Category Archives: Psychiatry

Extremes of dreams (so it seems): The psychology of ‘Vanilla Sky’

Regular readers of my blog will know that when it comes to certain films and television shows (and their accompanying DVD box sets) I can be somewhat obsessive and fanatical (for instance see, my blog on my love of all things concerning Hannibal Lecter). I’m one of those individuals that will watch some films again and again looking for further insight and deeper meanings (such as Memento, The Usual Suspects, Donnie Darko, Inception, Shutter Island, Seven, and The Shining). One of the films I have watched many times is Cameron Crowe’s psychological thriller Vanilla Sky (starring Tom Cruise, Kurt Russell, Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz), a remake of the Spanish film Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes).

One of the reason I like the film is that it prominently features the concept of lucid dreaming. I’d never heard of lucid dreaming until 1988. I was doing my PhD at the University of Exeter at the time and one of my best friends (Robert Rooksby) was doing his PhD on lucid dreaming. As the Wikipedia entry on lucid dreaming notes:

“A lucid dream is any dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. In relation to this phenomenon, Greek philosopher Aristotle observed: ‘often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream’…The person most widely acknowledged as having coined the term is Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden…In a lucid dream, the dreamer has greater chances to exert some degree of control over their participation within the dream or be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the dream environment…Lucid dreams can be realistic and vivid. It is shown that there are higher amounts of beta-1 frequency band (13–19 Hz) brain wave activity experienced by lucid dreamers, hence there is an increased amount of activity in the parietal lobes making lucid dreaming a conscious process”.

Much like the films of David Lynch (one of my favourite film directors), Vanilla Sky is a film forces you to think about what is going on and is one of those films that you can come to your own conclusions as to what it all means. As a psychologist, I love films that play with the mind and Vanilla Sky is one of those films, particularly as psychology in the form of dreams, subjective reality, and the unconscious lie at the heart of the film. The director Cameron Crowe added many obscure clues and hidden references throughout the film to help viewers further explain the film and to add more layers.  There are dozens of dedicated websites that have compiled lists of theories, messages and/or hidden clues. In the film’s production notes, Crowe later admitted: “We constructed the movie, visually and story-wise, to reveal more and more the closer you look at it. As deep as you want to go with it, my desire was for the movie to meet you there”. That alone is enough of a hook to get me watching repeatedly.

Another aspect of the film that I love is the perfect use of music. Almost every lyric of every song used throughout the movie interweaves seamlessly between the actors, the in-scene narrative, and the developing story line. The songs are expertly chosen. This is no surprise given that Crowe was formerly a music journalist and a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. Like me, Crowe is a huge fan of The Beatles, and referred to the “clues” in Vanilla Sky as his own version of the ‘Paul McCartney is Dead’ rumour that swept the world in 1969 (i.e., the notorious Beatles hoax when fans worldwide became convinced through song lyrics, sonic tricks, and album art that Paul McCartney had died and was replaced by a look-alike). As Crowe commented: “Divorcing it from whether Paul was really dead or not, that was a really great parlour game: searching for clues, the excitement of different layers, some of them chilling, some of them really funny. It was a great model for us [on Vanilla Sky]”. One of the homages to The Beatles in the film concerns their song Revolution 9. The film contains countless references to the number (or time) 9:09 (on Aames’ wristwatch, a child’s shirt, the prison chalkboard, and multiple references to cats who, has myth has it, have nine lives).

I’m assuming that anyone that has read this far has seen the film (but if you haven’t – spoiler alert – some of what I’m about to write will likely reduce the enjoyment of watching the film for the first time). The thrust of the plot is as follows:

“From a prison cell where he has been charged for murder, David Aames (Tom Cruise, in a prosthetic mask, tells his life story to court psychologist Dr. Curtis McCabe (Kurt Russell). In flashback, David [who is acrophobic with an irrational fear of heights] is shown to be the wealthy owner of a large publishing firm in New York City which he inherited from his father, leaving its regular duties to his father’s trusted associates. As David enjoys the bachelor lifestyle, he is introduced to Sofia Serrano (Penélope Cruz) by his best friend and author Brian Shelby [who is writing a book on Aames] at a party. David and Sofia spend a night together talking, and fall in love. When David’s former lover, Julianna “Julie” Gianni (Cameron Diaz) hears of Sofia, she attempts to kill herself and David in a car crash. Julie dies but David survives, his face grotesquely disfigured, leading him to wear a mask to hide the injuries. With no hope to use plastic surgery to repair the damage, David cannot come to grips with the idea of wearing the mask for the rest of his life. One night on a night out with Sofia…David gets hopelessly drunk, and [is left by Sophia] to wallow in the street outside” (Wikipedia entry on Vanilla Sky)

It is generally accepted that everything from this point in the film is a dream (although others say the whole film is a dream). Rather than live out the rest of his life in a disfigured state, Aames has his body cryogenically frozen by a company called Life Extension after attempting suicide. He lives the rest of his life as a lucid dream from the moment he was found on the pavement after his drunken night out (“under the ‘vanilla sky’ from a Monet painting”). However, during cryogenic sleep, the lucid dream goes horribly wrong and starts to incorporate elements from his subconscious. After 150 years in suspended sleep, the company that placed Aames into cryogenic suspension calls in ‘Tech Support’ and Aames is offered a choice to either be reinserted into a corrected lucid dream, or to wake up by taking a leap of faith – literally – from the top of a high roof (that forces him to challenge his fear of heights).

Conquering his final fear, David jumps off the building, his life flashing before his eyes, and whites out immediately before hitting the ground. A female voice commands him to ‘open your eyes’ (a recurring theme in the movie), and the film ends with David opening his eyes” (Wikipedia entry on Vanilla Sky).

Many different websites examining the film claim there are five interpretations of the film’s ending (and this is supported by Crowe himself). The five interpretations (taken verbatim from the Wikipedia entry on the film) are:

  • “Tech support is telling the truth: 150 years have passed since Aames killed himself and subsequent events form a lucid dream.
  • The entire film is a dream, evidenced by the sticker on Aames’ car that reads “2/30/01″ (February 30 does not occur in the Gregorian Calendar).
  • The events following the crash form a dream that occurs while Aames is in a coma.
  • The entire film is the plot of the book that Brian [Shelby, his best friend] is writing.
  • The entire film after the crash is a hallucination caused by the drugs that were administered during Aames’ reconstructive surgery”.

(I’m most persuaded by the first interpretation). What I also love about the film is that Crowe added lots of little details that take a few viewings of the film before they are usually spotted. All of these help in both trying to interpret the film, as well as becoming a game where repeated watching becomes more rewarding. For instance:

  • In the first scene in which Julianna appears, the tune ringing on her cell phone is Row Row Row Your Boat that features the lyric “life is but a dream”.
  • At his birthday party, Aames is asked how it’s going to which he responds “Livin’ the dream, baby…livin’ the dream”.
  • At the same party, Aames’ best friend Brian Shelby comes into the second apartment wears a t-shirt with the words “fantasy” in sparkly sequins.
  • In one of the prison scenes, the word ‘DREAM’ is spelt out backwards on a chalkboard.
  • In the prison cell, the book, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections (by Carl Jung) is on the table while Aames is talking to his psychiatrist Dr. McCabe. The book concerns Jung’s personal dreams and how they helped uncover his “shadow” and removed his persona (his ‘mask’). In fact one critique of the film by Carlo Cavagna described the whole film as “overtly Jungian”. More specifically, he asserted that Vanilla Sky is fundamentally about the relationship between the ego and the unconscious, and practically a primer on the most fundamental concepts found in any Jungian glossary…For Jung, the unconscious includes desires repressed by our education and socialization, but there is more ‘psychic material that lies below the threshold of consciousness’. The unconscious is the foundation on which the conscious mind is based”.
  • On Aames’ prison uniform the name tag says “Frozen Guy”.
  • His patient number on his Life Extension cryogenic tank says “PL515NT 4R51MS” (which if the numbers are replaced with their corresponding letters of the alphabet, it almost spells “Pleasant Dreams”).
  • As Aames is getting his prison photograph taken, the slate spells ‘When did the dream become a nightmare?’ (in simple code).
  • Sofia calls Aames a “pleasure delayer” twice in the film (but says it so subtly that it’s hard to hear properly).
  • When Aames and Sophia are lying in bed after making love, Sophia asks “Is this is a dream?” and Aames replied “absolutely”.
  • At one point in the film, Dr. McCabe tells Aames that he’d had a nightmare the day before.  Aames replies that “It’s all a nightmare”.

I said earlier in the article that I thought the songs were perfectly chosen. Many fans of the film have noted that the lyrics repeatedly appear to match the emotion of the scene where it is played. As the Uncool website notes:

“For example, the song that plays over David leaving Sophia’s in the morning is Jeff Buckley’s, ‘Last Goodbye’…that morning was there last one true goodbye. Yes, they see each other after this, but after the car wreck when both of their lives are forever changed. ‘Last Goodbye’ also contains the lyrics: ‘Kiss me, please kiss me, but kiss me out of desire, babe not consolation’ which follows David’s plight rather well (as the next time he sees her is after the accident and he wants her affections but not sympathy for his disfigurement)…Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’ album (featured in the closing montage) also has some lyrical significance. One of the best lines from the song ‘The River’ is: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?” Also, two R.E.M. songs are featured. Don’t forget what R.E.M. stands for. Rapid eye movement. As in a state of sleep. It’s when you dream”.

