Category Archives: Psychology

To infinity (and beyond): The benefits of endless running videogames

Last week I was contacted by a journalist at the Red Bulletin Magazine who was “looking for an expert in gaming psychology to talk to for a piece on the mental benefits of endless running games, i.e.  ‘the gameplay building strong reward learning in players’. It should be a fun and practical guide…Just let me know if you’d be interested.” I was interested. I had been teaching in the morning so I didn’t get the email until a couple of hours after it had been sent. I scribbled down a few notes, got back in touch, but by the time I did, the journalist had already interviewed someone else for the feature. Since I’d already made a few bullet points, I thought I would use them for the basis of a blog. (I really don’t like things going to waste).

Although much of my research examines problematic gaming, I am not anti-gaming (and never have been), and I have published many papers on the benefits of gaming including therapeutic benefits, educational benefits, and psychological (cognitive) benefits (see ‘Further reading’ below). Some of you reading this may not know what endless running games are, so here is the Wikipedia definition from its entry on platform games:

“‘Endless running’ or ‘infinite running’ games are platform games in which the player character is continuously moving forward through a usually procedurally generated, theoretically endless game world. Game controls are limited to making the character jump, attack, or perform special actions. The object of these games is to get as far as possible before the character dies. Endless running games have found particular success on mobile platforms. They are well-suited to the small set of controls these games require, often limited to a single screen tap for jumping. Games with similar mechanics with automatic forward movement, but where levels have been pre-designed, or procedurally generated to have a set finish line, are often called “auto-runners” to distinguish them from endless runners”.

Endless running games are incredibly popular and played by millions of individuals around the world (including myself on occasions). One of the best things about endless running games is that because they can be played on smartphones and other small hand-held devices they can be played anywhere at any time. Like any good game, the rules are easy to understand, the gameplay is deceptively simple, but in the end, it takes skill to succeed. The simplicity of endless running games is one of the key reasons for their global success in terms player numbers. For successful games, the mechanics should be challenging but not impossible. Such games can lead to what has been described as a state of ‘flow’ (coined by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in his seminal books Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience [1990] and Flow: The Psychology of Happiness [1992]).

With the flow experience, a game player derives intense enjoyment by being immersed in the gaming experience, the challenges of the game are matched by the player’s skills, and the player’s sense of time is distorted so that time passes without it being noticed. For some video game players, this may then mean repeatedly seeking out similar experiences on a regular basis to the extent that they can escape from their concerns in the ‘real world’ by being continually engrossed in a flow-inducing world. However, something like flow – viewed largely as a positive psychological phenomenon – may be less positive in the long-term for some video game players if they are craving the same kind of emotional ‘high’ that they obtained the last time that they experienced flow when playing a video game.

Flow has been proposed (by Jackson and Eklund, 2006) as comprising nine elements that include: (i) striking a balance between the challenges of an activity and one’s abilities; (ii) a merging of performance of actions with one’s self-awareness; (iii) possessing clear goals; (iv) gaining unambiguous feedback on performance; (v) having full concentration on the task in hand; (vi) experiencing a sense of being in control; (vii) losing any form of self-consciousness; (viii) having a sense of time distorted so that time seems to speed up or slow down; and (ix) the undergoing of an auto-telic experience (e.g., the goals are generated by the person and not for some anticipated future benefit). Endless running games are one of many types of videogame that can result in ‘flow’ experiences (which for the vast majority of gamers is going to result in something more positive (psychologically) than negative.

There are many studies showing that playing video games can improve reaction times and hand-eye co-ordination. For example, research has shown that spatial visualisation ability, such as mentally rotating and manipulating two- and three-dimensional objects, improves with videogame playing. Again, endless running videogames rely very heavily on hand-eye co-ordination and fast reaction to on-screen events. In this specific area, I see endless running games as having nothing but positive benefits in terms of improving hand-eye co-ordination skills, reflexes, and attention spans.

Although I’m not a neuroscientist or a neuropsychologist, I know that on a neurobiological level, when we engage in pleasurable activity, our bodies produce its own opiate-like neurochemicals in the form of endorphins and dopamine. The novelty aspects of endless running games will for many players result in the production of neurochemical pleasure which is rewarding and reinforcing for the gamer.

I also believe that endless running games have an appeal that crosses many demographic boundaries, such as age, gender, ethnicity, or educational attainment. They can be used to help set goals and rehearse working towards them, provide feedback, reinforcement, self-esteem, and maintain a record of behavioural change in the form of personal scores. Beating one’s own personal high scores or having higher scores than our friends and fellow gamers can also be psychologically rewarding.

