prevention and Treatment (Second Edition) (pp. 539-558). New York: Kluwer.

Loyal ascent: Player retention and social responsibility in the online gambling industry

Although I have spent nearly 30 years researching problem gambling, I am not (and have never been) anti-gambling. My research colleagues who work in the field of alcoholism are never considered anti-drinking so I don’t think I am in any way hypocritical. I also help various gaming companies in terms of harm minimization, social responsibility, and player protection – particularly those in the online gambling sector. In today’s blog I briefly outline five important factors that I believe are critical to online player acquisition and retention based on a combination of my own psychological research and my many years of researching the psychology of gambling. These are (i) branding, (ii) trust, (iii) reputation management and enhancement, (iv) company identification with the player, and (v) social responsibility.

Branding – Every great brand has an outstanding feature at its heart. A product also needs time and to be promoted and communicated consistently to become a brand. Repetition appears to be one of the keys to establishing brand success. Online gambling sites often get bad press and are often viewed as unsafe and risky places. Negative press and enough negative feedback from customers can bring the brand into disrepute.

Trust – What really determines a brand – and this is especially important in the online gambling arena – is trust. Trust is of paramount importance in e-commerce generally, and in getting people to gamble online more specifically. Without trust, the spending of money online is unlikely. Players will be more likely to gamble online with those companies that are well established than a little known company operating out of the Caribbean. It has been claimed that successful brands have a ‘trustmark’ rather than a trademark. With the embedding of regulatory and problem gambling regimes, a ‘trustmark’ is an apt gauge for social acceptability and social responsibility. However, getting transferability and connections across brands in the ‘mainstream’ is probably the key issue.

For many Internet gambling operators, the mechanism to establish trust has been to pursue a ‘clicks and mortar’ approach of combining an offline presence (and brand recognition) with online presence. ‘Trustmarks’ are thought to be one of the major reasons why consumers prefer one particular product to other non-familiar ones. They communicate that customers have not been let down by the product and they can reduce anxiety by using it. At the heart of gambling there will always be the underlying fact that in the long run, most players lose. Whichever way the gaming industry plays out this truism, the general situation of players mostly losing represents an underlying negativity that competes with the wit and innovation of demonstrating that the minority of real long-term winners are the central focus and purpose of participating. This is one of the main reasons why trust becomes so important.

Reputation management and enhancement – It was once argued that the Internet would provide a level playing field for small and large retailer alike. However, given the need to establish trust, it would seem that organisations with a good existing offline reputation are at an advantage. Research into online purchasing of books and flight bookings show that the perceived size and reputation of the company determines consumers’ likelihood of purchasing from it. The reason for this is that increased size and reputation led to higher trust, which in turn influences the perception of risk and the willingness to buy.

Recent psychological thinking proposes a three stage model for understanding how people assess the trustworthiness of a website. The first stage assumes that people are faced with a large number of potential websites and thus engage in rapid, heuristic-based analysis based on the design of the site, rather than the content. During the second stage, people engage in a more systematic analysis of the content of the site, and it is during this stage that people are influenced by apparent integrity, benevolence and expertise. The third stage is a relationship development and integration stage, that is, people’s continued use of a site, personalization and the integration of experience.

Trust is an historical concept because customers need repeated interactions coupled with good feelings to build it. Branding experts claim it takes at least three years to establish the feeling of goodwill among consumers. The good news for companies – including the gaming industry – is that customers do not have to have experienced the product. Customers might engage in things because others have used or engaged in the product for years. Although little studied in empirical gambling investigations, trust is thought to be an important variable in both the initial decision to gamble and the maintenance of the behaviour. In a study of nearly 11,000 carried out by our gaming research unit, four-fifths of Internet gamblers (79%) considered the Internet a trustworthy medium of gambling. However, most Internet gamblers (90%) preferred to gamble on websites of well-known and trusted ‘high street’ bookmakers.

Company identification with the player – One of the most important things about brands for the gaming industry is that they help consumers define their self-image and who they are – at least on some psychological level. For some people, this ‘personal branding’ may be more important than their social identities within a community. For example, the car they drive or the newspaper they read, are particularly strong cultural indicators of what sort of person they are. Where they gamble and on what games can be an extension of this. However, total trust acceptance may also lead to an uncritical assessment of acceptability by the punter. For instance, some trusted non-gambling websites now provide links and endorsements to either their own gambling sites, or those of affiliates. Our gaming research unit  highlighted a case of an online problem gambler who had been led to an online gambling site by watching a popular (and trusted) daytime television programme that promoted its own online gaming site.

