Category Archives: Psychiatry

The words and the we’s: When is a new addiction scale not a new addiction scale?

“The words you use should be your own/Don’t plagiarize or take on loans/There’s always someone, somewhere/With a big nose, who knows” (Lyrics written by Morrissey from ‘Cemetry Gates’ (sic) by The Smiths)

Over the last few decades, research into ‘shopping addiction’ and ‘compulsive buying’ has greatly increased. In 2015, I along with my colleagues, developed and subsequently published (in the journal Frontiers in Psychology) a new scale to assess shopping addiction – the 7-item Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale (BSAS) which I wrote about in one of my previous blogs.

We noted in our Frontiers in Psychology paper that two scales had already been developed in the 2000s (i.e., one by Dr. George Christo and colleagues in 2003, and one by Dr. Nancy Ridgway and colleagues in 2008 – see ‘Further reading’ below), but that neither of these two instruments approached problematic shopping behaviour as an addiction in terms of core addiction criteria that are often used in the behavioural addiction field including salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, relapse, and problems. We also made the point that new Internet-related technologies have now greatly facilitated the emergence of problematic shopping behaviour because of factors such as accessibility, affordability, anonymity, convenience, and disinhibition, and that there was a need for a psychometrically robust instrument that assessed problematic shopping across all platforms (i.e., both online and offline). We concluded that the BSAS has good psychometrics, structure, content, convergent validity, and discriminative validity, and that researchers should consider using it in epidemiological studies and treatment settings concerning shopping addiction.

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More recently, Srikant Amrut Manchiraju, Sadachar and Jessica Ridgway developed something they called the Compulsive Online Shopping Scale (COSS) in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (IJMHA). Given that we had just developed a new shopping addiction scale that covered shopping across all media, we were interested to read about the new scale. The scale was a 28-item scale and was based on the 28 items included in the first step of BSAS development (i.e., initial 28-item pool). As the authors noted:

“First, to measure compulsive online shopping, we adopted the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale (BSAS; Andreassen, 2015). The BSAS developed by Andreassen et al. (2015), was adapted for this study because it meets the addiction criteria (e.g., salience, mood modification, etc.) established in the DSM-5. In total, 28 items from the BSAS were modified to reflect compulsive online shopping. For example, the original item – ‘Shopping/buying is the most important thing in my life’ was modified as ‘Online shopping/buying is the most important thing in my life’… It is important to note that we are proposing a new behavioral addiction scale, specifically compulsive online shopping … In conclusion, the scale developed in this study demonstrated strong psychometric, structure, convergent, and discriminant validity, which is consistent with Andreassen et al.’s (2015) findings”.

Apart from the addition of the word ‘online’ to every item, all initial 28 items of the BSAS were used identically in the COSS. Therefore, I sought the opinion of several research colleagues about the ‘new’ scale. Nearly all were very surprised that an almost identical scale had been published. Some even questioned whether such wholescale use might constitute plagiarism (particularly as none of the developers of the COSS sought permission to adapt our scale).

According to the plagiarism.org website, several forms of plagiarism have been described including: “Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not” (p.1). Given the word-for-word reproduction of the 28 item–pool, an argument could be made that the COSS plagiarizes the BSAS, even though the authors acknowledge the source of their scale items. According to Katrina Korb’s 2012 article on adopting or adapting psychometric instruments:

“Adapting an instrument requires more substantial changes than adopting an instrument. In this situation, the researcher follows the general design of another instrument but adds items, removes items, and/or substantially changes the content of each item. Because adapting an instrument is similar to developing a new instrument, it is important that a researcher understands the key principles of developing an instrument…When adapting an instrument, the researcher should report the same information in the Instruments section as when adopting the instrument, but should also include what changes were made to the instrument and why” (p.1).

Dr. Manchiraju and his colleagues didn’t add or remove any of the original seven items, and did not substantially change the content of any of the 28 items on which the BSAS was based. They simply added the word ‘online’ to each existing item. Given that the BSAS was specifically developed to take into account the different ways in which people now shop and to include both online and offline shopping, there doesn’t seem to be a good rationale for developing an online version of the BSAS. Even if there was a good rationale, the scale could have made reference to the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale in the name of the ‘new’ instrument. In a 2005 book chapter ‘Selected Ethical Issues Relevant to Test Adaptations’ by Dr. Thomas Oakland (2005), he noted the following in relation to plagiarism and psychometric test development:

Psychologists do not present portions of another’s work or data as their own, even if the other work or data source is cited … Plagiarism occurs commonly in test adaptation work (Oakland & Hu, 1991), especially when a test is adapted without the approval of its authors and publisher. Those who adapt a test by utilizing items from other tests without the approval of authors and publishers are likely to be violating ethical standards. This practice should not be condoned. Furthermore, this practice may violate laws in those countries that provide copyright protection to intellectual property. In terms of scale development, a measure that has the same original items with only one word added to each item (which only adds information on the context but does not change the meaning of the item) does not really constitute a new scale. They would find it really hard to demonstrate discriminant validity between the two measures”.

Again, according to Oakland’s description of plagiarism specifically in relation to the development of psychometric tests (rather than plagiarism more generally), the COSS appears to have plagiarized the BSAS particularly as Oakland makes specific reference to the adding of one word to each item (“In terms of scale development, a measure that has the same original items with only one word added to each item … does not really constitute a new scale”).