It doesn’t take a psychologist to work out that I simply love the level of detail that went into making the film. I am not a great fan of psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) interpretation, but in Vanilla Sky, the mask that Aames wore became his ‘persona’ and the term was used by Carl Jung to describe the face that we as individuals present to society and (in some cases) to ourselves. Carlo Cavagna argues that:

“[Aames] attraction to [Sophie] is irresistible because she is his anima, his archetypal dream lover, the personification of the feminine nature in his own unconscious. Jung posited that all men carry an ideal image of woman in their heads and unconsciously project that image onto “the person of the beloved…David’s disfigured face, which he sometimes hides with his mask, represents his shadow. For Jung, the shadow is the inferior part of the personality, the sum of all personal and collective psychic elements that, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life and therefore coalesce into a relatively autonomous “splinter personality” in the unconscious. Despite the negative connotations of the word ‘shadow’, Jung meant it to encompass all those qualities that are suppressed, both positive and negative. ‘The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and yet is always thrusting itself upon him directly or indirectly’… [Aames] reality is subjective, and his shadow is breaking through into consciousness. This is the source of the film’s main conflict. In discussing dream therapy and the difficulty of processing and assimilating the unconscious, Jung wrote that several negative outcomes are possible – eccentricity, infantilism, paranoia, schizophrenia, or regression (the restoration of the persona). The revelation and assimilation of David’s unconscious is essentially the story of Vanilla Sky”.

Although there are many critics who hated the film, I love it on many different levels (including the underlying psychology).

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

Further reading

Cavagna, C. (2001, December). Vanilla Sky. Located at: http://www.aboutfilm.com/movies/v/vanillasky.htm

Jung, C.G. (1961). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York: Vantage.

Kummer, R. (2010). “What is happiness to you?” Vanilla Sky (2001) Film Analysis. Located at: http://rkummer.hubpages.com/hub/What-is-happiness-to-you-Vanilla-Sky-2001-Film-Analysis

Rooksby, R. and Terwee, Sybe J.S. (1990). Freud, van Eeden and lucid dreaming. Lucidity Letter, 9(2), 18–28. Located at: http://www.sawka.com/spiritwatch/freudvan.htm

Turner, R. (2014). Vanilla Sky movie review: Beyond lucid dreams. Located at: http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/vanilla-sky-review.html

The Uncool (2015). Vanilla Sky secrets. Located at: http://www.theuncool.com/films/vanilla-sky/vanilla-sky-secrets

Wikipedia (2015). Vanilla Sky. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Vanilla_Sky

Meditate to medicate: Mindfulness as a treatment for behavioural addiction

Please note: A version of the following article was first published on addiction.com and was co-written with my research colleagues Edo Shonin and William Van Gordon

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that derives from Buddhist practice and is one of the fastest growing areas of psychological research. We have defined mindfulness as the process of engaging a full, direct, and active awareness of experienced phenomena that is spiritual in aspect and that is maintained from one moment to the next. As part of the practice of mindfulness, 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.

Throughout the last two decades, Buddhist principles have increasingly been employed in the treatment of a wide range of psychological disorders including mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical settings appears to mirror a growth in research examining the potential effects of Buddhist meditation on brain neurophysiology. Such research forms part of a wider dialogue concerned with the evidence-based applications of specific forms of spiritual practice for improved psychological health.

Within mental health and addiction treatment settings, mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are generally delivered in a secular eight-week format and often comprise the following: (i) weekly sessions of 90-180 minutes duration, (ii) a taught psycho-education component, (iii) guided mindfulness exercises, (iv) a CD of guided meditation to facilitate daily self-practice, and (v) varying degrees of one-to-one discussion-based therapy with the program instructor. Examples of MBIs used in behavioural addiction treatment studies include Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, Mindfulness-Enhanced Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Meditation Awareness Training.

Studies investigating the role of mindfulness in the treatment of behavioural addictions have – to date – primarily focused on problem and/or pathological gambling. These studies have shown that levels of dispositional mindfulness in problem gamblers are inversely associated with gambling severity, thought suppression, and psychological distress. Recent clinical case studies have demonstrated that weekly mindfulness therapy sessions can lead to clinically significant change in problem gambling individuals. Published case studies include: (i) a male in his sixties addicted to offline roulette playing, (ii) a 61-year old female (with comorbid anxiety and depression) addicted to slot machine gambling (treated with a modified version of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy), and (iii) a 32-year old female (with co-occurring schizophrenia) addicted to online slot-machine playing (treated with a modified version of Meditation Awareness Training). Also, a recent study showed that problem gamblers that received Mindfulness-Enhanced Cognitive Behaviour Therapy demonstrated significant improvements compared to a control group in levels of gambling severity, gambling urges, and emotional distress.

Outside of gambling addiction, case studies have investigated the applications of mindfulness for treating addiction to work (i.e., workaholism) and sex. In the case of the workaholic, a director of a blue-chip technology company in his late thirties was successfully treated for his workaholism utilizing Meditation Awareness Training. Significant pre-post improvements were also observed for sleep quality, psychological distress, work duration, work involvement during non-work hours, and employer-rated job performance. However, as with any case study, the single-participant nature of the study significantly restricts the generalizability of such findings.

Key treatment mechanisms that have been identified and/or proposed in this respect (several of which overlap with mechanisms identified as part of the mindfulness-based treatment of chemical addictions) include:

  • A perceptual shift in the mode of responding and relating to sensory and cognitive-affective stimuli that permits individuals to objectify their cognitive processes and to apprehend them as passing phenomena.
  • Reductions in relapse and withdrawal symptoms via substituting maladaptive addictive behaviours with a ‘positive addiction’ to mindfulness/meditation (particularly the ‘blissful’ and/or tranquil states associated with certain meditative practices).
  • Transferring the locus of control for stress from external conditions to internal metacognitive and attentional resources.
  • The modulation of dysphoric mood states and addiction-related shameful and self-disparaging schemas via the cultivation of compassion and self-compassion.
  • Reductions in salience and myopic focus on reward (i.e., by undermining the intrinsic value and ‘authenticity’ that individuals assign to the object of addiction) due to a better understanding of the ‘impermanent’ nature of existence (e.g., all that is won must ultimately be lost, an attractive body will age and wither, a senior/lucrative occupational role must one day be relinquished, etc.).
  • Growth in spiritual awareness that broadens perspective and induces a re-evaluation of life priorities.
  • ‘Urge surfing’ (the meditative process of adopting an observatory, non-judgemental, and non-reactive attentional-set towards mental urges) that aids in the regulation of habitual compulsive responses.
  • Reduced autonomic and psychological arousal via conscious-breathing-induced increases in prefrontal functioning and vagal nerve output (breath awareness is a central feature of mindfulness practice).
  • Increased capacity to defer gratitude due to improvements in levels of patience.
  • A greater ability to label and therefore modulate mental urges and faulty thinking patterns.

Although preliminary findings indicate that there are applications for MBIs in the treatment of behavioural addictions, further empirical and clinical research utilizing larger-sample controlled study designs is clearly needed. Despite this, both the classical Buddhist meditation literature and recent scientific findings appear to agree that when correctly practised and administered, mindfulness meditation is a safe, non-invasive, and cost-effective tool for treating behavioural addictions and for improving psychological health more generally.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, 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, in press.

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., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Mindfulness as a treatment for behavioural addiction. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e122. doi: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000e122.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Current trends in mindfulness and mental health. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 113-115.

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. (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). 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. (2015). Mindfulness in psychology: A breath of fresh air? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 28, 28-31.

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

Disfigure it out: A brief look at post-mortem mutilation in murder cases

A body of an adult female of about 25 years old was found dead in a naked condition in a reserved forest area in South Delhi in June, 2006 by police. There was information to [the] police via public call as 2-3 people had killed one lady after [having] sex [with her] and [then running] away. Further enquiry, revealed that they all had consumed alcohol along with the lady. They also had sexual intercourse with her using condom…Following the quarrel they killed her by hitting her head with a heavy stone. After killing her, they also tried to destroy her identity by burning her face with wooden stick and twigs and her clothes. One of them also introduced a wine bottle inside [her] vagina. There were multiple postmortem injuries in particular pattern over left side lower part of chest, abdomen and inguinal regions including upper part of left thigh. All [the] accused were subsequently arrested by the police”.

This shocking account of a brutal murder was the opening paragraph in a paper by Dr. B.L. Chaudhary and his colleagues in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine (JIAFM). Although an increasingly common theme in television and film homicides, post-mortem mutilation of a dead person’s body by perpetrators is arguably much rarer than the incidence in fictionalized drama. The JIAFM paper noted that the majority of such cases typically involve body “dismemberment for the purpose of disposing or hiding a body or of preventing identification”.

A national study carried out in Sweden by Dr. Jovan Rajs and colleagues in the Journal of Forensic Sciences found that only 22 deaths over a 30-year period (1961-1990) had been criminally mutilated and/or dismembered. These were then classified into one of three types: (i) defensive, (ii) offensive (i.e., lust murder) and (iii) necromanic mutilation. They reported that the perpetrators of the defensive and aggressive post-mortem mutilation were typically “disorganized” (i.e., alcoholics, drug abusers, mentally disordered) whereas the lust murderers were typically “organized” with a long history of violent crimes. The JIAFM paper summarized the findings of Raus and colleagues:

“The characteristics of the mutilations were diverse. In cases of murder committed in association with sexual deviation, wounding is usually limited to the breasts and sexual organs. Corpse mutilation can also be of a symbolic nature as in cases of mafia murders (revenge punishment) and then it is associated with torturing the victim and with the motive of destruction of identify of victim”.