Social responsibility – As mentioned above, ‘trustmarks’ are likely to be important in relation to social responsibility and the perception of it by players. In studies conducted by our gaming research unit with online gamblers around the world, we found that many of them felt that responsible gaming practises demonstrate that a gaming operator has integrity, and that they care about their players’ wellbeing. For instance, many online poker players did not want their winnings to come from players who could not afford to lose it. They reported that responsible gaming practises allowed them to feel comfortable that their winnings had not come from people with gambling problems. Given that one of the biggest obstacles that prevent people playing online is a lack of trust of operators, this is a significant and important finding that gaming operators should take not of. 

For me, all of these five factors are highly inter-linked. However, I believe that those who end up being the most successful online gaming companies will be the ones with the best social responsibility protocols and infrastructure, and that this will engender trust among its clientele.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Online trust and Internet gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 8(4), 14-16.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Social responsibility and trust in online gambling: Six steps to success. i-Gaming Business, 61, 36-37.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths. M.D. (2008). Why Swedish people play online poker and factors that can increase or decrease trust in poker websites: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Gambling Issues, 21, 80-97.

Myth world: Addictive personality does not exist

(Please note: This article is a slightly expanded and original version of an article that was first published in The Conversation).

“Life is a series of addictions and without them we die”. This is my favourite quote in the academic addiction literature and was made back in 1990 in the British Journal of Addiction by Professor Isaac Marks. This deliberately provocative and controversial statement was made to stimulate debate about whether excessive and potentially problematic activities such as gambling, sex and work can really be classed as genuine addictive behaviours. Many of us might say to ourselves that we are ‘addicted’ to tea or coffee, our work, or know others who we might describe as having addictions watching the television or using pornography. But is this really true?

The issue all comes down to how addiction is defined in the first place as many of us in the field disagree on what the core components of addiction are. Many would argue that the word ‘addiction’ or ‘addictive’ is used so much in everyday circumstances that word has become meaningless. For instance, saying that a book is an ‘addictive read’ or that a specific television series is ‘addictive viewing’ renders the word useless in a clinical setting. Here the word ‘addictive’ is arguably used in a positive way and as such it devalues the real meaning of the word.

The question I get asked most – particularly by the broadcast media – is what is the difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasm and an addiction and my response is simple – a healthy excessive enthusiasm adds to life whereas an addiction takes away from it. I also believe that to be classed as an addiction, any such behaviour should comprise a number of key components including overriding preoccupation with the behaviour, conflict with other activities and relationships, withdrawal symptoms when unable to engage in the activity, an increase in the behaviour over time (tolerance), and use of the behaviour to alter mood state. Other consequences such as feeling out of control with the behaviour and cravings for the behaviour are often present. If all these signs and symptoms are present I would call the behaviour a true addiction. However, that hasn’t stopped others accusing me of ‘watering down’ the concept of addiction.

A few years ago, Dr. Steve Sussman, Nadra Lisha and I published a large and comprehensive review in the journal Evaluation and the Health Professions examining the co-relationship between eleven different potentially addictive behaviours reported in the academic literature (smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, taking illicit drugs, eating, gambling, internet use, love, sex, exercise, work, and shopping). We examined the data from 83 large-scale studies and reported an overall 12-month prevalence of an addiction among U.S. adults varies from 15% to 61%. We also reported it plausible that 47% of the U.S. adult population suffers from maladaptive signs of an addictive disorder over a 12-month period, and that it may be useful to think of addictions as due to problems of lifestyle as well as to person-level factors. In short – and with many caveats – our paper argued that at any one time almost half the US population are addicted to one or more behaviours.

There is a lot of scientific literature showing that having one addiction increases the propensity to have other co-occurring addictions. For instance, in my own research I have come across alcoholic pathological gamblers and we can all probably think of individuals that we might describe as caffeine-addicted workaholics. It is also very common for individuals that give up one addiction to replace it with another (which we psychologists call ‘reciprocity’). This is easily understandable as when an individual gives up one addiction it leaves a large hole in the waking lives (often referred to as the ‘void’) and often the only activities that can fill the void and give similar experiences are other potentially addictive behaviours. This has led many people to describe such people as having an ‘addictive personality’.