Still, it is important to point that I have no reason to think that this use of the BSAS was carried out maliciously. Indeed, it may well be that the only wrongdoing was lack of familiarity with the conventions of psychometric scale development. It may be that the authors took one line in our original Frontiers in Psychology paper too literally (the BSAS may be freely used by researchers in their future studies in this field”). However, the purpose of this sentence was to give fellow researchers permission to use the validated scale in their own studies and to avoid the inconvenience of having to request permission to use the BSAS and then waiting for an answer. Another important aspect here is that the BSAS (which may be freely used) consists of seven items only, not 28. The seven BSAS items were extracted from an initial item pool in accordance with our intent to create a brief shopping addiction scale. Consequently, there exists only one version of BSAS, the 7-item version. Here, Dr. Manchiraju and his colleagues seem to have misinterpreted this when referring to a 28-item BSAS.

(Please note: This blog is adapted using material from the following paper: Griffiths, M.D., Andreassen, C.S., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R.M., Torsheim, T. Aboujaoude, E.N. (2016). When is a new scale not a new scale? The case of the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale and the Compulsive Online Shopping Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 14, 1107-1110).

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

Further reading

Aboujaoude, E. (2014). Compulsive buying disorder: a review and update. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4021–4025.

Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R. M., Torsheim, T., & Aboujaoude, E. (2015). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: reliability and validity of a brief screening test. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1374. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01374

Christo, G., Jones, S., Haylett, S., Stephenson, G., Lefever, R. M., & Lefever, R. (2003). The shorter PROMIS questionnaire: further validation of a tool for simultaneous assessment of multiple addictive behaviors. Addictive Behaviors, 28, 225–248.

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

Griffiths, M.D., Andreassen, C.S., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R.M., Torsheim, T. Aboujaoude, E.N. (2016). When is a new scale not a new scale? The case of the Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale and the Compulsive Online Shopping Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 14, 1107-1110.

Korb, K. (2012). Adopting or adapting an instrument. Retrieved September 12, 2016, from: http://korbedpsych.com/R09aAdopt.html

Manchiraju, S., Sadachar, A., & Ridgway, J. L. (2016). The Compulsive Online Shopping Scale (COSS): Development and Validation Using Panel Data. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-15. doi: 10.1007/s11469-016-9662-6.

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

Maraz, A., Griffiths, M. D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). The prevalence of compulsive buying in non-clinical populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Addiction, 111, 408-419.

Oakland, T. (2005). Selected ethical issues relevant to test adaptations. In Hambleton, R., Spielberger, C. & Meranda, P. (Eds.). Adapting educational and psychological tests for cross-cultural assessment (pp. 65-92). Mahwah, NY: Erlbaum Press.

Oakland, T., & Hu, S. (1991). Professionals who administer tests with children and youth: An international survey. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 9(2), 108-120.

Plagiarism.org (2016). What is plagiarism? Retrieved September 12, 2016, from: http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism

Ridgway, N., Kukar-Kinney, M., & Monroe, K. (2008). An expanded conceptualization and a new measure of compulsive buying. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 622–639.

Weinstein, A., Maraz, A., Griffiths, M.D., Lejoyeux, M. & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). Shopping addiction and compulsive buying: Features and characteristics of addiction. In V. Preedy (Ed.), The Neuropathology Of Drug Addictions And Substance Misuse (Vol. 3). (pp. 993-1008). London: Academic Press.

Surprise, surprise: A brief overview of our recent papers on strange addictions and behaviours

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, gaming addiction, youth gambling, workaholism, exercise addiction, and sex addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on strange and/or surprising addictions and behaviours.

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

  • Background: Muscle dysmorphia (MD) describes a condition characterised by a misconstrued body image in which individuals who interpret their body size as both small or weak even though they may look normal or highly muscular. MD has been conceptualized as a type of body dysmorphic disorder, an eating disorder, and obsessive–compulsive disorder symptomatology. Method and aim: Through a review of the most salient literature on MD, this paper proposes an alternative classification of MD – the ‘Addiction to Body Image’ (ABI) model – using Griffiths (2005) addiction components model as the framework in which to define MD as an addiction. Results: It is argued the addictive activity in MD is the maintaining of body image via a number of different activities such as bodybuilding, exercise, eating certain foods, taking specific drugs (e.g., anabolic steroids), shopping for certain foods, food supplements, and the use or purchase of physical exercise accessories). In the ABI model, the perception of the positive effects on the self-body image is accounted for as a critical aspect of the MD condition (rather than addiction to exercise or certain types of eating disorder). Conclusions: Based on empirical evidence to date, it is proposed that MD could be re-classified as an addiction due to the individual continuing to engage in maintenance behaviours that may cause long-term harm.

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

  • Background: Following the publication of our paper ‘Muscle Dysmorphia: Could it be classified as an addiction to body image?’ in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, two commentaries by Jon Grant and Johanna Nieuwoudt were published in response to our paper. Method: Using the ‘addiction components model’, our main contention is that muscle dysmorphia (MD) actually comprises a number of different actions and behaviors and that the actual addictive activity is the maintaining of body image via a number of different activities such as bodybuilding, exercise, eating certain foods, taking specific drugs (e.g., anabolic steroids), shopping for certain foods, food supplements, and purchase or use of physical exercise accessories. This paper briefly responds to these two commentaries. Results: While our hypothesized specifics relating to each addiction component sometimes lack empirical support (as noted explicitly by both Nieuwoudt and Grant), we still believe that our main thesis (that almost all the thoughts and behaviors of those with MD revolve around the maintenance of body image) is something that could be empirically tested in future research by those who already work in the area. Conclusions: We hope that the ‘Addiction to Body Image’ model we proposed provides a new framework for carrying out work in both empirical and clinical settings. The idea that MD could potentially be classed as an addiction cannot be negated on theoretical grounds as many people in the addiction field are turning their attention to research in new areas of behavioral addiction.