In the case of the female victim reported by Chaudhary and colleagues, they reported that it was the victim’s head, face, and chest that were burned, destroyed, and mutilated post-mortem. They speculated that this was done to either (i) to prevent identification of the victim, (ii) to make it difficult to determine the cause of death, or (iii) as an act of depersonalization as it is often seen “when the murder is disorganized and has a close relation to his victim or offensive mutilation as general act of frustration”. Why the men had inserted a foreign object into the woman’s vagina was less clear. The authors speculated that it may have been because of (i) frustration of a non-performing sexual partner because of heavy intoxication, (ii) an extortion demand by victim, (iii) blackmail by the victim, or (iv) psychopathic tendencies of the perpetrators can carried out for sadistic pleasure. However, they also added that:

“In this case as there was alleged history of consensual sexual activity which could be or could not be as body had injuries so it could be non-consensual activity also. Apparently there was no smell in the [gastric] contents but samples were sent for alcohol screening/concentration estimation. In [the medical] literature, various materials and objects like chilly powder, corrosives, metal or wooden sticks are introduced into genitalia as a part of punishment for unfaithfulness or infidelity. Males suffering from depression due to erectile dysfunctions, premature ejaculation and impotency may indulge in extreme frustration cases. In this psychological profiling of the accused can also be helpful in knowing for such abnormal instincts. At times, provocative words by female partner about their malehood could trigger such impulsive murder and mutilation”

Post-mortem mutilation while extreme can sometimes border on the almost unbelievable. For instance, Dr. J. Kunz and Dr. A. Gross published a paper in a 2001 issue of the American Journal of Forensic and Medical Pathology which as Ronseal would claim “does exactly what it says on the tin” as it was entitled Victim’s scalp on the killer’s head: An unusual case of criminal postmortem mutilation”. The paper reported that:

“After killing his father, the son decapitated his body and dissected the scalp free, forming a mask of the father’s head and neck. The young man wore the scalp-mask over his own head to imitate the father. The motive of the murder was revenge, and the postmortem mutilation was the realization of the perpetrator’s fantasies, symbolically representing a penalty for the reprehensible past life of his father”.

Another extreme case of postmortem mutilation following murder was reported by Dr. Tomasz Konopka and his colleagues in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. In this instance, a Polish man cut up the corpse and dismembered the body into 850 fragments. He “employed various tools to divide the body into fragments and subsequently boiled the pieces to reduce their volume”. This reduced the body volume by 30kg. The murderer then placed all the body fragments into two large pots in a space under his stairwell and then plastered over the wall to hide the body. Another paper by Dr. Konopka and colleagues in a 2007 issue of Legal Medicine examined 23 cases of dismembered bodies in the 1968-2005 period at the Cracow Department of Forensic Medicine. Of these, 17 were cases of defensive mutilation, three were offensive mutilation and two were dismemberment (decapitation, and direct cause of death). One case remained unclassified where the murderer dissected free skin from the whole torso. They concluded that:

“Apart from rare cases of necrophilia, the victim of dismemberment is always a victim of homicide. Homicides ending with corpse dismemberment are most commonly committed by a person close to, or at least acquainted with the victim and they are performed at the site of homicide, generally in the place inhabited by the victim, the perpetrator or shared by both. Such instances are generally not planned by the perpetrator and rarely serial in character”.

Finally, I came across an interesting 2009 paper by a Finnish team led by Dr. Häkkänen-Nyholm in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. The authors noted that research relating to mutilation of bodies by murderers was “sparse”. They estimated the rate of mutilation of the victim’s body in Finnish homicides. To do this they examined all crime and forensic reports of homicide offenders from 1995–2004 (n = 676). Only 13 murders (2.2%) involved postmortem mutilation. They concluded that:

“Educational and mental health problems in childhood, inpatient mental health contacts, self-destructiveness, and schizophrenia were significantly more frequent in offenders guilty of mutilation. Mutilation bore no significant association with psychopathy or substance abuse. The higher than usual prevalence of developmental difficulties and mental disorder of this subsample of offenders needs to be recognized”.

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

Further reading

Chaudhary, B.L., Murty, O.P. & Singh, D. (2007). Foreign objects in genitalia: Homicide with destruction of identity – A case report. Journal of Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine, 29(4), 135-137.

Häkkänen-Nyholm, H., Weizmann‐Henelius, G., Salenius, S., Lindberg, N., & Repo-Tiihonen, E. (2009). Homicides with mutilation of the victim’s body. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 54(4), 933-937.

Hladík, J., Štefan, J., Srch, M., & Pilin, A. (2000). A rare case of evisceration. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 113(2), 107-109.

Konopka, T., Bolechala, F., & Strona, M. (2006). An unusual case of corpse dismemberment. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 27(2), 163-165.

Konopka, T., Strona, M., Bolechała, F., & Kunz, J. (2007). Corpse dismemberment in the material collected by the Department of Forensic Medicine, Cracow, Poland. Legal Medicine, 9(1), 1-13.

Kunz, J. & Gross, A. (2001). Victim’s scalp on the killer’s head: An unusual case of criminal postmortem mutilation. American Journal of Forensic and Medical Pathology, 22(3), 327-31.

Rajs, J., Lundstrom, M., Broberg, M., Lidberg, L., & Lindquist, O. (1998). Criminal mutilation of the human body in Sweden: A thirty year medico-legal and forensic psychiatric study. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 43(3), 563-80.

Simonsen, J. (1989). A sadistic homicide. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 10(2), 159-163.

Türk, E. E., Püschel, K., & Tsokos, M. (2004). Features characteristic of homicide in cases of complete decapitation. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 25(1), 83-86.

Net losses: Another look at problematic online gaming

I have examined problematic and/or addictive video gaming in a number of my previous blogs. Despite the increasing amount of empirical research into problematic online gaming, the phenomenon still sadly lacks a consensual definition. Some researchers (including myself, and others such as John Charlton and Ian Danforth) consider video games as the starting point for examining the characteristics of this specific pathology, while other researchers consider the internet as the main platform that unites different addictive internet activities including online games (such as my friends and colleagues Tony Van Rooij and Kimberley Young). There are also recent studies that have made an effort to integrate both approaches (such as some work I carried out with Zsolt Demetrovics and his team of Hungarian researchers in the journal PLoS ONE).

I have noted in a number of my papers on addiction (particularly in a paper I had published in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Substance Use) that although each addiction has several particular and idiosyncratic characteristics, they have more commonalities than differences that may reflect a common etiology of addictive behaviour. Using the ‘components’ model of addiction, within a biopsychosocial framework, I consider online game addiction a specific type of video game addiction that can be categorized as a nonfinancial type of pathological gambling. I developed the components of video game addiction theory by modifying Iain Brown’s earlier addiction criteria. These are:

(1) Salience: This is when video gaming becomes the most important activity in the person’s life and dominates his/her thinking (i.e., preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (i.e., cravings) and behaviour (i.e., deterioration of socialized behaviour);

(2) Mood modification: This is the subjective experience that people report as a consequence of engaging in video game play (i.e. they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or, paradoxically, a tranquillizing and/or distressing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).

(3) Tolerance: This is the process whereby increasing amounts of video game play are required to achieve the former effects, meaning that for persons engaged in video game playing, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend online engaged in the behaviour.

(4) Withdrawal symptoms: These are the unpleasant feeling states or physical effects that occur when video gaming is discontinued or suddenly reduced, for example, the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.

(5) Conflict: This refers to the conflicts between the video game player and those around them (i.e., interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (e.g., job, schoolwork, social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (i.e., intrapsychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) which are concerned with spending too much time engaged in video game play.

(6) Relapse: This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of video game play to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical at the height of excessive video game play to be quickly restored after periods of abstinence or control.

John Charlton and Ian Danforth analyzed these six criteria and found that tolerance, mood modification and cognitive salience were indicators of high engagement, while the other components – withdrawal symptoms, conflict, relapse and behavioural salience – played a central role in the development of addiction.

Researchers such as Guy Porter and Vladan Starcevic don’t differentiate between problematic video game use and problematic online game use. They conceptualized problematic video game use as excessive use of one or more video games resulting in a preoccupation with and a loss of control over playing video games, and various negative psychosocial and/or physical consequences. Their criteria for problematic video game use didn’t include other features usually associated with dependence or addiction, such as tolerance and physical symptoms of withdrawal, because in their opinion there is no clear evidence that problem video game use is associated with these phenomena.

Arguably the most well known representative of the internet-based approach is Kimberley Young who developed her theoretical framework for problematic online gaming based on her internet addiction criteria which were based on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – (Fourth Edition, DSM-IV) criteria for pathological gambling. Her theory states that online game addicts gradually lose control over their game play, that is, they are unable to decrease the amount of time spent playing while immersing themselves increasingly in this particular recreational activity, and eventually develop problems in their real life. The idea that internet/online video game addiction can be assessed by the combination of an internet addiction score and the amount of time spent gaming are also reflective of the internet-based approach.

Integrative approaches try to take into consideration both aforementioned approaches. For instance, a 2010 paper by M.G. Kim and J. Kim in Computers in Human Behavior claimed that neither the first nor the second approach can adequately capture the unique features of online games such as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), therefore it’s absolutely necessary to create an integrated approach. They argued that “internet users are no more addicted to the internet than alcoholics are addicted to bottles” which means that the internet is just one channel through which people may access whatever content they want (e.g., gambling, shopping, chatting, sex, etc.) and therefore users of the internet may be addicted to the particular content or services that the Internet provides, rather than the channel itself. On the other hand, online games differ from traditional stand-alone games, such as offline video games, in important aspects such as the social dimension or the role-playing dimension that allow interaction with other real players.

Their multidimensional Problematic Online Game Use (POGU) model reflects this integrated approach fairly well. It was theoretically developed on the basis of several studies and theories (such as those by Iain Brown, John Charlton, Ian Danforth, Kimberley Young and myself), and resulted in five underlying dimensions: euphoria, health problems, conflict, failure of self-control, and preference of virtual relationship. A 2012 study I carried out with Zsolt Demetrovics and his team also support the integrative approach and stresses the need to include all types of online games in addiction models in order to make comparisons between genres and gamer populations possible (such as those who play online Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games and online First Person Shooter (FPS) games in addition to the widely researched MMORPG players). According to this model, six dimensions cover the phenomenon of problematic online gaming – preoccupation, overuse, immersion, social isolation, interpersonal conflicts, and withdrawal. Personally, I believe that online game addiction can be defined as one type of behavioural addiction. In fact ‘internet gaming disorder’ has just been included in the appendices of the new DSM-5 in order to encourage research to determine whether this particular condition should be added to the manual as a disorder in the future.

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

Additional input: Orsolya Pápay, Katalin Nagygyörgy and Zsolt Demetrovics

Further reading

Charlton, J. P., & Danforth, I.D.W. (2007). Distinguishing addiction and high engagement in the context of online game playing. Computers in Human Behavior, 23(3), 1531-1548.