Because video games can be so engaging, they can also be used therapeutically. For instance, research has consistently shown that videogames are excellent cognitive distractors and can help reduce pain. Because I have a number of chronic and degenerative health conditions, I play a number of cognitively-engrossing casual games because when my mind is 100% engaged in an activity I don’t feel any pain whatsoever. Again, endless running games tick this particular box for me (and others). Also, on a personal level, I am time-poor because I work so hard in my job. Endless running games are ideal for individuals like myself who simply don’t have the time to engage in playing massively multiplayer online games that can take up hours every day but will quite happily keep myself amused and pain-free on my commute into work on the bus.

As I have pointed out in so many of my research papers and populist writings over the years, is that the negative consequences of playing almost always involve a minority of individuals that are excessive video game players. There is little evidence of serious acute adverse effects on health from moderate play, endless running games included.

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

Further reading

Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper and Row

Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1992). Flow: The psychology of happiness. London: Random House.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002).  The educational benefits of videogames Education and Health, 20, 47-51.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Can videogames be good for your health?  Journal of Health Psychology, 9, 339-344.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Adolescent video game playing: Issues for the classroom. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers, 60(4), 31-34.

Griffiths, M.D. (2019). The therapeutic and health benefits of playing videogames. In: Attrill-Smith, A., Fullwood, C. Keep, M. & Kuss, D.J. (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Cyberpsychology. (pp. 485-505). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., & Ortiz de Gortari, A. (2017). Videogames as therapy: An updated selective review of the medical and psychological literature. International Journal of Privacy and Health Information Management, 5(2), 71-96.

Jackson, S.A. & Eklund, R.C. (2006). The flow scale manual. Morgan Town, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Nuyens, F., Kuss, D.J., Lopez-Fernandez, O., & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). The experimental analysis of non-problematic video gaming and cognitive skills: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17, 389-414.

Turning over a new belief: The psychology of superstition

According to Stuart Vyse in his book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, the fallibility of human reason is the greatest single source of superstitious belief. Sometimes referred to as a belief in “magic”, superstition can cover many spheres such as lucky or unlucky actions, events, numbers, and/or sayings, as well as a belief in astrology, the occult, the paranormal, or ghosts. It was reported by Colin Campbell in the British Journal of Sociology, that approximately one third of the U.K. population are superstitious. The most often reported superstitious behaviours are (i) avoiding walking under ladders, (ii) touching wood, and (iii) throwing salt over one’s shoulder.

My background is in the gambling studies field, so as far as I am concerned, no superstitions are based on facts but are based on what I would call ‘illusory correlations’ (e.g., noticing that the last three winning visits to the casino were all when you wore a particular item of clothing or it was on a particular day of the week). While the observation may be fact-based (i.e., that you did indeed wear a particular piece of clothing), the relationship is spurious.

Superstition can cover many spheres such as lucky or unlucky actions, events, numbers, and/or sayings. A working definition within our Western society could be a belief that a given action can bring good luck or bad luck when there are no rational or generally acceptable grounds for such a belief. In short, the fundamental feature underlying superstitions is that they have no rational underpinnings.

There is also a stereotypical view that there are certain groups within society who tend to hold more superstitious beliefs than what may be considered the norm. These include those involved with sport, the acting profession, miners, fishermen, and gamblers – many of whom will have superstitions based on things that have personally happened to them or to those they know well. Again, these may well be fact-based but the associations they have experienced will again be illusory and spurious. Most individuals are basically rational and do not really believe in the effects of superstition. However, in times of uncertainty, stress, or perceived helplessness, they may seek to regain personal control over events by means of superstitious belief.

One explanation for how we learn these superstitious beliefs has been suggested by the psychologist B.F. Skinner and his research with pigeons. He noted in a 1948 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, that while waiting to be fed, pigeons adopted some peculiar behaviours. The birds appeared to see a causal relationship between receiving the food and their own preceding behaviour. However, it was merely coincidental conditioning. There are many analogies in the human world – particularly among gamblers. For instance, if a gambler blows on the dice during a game of craps and subsequently wins, the superstitious belief is reinforced through the reward of winning. Another explanation is that as children we are socialized into believing in magic and superstitious beliefs. Although many of these beliefs dissipate over time, children also learn by watching and modelling their behaviour on that of others. Therefore, if their parents or peers touch wood, carry lucky charms, and do not walk under ladders, then children are more likely to imitate that behaviour, and some of these beliefs may be carried forward to later life.