Maraz, A., Király, O., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Why do you dance? Development of the Dance Motivation Inventory (DMI). PLoS ONE, 10(3): e0122866. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0122866

  • Dancing is a popular form of physical exercise and studies have show that dancing can decrease anxiety, increase self-esteem, and improve psychological wellbeing. The aim of the current study was to explore the motivational basis of recreational social dancing and develop a new psychometric instrument to assess dancing motivation. The sample comprised 447 salsa and/or ballroom dancers (68% female; mean age 32.8 years) who completed an online survey. Eight motivational factors were identified via exploratory factor analysis and comprise a new Dance Motivation Inventory: Fitness, Mood Enhancement, Intimacy, Socialising, Trance, Mastery, Self-confidence and Escapism. Mood Enhancement was the strongest motivational factor for both males and females, although motives differed according to gender. Dancing intensity was predicted by three motivational factors: Mood Enhancement, Socialising, and Escapism. The eight dimensions identified cover possible motives for social recreational dancing, and the DMI proved to be a suitable measurement tool to assess these motives. The explored motives such as Mood Enhancement, Socialising and Escapism appear to be similar to those identified in other forms of behaviour such as drinking alcohol, exercise, gambling, and gaming.

Maraz, A., Urbán, R., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics Z. (2015). An empirical investigation of dance addiction. PloS ONE, 10(5): e0125988. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125988.

  • Although recreational dancing is associated with increased physical and psychological well-being, little is known about the harmful effects of excessive dancing. The aim of the present study was to explore the psychopathological factors associated with dance addiction. The sample comprised 447 salsa and ballroom dancers (68% female, mean age: 32.8 years) who danced recreationally at least once a week. The Exercise Addiction Inventory (Terry, Szabo, & Griffiths, 2004) was adapted for dance (Dance Addiction Inventory, DAI). Motivation, general mental health (BSI-GSI, and Mental Health Continuum), borderline personality disorder, eating disorder symptoms, and dance motives were also assessed. Five latent classes were explored based on addiction symptoms with 11% of participants belonging to the most problematic class. DAI was positively associated with psychiatric distress, borderline personality and eating disorder symptoms. Hierarchical linear regression model indicated that Intensity (ß=0.22), borderline (ß=0.08), eating disorder (ß=0.11) symptoms, as well as Escapism (ß=0.47) and Mood Enhancement (ß=0.15) (as motivational factors) together explained 42% of DAI scores. Dance addiction as assessed with the Dance Addiction Inventory is associated with indicators of mild psychopathology and therefore warrants further research.

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

  • Objectives: Dacryphilia is a non-normative sexual interest that involves enjoyment or arousal from tears and crying, and to date has never been researched empirically. The present study set out to discover the different interests within dacryphilia and explore the range of dacryphilic experience. Methods: A set of online interviews were carried out with individuals with dacryphilic preferences and interests (six females and two males) from four countries. The data were analyzed for semantic and latent themes using thematic analysis. Results: The respondents’ statements focused attention on three distinct areas that may be relevant to the experience of dacryphilia: (i) compassion; (ii) dominance/submission; and (iii) curled-lips. The data provided detailed descriptions of features within all three interests, which are discussed in relation to previous quantitative and qualitative research within emotional crying and tears, and the general area of non-normative sexual interests. Conclusions: The study suggests new directions for potential research both within dacryphilia and with regard to other non-normative sexual interests.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2015). Study addiction – A new area of psychological study: Conceptualization, assessment, and preliminary empirical findings. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4, 75–84.

  • Aims: Recent research has suggested that for some individuals, educational studying may become compulsive and excessive and lead to ‘study addiction’. The present study conceptualized and assessed study addiction within the framework of workaholism, defining it as compulsive over-involvement in studying that interferes with functioning in other domains and that is detrimental for individuals and/or their environment. Methods: The Bergen Study Addiction Scale (BStAS) was tested — reflecting seven core addiction symptoms (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, relapse, and problems) — related to studying. The scale was administered via a cross-sectional survey distributed to Norwegian (n = 218) and Polish (n = 993) students with additional questions concerning demographic variables, study-related variables, health, and personality. Results: A one-factor solution had acceptable fit with the data in both samples and the scale demonstrated good reliability. Scores on BStAS converged with scores on learning engagement. Study addiction (BStAS) was significantly related to specific aspects of studying (longer learning time, lower academic performance), personality traits (higher neuroticism and conscientiousness, lower extroversion), and negative health-related factors (impaired general health, decreased quality of life and sleep quality, higher perceived stress). Conclusions: It is concluded that BStAS has good psychometric properties, making it a promising tool in the assessment of study addiction. Study addiction is related in predictable ways to personality and health variables, as predicted from contemporary workaholism theory and research.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D. & Pallesen, S. (2016). Study addiction: A cross-cultural longitudinal study examining temporal stability and predictors of its changes. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 357–362.

  • Background and aims: ‘Study addiction’ has recently been conceptualized as a behavioral addiction and defined within the framework of work addiction.  Using a newly developed measure to assess this construct, the Bergen Study Addiction Scale (BStAS), the present study examined the one-year stability of study addiction and factors related to changes in this construct over time, and is the first longitudinal investigation of study addiction thus far. Methods: The BStAS and the Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) were administered online together with questions concerning demographics and study-related variables in two waves. In Wave 1, a total of 2,559 students in Norway and 2,177 students in Poland participated. A year later, in Wave 2, 1,133 Norwegians and 794 Polish who were still students completed the survey. Results: The test-retest reliability coefficients for the BStAS revealed that the scores were relatively stable over time. In Norway scores on the BStAS were higher in Wave 2 than in Wave 1, while in Poland the reverse pattern was observed. Learning time outside classes at Wave 1 was positively related to escalation of study addiction symptoms over time in both samples. Being female and scoring higher on neuroticism were related to an increase in study addiction in the Norwegian sample only. Conclusion: Study addiction appears to be temporally stable, and the amount of learning time spent outside classes predicts changes in study addiction one year later.