Demetrovics, Z., Urbán, R., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J., Griffiths, M.D., Pápay, O. & Oláh, A. (2012). The development of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ). PLoS ONE, 7(5): e36417. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036417.

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

Han, D. H., Hwang, J. W., & Renshaw, P. F. (2010). Bupropion sustained release treatment decreases craving for video games and cue-induced brain activity in patients with Internet video game addiction. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 18, 297-304.

Kim, M.G., & Kim, J. (2010). Cross-validation of reliability, convergent and discriminant validity for the problematic online game use scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(3), 389-398.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H., Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Peters, C. S., & Malesky, L. A. (2008). Problematic usage among highly-engaged players of massively multiplayer online role playing games. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 11(4), 480-483.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The assessment of internet gaming disorder in clinical research. Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs, 31(2-4), 35-48.

Pontes, H., Király, O. Demetrovics, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The conceptualisation and measurement of DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: The development of the IGD-20 Test. PLoS ONE, 9(10): e110137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110137.

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.

Porter, G., Starcevic, V., Berle, D., & Fenech, P. (2010). Recognizing problem video game use. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 120-128.

Van Rooij, A. J., Schoenmakers, T. M., Vermulst, A. A., Van den Eijnden, R. J., & Van de Mheen, D. (2011). Online video game addiction: identification of addicted adolescent gamers. Addiction, 106(1), 205-212.

Young, K. S. (1998a). Caught in the Net: How to recognize the signs of Internet addiction and a winning strategy for recovery. New York: Wiley.

Young, K. S. (1999). Internet addiction: Symptoms, evaluation, and treatment. In L. Vande Creek & T. Jackson (Eds.), Innovations in clinical practice: A source book (pp. 17, 19–31). Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press.

Water feature: A brief look at psychogenic polydipsia, hyponatraemia, and ‘aquaholism’

Over the weekend I went to the cinema with my oldest son to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. The reason I mention this is because King Immortan Joe in the film (who live in a world where water is a scarce commodity) tells his thirsty subjects “Do not become addicted to water, it will take hold of you”. As soon as I got home after the film, I was straight onto Google and Google Scholar to see whether there had been anything written on ‘water addiction’. Unsurprisingly, there were lots of newspaper reports of individuals being ‘addicted’ to water but little in the academic literature. For instance, one American online article told the story of Sasha Kennedy:

“[Sasha] is addicted to water, drinking 25 liters of the stuff a day, far exceeding the USDA Recommended Daily Water Intake of 2.7 liters…What surprised me most was that the condition had a name: Psychogenic polydipsia. It is ‘an uncommon clinical disorder characterized by excessive water-drinking in the absence of a physiologic stimulus to drink’ and is typically found among mental patients on phenothiazine medications. Kennedy appears to be completely sane, although she does experience the dry mouth sensation characteristic of the condition…You’d think drinking so much water would do something to her health, but medical experts confirmed that there is nothing wrong with her. She doesn’t even have hypoatremia, where cells swell due to too much water in the blood. She’s perfectly healthy and her blood isn’t diluted. Then again, her habit started when she was two years old, so maybe her body acclimatized. Her lifestyle, however, is drastically affected by her addiction. She has to go to the toilet 40 times a day and can only get about an hour of sleep every night before having to wake up to drink some water or go to the loo. She carries large bottles of water with her everywhere she goes, and once quit her job because the tap water quality wasn’t up to par”.

Another case was reported by the UK’s Daily Mail who recounted the story of 22-year old “aquaholic” Sarah Schapira who (at the time the article was written) drank seven litres of water every day, and like Sasha above spent a lot of time in the toilet. Schapira stated:

“My argument has always been that water is good for you and helps you to detox. We’ve all been told about the benefits of water, so I drink lots and lots of it, from the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed. If I don’t have my bottle of water I feel paranoid. And if I try not to drink for an hour, I start to feel dehydrated and I get throbbing headaches. But it has got to the stage where I don’t know how to give it up. It used to make me feel really good and healthy but not any more. I know I ought to cut down but I’m not sure how I can”.

Polydipsia (which in practical terms means drinking more than three litres of water a day) often goes hand-in-hand with hyponatraemia (i.e., low sodium concentration in the blood) and in extreme cases can lead to excessive water drinkers slipping into a coma. The low levels of sodium causes the brain to swell which in turn constricts the blood supply to the brain when the brain compresses against the skull’s inner surface. Another person interviewed for the Daily Mail story was 26-year-old Rachel Bennett, a marketing agent from North London who drank also drank seven litres of water a day which led to headaches and dizziness. She said:

“My friends used to tease me about the amount I drank, but I dismissed their fears because I always thought it was so good for me. It got to the stage where I felt I couldn’t function without it. If I woke without a bottle of water by my bed, I would feel really paranoid. I couldn’t drink tap water – that tasted awful – instead I drank Evian by the gallon. It’s expensive, too – I could spend over £30 a week on water – but I had got to the stage where I got a huge buzz from drinking so much”.

In researching this article, I was surprised to find dozens and dozens of academic papers on psychogenic polydipsia (PPD). For instance, a paper by Dr. Brian Dundas and colleagues in a 2007 issue of Current Psychiatry Reports noted that PPD is a clinical syndrome characterized by polyuria (constantly going to the toilet) and polydipsia (constantly drinking too much water), and is common among individuals with psychiatric disorders. They also noted that:

“The underlying pathophysiology of this syndrome is unclear, and multiple factors have been implicated, including a hypothalamic defect and adverse medication effects. Hyponatremia in PPD can progress to water intoxication and is characterized by symptoms of confusion, lethargy, and psychosis, and seizures or death. Evaluation of psychiatric patients with polydipsia warrants a comprehensive evaluation for other medical causes of polydipsia, polyuria, hyponatremia”.

A 2000 study in European Psychiatry by Dr. E. Mercier-Guidez and Dr. G. Loas examined water intoxication in 353 French psychiatric inpatients. They reported that water intoxication can lead to irreversible brain damage and that around one-fifth of deaths among schizophrenics below the age of 53 years are caused this way. The study reported that 38 of the psychiatric patients (11%) suffered from polydipsia with one-third of them at risk of water intoxication. They also reported that being polydipsic was significantly associated with being male, a cigarette smoker and celibate. Those with polydipsia were highly prevalent among those with schizophrenia, mental retardation, pervasive developmental disorders and somatic disorders.

A comprehensive review by Dr. Victor Vieweg and Dr. Robert Leadbetter in the journal CNS Drugs examined the polydipsia-hyponatraemia syndrome (PHS). They reported that PHS occurs in approximately 5%-10% of institutionalised, chronically psychotic patients, of which four-fifths have schizophrenia. Major clinical features are polydipsia and dilutional hyponatraemia. Patents with PHS can experience delirium, generalised seizures, coma and death. The main ways to treat such individuals are fluid restriction, daily bodyweight monitoring, behavioural approaches, and supplemental oral sodium chloride administration. However, these interventions can be expensive as they require experienced and dedicated multidisciplinary staff. They also report that:

“A number of pharmacological treatments have been assessed for PHS including the combination of lithium and phenytoin, demeclocycline, propranolol, ACE inhibitors, selective serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) reuptake inhibitors, typical antipsychotic drugs, clozapine and risperidone. Of these agents, the most promising are the combination of lithium and phenytoin, and clozapine…Long term strategies include behavioural interventions and the combination of lithium and phenytoin, and clozapine”.

Unsurprisingly, I found almost nothing on being addicted to water. A 2010 review article on PPD by Dr. D. Hutcheon and Dr. M. Bevilacqua in the Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association claimed:

“One way to assess a patient’s ability to limit polydipsia is to examine their objective reasons why polydipsia is so important in their lives. This can be initiated during psychosocial rehabilitation group meetings held semi-weekly (e.g., two 15-minute sessions per week). In these meetings, many patients have described a euphoric quality associated with polydipsia, although others have admitted to increased irritability. Most patients have noted a desire for stimulation, similar to other substances of abuse such as alcohol or street drugs. Developing an understanding of what influences a patient to develop an addiction for polydipsia can improve management of this dysregulation of fluid intake…During the treatment period in a structured inpatient setting, many patients diagnosed with psychogenic polydipsia, whether falling in the range of mild, moderate, or severe addiction, are unable to sustain a comfortable discharge to an open ward…psychogenic polydipsia can become an addiction with no demonstrable cure if left untreated… Due to the nature of the addiction and potential for self-injurious behavior, treatment requires a milieu that balances maximizing the patients’ dignity with their safety, which demands close scrutiny by the multidisciplinary team”.

I also found an old case study from a 1973 issue of the British Journal of Addiction on ‘water dependence’. This paper reported that the excessive drinking of water can dilute electrolytes in an individual’s brain and cause intoxication. A couple of papers by Dr. Bennett Foddy and Dr. Julian Savulescu have cited this case study in their own writings on addiction. In a 2010 issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry and Psychology, they noted:

“Of course, it can be claimed that a person who is addicted to sugar or water is diseased, and that their brain has changed in such a way as to make their sugar- or water-seeking behavior involuntary. Yet we know how sugar interacts with the brain to form a sensitization effect, and it is identical to how drugs – and sugar – interact with the brain of a non-addicted person. If addictions are formed through a pharmacological process, it is the exact same process that forms a person’s likes and dislikes of any pleasurable stimulus. Terms like ‘addiction’ and ‘dependence’ can reasonably be employed when a person’s likes become particularly strong, but it should be understood that these terms denote a difference in degree, not a difference in kind…The only relevant difference between drugs and sugar is that drugs produce a higher level of brain reward relative to the volume of the dose. It is easier to get addicted to heroin than to sugar, because you can do it by taking a quarter gram at a time. It is very hard to get addicted to water, because you must force down liters of it every day”.

This interesting extract argues that it is theoretically possible for someone to become addicted to water and that there is no real difference to drug addictions in terms of conceptualization and mechanism – just that the sheer amount of water that needs to be drunk to have a negative effect is large and highly unlikely.