While there are many pre-disposing factors for addictive behaviour including genetic factors and psychological personality traits such as high neuroticism (anxious, unhappy, prone to negative emotions) and low conscientiousness (impulsive, careless, disorganised), I would argue that ‘addictive personality’ is a complete myth. Even though there is good scientific evidence that most people with addictions are highly neurotic, neuroticism in itself is not predictive of addiction (for instance, there are individuals who are highly neurotic but are not addicted to anything so neuroticism is not predictive of addiction). In short, there is no good evidence that there is a specific personality trait (or set of traits) that is predictive of addiction and addiction alone.

Doing something habitually or excessively does not necessarily make it problematic. While there are many behaviours such as drinking too much caffeine or watching too much television that could theoretically be described as addictive behaviours, they are more likely to be habitual behaviours that are important in an individual’s life but actually cause little or no problems. As such, these behaviours should not be described as an addiction unless the behaviour causes significant psychological and/or physiological effects in their day-to-day lives.

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

Further reading

Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Gjertsen, S.R., Krossbakken, E., Kvan, S., & Ståle Pallesen, S. (2013). The relationships between behavioral addictions and the five-factor model of personality. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 90-99.

Goodman, A. (2008). Neurobiology of addiction: An integrative review. Biochemical Pharmacology, 75(1), 266-322.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of context in online gaming excess and addiction: Some case study evidence. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 119-125.

Griffiths, M.D. & Larkin, M. (2004). Conceptualizing addiction: The case for a ‘complex systems’ account. Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 99-102.

Kerr, J. S. (1996). Two myths of addiction: the addictive personality and the issue of free choice. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 11(S1), S9-S13.

Kotov, R., Gamez, W., Schmidt, F., & Watson, D. (2010). Linking “big” personality traits to anxiety, depressive, and substance use disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136(5), 768-821.

Larkin, M., Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Towards addiction as relationship. Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 207-215.

Marks, I. (1990). Behaviour (non-chemical) addictions. British Journal of Addiction, 85, 1389-1394.

Nakken, C. (2009). The addictive personality: Understanding the addictive process and compulsive behavior. Hazelden, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.

Nathan, P. E. (1988). The addictive personality is the behavior of the addict. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56(2), 183-188.

Stick in the Buddhism: Mindfulness in the treatment of addiction and improved psychological wellbeing (Part 2)

Following on from my previous blog, here are some of my more recent papers with Dr. Edo Shonin and William Van Gordon on mindfulness that have been appearing on my Research Gate and Academia.edu webpages. We are happy for anyone interested in these papers to contact us at the email addresses below.

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Griffiths, M.D., Shonin, E.S., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). Mindfulness as a treatment for gambling disorder. Journal of Gambling and Commercial Gaming Research, 1, 1-6.

  • Mindfulness is a form of meditation that derives from Buddhist practice and is one of the fastest growing areas of psychological research. Studies investigating the role of mindfulness in the treatment of behavioural addictions have – to date – primarily focused on gambling disorder. Recent pilot studies and clinical case studies have demonstrated that weekly mindfulness therapy sessions can lead to clinically significant change among individuals with gambling problems. This purpose of this paper is to appraise current directions in gambling disorder research as it relates to mindfulness approaches, and discuss issues that are likely to hinder the wider acceptance of mindfulness as a treatment for gambling disorder. It is concluded that although preliminary findings indicate that there are applications for mindfulness approaches in the treatment of gambling disorder, further empirical and clinical research utilizing larger-sample controlled study designs is clearly needed.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M. & Griffiths M.D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161–1180.

  • Although clinical interest has predominantly focused on mindfulness meditation, interest into the clinical utility of Buddhist-derived loving-kindness meditation (LKM) and compassion meditation (CM) is also growing. This paper follows the PRISMA (preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis) guidelines and provides an evaluative systematic review of LKM and CM intervention studies. Five electronic academic databases were systematically searched to identify all intervention studies assessing changes in the symptom severity of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (text revision fourth edition) Axis I disorders in clinical samples and/or known concomitants thereof in sub-clinical/healthy samples. The comprehensive database search yielded 342 papers and 20 studies (comprising a total of 1,312 participants) were eligible for inclusion. The Quality Assessment Tool for Quantitative Studies was then used to assess study quality. Participants demonstrated significant improvements across five psychopathology-relevant outcome domains: (i) positive and negative affect, (ii) psychological distress, (iii) positive thinking, (iv) interpersonal relations, and (v) empathic accuracy. It is concluded that LKM and CM interventions may have utility for treating a variety of psychopathologies. However, to overcome obstacles to clinical integration, a lessons-learned approach is recommended whereby issues encountered during the (ongoing) operationalization of mindfulness interventions are duly considered. In particular, there is a need to establish accurate working definitions for LKM and CM.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6, 123-137.