In a paper published in Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, Peter Darke and Jonathan Freedman (1997) suggested that lucky events are, by definition, determined entirely by chance. However, they go on to imply that, although most people would agree with this statement on an intellectual level, many do not appear to behave inaccordance with this belief. In his book Paradoxes of Gambling Behaviour, Willem Wagenaar (1988) proposed that in the absence of a known cause we tend to attribute events to abstract causes like luck and chance. He goes on to differentiate between luck and chance and suggests that luck is more related to an unexpected positive result whereas chance is related to surprising coincidences.

Bernard Weiner, in his book An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion, suggests that luck may be thought of as the property of a person, whereas chance is thought to be concerned with unpredictability. Gamblers appear to exhibit a belief that they have control over their own luck. They may knock on wood to avoid bad luck or carry an object such as a rabbit’s foot for good luck. Ellen Langer argued in her book The Psychology of Control that a belief in luck and superstition cannot only account for causal explanations when playing games of chance, but may also provide the desired element of personal control.

In my own research (with Carolyn Bingham) into superstition among bingo players published in the Journal of Gambling Issues, it was clear that a large percentage of bingo players we surveyed reported beliefs in luck and superstition. However, the findings were varied, with a far greater percentage of players reporting everyday superstitious beliefs rather than beliefs concerned with bingo. Whether or not players genuinely believed they had control over luck is unknown. Having superstitious beliefs may be simply part of the thrill of playing.

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

Further reading

Campbell, C. (1996). Half-belief and the paradox of ritual instrumental activism: A theory of modern superstition. British Journal of Sociology, 47(1), 151–166.

Darke, P. R., & Freedman, J. L. (1997). Lucky events and beliefs in luck: Paradoxical effects on confidence and risk-taking. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 378–388.

Griffiths, M.D. & Bingham, C. (2005). A study of superstitious beliefs among bingo players. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13. Located at: http://jgi.camh.net/index.php/jgi/article/view/3680/3640

Langer, E. J. (1983). The psychology of control. London: Sage.

Skinner, B. F. (1948). “Superstition” in the pigeon. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 38, 168–172.

Thalbourne, M.A. (1997). Paranormal belief and superstition: How large is the association? Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 91, 221–226.

Vyse, S. A. (1997). Believing in magic: The psychology of superstition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wagenaar, W. A. (1988). Paradoxes of gambling behaviour. London: Erlbaum.

Weiner, B. (1986). An attributional theory of motivation and emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag

Nailed it: A brief look at onychophilia

In a previous blog, I looked at fingernail fetishism. Since writing that article, I’ve had a few individuals get in touch with me to say that they had very specific fingernail fetishes (such as a keen interest in very long nails). As the Kinkly website notes:

“A fingernail fetish can hinge on the nail color, texture, or length. If the fetish hinges on long nails, the fetish is sometimes referred to as onychophilia. For the fingernail fetishist the excitement is in the details, so nail art is given special attention”.

However, a really short article on ‘Lady Zombie’s World of Pain, Pleasure and Sin’ website also notes that onychophilia as a fingernail fetish but says it only refers to long nails (rather than nails more generally):

“Onychophilia is a fetish for extremely long nails (either real or fake) and/or painted fingernails. As with all fetishes, preferences vary! While some fetishists say, ‘The longer, the better,’ many others find them to be repulsive after a certain length”.

In my previous article I mentioned the the only specific case of fingernail fetishism that I found in the academic literature was a 1972 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, by Dr. Austin McSweeny who successfully treated a young male fingernail fetishist using hypnosis (although other sexologists such as Willem Stekel and Martin Kafka had mentioned such a fetish in passing). The same case study was cited by Dr. Jesse Baring in a blog on fingernail fetishism for Scientific American. He noted:

“He could [only] become sexually aroused and experience penile erection by seeing or fantasizing the fingernails of a woman as they were being bitten by her. Occasionally, the mere sight of a woman’s severely bitten fingernails would cause the patient to experience a spontaneous erection … When the patient experienced the proper fetish situation, he could masturbate to the point of ejaculation and experience gratification. This was his only means of expressing his sex drive…The psychotherapist’s request for the man to picture heterosexual intercourse or a vagina in his mind’s eye was enough to make him vomit”.

A 2019 article by Stephen Alexander (‘Onychophilia: Two types of nail fetish’) notes that fingernail fetishes are subsumed within ‘hand partialism’ (which can arguably include other fetishes I have examined including ‘handwear fetishism’ and ‘hands on hips fetishism’). Alexander asserts:

“I think that [fingernail fetishism] deserves critical attention in its own right. For the nails are not like any other part of the hand in that they are not composed of living material; they are made, rather, of a tough protective protein called alpha-keratin. D. H. Lawrence [in his 1963 essay ‘Why the novel matters’] describes his fingernails as ‘ten little weapons between me and an inanimate universe, they cross the mysterious Rubicon between me alive and things […] which are not alive, in my own sense’. Thus, I think there’s something in the claim that what nail (and hair) fetishists are ultimately aroused by is death; that they are, essentially, soft-core necrophiles. Having said that, the human nail as a keratin structure (known as an unguis) is closely related to the claws and hooves of other animals, so I suppose one could just as legitimately suggest a zoosexual origin to the love of fingernails”.