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

Further reading

Daily Mail (2005). Aquaholics: Addicted to drinking water. May 16. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-348917/Aquaholics-Addicted-drinking-water.html

de Leon, J., Verghese, C., Tracy, J. I., Josiassen, R. C., & Simpson, G. M. (1994). Polydipsia and water intoxication in psychiatric patients: a review of the epidemiological literature. Biological Psychiatry, 35(6), 408-419.

Dundas, B., Harris, M., & Narasimhan, M. (2007). Psychogenic polydipsia review: etiology, differential, and treatment. Current Psychiatry Reports, 9(3), 236-241.

Edelstein, E.L. (1973). A case of water dependence. British Journal of Addiction to Alcohol and Other Drugs, 68, 365–367.

Foddy, B., & Savulescu, J. (2007). Addiction is not an affliction: Addictive desires are merely pleasure-oriented desires. American Journal of Bioethics, 7(1), 29-32

Foddy, B., & Savulescu, J. (2010). A liberal account of addiction. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology, 17(1), 1-22.

Hutcheon, D., & Bevilacqua, M. (2010). Psychogenic polydipsia: A review of past and current interventions for treating psychiatric inpatients diagnosed with psychogenic polydipsia (PPD). Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association, 13(1). Located at: http://www.biomedsearch.com/article/Psychogenic-polydipsia-review-past-current/222558218.html

Teoh, S.Y. (2012). Woman addicted to water drinks 100 glasses a day. The Mary Sue, July 12. Located at: http://www.themarysue.com/woman-addicted-to-water/#geekosystem

Vieweg, W.V.R., & Leadbetter, R.A. (1997). Polydipsia-Hyponatraemia Syndrome. CNS Drugs, 7(2), 121-138.

Verghese, C., de Leon, J., & Josiassen, R. C. (1996). Problems and progress in the diagnosis and treatment of polydipsia and hyponatremia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 22(3), 455-464.

Place your bets: Has problem gambling in Great Britain decreased?

In the summer of 2014 I was commissioned to review problem gambling in Great Britain (the fall out of which I wrote about in detail in a previous blog). Earlier last year, a detailed report by Heather Wardle and her colleagues examined gambling behaviour in England and Scotland by combining the 2012 data from the Health Survey for England (HSE; n=8,291 aged 16 years and over) and the 2012 Scottish Health Survey (SHeS; n=4,815). To be included in the final data analysis, participants had to have completed at least one of the gambling participation questions. This resulted in a total sample of 11,774 participants. So what did the research find? Here is a brief summary of the main results:

  • Two-thirds of the sample (65%) had gambled in the past year, with men (68%) gambling more than women (62%). As with the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS), past year participation was greatly influenced by the playing of the bi-weekly National Lottery (lotto) game. Removal of those individuals that only played the National Lottery meant that 43% had gambled during the past year (46% males and 40% females).
  • Gambling was more likely to be carried out by younger people (50% among those aged 16-24 years and 52% among those aged 25-34 years).
  • The findings were similar to the previous BGPS reports and showed that the most popular forms of gambling were playing the National Lottery (52%; 56% males and 49% females), scratchcards (19%; 19% males and 20% females), other lottery games (14%; 14% both males and females), horse race betting (10%; 12% males and 8% females), machines in a bookmaker (3%; 5% males and 1% females), slot machines (7%; 10% males and 4% females), online betting with a bookmaker (5%; 8% males and 2% females), offline sports betting (5%; 8% males and 1% females), private betting (5%; 8% males and 2% females), casino table games (3%; 5% males and 1% females), offline dog race betting (3%; 4% males and 2% females), online casino, slots and/or bing (3%; 4% males and 2% females), betting exchanges (1%; males 2% and females 0%), poker in pubs and clubs (1%; 2% males and 0% females), spread betting (1%; 1% males and 0% females).
  • The only form of gambling (excluding lottery games) where females were more likely to gamble was playing bingo (5%; 7% females and 3% males).
  • Most participants gambled on one or two different activities a year (1.7 mean average across the total sample).
  • Problem gambling assessed using the Problem Gambling Severity (PGSI) criteria was reported to be 0.4%, with males (0.7%) being significantly more likely to be problem gamblers than females (0.1%). This equates to approximately 180,200 British adults aged 16 years and over.
  • Problem gambling assessed using the criteria of the fourth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) was reported to be 0.5%, with males (0.8%) being significantly more likely to be problem gamblers than females (0.1%). This equates to approximately 224,100 British adults aged 16 years and over.
  • Using the PGSI screen, problem gambling rates were highest among young men aged 16-24 years (1.7%) and lowest among men aged 65-74 years (0.4%). Using the DSM-IV screen, problem gambling rates were highest among young men aged 16-24 years (2.1%) and lowest among men aged over 74 years (0.4%).
  • Problem gambling rates were also examined by type of gambling activity. Results showed that among past year gamblers, problem gambling was highest among spread betting (20.9%), played poker in pubs or clubs (13.2%), bet on other events with a bookmaker (12.9%), bet with a betting exchange (10.6%) and played machines in bookmakers (7.2%).
  • The activities with the lowest rates of problem gambling were playing the National Lottery (0.9%) and scratchcards (1.7%).
  • Problem gambling rates were highest among individuals that had participated in seven or more activities in the past year (8.6%) and lowest among those that had participated in a single activity (0.1%).

The authors also carried out a latent class analysis and identified seven different types of gambler among both males and females. The male groups comprised:

  • Cluster A: non-gamblers (33%)
  • Cluster B: National Lottery only gamblers (22%)
  • Cluster C: National Lottery and scratchcard gamblers only (20%)
  • Cluster D: Minimal, no National Lottery [gambling on 1-2 activities] (9%)
  • Cluster E: Moderate [gambling on 3-6 activities] (12%)
  • Cluster F: Multiple [gambling on 6-10 activities] (3%)
  • Cluster G: multiple, high [gambling on at least 11 activities] (1%).

The female groups comprised:

  • Cluster A: non-gamblers (40%)
  • Cluster B: National Lottery only gamblers (21%)
  • Cluster C: National Lottery and scratchcard gamblers only (7%)
  • Cluster D: Minimal, no National Lottery (8%)
  • Cluster E: moderate, less varied [2-3 gambling activities, mainly lottery-related] (8%)
  • Cluster F: moderate, more varied [2-3 gambling activities but wider range of activities] (6%)
  • Cluster G: multiple [gambling on at least four activities] (6%)

Using these groupings, the prevalence of male problem gambling was highest among those in Cluster G: multiple high group (25.0%) followed by Cluster F: multiple group (3.3%) and Cluster E: moderate group (2.6%). The prevalence of problem gambling was lowest among those in the Cluster B; National Lottery Draw only group (0.1%) followed by Cluster C: minimal – lotteries and scratchcards group (0.7%). The prevalence of female problem gambling was highest among those in the Cluster G: multiple group (1.8%) followed by those in Cluster F: moderate – more varied group (0.6%). The number of female gamblers was too low to carry out any further analysis. The report also examined problem gambling (either DSM-IV or PGSI) by gambling activity type.

  • The prevalence of problem gambling was highest among spread-bettors (20.9%), poker players in pubs or clubs (13.2%), bettors on events other than sports or horse/dog races (12.9%), betting exchange users (10.6%) and those that played machines in bookmakers (7.2%).
  • The lowest problem gambling prevalence rates were among those that played the National Lottery (0.9%) and scratchcards (1.7%).
  • These figures are very similar to those found in the 2010 BGPS study although problem gambling among those that played machines in bookmakers was lower (7.2%) than in the 2010 BGPS study (8.8%).
  • As with the BGPS 2010 study, the prevalence of problem gambling was highest among those who had participated in seven or more activities in the past year (8.6%) and lowest among those who had taken part in just one activity (0.1%). Furthermore, problem gamblers participated in an average 6.6 activities in the past year.

Given that the same instruments were used to assess problem gambling, the results of the most recent surveys using data combined from the Health Survey for England (HSE) and Scottish Health Survey (SHeS) compared with the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) do seem to suggest that problem gambling in Great Britain has decreased over the last few years (from 0.9% to 0.5%). However, Seabury and Wardle again urged caution and noted:

“Comparisons of the combined HSE/SHeS data with the BGPS estimates should be made with caution. While the methods and questions used in each survey were the same, the survey vehicle was not. HSE and SHeS are general population health surveys, whereas the BGPS series was specifically designed to understand gambling behaviour and attitudes to gambling in greater detail. It is widely acknowledged that different survey vehicles can generate different estimates using the same measures because they can appeal to different types of people, with varying patterns of behaviour…Overall, problem gambling rates in Britain appear to be relatively stable, though we caution readers against viewing the combined health survey results as a continuation of the BGPS time series”.

There are other important caveats to take into account including the differences between the two screen tools used in the BGPS, HSE and SHeS studies. Although highly correlated, evidence from all the British surveys suggests that the PGSI and DSM-IV screens capture slightly different groups of problem gamblers. For instance, a 2010 study that I co-authored with Jim Orford, Heather Wardle, and others (in the journal International Gambling Studies) using data from the 2007 BGPS showed that the PGSI may under-estimate certain forms of gambling-related harm (particularly by women) that are more likely to be picked up by some of the DSM-IV items. Our analysis also suggested that the DSM-IV appears to measure two different factors (i.e., gambling-related harm and gambling dependence) rather than a single one. Another important distinction is that the two screens were developed for very different purposes (even though they are attempting to assess the same construct). The PGSI was specifically developed for use in population surveys whereas the DSM-IV was developed with clinical populations in mind. Given these differences, it is therefore unsurprising that national surveys that utilize the screens end up with slightly different results comprising slightly different groups of people.