  • Research into the clinical utility of Buddhist-derived interventions (BDIs) has increased greatly over the last decade. Although clinical interest has predominantly focused on mindfulness meditation, there also has been an increase in the scientific investigation of interventions that integrate other Buddhist principles such as compassion, loving kindness, and “non-self.” However, due to the rapidity at which Buddhism has been assimilated into the mental health setting, issues relating to the misapplication of Buddhist terms and practices have sometimes arisen. Indeed, hitherto, there has been no unified system for the effective clinical operationalization of Buddhist principles. Therefore, this paper aims to establish robust foundations for the ongoing clinical implementation of Buddhist principles by providing: (i) succinct and accurate interpretations of Buddhist terms and principles that have become embedded into the clinical practice literature, (ii) an overview of current directions in the clinical operationalization of BDIs, and (iii) an assessment of BDI clinical integration issues. It is concluded that BDIs may be effective treatments for a variety of psychopathologies including mood-spectrum disorders, substance-use disorders, and schizophrenia. However, further research and clinical evaluation is required to strengthen the evidence-base for existent interventions and for establishing new treatment applications. More important, there is a need for greater dialogue between Buddhist teachers and mental health clinicians and researchers to safeguard the ethical values, efficacy, and credibility of BDIs.

Van Gordon W., Shonin, E., Griffiths M.D. & Singh, N. (2015). There is only one mindfulness: Why science and Buddhism need to work together. Mindfulness, 6, 49-56.

  • This commentary provides an alternative perspective to some of the key arguments and observations outlined by Monteiro and colleagues (2015) concerning the relative deficiency of authenticity in secular mindfulness-based approaches compared with mainstream Buddhist practice traditions. Furthermore, this is achieved by critically examining the underlying assumption that if secular mindfulness-based approaches represent a more ‘superficial’ construction of mindfulness, then the ‘superior’ approach embodied by present-day Buddhist teachers and traditions should be easily identifiable. More specifically, a means of understanding mindfulness (and related Buddhist meditative principles) is presented that attempts to communicate the versatility and underlying unity of the Buddha’s teachings, and the fact that the scriptural, empirical, and logical grounds for asserting that secular mindfulness-based approaches offer a less authentic practice mode than mainstream Buddhist modalities are not as robust as contemporary general opinion might suggest.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Does mindfulness work? Reasonably convincing evidence in depression and anxiety. British Medical Journal, 351, h6919 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h6919.

  • In 2014, over 700 scientific papers on mindfulness were published, which is more than double the amount of mindfulness papers published in 2010. Approximately 80% of adults and 70% of General Practitioners in the UK believe that practising mindfulness can lead to health benefits. The most convincing evidence exists for the use of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in the treatment of depression and anxiety. Meta-analytic studies assessing the efficacy of mindfulness as a treatment for these two disorders have typically reported effect sizes in the moderate-strong to strong range. There is increasing evidence suggesting that mindfulness is an effective means of increasing perceptual distance from distressing psychological and somatic stimuli, and that it leads to functional neuroplastic changes in the brain. However, the aforementioned ‘fashionable’ status of mindfulness amongst both the general public and scientific community has likely overshadowed the need to address a number of key methodological and operational issues concerning its treatment efficacy.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D., Shonin, E.S., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). Mindfulness as a treatment for gambling disorder. Journal of Gambling and Commercial Gaming Research, 1, 1-6.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M. & Griffiths M.D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161–1180.

Shonin, E.S., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Mindfulness in psychology: A breath of fresh air? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 28, 28-31.

Shonin, E.S., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Teaching ethics in mindfulness-based interventions. Mindfulness, 6, 1491–1493.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Does mindfulness work? Reasonably convincing evidence in depression and anxiety. British Medical Journal, 351, h6919 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h6919.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived treatment techniques in mental health and addiction settings. In Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (Eds.), Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approached in Mental Health and Addiction (pp. 1-6). New York: Springer.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Griffiths, M.D., & Singh. N.N. (2015). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. (pp. 9-27). New York: Springer.