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

Further reading

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The use of online asynchronous interviews in the study of paraphilias. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013508526

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Dying for it: Autoerotic deaths. Bizarre, 24, 62-65.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Stumped! Amputee fetishes. Bizarre, 44, 70-74.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Heaven can wait: The psychology of near death experiences. Bizarre, December, 63-66.

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

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

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

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

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

it-makes-perfect-sense-that-a-politican-like-donald-trump-would-be-into-pee-golden-showers-pee-gate-fetish-kink-urolagnia-urophilia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Higher and higher: Can psychoactive substance use enhance creativity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dying for it: Bizarre autoerotic deaths (Part 2)

In my previous blog I examined some of the most bizarre autoerotic deaths reported in the medical forensic literature. Here are another five.

Case 1: Autoerotic death by aerosol propellant

Source: Medicine, Science and the Law. Personal details:  32-year old white US man. Single. Computer programmer.

  • Bizarre death event: Found dead in bed with cassette recorder next to him. He was wearing headphones which playing “snorting” horse sounds. There was also a can of aerosol propellant. At the end of the bed was a large painting of a male strapped to the hind legs of a horse who was being anally penetrating by the horse. The horse was ridden by a leather-clad woman. He was also wearing some kind if homemade masturbatory device. His death was recorded as cardio-respiratory failure consistent with aerosol propellant abuse (death by misadventure). Self-administration of the chemical agent to modify the sensations of masturbation. He was covered in dry semen stains.

Case 2: Autoerotic death by clothing

Source: Medicine, Science and the Law. Personal details:  25-year old Japanese male. Single.

  • Bizarre death event: Man found dead in his bed one morning. naked except for clothing wrapping his head and underpants which were pulled down. He was covered in dry semen stains. He had put a black skirt on his face and then pulled a second skirt upside down over his head and turned down the bottom of it. He then put a plastic bag over these two garments followed by a pair of tights. The legs of the tights were used to tie a knot around the bottom of the skirts. He then wrapped a third skirt around all of this. Death was due to suffocation.

Case 3: Autoerotic death by hanging (female)

Source: Handbook of Forensic Pathology. Personal details:  19-year old white female. Single. College student.

  • Bizarre death event: Woman was found dead in her bedroom hanging from the hinge of her closet door dressed as an Oriental “harem girl”. A window sash cord was tied around her body in a complicated fashion and she was also wearing a blindfold and mouth gag (made from the belt of her dressing gown). Next to her lay an underground magazine (this was folded out and showed a bizarre dance involving a clock – the minute hand being a nude male who would make love with the other figure on the hour), a paperback Hitchcock book which explained her fantasy. The paperback contained the story about an Oriental harem master. In this story the harem master provides girls to his lord who stored them by hanging them around his walls on hooks

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Case 4: Autoerotic death by vacuum cleaner

Source: American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. Personal details: 57-year old white US male. Single. History of heart disease and chronic pancreatitis

  • Bizarre death event: Man was found naked slumped over his vacuum cleaner after a neighbour wondered why the vacuum cleaner had been on continuously for a long time. The man was found leaning against the dining table with his testicles, buttocks and thighs tightly bound with women’s tights. Near the table was a jar of urine, jars of lubricant and a wooden table leg covered in fecal excrement. The man was covered in burns from the vacuum cleaner. No defect was found in the vacuum cleaner. The man basically had a heart attack while engaged in autoerotic activity. The wooden table leg had been used in an attempt to stimulate orgasm via anal penetration. His wife had caught him masturbating with the vacuum cleaner before (they hadn’t had sex for five years). The death was classed as natural rather than accidental.

Case 5: Autoerotic death by hydraulic tractor shovel

Source: Journal of Forensic Sciences. Personal details:  62 year-old US white male. Married. Farmer.

  • Bizarre death event: Found dead in a barn lying on his front pinned under the hydraulic shovel of his tractor. His body was covered with semen stains and there was evidence of masochistic sexual bondage. His clothes were folded neatly away nearby. He was found naked except for a pair of women’s red shoes (with 8 inch heels), knee high stockings and tape duct wrapped around his ankles. Ropes led from his feet to the tractor which when raised would lift his inverted body causing complete suspension. It is not known exactly what happened but it is likely that the engine stalled and he was crushed underneath the tractor shovel. He died of positional asphyxiation by chest compression. This was an atypical autoerotic fatality because he did not purposely use asphyxiation but it did cause his death.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, 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.

Byard, R. W. (1994). Autoerotic death—characteristic features and diagnostic difficulties. Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, 1(2), 71-78

Cordner, S.M. (1983). An unusual case of sudden death associated with masturbation. Medicine, Science and the Law, 23(1), 54-56

Dietz, P. E., & O’Halloran, R.L. (1993). Autoerotic fatalities with power hydraulics. Journal of Forensic Science, 38(2), 359-364.

Ikeda, N., Harada, A., Umetsu, K., & Suzuki, T. (1988). A case of fatal suffocation during an unusual auto-erotic practice. Medicine, Science and the Law, 28(2), 131-134.

Imami, R. H., & Kemal, M. (1988). Vacuum cleaner use in autoerotic death. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 9(3), 246-248.

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

Sauvageau, A., & Racette, S. (2006). Autoerotic deaths in the literature from 1954 to 2004: A review. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 51(1), 140-146.