It also needs stressing (as noted by the authors of most of the national gambling surveys in Great Britain) that the absolute number of problem gamblers identified in any of the surveys published to date has equated to approximately 60 people. To detect any significant differences statistically between any of the studies carried out to date requires very large sample sizes. Given the very low numbers of problem gamblers and the tiny number of pathological gamblers, it is hard to assess with complete accuracy whether there have been any significant changes in problem and pathological gambling between all the published studies over time. Wardle and her colleagues concluded that:

“Overall, based on this evidence, it appears that problem gambling rates in England and Scotland are broadly stable. Whilst problem gambling rates according to either the DSM-IV or the PGSI were higher in 2010, the estimate between 2007 and the health surveys data were similar. Likewise, problem gambling rates according to the DSM-IV and the PGSI individually did not vary statistically between surveys, meaning that they were relatively similar” (p.130).

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Problem gambling in Great Britain: A brief review. London: Association of British Bookmakers.

Orford, J., Wardle, H., Griffiths, M.D., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2010). PGSI and DSM-IV in the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey: Reliability, item response, factor structure and inter-scale agreement. International Gambling Studies, 10, 31-44.

Seabury, C. & Wardle, H. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Wardle, H. (2013). Gambling Behaviour. In Rutherford, L., Hinchliffe S., Sharp, C. (Eds.), The Scottish Health Survey: Vol 1: Main report. Edinburgh.

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011). British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wardle, H., & Seabury, C. (2013). Gambling Behaviour. In Craig, R., Mindell, J. (Eds.) Health Survey for England 2012 [Vol 1]. Health, social care and lifestyles. Leeds: Health and Social Care Information Centre.

Wardle, H., Seabury, C., Ahmed, H., Payne, C., Byron, C., Corbett, J. & Sutton, R. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland: Findings from the Health Survey for England 2012 and Scottish Health Survey 2012. London: NatCen.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M. D., Constantine, R., & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: National Centre for Social Research.

Wardle, H., Sutton, R., Philo, D., Hussey, D. & Nass, L. (2013). Examining Machine Gambling in the British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Report by NatCen to the Gambling Commission, Birmingham.

Animal passions: Why would anyone want to have sex with an animal?

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

Last month, Denmark passed a law making bestiality a criminal offence from July 1st in a move to tackle animal-sex tourism. Bestiality (also known as zoophilia) is typically defined as relating to recurrent intense sexual fantasies, urges, and sexual activities with non-human animals. At present, there are still a number of countries where zoophilia is legal including Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, Finland, Hungary, and Romania. In the US there is no federal law against zoophilia although most states class it as a felony and/or misdemeanour although in some states it is technically legal (for example, Texas, Kentucky, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Wyoming, West Virginia, and New Mexico).

Over the last few years I have written articles on the psychology of many different types of zoophilia including those who have engaged in sexual activities with dogs (cynophilia), cats (aelurophilia), horses (equinophilia), pigs (porcinophilia), birds (ornithophilia), dolphins (delphinophilia), lizards (herpetophilia), worms (vermiphilia), and insects (formicophilia). Dr. Alfred Kinsey shocked the US back in the 1950s when his infamous ‘Kinsey Reports’ claimed that 8% of males and 4% females had at least one sexual experience with an animal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a much higher prevalence for zoophilic acts among people that who worked on farms (for instance, 17% males had experienced an orgasmic episode involving animals). According to Kinsey, the most frequent sexual acts that humans engaged in with animals comprised calves, sheep, donkeys, large fowl (ducks, geese), dogs and cats.

In the 1970s, world renowned sexologist Professor John Money claimed that zoophilic behaviours were usually transitory occurring when there is no other sexual outlet available. However, research carried out in the 2000s shows this not be the case. Up until the advent of the internet, almost every scientific or clinical study reported on zoophilia were case reports of individuals that has sought treatment for their unusual sexual preference. However, the internet brought many like-minded people together and there are dozens of websites where zoophiles chat to each other online and share their videos including the Beast Forum, the largest online zoophile community in the world with tens of thousands of members.

Almost all of the recently published studies have collected their data online from non-clinical samples. All of these studies report that the overwhelming majority of self-identified male and female zoophiles do not have sex with animals because there is no other sexual outlet but do so because it is their sexual preference. The most common reasons for engaging in zoophilic relationships were attraction to animals out of either a desire for affection, and a sexual attraction toward and/or a love for animals.

For instance, a study by Dr. Hani Miletski surveyed 93 zoophiles (82 males and 11 females). Only 12% of her sample said they engaged in sex with animals because there were no human partners available, and only 7% said it was because they were too shy to have sex with humans. For the females, the main reasons for having sex with animals was because they were sexually attracted to the animal (100%), had love and affection for the animal (67%) and/or because they said the animal wanted sex with them (67%). Most of Miletski’s sample preferred sex with dogs (87% males; 100% females) and/or horses (81% males; 73% females). Only 8% of males wanted to stop having sex with animals and none of the females. Unlike case study reports of zoophilia published prior to 2000, the studies published over the last 15 years using non-clinical samples report the vast majority of zoophiles do not appear to be suffering any significant clinical significant distress or impairment as a consequence of their behaviour.

In 2011, Dr Anil Aggrawal published a comprehensive typology of zoophilia in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. Dr. Aggrawal’s claimed there were ten different types of zoophile based on both the scientific and clinical literature, as well as some theoretical speculation. For instance:

  • Humananimal role-players – those who never have sex with animals but become sexually aroused through wanting to have sex with humans who pretend to be animals.
  • Romantic zoophiles – those who keeps animals as pets as a way to get psychosexually stimulated without actually having any kind of sexual contact with them.
  • Zoophilic fantasizers – those who fantasize about having sexual intercourse with animals but never actually do.
  • Tactile zoophiles – those who get sexual excitement from touching, stroking or fondling animals or their genitals but do not actually have sexual intercourse with animals.
  • Fetishistic zoophiles – those who keep various animal parts (especially fur) that are used as erotic stimuli as a crucial part of their sexual activity (typically masturbation). (See my previous blog on the use of an animal part as a masturbatory aid)
  • Sadistic bestials – those who derive sexual arousal from the torturing of animals (known as zoosadismhttps://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/stuff-love-a-beginners-guide-to-plushophilia/) but does not involve sexual intercourse with the animal.
  • Opportunistic zoosexuals – those who have normal sexual encounters but would have sexual intercourse with animals if the opportunity arose.
  • Regular zoosexuals – those who prefer sex with animals than sex with humans (but are capable of having sex with both). Such zoophiles will engage in a wide range of sexual activities with animals and love animals on an emotional level.
  • Homicidal bestials – those who need to kill animals in order to have sex with them. Although capable of having sex with living animals, there is an insatiable desire to have sex with dead animals.
  • Exclusive zoosexuals – those who only have sex with animals to the exclusion of human sexual partners.

Personally, I don’t view human-animal role players as zoophiles as this would include those in the Furry Fandom (individuals that dress up and interact socially as animals). There is no official definition of what a ‘furry’ actually is although most furries would agree that they share an interest in fictional anthromorphic animal characters that have human characteristics and personalities and/or mythological or imaginary creatures that possess human and/or superhuman capabilities. The furry fandom has also developed its own vocabulary including words such as ‘fursona’ (furry persona), ‘plushie’ (person who has sex with cuddly toys), and ‘yiff’ (furry pornography). A study by David J. Rust of 360 members of the furry community suggested less than 1% were plushophiles and that 2% were zoophiles.

Many zoophiles believe that in years to come, their sexual preference will be seen as no different to being gay or straight. This is not a view I adhere to especially because animals cannot give consent (although many zoophiles claim the animals they have sexual relationships with do give ‘consent’). The one thing we do know is that the internet has revolutionised the way we carry out our research and get access to ‘hard to reach’ groups. Thanks to online research, zoophilia is just one of many sexually atypical behaviours that we now know more about both behaviourally and psychologically.

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

Further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78.

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

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C.E., Gebhard, P.H. (1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., Martin, C.E., (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company.

R.J. Maratea (2011). Screwing the pooch: Legitimizing accounts in a zoophilia on-line community. Deviant Behavior, 32, 918-943.

Miletski, H. (2000). Bestiality and zoophilia: An exploratory study. Scandinavian Journal of Sexology, 3, 149–150.

Miletski, H. (2001). Zoophilia – implications for therapy. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 26, 85–89.

Miletski, H. (2002). Understanding bestiality and zoophilia. Germantown, MD: Ima Tek Inc.

Williams, C. J., & Weinberg, M. S. (2003). Zoophilia in men: A study of sexual interest in animals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 523–535.

The must of lust discussed: Why isn’t sex addiction in the DSM-5?

Please note: A shorter and slightly different version of this blog first appeared on addiction.com

Sex addiction appears to be a highly controversial area among both the general public and those who work in the addiction field. Some psychologists adhere to the position that unless the behaviour involves the ingestion of a psychoactive substance (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, cocaine heroin), then it can’t really be considered an addiction. But I’m not one of them. If it were up to me, I would have given serious consideration to including sex addiction in the latest (fifth) edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Given that ‘gambling disorder’ was reclassified from a disorder of impulse control to a behavioural addiction in the DSM-5, there is now no theoretical reason why other behavioural addictions can’t be added in the years to come. So why wasn’t sex addiction included in the latest DSM-5? Here are some possible reasons.

Some researchers think that sex addiction just doesn’t exist (for moral and theoretical reasons): Many scholars have attacked the whole concept of sex addiction saying it is a complete myth. It’s not hard to see why, as many of the claims appear to have good face validity. Many sociologists would argue that ‘sex addiction’ is little more than a label for sexual behaviour that significantly deviates from society’s norms. The most conventional attack on sex addiction is a variation on the position outlined in my introduction (i.e., that ‘addiction’ is a physiological condition caused by ingestion of physiological substances, and must therefore be defined physiologically). There are also attacks on more moral grounds with people saying that if excessive sexual behaviour is classed as an addiction it undermines individuals’ responsibility for their behaviour (although this argument could be said of almost any addiction).