Van Gordon W., Shonin, E., Griffiths M.D. & Singh, N. (2015). There is only one mindfulness: Why science and Buddhism need to work together. Mindfulness, 6, 49-56.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Can second generation of mindfulness-based interventions be helpful in treating psychiatric disorders? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 591-592.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016), Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction. New York: Springer.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Singh. N.N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The mindfulness of emptiness and the emptiness of mindfulness. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness (pp. 159-179). New York: Springer.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Mindfulness in mental health: A critical reflection. Journal of Psychology, Neuropsychiatric Disorders and Brain Stimulation, 1(1), 102.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Are contemporary mindfulness-based interventions unethical? British Journal of General Practice, 66, 94-95.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for individuals with fibromyalgia syndrome: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of participants’ experience. Mindfulness, in press.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Buddhist emptiness theory: Implications for the self and psychology. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, in press.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Cavalli, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Ontological addiction: Classification, aetiology and treatment. Mindfulness, in press.

Stick in the Buddhism: Mindfulness in the treatment of addiction and improved psychological wellbeing (Part 1)

Over the last year I’ve been receiving a lot of emails (well, about nine or ten to be honest but it seems like a lot) expressing surprise at the increasing numbers of papers on mindfulness that have been appearing on my Research Gate and Academia.edu webpages. This research program is actually being led by my friends and Nottingham Trent University research colleagues, Dr. Edo Shonin and Willliam Van Gordon. Given this increasing level of interest, I thought I would use my next two blogs to briefly overview some of these publications. My research colleagues and I are happy for anyone interested in these papers to contact us at the email addresses below. We also have a new book on the topic too (Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction).

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Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 806–823.

  • There is a paucity of interventional approaches that are sensitive to the complex needs of individuals with co-occurring schizophrenia and pathological gambling. Utilizing a single-participant design, this study conducted the first clinical evaluation of a novel and integrated non-pharmacological treatment for a participant with dual-diagnosis schizophrenia and pathological gambling. The participant underwent a 20-week treatment course comprising: (i) an initial phase of second-wave cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and (ii) a subsequent phase employing a meditation-based recovery model (involving the administering of an intervention known as Meditation Awareness Training). The primary outcome was diagnostic change (based on DSM-IV-TR criteria) for schizophrenia and pathological gambling. Secondary outcomes were: (i) psychiatric symptom severity, (ii) pathological gambling symptom severity, (iii) psychosocial functioning, and (iv) dispositional mindfulness. Findings demonstrated that the participant was successfully treated for both schizophrenia and pathological gambling. Significant improvements were also observed across all other outcome variables and positive outcomes were maintained at three-month follow-up. An initial phase of CBT to improve social coping skills and environmental mastery, followed by a phase of meditation-based therapy to increase perceptual distance from mental urges and intrusive thoughts, may be a diagnostically-syntonic treatment for co-occurring schizophrenia and pathological gambling.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

  • Recent decades have witnessed a marked increase in research investigating the etiology, typology, symptoms, prevalence, and correlates of workaholism. However, despite increasing prevalence rates for workaholism, there is a paucity of workaholism treatment studies. Indeed, guidelines for the treatment of workaholism tend to be based on either theoretical proposals or anecdotal reports elicited during clinical practice. Thus, there is a need to establish dedicated and effective treatments for workaholism. A novel broad-application interventional approach receiving increasing attention by occupational and healthcare stakeholders is that of third-wave cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs). Third-wave CBTs integrate aspects of Eastern philosophy and typically employ a meditation-based recovery model. A primary treatment mechanism of these techniques involves the regulation of psychological and autonomic arousal by increasing perceptual distance from faulty thoughts and mental urges. A ‘meditative anchor’, such as observing the breath, is typically used to aid concentration and to help maintain an open-awareness of present moment sensory and cognitive-affective experience. The purpose of this case study was to conduct the first evaluation of a treatment employing a meditation-based recovery model for a workaholic.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Buddhist philosophy for the treatment of problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 63-71.