Dying for it: Bizarre autoerotic deaths (Part 1)

In previous blogs I have examined many different sexual paraphilias that have ended up in death for individuals engaged in such practices. Many of these are from autoerotic asphyxiation but also from other sexual practices such as electrophilia and anaesthesiophilia. Today’s blog takes a brief look at some of the most bizarre autoerotic deaths reported in the medical forensic literature.

Case 1: Autoerotic death by car

Source: Journal of Forensic Sciences. Personal details: 40-year old white US male airline pilot. Married and father of two children.

  • Bizarre death event: A man left his home at 6am in the morning and told his wife that he was going shooting in the country. He was found naked except for a large-link 10-foot chain harness secured around his body. (The harness was tied around the man’s neck in a moderately tight loop and bolted. The chain then went down his chest and was tied into another loop around his waist. This was tied to the bumper of the car) at 7.30am in the morning in a remote area crushed against the left fender of his car (equivalent of a VW beetle). The engine was still running, ignition was on and the driver’s door was still open. The steering wheel was tied so that it would go round in anti-clockwise circles. His clothes were in the boot of the car. Reconstruction of the events leading to his death showed that he was either being dragged round by the car or following the car producing feelings of asphyxia. When he had finished his sexual turn-on he had tried to approach the car door but had forgotten to undo the chain from the bumper. The chain had got tangled up in the car’s axle and the man was found strangled to death by the chain.

Case 2: Autoerotic death by hanging (male)

Source: American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. Personal details: 57-year old white US male. Single.

  • Bizarre death event: Early one winter’s morning, two joggers found a partially clothed man hanging from a tree five inches from the ground. He was hanging from a rope tied round his neck but also had two other loops of rope harness around his thighs which also encircled his chest. His neatly folded clothes lay two feet away along with lipstick and a jar of Vaseline. He was wearing a woman’s brown wig and a stuffed white bra. He also wore a pair of men’s red underpants, a pair of tights and a pair of high-heeled women’s shoes. He was also found to have a carrot protruding from his anus. Basically his seat harness slipped and he asphyxiated himself on the ropes.

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Case 3: Autoerotic death by blankets

Source: American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. Personal details: 60-year old white US male. Single. Diagnosed schizophrenic and had various sexual compulsions. Well educated former teacher.

  • Bizarre death event: After being reported missing from work by his employer, a man was found dead rolled up in 14 different blankets which had been sewn together (the two outermost layers were found fixed with adhesive tape in various places which raised the possibility of murder). Inside the blankets he was dressed in two pairs of hotpants, a pair of long johns and a vest. The body was wet and his hands and arms were outstretched above his head. They found a plastic bag over his penis into which he had ejaculated. He was masturbating while inside the blankets but he had become too hypoxic and died. He was immobilized inside the blankets and was unable to free himself. Over the last few years he had bought an astonishing number of blankets by mail order (over 60 found in his apartment most of which seemed to have some ritual or obsessive meaning by the way were laid out. No pornography was found in the place.

Case 4: Autoerotic death by dental anaesthetic

Source: American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. Personal details: 59-year old white US male. Single. Antiques dealer

  • Bizarre death event: Found dead in his locked apartment. He was seated in front of a dental anaesthetic machine with the anaesthetic face-mask over his face. He was sucking on a rubber teat similar (but much bigger) than a baby’s feeding bottle. There were other anaesthetic machines around the apartment as well as a lot of sexual literature (magazines, photographs, paintings, manuscripts all concerned with his elaborate fetish some of which included photographs of himself in these situations). He was wearing a rubber type apron, three woollen cardigans, a woman’s blouse and two pairs of women’s trousers and a pair of women’s bloomers.

Case 5: Autoerotic death by electrocution

Source: Medicine, Science and the Law. Personal details: 36-year old UK male. Gay (with partner). Unemployed ex-television engineer

  • Bizarre death event: Man found dead with a wire cradle applied to his scrotum with another loop of wire (end folded over) inserted into his Vaseline-lubricated anus. The wires were connected to the two terminals that supplied the loudspeaker within the television. When switched on, these wires carried a current of 0.6 amps at 2.2 volts (a quarter of the current needed to light a small torch). The body had two significant injuries. One on the right side of his face (entrance mark of the current), and the other over the left side of his scrotum (where the loop of the wire had been). Unfortunately, one of the wires had broken off resulting in a cessation of the stimulating activity. The man looked inside the back of the open TV set and his face came into contact with an exposed metal cap which zapped 2500 volts through him. The metal cap was the only live part of the television set and it was this that killed him.

(Part 2 can be found here).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, 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.

Eriksson, A., Gezelius, C., & Bring, G. (1987). Rolled up to death: An unusual autoerotic fatality. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 8(3), 263-265.

Hazelwood, R. R., Burgess, A. W., & Groth, A. N. (1981). Death during dangerous autoerotic practice. Social Science & Medicine. Part E: Medical Psychology, 15(2), 129-133.

Hiss, J., Rosenberg, S. B., & Adelson, L. (1985). ” Swinging in the park”: An investigation of an autoerotic death. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 6(3), 250-255.

Klintschar, M., Grabuschnigg, P., & Beham, A. (1998). Death from electrocution during autoerotic practice: case report and review of the literature. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 19(2), 190-193.

Leadbeatter, S. (1988). Dental anesthetic death: An unusual autoerotic episode. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 9(1), 60-63.

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

Minyard, F. (1985). Wrapped to death. Unusual autoerotic death. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 6(2), 151-152

Rupp, J. C. (1973). The love bug. Journal of Forensic Science, 18(3), 259-262.