The word ‘addiction’ has become meaningless: There are also those researchers within the social sciences who claim that the every day use of the word ‘addiction’ has rendered the term meaningless (such as people saying that their favorite television show is ‘addictive viewing’ or that certain books are ‘addictive reading’). Related to this is that those that work in the field don’t agree on what the disorder (e.g. ‘sex addiction’, ‘sexual addiction’, ‘hypersexuality disorder’, ‘compulsive sexual behaviour’, ‘pornography addiction’, etc.) should be called and whether it is a syndrome (i.e., a group of symptoms that consistently occur together, or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms) or whether there are many different sub-types (pathological promiscuity, compulsive masturbation, etc.). 

There is a lack of empirical evidence about sex addiction: One of the main reasons that sex addiction is not yet included in the DSM-5 is that the empirical research in the area is relatively weak. Although there has been a lot of research, there has never been any nationally representative prevalence surveys of sex addiction using validated addiction criteria, and a lot of research studies are based upon those people who turn up for treatment. Like Internet Gaming Disorder (which is now in the appendix of the DSM-5), sex addiction (or more likely ‘Hypersexual Disorder’) will not be included as a separate mental disorder until the (i) defining features of sex addiction have been identified, (ii) reliability and validity of specific sex addiction criteria have been obtained cross-culturally, (iii) prevalence rates of sex addiction have been determined in representative epidemiological samples across the world, and (iv) etiology and associated biological features of sex addiction have been evaluated.

The term ‘sex addiction’ is used an excuse to justify infidelity: One of the reasons why sex addiction may not be taken seriously is that the term is often used by high profile celebrities as an excuse by those individuals who have been sexually unfaithful to their partners (e.g., Tiger Woods, Michael Douglas, David Duchovny, Russell Brand). In some of these cases, sex addiction is used to justify the individual’s serial infidelity. This is what social psychologists refer to as a ‘functional attribution’. For instance, the golfer Tiger Woods claimed an addiction to sex after his wife found out that he had many sexual relationships during their marriage. If his wife had never found out, I doubt whether Woods would have claimed he was addicted to sex. I would argue that many celebrities are in a position where they were bombarded with sexual advances from other individuals and succumbed. But how many people wouldn’t do the same thing if they had the opportunity? It becomes a problem only when you’re discovered, when it’s in danger of harming the celebrity’s brand image.

The evidence for sex addiction is inflated by those with a vested interest: One of the real issues in the field of sex addiction is that we really have no idea of how many people genuinely experience sex addiction. Sex addiction specialists like Patrick Carnes claims that up to 6% of all adults are addicted to sex. If this was really the case I would expect there to be sex addiction clinics and self-help support groups in every major city across the world – but that isn’t the case. However, that doesn’t mean sex addiction doesn’t exist, only that the size of the problem isn’t on the scale that Carnes suggests. Coupled with this is that those therapists that treat sex addiction have a vested interest. Out simply, there are many therapists worldwide who make a living out of treating the disorder. Getting the disorder recognized by leading psychological and psychiatric organizations (e.g., American Psychiatric Association, World Health Organization) legitimizes the work of sex addiction counselors and therapists so it is not surprising when such individuals claim how widespread the disorder is.

There may of course be other reasons why sex addiction is not considered a genuine disorder. Compared to behavioural addictions like gambling disorder, the empirical evidence base is weak. There is little in the way of neurobiological research (increasingly seen as ‘gold standard’ research when it comes to legitimizing addictions as genuine). But carrying out research on those who claim to have sex addiction can face ethical problems. For instance, is it ethical to show hardcore pornography to a self-admitted pornography addict while participating in a brain neuroimaging experiment? Is the viewing of such material likely to stimulate and enhance the individual’s sexual urges and result in a relapse following the experiment? There are also issues surrounding cultural norms. The normality and abnormality of sexual behaviour lies on a continuum but what is considered normal and appropriate in one culture may not be viewed similarly in another (what is often referred to by sociologists as ‘normative ambiguity’). Personally, I believe that sex addiction is a reality but that it affects a small minority of individuals. However, many sex therapists claim it is on the increase, particularly because the Internet has made sexual material so easy to access. Maybe if sex addiction does eventually make it into future editions of the DSM, it will be one of the sub-categories of Internet Addiction Disorder rather than a standalone category.

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

Further reading

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Understanding the role of shame and its consequences in female hypersexual behaviours: A pilot study. Journal of Behavioural Addictions, 3, 231–237.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). A systematic review of online sex addiction and clinical treatments using CONSORT evaluation. Current Addiction Reports, DOI 10.1007/s40429-015-0055-x

Goodman, A. (1992). Sexual addiction: Designation and treatment. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 18, 303-314.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Addicted to love: The psychology of sex addiction. Psychology Review, 8, 20-23.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Addicted to sex? Psychology Review, 16(1), 27-29.

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

Griffiths, M.D. & Dhuffar, M. (2014). Treatment of sexual addiction within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 561-571.

Kafka, M. P. (2010). Hypersexual disorder: A proposed diagnosis for DSM-V. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 377–400.

Orford, J. (2001). Excessive sexuality. In J. Orford, Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of the Addictions. Chichester: Wiley.

In dependence days: A brief overview of behavioural addictions

Please note: A version of this blog first appeared on addiction.com

Conceptualizing addiction has been a matter of great debate for decades. For many people the concept of addiction involves the taking of drugs. Therefore it is perhaps unsurprising that most official definitions concentrate on drug ingestion. Despite such definitions, there is now a growing movement that views a number of behaviours as potentially addictive including those that do not involve the ingestion of a drug. These include behaviours diverse as gambling, eating, sex, exercise, videogame playing, love, shopping, Internet use, social networking, and work. I have argued in many of my papers that all addictions – irrespective of whether they are chemical or behavioural – comprise six components (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and relapse). More specifically:

  • Salience – This occurs when the activity becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialized behaviour). For instance, even if the person is not actually engaged in the activity they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with the activity).
  • Mood modification – This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of engaging in the activity and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).
  • Tolerance – This is the process whereby increasing amounts of the activity are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in the activity, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend engaging in the activity every day.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.) that occur when the person is unable to engage in the activity.
  • Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (e.g., work, social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual (e.g., intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time engaging in the activity.
  • Relapse – This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive engagement in the activity to recur, and for even the most extreme patterns typical of the height of excessive engagement in the activity to be quickly restored after periods of control.

In May 2013, the new criteria for problem gambling (now called ‘Gambling Disorder’) were published in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and for the very first time, problem gambling was included in the section ‘Substance-related and Addiction Disorders’ (rather than in the section on impulse control disorders as had been the case since 1980 when it was first included in the DSM-III). Although most of us in the field had been conceptualizing extreme problem gambling as an addiction for many years, this was arguably the first time that an established medical body had described it as such.

There had also been debates about whether or not ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’ should have been included in the DSM-5. As a result of these debates, the Substance Use Disorder Work Group recommended that the DSM-5 include ‘Internet Gaming Disorder’ [IGD] in Section III (“Emerging Measures and Models”) as an area that required further research before possible inclusion in future editions of the DSM. To be included in its own right in the next edition, research will have to establish the defining features of IGD, obtain cross-cultural data on reliability and validity of specific diagnostic criteria, determine prevalence rates in representative epidemiological samples in countries around the world, and examine its associated biological features. Other than gambling and gaming, no other behaviour (e.g., sex, work, exercise, etc.) has yet to be classified as a genuine addiction by established medical and/or psychiatric organizations.

In one of the most comprehensive reviews of chemical and behavioural addictions, Dr. Steve Sussman, Nadra Lisha and myself examined all the prevalence literature relating to 11 different potentially addictive behaviours. We reported overall prevalence rates of addictions to cigarette smoking (15%), drinking alcohol (10%), illicit drug taking (5%), eating (2%), gambling (2%), internet use (2%), love (3%), sex (3%), exercise (3%), work (10%), and shopping (6%). However, most of the prevalence data relating to behavioural addictions (with the exception of gambling) did not have prevalence data from nationally representative samples and therefore relied on small and/or self-selected samples.

Addiction is an incredibly complex behaviour and always result from an interaction and interplay between many factors including the person’s biological and/or genetic predisposition, their psychological constitution (personality factors, unconscious motivations, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, etc.), their social environment (i.e. situational characteristics such as accessibility and availability of the activity, the advertising of the activity) and the nature of the activity itself (i.e. structural characteristics such as the size of the stake or jackpot in gambling). This ‘global’ view of addiction highlights the interconnected processes and integration between individual differences (i.e. personal vulnerability factors), situational characteristics, structural characteristics, and the resulting addictive behaviour.

There are many individual (personal vulnerability) factors that may be involved in the acquisition, development and maintenance of behavioural addictions (e.g. personality traits, biological and genetic predispositions, unconscious motivations, learning and conditioning effects, thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes), although some factors are more personal (e.g. financial motivation and economic pressures in the case of gambling addiction). However, there are also some key risk factors that are highly associated with developing almost any (chemical or behavioural) addiction such as having a family history of addiction, having co-morbid psychological problems, and having a lack of family involvement and supervision. Psychosocial factors such as low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, high anxiety, and stress all appear to be common among those with behavioural addictions.

This article briefly demonstrates that behavioural addictions are a part of a biopsychosocial process and not just restricted to drug-ingested (chemical) behaviours. Evidence is growing that excessive behaviours of all types do seem to have many commonalities and this may reflect a common etiology of addictive behaviour. Such commonalities may have implications not only for treatment of such behaviours but also for how the general public perceive such behaviours.

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

Further reading

Berczik, K., Griffiths, M.D., Szabó, A., Kurimay, T., Urban, R. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Exercise addiction. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.317-342). New York: Elsevier.

Demetrovics, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Behavioral addictions: Past, present and future. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 1-2.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Gambling addictions. In A. Browne-Miller (Ed.), The Praeger International Collection on Addictions: Behavioral Addictions from Concept to Compulsion (pp. 235-257). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Addicted to sex? Psychology Review, 16(1), 27-29

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Behavioural addiction: The case for a biopsychosocial approach. Transgressive Culture, 1(1), 7-28.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Workaholism: A 21st century addiction. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 24, 740-744.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

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

Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.61-95). New York: Elsevier.