  • In the last five years, scientific interest into the potential applications of Buddhist-derived interventions (BDIs) for the treatment of problem gambling has been growing. This paper reviews current directions, proposes conceptual applications, and discusses integration issues relating to the utilisation of BDIs as problem gambling treatments. A literature search and evaluation of the empirical literature for BDIs as problem gambling treatments was undertaken. To date, research has been limited to cross-sectional studies and clinical case studies and findings indicate that Buddhist-derived mindfulness practices have the potential to play an important role in ameliorating problem gambling symptomatology. As an adjunct to mindfulness, other Buddhist-derived practices are also of interest including: (i) insight meditation techniques (e.g., meditation on ‘emptiness’) to overcome avoidance and dissociation strategies, (ii) ‘antidotes’ (e.g., patience, impermanence, etc.) to attenuate impulsivity and salience-related issues, (iii) loving-kindness and compassion meditation to foster positive thinking and reduce conflict, and (iv) ‘middle-way’ principles and ‘bliss-substitution’ to reduce relapse and temper withdrawal symptoms. In addition to an absence of controlled treatment studies, the successful operationalisation of BDIs as effective treatments for problem gambling may be impeded by issues such as a deficiency of suitably experienced BDI clinicians, and the poor provision by service providers of both BDIs and dedicated gambling interventions. Preliminary findings for BDIs as problem gambling treatments are promising, however, further research is required.

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

  • Throughout the last decade, there has been a growth of interest into the rehabilitative utility of Buddhist-derived interventions (BDIs) for incarcerated populations. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the evidence for BDIs in correctional settings. MEDLINE, Science Direct, ISI Web of Knowledge, PsychInfo, and Google Scholar electronic databases were systematically searched. Reference lists of retrieved articles and review papers were also examined for any further studies. Controlled intervention studies of BDIs that utilised incarcerated samples were included. Jaded scoring was used to evaluate methodological quality. PRISMA (preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis) guidelines were followed. The initial comprehensive literature search yielded 85 papers but only eight studies met all the inclusion criteria. The eight eligible studies comprised two mindfulness studies, four vipassana meditation studies, and two studies utilizing other BDIs. Intervention participants demonstrated significant improvements across five key criminogenic variables: (i) negative affective, (ii) substance use (and related attitudes), (iii) anger and hostility, (iv) relaxation capacity, and (v) self-esteem and optimism. There were a number of major quality issues. It is concluded that BDIs may be feasible and effective rehabilitative interventions for incarcerated populations. However, if the potential suitability and efficacy of BDIs for prisoner populations is to be evaluated in earnest, it is essential that methodological rigour is substantially improved. Studies that can overcome the ethical issues relating to randomisation in correctional settings and employ robust randomised controlled trial designs are favoured.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Mindfulness meditation in American correctional facilities: A ‘what-works’ approach to reducing reoffending. Corrections Today: Journal of the American Correctional Association, March/April, 48-51.

  • Throughout the last decade, there has been a growth of interest into the rehabilitative utility of Buddhist-derived interventions (BDIs) for incarcerated populations. The purpose of this study was to systematically review the evidence for BDIs in correctional settings. MEDLINE, Science Direct, ISI Web of Knowledge, PsychInfo, and Google Scholar electronic databases were systematically searched. Reference lists of retrieved articles and review papers were also examined for any further studies. Controlled intervention studies of BDIs that utilised incarcerated samples were included. Jaded scoring was used to evaluate methodological quality. PRISMA (preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis) guidelines were followed. The initial comprehensive literature search yielded 85 papers and but only eight studies met all the inclusion criteria. The eight eligible studies comprised two mindfulness studies, four vipassana meditation studies, and two studies utilizing other BDIs. Intervention participants demonstrated significant improvements across five key criminogenic variables: (i) negative affective, (ii) substance use (and related attitudes), (iii) anger and hostility, (iv) relaxation capacity, and (v) self-esteem and optimism. There were a number of major quality issues. It is concluded that BDIs may be feasible and effective rehabilitative interventions for incarcerated populations. However, if the potential suitability and efficacy of BDIs for prisoner populations is to be evaluated in earnest, it is essential that methodological rigour is substantially improved. Studies that can overcome the ethical issues relating to randomisation in correctional settings and employ robust randomised controlled trial designs are favoured.

Contact details

e.shonin@awaketowisdom.co.ukwilliam@awaketowisdom.co.ukmark.griffiths@ntu.ac.uk

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

Additional input by Edo Shonin and William Van Gordon

Further reading

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The health benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents, Education and Health, 30, 94-97.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 194, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Buddhist philosophy for the treatment of problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 63-71.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice, 617, 654-654.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness and addiction: Sending out an SOS. Addiction Today, March, 18-19.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A tool for spiritual growth? Thresholds, Summer, 14-18.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Practical tips for using mindfulness in general practice. British Journal of General Practice, 624 368-369.