Sauvageau, A., & Racette, S. (2006). Autoerotic deaths in the literature from 1954 to 2004: A review. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 51(1), 140-146.

Bog standard: A brief look at toilet tissue eating

In previous blogs I have looked at pica (i.e., the eating of non-nutritive items or substances) and subtypes of pica such as geophagia (eating of soil, mud, clay, etc.), pagophagia (eating of ice), acuphagia (eating of metal), and coprophagia (eating of faeces). It wasn’t until I started to research on specific sub-types of pica, that I discovered how many different types of non-food substances had been identified in the academic and clinical literature. For instance, Dr. V.J. Louw and colleagues provided a long list in a 2007 issue of the South African Medical Journal including cravings for the heads of burnt matches (cautopyreiophagia), cigarettes and cigarette ashes, paper, starch (amylophagia), crayons, cardboard, stones (lithophagia), mothballs, hair (trichophagia), egg shells, foam rubber, aspirin, coins, vinyl gloves, popcorn (arabositophagia), and baking powder. Most of these are generally thought to be harmless but as Louw and colleagues note, a wide range of medical problems have been documented:

“These include abdominal problems (sometimes necessitating surgery), hypokalaemia, hyperkalaemia, dental injury, napthalene poisoning (in pica for toilet air-freshener blocks), phosphorus poisoning (in pica for burnt matches), peritoneal mesothelioma (geophagia of asbestos-rich soil), mercury poisoning (in paper pica), lead poisoning (in dried paint pica and geophagia), and a pre-eclampsia-like syndrome (baking powder pica)”.

In the clinical literature, the eating of paper has been occasionally documented (although anecdotal evidence suggests this is fairly common and I remember doing it myself as a child). A review paper on pica by Dr. Silvestre Frenk and colleagues in the Mexican journal Boletín Médico del Hospital Infantil de México highlighted dozens of pica-subtypes and created many new names for various pica sub-types. They proposed that people who eat paper display ‘papirophagia’ (in fact if you type ‘papirphagia’ into Google, you only get one hit – the paper by Silvestre and colleagues – although this blog may make it two!). Eating paper is not thought to be particularly harmful although I did find a case of mercury poisoning because of ‘paper pica’ (as the authors – Dr. F. Olynk and Dr. D. Sharpe – called it) in a 1982 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

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One sub-type of papirophagia is the eating of toilet paper. As far as I am aware, there is only one case study in the literature and this was published back in 1981, Dr. J. Chisholm Jr. and Dr. H. Martín in the Journal of the National Medical Association. They described the case of a 37-year old black woman with an “unusually bizarre craving” for toilet tissue paper. The authors reported that:

“[The] woman was referred for evaluation of disturbed smell and loss of taste for over one year. These were associated with chronic fatigue and listlessness. During this same period of time, she rather embarrassedly admitted to an overwhelming desire to eat toilet tissue. Frequently, she would awaken at night and dash to her bathroom to eat toilet tissue. No other type(s) of pica were admitted. In addition, she gave a long history of menorrhagia and frequently passed vaginal blood clots during her menses. Her libido was normal and there was no history of poor wound healing, skin or mucous membrane lesions, or intestinal symptoms. Her dietary history suggested a high carbohydrate diet, and due to a mild exogenous obesity she intermittently resorted to a vegan-like diet that included beans and various seeds”

A variety of medical tests were carried out and she was diagnosed with combined iron and zinc deficiency. She was treated with iron and zinc tablets and within a week, both her taste and smell had returned, and her energy levels greatly improved. Zinc deficiencies can lead to a wide variety of clinical disorders including loss of small and taste, anorexia, dwarfism (i.e., growth retardation), impaired wound healing, and geophagia. The woman’s (sometimes) vegan diet may have been to blame for her zinc deficiency as the authors noted that:

Although vegetables contain zinc, vegans should be made aware that zinc from plant sources is not readily absorbed because naturally occurring phytates, particularly high in beans and seeds, reduce zinc gastrointestinal absorption. Carbohydrates are very poor sources of zinc. Chronic iron deficiency secondary to chronic menorrhagia accounts well for the anemia, fatigue, and unusual pica for toilet tissue noted in this patient”.

Paper pica has occasionally been mentioned in other academic papers although details have typically been limited. For instance, a 1995 paper in the journal Birth by Dr. N.R. Cooksey on three cases of pica in pregnancy reported that one of the women chewed non-perfumed blue toilet paper during the first trimester of her pregnancy (and was forced by her mother to stop). There was also a 2003 paper published by Dr. Dumaguing in the Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology examining pica in mentally ill geriatrics. One of the cases mentioned was a 76-year old patient that not only ingested their medication (an emollient cream for arthritis) but was also recorded eating toilet paper, napkins, Styrofoam cups, crayons, and other patients’ medications.

A more recent 2008 paper by Dr. Sera Young and her colleagues in the journal PLoS ONE, critically reviewed procedures and guidelines for interviews and sample collection in relation to pica substances. In describing the protocols involved, they referred to paper pica in the questions that should be asked:

“What is the local name, brand name, or type of pica substance desired or consumed? This will help others to know if this substance has already been studied and assist interested researchers in obtaining subsequent samples at a later date. Furthermore, different manufactured products may contain different materials, e.g. Crayola chalkboard chalk contains slightly different ingredients from other brands. Similarly, the consequences of toilet tissue paper consumption are different from those of eating pages of a novel; information would be lost if the substance was simply described as paper. For these reasons, the substance consumed should be described in as much detail and as accurately as possible”.