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.

Sussman, S., Lisha, N. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Prevalence of the addictions: A problem of the majority or the minority? Evaluation and the Health Professions, 34, 3-56.

Displeasures of the flesh: A brief look at anthropophagolagnia and paraphilic behaviour in serial killers

In previous blogs I have examined the psychology of sexual cannibalism and erotophonophilia (aka ‘lust murder’) as well as an article that I wrote on serial killers that collect their victims’ body parts as ‘trophies’. One very rare sub-type of both sexual cannibalism and erotophonophilia is anthropophagolagnia. This particular type of sexual paraphilia has been defined by Dr Anil Aggrawal as the paraphilia of “rape with cannibalism” and by the Right Diagnosis website as sexual urges, preferences or fantasies involving raping and then cannibalizing the victim”.

The Listaholic website goes as far to say that anthropophagolagnia is one of the ten “most bizarre sexual fetishes on earth” claiming that serial killer is the “poster boy” for these “twisted” individuals. Other serial killers that might be classed as anthropophagolagniacs include Albert Fish, Peter Kirsten, Ottis Toole and Ed Gein. However, there also appear to be cases of what I would call ‘systematic anthropophagolagnia’ if the extract I found online is true:

“While it is easy to dismiss one case as stemming from some sort of neurological aberrations in the participants, we also see sexualized cannibalism in modern day Africa. In the early 2000s in Congo, rape and cannibalism were reported to coincide sporadically across the region. The claims are backed by a UN investigation into the phenomena…Rebels would go into villages and rape the women and children, then dismember them alive while eating their flesh. There are many reports of family members being forced to eat the flesh of other murdered family members after being raped…The men committing these atrocities do not have any neurological aberrations, they simply have the power to exercise this behavior. While cannibalism has been practiced in Africa as part of spiritual traditions for centuries, sadistic sexualized torture is not part of that tradition. So why add it in? Presumably the rebels didn’t all happen to be born child rapists either, yet raping children is part of their terror campaign and they must be able to achieve an erection to carry out the task, and so it must be assumed they learned to like it”.

Last year, I also read about 40-year old preacher Stephen Tari, the leader of a 6,000-strong cannibal rape cult in Papua New Guinea. He was in prison following his conviction for a brutal rape but escaped (only to be killed by people from his village in retaliation for the cannibalistic rape murders he had committed). As a report in The Independent noted:

“[Tari] had previously been accused of raping, murdering and eating three girls in front of their traumatised mothers…The charismatic cult leader, who wore white robes and is said to have regularly drunk the blood of his ‘flower girls’, quickly returned to his home village of Gal after [a prison] escape, but could only manage six months before killing yet again…It has not yet been established if the murdered woman was killed as part of a blood sacrifice, but it is considered likely as Tari was said to have been attempting to resurrect his cult following the spell in prison”.

Dr. Eric Hickey (in his book Serial Murderers and Their Victims) notes that paraphilic behaviour is very common among those that commit sexual crimes (and that more than one is often present) but that the two activities (sex offending and paraphilias) may be two independent constructs and that one does not necessarily affect the other. In fact he notes that:

“Rather than paraphilia being caused by sexual pathology, they may be better understood as one of many forms of general social deviance…For the male serial killer, the paraphilia engaged in usually has escalated from softer forms to those that are considered not only criminal but violent as well. They range from unusual to incredibly bizarre and disgusting. As paraphilia develop, men affected by them often engage in several over a period of time. Most men who engage in paraphilia often exhibit three or four different forms, some of them simultaneously. For those with violent tendencies, soft paraphilia can quickly lead to experimentation with hardcore paraphilia that often involves the harming of others in sexual ways. For example, some paraphilic offenders prefer to stalk and sexually assault their victims in stores and other public places without getting caught. The thrill of hunting an unsuspecting victim contributes to sexually arousing the offender”.

Hickey asserts that anthropophagolagnia is one of the so-called ‘attack paraphilias’ (as opposed to the ‘preparatory paraphilias’). Attack paraphilias are described by Hickey as being sexually violent (towards other individuals including children in extreme circumstances). Preparatory paraphilias are defined by Hickey as those “that have been found as part of the lust killer’s sexual fantasies and activities” (including those that display anthropophagolagnia). However, Hickey notes that individuals that engage in preparatory paraphilias do not necessarily go on to become serial killers. He then goes on to say:

“The process of sexual fantasy development may include stealing items from victims. Burglary, although generally considered to be a property crime, also is sometimes a property crime for sexual purposes. Stealing underwear, toiletries, hair clippings, photographs, and other personal items provides the offender with souvenirs for him to fantasize over”.

Some of the examples Hickey cites are both revealing and psychologically interesting:

“One offender noted how he would climax each time he entered a victim’s home through a window. The thought of being alone with people sleeping in the house had become deeply eroticized. Another offender likes to break into homes and watch victims sleep. He eventually will touch the victim and will only leave when she begins to scream. He ‘began’ his sexual acting out as a voyeur. This paraphilic process was also examined by Purcell and Arrigo (2001), who note that the process consists of mutually interactive elements: paraphilic stimuli and fantasy; orgasmic conditioning process; and facilitators (drugs, alcohol, and pornography). The probability of the offender harming a victim is extremely high given the progressive nature of his sexual fantasies”.

Along with anthropophagolagnia, other ‘attack paraphilias’ that have been associated with serial killers include amokoscisia (sexual arousal or sexual frenzy from a desire to slash or mutilate other individuals [typically women]), anophelorastia (sexual arousal from defiling or ravaging another individual), biastophilia (sexual arousal from violently raping other individuals; also called raptophilia), dippoldism (sexual arousal from abusing children, typically in the form of spanking and corporal punishment), necrophilia (sexual arousal from having sex with acts with dead individuals), paedophilia (sexual arousal from having sex with minors typically via manipulation and grooming), and sexual sadism (empowerment and sexual arousal derived from inflicting pain and/or injuring other individuals).

The ‘preparatory paraphilias’ that typically precede serial killing and attack paraphilias such as anthropophagolagnia include agonophilia (sexual arousal caused by a sexual partner pretending to struggle), altocalciphilia (sexual arousal from high-heeled shoes), autonecrophilia (sexual arousal by imagining oneself as a dead person), exhibitionism (exposing genitals to inappropriate and/or non-consenting people for sexual arousal), frottage (sexual arousal from rubbing up against the body against a sexual partner or object), gerontophilia (sexual arousal from someone whose age is older and that of a different generation), hebephilia (men that are sexually aroused by aroused by teenagers), kleptolagnia (sexual arousal from stealing), retifism (sexual arousal from shoes), scatophilia (sexual arousal via making telephone calls, using vulgar language, and/or trying to elicit a reaction from the other party), scoptophilia (sexual arousal by watching others [typically engaged in sexual behaviour] without their consent, and more usually referred to as voyeurism), and somnophilia (sexual arousal from fondling strangers in their sleep). The multiplicity of co-existent paraphilias (including anthropophagolagnia) is highlighted by the Wikipedia entry on Jeffrey Dahmer:

“Dahmer readily admitted to having engaged in a number of paraphilic behaviors, including necrophilia, exhibitionism, hebephilia, fetishism, pygmalionism, and erotophonophilia. He is also known to have several partialisms, including anthropophagy (also known as cannibalism). One particular focus of Dahmer’s partialism was the victim’s chest area. By his own admission, what caught his attention to Steven Hicks hitchhiking in 1978 was the fact the youth was bare-chested; he also conceded it was possible that his viewing the exposed chest of Steven Tuomi in 1987 while in a drunken stupor may have led him to unsuccessfully attempt to tear Tuomi’s heart from his chest. Moreover, almost all the murders Dahmer committed from 1990 onwards involved a ritual of posing the victims’ bodies in suggestive positions – many pictures taken prior to dismemberment depict the victims’ bodies with the chest thrust outwards. Dahmer also derived sexual pleasure from the viscera of his victims; he would often masturbate and ejaculate into the body cavity and at other times, literally used the internal organs as a masturbatory aid”.

Almost nothing is known empirically about anthropophagolagnia except that it is very rare and that almost all information about it comes from serial killers that have been caught. Explanations for the development of anthropophagolagnia can only be speculated but are likely to be no different from the development of other paraphilic behaviour. Hickey (citing Irwin Sarason and Barbara Sarason’s Abnormal Psychology textbook) notes five key explanations for the development of paraphilias (reproduced below verbatim):

  • Psychodynamic – paraphilic behavior as a manifestation of unresolved conflicts during psychosexual development;
  • Behavioral – paraphilia is developed through conditioning, modeling, reinforcement, punishment, and rewards, the same process that normal sexual activity is learned;
  • Cognitive – paraphilia become substitutes for appropriate social and sexual functioning or the inability to develop satisfying marital relationships;
  • Biological – heredity, prenatal hormone environment, and factors contributing to gender identity can facilitate paraphilic interests. Other explanations are linked to brain malfunctioning and chromosomal abnormalities;
  • Interactional – that development of paraphilia is a process that results from psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and biological factors.

As an eclectic, I favour the interactional explanation for the existence of anthropophagolagnia but also believe that the most important influences are the behavioural aspects via classical and operant conditioning processes.

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

Further reading

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

Hall, J. (2013). ‘Black Jesus’ murder: Leader of 6,000-strong cannibal rape cult hacked to death by villagers in Papua New Guinea jungle after killing yet again. The Independent, August 30. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/black-jesus-murder-leader-of-6000strong-cannibal-rape-cult-hacked-to-death-by-villagers-in-papua-new-guinea-jungle-after-killing-yet-again-8791967.html

Hickey, E. W. (Ed.). (2003). Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. London: Sage Publications

Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Purcell, C., and B. Arrigo. (2001). Explaining paraphilias and lust murder: Toward an integrated model. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 45(1), 6–31.

Sarason, I. G. and B. R. Sarason. (2004). Abnormal Psychology, 11th Edition. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Wikipedia (2014). Jeffrey Dahmer. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Dahmer

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,937 other followers