Shonin, E.S., van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Meditation Based Awareness Training (MBAT) for psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849–863.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Mindfulness meditation in American correctional facilities: A ‘what-works’ approach to reducing reoffending. Corrections Today: Journal of the American Correctional Association, March/April, 48-51.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Does mindfulness meditation have a role in the treatment of psychosis? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 48, 124-127.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6, 123-137.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E.S., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Mindfulness and the Social Media, Mass Communication and Journalism, 4: 194. doi: 10.4172/2165-7912.1000194.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M.D. (2014). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 181-196.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016), Mindfulness and Buddhist-derived Approaches in Mental Health and Addiction. New York: Springer.

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

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Are there risks associated with using mindfulness for the treatment of psychopathology? Clinical Practice, 11, 389-392.

Van Gordon, W. Shonin, E.S., Skelton, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Working mindfully: Can mindfulness improve work-related wellbeing and work? Counselling at Work, 87, 14-19.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, 12, 806–823.

Tech’s appeal: Another look at Internet addiction

Generally speaking, Internet addiction (IA) has been characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupation, urges, and/or behaviours regarding Internet use that lead to impairment or distress in several life domains. However, according to Dr. Kimberly Young, IA is a problematic behaviour akin to pathological gambling that can be operationally defined as an impulse-control disorder not involving the ingestion of psychoactive intoxicants.

Following the conceptual framework developed by Young and her colleagues to understand IA, five specific types of distinct online addictive behaviours were identified: (i) ‘cyber-sexual addiction’, (ii) ‘cyber-relationship addiction’, (iii) ‘net compulsions (i.e., obsessive online gambling, shopping, or trading), (iv) ‘information overload’, and (v) ‘computer addiction’ (i.e., obsessive computer game playing).

However, I have argued in many of my papers over the last 15 years that the Internet may simply be the means or ‘place’ where the most commonly reported addictive behaviours occur. In short, the Internet may be just a medium to fuel other addictions. Interestingly, new evidence pointing towards the need to make this distinction has been provided from the online gaming field where new studies (including some I have carried out with my Hungarian colleagues) have demonstrated that IA is not the same as other more specific addictive behaviours carried out online (i.e., gaming addiction), further magnifying the meaningfulness to differentiate between what may be called ‘generalized’ and ‘specific’ forms of online addictive behaviours, and also between IA and gaming addiction as these behaviours are conceptually different.

Additionally, the lack of formal diagnostic criteria to assess IA holds another methodological problem since researchers are systematically adopting modified criteria from other addictions to investigate IA. Although IA may share some commonalities with other substance-based addictions, it is unclear to what extent such criteria are useful and suitable to evaluate IA. Notwithstanding the existing difficulties in understanding and comparing IA with behaviours such as pathological gambling, recent research provided useful insights on this topic.

A recent study by Dr. Federico Tonioni (published in a 2014 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors) involving two clinical (i.e., 31 IA patients and 11 pathological gamblers) and a control group (i.e., 38 healthy individuals) investigated whether IA patients presented different psychological symptoms, temperamental traits, coping strategies, and relational patterns in comparison to pathological gamblers, concluded that Internet-addicts presented higher mental and behavioural disengagement associated with significant more interpersonal impairment. Moreover, temperamental patterns, coping strategies, and social impairments appeared to be different across both disorders. Nonetheless, the similarities between IA and pathological gambling were essentially in terms of psychopathological symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and global functioning. Although, individuals with IA and pathological gambling appear to share similar psychological profiles, previous research has found little overlap between these two populations, therefore, both phenomena are separate disorders.

Despite the fact that initial conceptualizations of IA helped advance the current knowledge and understanding of IA in different aspects and contexts, it has become evident that the field has greatly evolved since then in several ways. As a result of these ongoing changes, behavioural addictions (more specifically Gambling Disorder and Internet Gaming Disorder) have now recently received official recognition in the latest (fifth) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Moreover, IA can also be characterized as a form of technological addiction, which I have operationally defined as a non-chemical (behavioural) addiction involving excessive human-machine interaction. In this theoretical framework, technological addictions such as IA represent a subset of behavioural addictions featuring six core components: (i) salience, (ii) mood modification, (iii) tolerance, (iv) withdrawal, (v) conflict, and (vi) relapse. The components model of addiction appears to be a more updated framework for understanding IA as a behavioural addiction not only conceptually but also empirically. Moreover, this theoretical framework has recently received empirical support from several studies, further evidencing its suitability and applicability to the understanding of IA.