Personally (and based on anecdotal evidence), I think that papirophagia is not overly rare (especially among children – although I admit this may be more out of curiosity that craving) but the clinical literature suggests that it is a fairly rare disorder found amongst distinct sub-groups (pregnant women, the mentally ill). Given the fact that for most people eating paper would not cause any problems, this would provide the main reason why so few cases end up seeking medical, clinical, and/or psychological help.

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

Further reading

Chisholm Jr, J. C., & Martín, H. I. (1981). Hypozincemia, ageusia, dysosmia, and toilet tissue pica. Journal of the National Medical Association, 73(2), 163-164.

Cooksey, N.R. (1995). Pica and olfactory craving of pregnancy: How deep are the secrets? Birth, 22, 129-137.

Dumaguing, N.I., Singh, I., Sethi, M., & Devanand, D.P. (2003). Pica in the geriatric mentally ill: unrelenting and potentially fatal. Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and Neurology, 16, 189-191.

Frenk, S., Faure, M.A., Nieto, S. & Olivares, Z. (2013). Pica. Boletín Médico del Hospital Infantil de México, 70(1), 55-61

Louw, V.J., Du Preez, P., Malan, A., Van Deventer, L., Van Wyk, D., & Joubert, G. (2007). Pica and food craving in adults with iron deficiency in Bloemfontein, South Africa. South African Medical Journal, 97, 1069-1071.

Olynyk, F., & Sharpe, D. H. (1982). Mercury poisoning in paper pica. The New England Journal of Medicine, 306, 1056 -1057.

Young, S.L., Wilson, M.J., Miller, D., Hillier, S. (2008). Toward a comprehensive approach to the collection and analysis of pica substances, with emphasis on geophagic materials. PLoS ONE, 3(9), e3147. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003147

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imitate modern: Why do people commit copycat killings?

The nine people murdered in Munich a couple of days ago by 18-year-old German-Iranian gunman David Ali Sonboly made headlines around the world. It has been claimed that Sonboly (who subsequently killed himself) was obsessed with mass shootings” and that the police found lots of material in his room about mass killings including the massacre by Norway’s Anders Behring Breivik. Whether the murders by Sonboly are ‘copycat’ killings remains to be determined but there are dozens of other cases where copycat killings have been proven.

Back in 2014, the gruesome killing of two prostitutes in Hong King by British banking trader Rurik Jutting drew comparisons with the fictional character Patrick Bateman, the Wall Street investment banker and serial killer in the film American Psycho (based on the Bret Easton Ellis book of the same name).

As you might expect, a copycat murder is defined as a murder that has been modelled, motivated and/or inspired either by a real life murderer that has been reported by the print or broadcast media, or is based on a murderer portrayed in books, television or film. The term ‘copycat killer’ has been in use for almost 100 years and was first used in relation to murders that mimicked those of Jack the Ripper. Early research by criminologists began to speculate that the sensationalist publicity in the print media about the Ripper murders was the inspiration for Ripper-like copycat killings.

In addition to murder, copycat crimes have been shown to occur in many other equally destructive acts including suicides, murder-suicides, familicides, and rampage killings. Arguably the most well known writing on the topic was Loren Coleman’s 2004 book The Copycat Effect. Coleman believes that because shocking crimes receive widespread media publicity it makes the perpetrators infamous. He argues that the notoriety and ‘fame’ that serial killers receive is one of the main reasons why copycats commit similar crimes. Put more simply, copycats may believe that by committing heinous crimes, they may end up being the subject of a book or film themselves. The Copycat Effect is so well known that it was even the subject of a Hollywood film – the 1995 psychological thriller Copycat starring Sigourney Weaver as a criminal psychologist involved in a case where each murder in the film is made by a serial killer meticulously copying previous high profile murderers such as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer (the ‘Milwaukie Cannibal’), David Berkowitz (the ‘Son of Sam’), and the Hillside Strangler (actually two men, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono).

But is the media to blame for copycat murders? Well, partly – but not totally. Research has shown that although most people convicted of copycat murders admit to being motivated by something they had seen on the news or in a film, they already had a criminal record (often violent crime) and/or were mentally ill before they began killing. What this suggests is that media coverage and fictionalized accounts of serial killers tend to affect those that already have a criminal predisposition and/or mental health issues rather than have a more widespread effect on people more generally. In such extreme and minority cases, it does appear that watching or reading about high profile murderers (e.g., Jeffrey Dahmer, Ed Gein) or infamous fictionalised killers (e.g., Dexter Morgan in Dexter or Patrick Batemen in American Psycho) does at the very least give emotionally undeveloped people ideas on how they could kill someone.

Copycat murderers do appear to realise that the more shocking and heinous the killing, the more newsworthy it will be. This also appears to have had an impact on films too. It appears some cinema-going audience want to see more depraved, deranged and twisted ways in which people can be killed (as evidenced by the so-called ‘torture porn’ franchises of Saw and Hostel). The more blood and pain, the better. Methods to kill in such films may be the inspiration of copycat killers to come.

Although there is a relationship between copycat killers and what they have seen or read about in the media, there are many other risk factors that have been associated with (and have an interplay with) copycat killings. Men are more likely to be copycat killers than females, and many copycat killers are young adults (below the age of 30 years). Copycat killers are more likely to suffer from personality (and other mental health) disorders, come from socially dysfunctional and alienating family backgrounds, be emotionally vulnerable, be trusting of the media, and – as noted above – a previous criminal history (as well as self-identifying with criminals they have watched or seen in fact and/or fiction).