For many in the IA field, problematic Internet use is considered to be a serious issue – albeit not yet officially recognised as a disorder – and has been described across the literature as being associated with a wide range of co-occurring psychiatric comorbidities alongside an array of dysfunctional behavioural patterns. For instance, IA has been recently associated with low life satisfaction, low academic performance, less motivation to study, poorer physical health, social anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and depression, poorer emotional wellbeing and substance use, higher impulsivity, cognitive distortion, deficient self-regulation, poorer family environment, higher mental distress, loneliness, among other negative psychological, biological, and neuronal aspects.

In a recent systematic literature review conducted by Dr. Wen Li and colleagues (and published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior), the authors reviewed a total of 42 empirical studies that assessed the family correlates of IA in adolescents and young adults. According to the authors, virtually all studies reported greater family dysfunction amongst IA families in comparison to non-IA families. More specifically, individuals with IA exhibited more often (i) greater global dissatisfaction with their families, (ii) less organized, cohesive, and adaptable families, (iii) greater inter-parental and parent-child conflict, and (iv) perceptions of their parents as more punitive, less supportive, warm, and involved. Furthermore, families were significantly more likely to have divorced parents or to be a single parent family.

Another recent systematic literature review conducted by Dr. Lawrence Lam published in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports examined the possible links between IA and sleep problems. After reviewing seven studies (that met strict inclusion criteria), it was concluded that on the whole, IA was associated with sleep problems that encompassed subjective insomnia, short sleep duration, and poor sleep quality. The findings also suggested that participants with insomnia were 1.5 times more likely to be addicted to the Internet in comparison to those without sleep problems. Despite the strong evidence found supporting the links between IA and sleep problems, the author noted that due to the cross-sectional nature of most studies reviewed, the generalizability of the findings was somewhat limited.

IA is a relatively recent phenomenon that clearly warrants further investigation, and empirical studies suggest it needs to be taken seriously by psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists. Although uncertainties still remain regarding its diagnostic and clinical characterization, it is likely that these extant difficulties will eventually be tackled and the field will evolve to a point where IA may merit full recognition as a behavioural addiction from official medical bodies (ie, American Psychiatric Association) similar to other more established behavioural addictions such as ‘Gambling Disorder’ and ‘Internet Gaming Disorder’. However, in order to achieve official status, researchers will have to adopt a more commonly agreed upon definition as to what IA is, and how it can be conceptualized and operationalized both qualitatively and quantitatively (as well as in clinically diagnostic terms).

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

Please note: This article was co-written with Halley Pontes and Daria Kuss.

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Billieux J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). The evolution of internet addiction: A global perspective. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 193–195.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

Király, O., Griffiths, M.D., Urbán, R., Farkas, J., Kökönyei, G. Elekes, Z., Domokos Tamás, D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic internet use and problematic online gaming are not the same: Findings from a large nationally representative adolescent sample. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17, 749-754.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Internet Addiction in Psychotherapy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D. & Binder, J. (2013). Internet addiction in students: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 959-966.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Kuss, D.J., Shorter, G.W., van Rooij, A.J., Griffiths, M.D., & Schoenmakers, T.M. (2014). Assessing Internet addiction using the parsimonious Internet addiction components model – A preliminary study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 351-366.

Kuss, D.J., van Rooij, A.J., Shorter, G.W., Griffiths, M.D. & van de Mheen, D. (2013). Internet addiction in adolescents: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1987-1996.

Lam, L.T. (2014). Internet Gaming Addiction, Problematic use of the Internet, and sleep problems: A systematic review. Current Psychiatry Reports, 16(4), 1-9.

Li, W., Garland, E.L., & Howard, M.O. (2014). Family factors in Internet addiction among Chinese youth: A review of English-and Chinese-language studies. Computers in Human. Behavior, 31, 393-411.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

Pontes, H.M., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The clinical psychology of Internet addiction: A review of its conceptualization, prevalence, neuronal processes, and implications for treatment. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 4, 11-23.

Pontes, H.M., Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The impact of Internet-based specific activities on the perceptions of Internet Addiction, Quality of Life, and excessive usage: A cross-sectional study. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 19-25.

Tonioni, F., Mazza, M., Autullo, G., Cappelluti, R., Catalano, V., Marano, G., … & Lai, C. (2014). Is Internet addiction a psychopathological condition distinct from pathological gambling?. Addictive Behaviors, 39(6), 1052-1056.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Young, K. (1998). Caught in the net. New York: John Wiley

Young K. (1999). Internet addiction: Evaluation and treatment. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 351-352.