Psychologists have also noted there appears to be a natural human inhibition against killing (even in acts of lawful killing such as fighting in a war). However, if individuals adopt some kind of a persona, such inhibitions can be reduced (often referred to by psychologists as ‘depersonalization’). If copycat killers temporarily take on the persona of the person they are copying in addition to the act of killing, this may also play a contributory role in some of their actions. American evolutionary psychologist Dr.Nigel Barber has also noted in relation to rampage killing that: “Most copycats have their private agenda in a rampage killing but seek to tie it in to other events that received a lot of publicity. In this way, they bask in the reflected publicity, so to speak. In many cases, the rampage killer wants to commit suicide but opts to take others with him”.

Although there are many reasons as to how and why an individual becomes a copycat killer, the evidence does seem to suggest that the media perhaps need to take a more cautionary approach when reporting the details of murders, and also suggests that the police and other criminal agencies should not go into every detail about how the murders were committed. Such actions alone will not stop copycat killings, but it may help reduce the overall number occurring in the first place.

(Material in this blog first appeared in an article I wrote for The Independent in November 2014 – see ‘Further reading’ below)

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

Further reading

Barber, N. (2012). Copycat killings: Making sense of the senseless. Psychology Today, July 27. Located at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201207/copycat-killings

Boyle, K. (2001). What’s natural about killing? Gender, copycat violence and Natural Born Killers. Journal of Gender Studies, 10(3), 311-321.

Coleman, L. (2004). The copycat effect: How the media and popular culture trigger the mayhem in tomorrow’s headlines. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Fox, J.A., & Levin, J. (2014). Extreme killing: Understanding serial and mass murder. London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Hong Kong murder: Why do people commit copycat killings? The Independent, November 4. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/hong-kong-murder-why-do-people-commit-copycat-killings-9838892.html

Kunich, J.C. (2000). Natural born copycat killers and the law of shock torts. Washington University Law Quarterly, 78(4), 1157-1270.

Surette, R. (2002). Self-reported copycat crime among a population of serious and violent juvenile offenders. Crime and Delinquency, 48(1), 46-69.

Wikipedia (2016). Copycat crime. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_crime

More term warfare: Is the concept of ‘internet addiction’ a misnomer?

A recent study by Professor Phil Reed and his colleagues published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry provided some experimental evidence that internet addicts may be conditioned by what they view on the screen. Given that I was the first person in the world to publish an academic paper on internet addiction back in November 1996 it’s good to see that the number of studies into internet addiction has grown substantially over the last 20 years and that there are now hundreds of studies that have investigated the disorder worldwide in many different ways.

This newly published study is one of the few in the field that has investigated internet addiction from an experimental perspective (as opposed the majority that use self-report survey methods and the increasing number of neuroimaging studies examining what happens inside the brains of those who spend excessive amounts of time online).

Professor Reed’s study involved 100 adult volunteers who were deprived of internet access for four hours. The research team then asked the participants to name a colour (the first one that they could think of) and then gave them 15 minutes to access any websites that they wanted to on the internet. The research team monitored all the sites that the participants visited and after the 15-minute period they were again asked to think of the first colour that came to mind. The participants were also asked to complete various psychometric questionnaires including the Internet Addiction Test (IAT). The IAT is a 20-item test where each item is scored from 0 [not applicable] or 1 [rarely] up to 5 [always]. An example item is How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you need to do?” Those scoring 80 or above (out of 100) are typically defined as having a probable addiction to the internet by those who have used the IAT in previous studies.

Those classed as “high problem [internet] users” on the basis of IAT scores (and who were deprived internet access) were more likely to choose a colour that was prominent on the websites they visited during the 15-minute period after internet deprivation. This wasn’t found in those not classed as internet addicts. Professor Reed said:

“The internet addicts chose a colour associated with the websites they had just visited [and] suggests that aspects of the websites viewed after a period without the net became positively valued. Similar findings have been seen with people who misuse substances, with previous studies showing that a cue associated with any drug that relieves withdrawal becomes positively valued itself. This is the first time though that such an effect has been seen for a behavioural addiction like problematic internet usage”.

While this is an interesting finding there are some major shortcomings both from a methodological standpoint and from a more conceptual angle. Firstly, the number of high problem internet users that were deprived internet access for four hours comprised just 12 individuals so the sample size was incredibly low. Secondly, the individuals classed as high problem internet users had IAT scores ranging from 40 to 72. In short, it is highly unlikely that any of the participants were actually addicted to the internet. Thirdly, although the IAT is arguably the most used screen in the field, it has questionable reliability and validity and is now very out-dated (having been devised in 1998) and does not use the criteria suggested for Internet Disorder in the latest (fifth) edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Using more recently developed instruments such as our own Internet Disorder Scale would have perhaps overcome some of these problems.

There are also much wider problems with the use of the term ‘internet addiction’ as most studies in the field have really investigated addictions on the internet rather than to the internet. For instance, individuals addicted to online gaming, online gambling or online shopping are not internet addicts. They are gambling addicts, gaming addicts or shopping addicts that are using the medium of the internet to engage in their addictive behaviour. There are of course some activities – such as social networking – that could be argued to be a genuine type of internet addiction as such activities only take place online. However, the addiction is to an application rather than the internet itself and this should be termed social networking addiction rather than internet addiction. In short, the overwhelming majority of so-called internet addicts are no more addicted to the internet than alcoholics are addicted to the bottle.

A shorter version of this article was first published in The Conversation

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. & Kuss, D.J. (2015). Online addictions: The case of gambling, video gaming, and social networking. In Sundar, S.S. (Ed.), Handbook of the Psychology of Communication Technology (pp.384-403). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

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

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

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

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.

Osborne, L. A., Romano, M., Re, F., Roaro, A., Truzoli, R., & Reed, P. (2016). Evidence for an internet addiction disorder: internet exposure reinforces color preference in withdrawn problem users. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 77(2), 269-274.

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

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