To support his claim that fingernail fetishists are “soft-core necrophiles”, Alexander noted that there had been a recorded case in the 1963 book Perverse Crimes in History: Evolving concepts of sadism, lust-murder, and necrophilia – from ancient to modern times (by R.E.L. Masters and Eduard Lee) where “an illicit lover derived pleasure from eating the nail trimmings of corpses (necro-onychophagia), thereby lending support to the theory that nail fetishism has a far darker and more ghoulish undercurrent”.

I also learned in Alexander’s article that there is another related paraphilia – amychophilia – which refers to sexual arousal from being scratched (or as Alexander puts it: “a love of the pain [fingernails] can inflict, when grown long and sharp”). I went and checked if amychophilia was in my ‘go to’ book on paraphilias (i.e., Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices) – and it was. Dr. Aggrawal defines amychophilia as “deriving sexual pleasure from being scratched” which technically could mean sexual arousal from being scratched by things other than fingernails (e.g., toenails, back-scratcher) although scratching for most people will be synonymous with fingernail scratching. Given these definitions, I would argue that amychophilia is more akin to masochism than onychophilia because the root of amychophilia is in the feeling provided rather than what is doing the scratching. Alexander also quotes at length from Daphne du Maurier’s short story ‘The Little Photographer’ (from The Birds and Other Stories) and says that one scene in the book describes onychophilia in fetishistic detail”. (I won’t reproduce it here but you can check it out in Alexander’s online article here).

Which brings me to the final article I came across on onychophilia by Liz Lapont on The Naked Advice website. She was writing in response to an email she had received:

I’m a guy with a sexual fetish for long fingernails (not too long, usually the length that people get when they get their nails done). I beat off to pictures of nails and I have conversations with female friends about their nails. I wanted to know if you can make a video about this type of fetish. Seeing as not a lot of people talk about or show interest in this fetish, am I weird?”

Lapont replies that the fetish is both atypical and uncommon but not weird (“as in creepy and in need of psychiatric help”). My own take is that this is a non-normative sexual behaviour but agree with Lapont that there is nothing to worry about if the behaviour causes no problems in the individuals’ lives. She concludes by saying:

“Consult any list of the most common sexual fetishes and nails don’t crack the top 10. However it’s not unheard of, and toenails are often an associated turn-on for men with a fetish for feet. The clinical term for a fingernail fetish is onychophilia. For some, it’s the act of biting the fingernails that turn them on. For others, it might be their extreme length that is most erotic. Hands and nails play a big role even during the most vanilla sex in the world…So it’s not a stretch to see how for some men, fixating on fingernails would be IT for them”.

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.

Alexander, S. (2019). Onychophilia: Notes on two types of nail fetish. Torpedo The Ark. March 18. Located at: http://torpedotheark.blogspot.com/2019/03/onychophilia-notes-on-two-types-of-nail.html

Baring, J. (2013). Bite those nails, baby: A “quick” tale of fingernail Fetishism. Scientific American, August 14. Located at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/bite-those-nails-baby-a-e2809cquicke2809d-tale-of-fingernail-fetishism/

Baring, J. (2013). Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.

Kafka, M. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for fetishism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 357-362.

Kinkly (2020). Fingernails fetish. Located at: https://www.kinkly.com/definition/6664/fingernails-fetish

Lady Zombie (2011). Onychophilia – Long nail fetish. February 4. Located at: http://ladyzombienyc.blogspot.com/2011/02/onychophilia-long-nail-fetish.html

Lapont, L. (2017). Fingernails aren’t just great for back scratching. The Naked Advice, August 21. Located at: https://thenakedadvice.wordpress.com/2017/08/21/fingernails-arent-just-for-great-back-scratching/

Lawrence, D.H. (1985). Why the novel matters. In Steele, B. (Ed.), Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Masters, R.E., & Lea, E. (1963). Perverse crimes in history: Evolving concepts of sadism, lust-murder, and necrophilia, from ancient to modern times. New York: Julian Press.

McSweeny, A.J. (1972). Fetishism: Report of a case treated with hypnosis. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 15, 139-143.

Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.

Stekel, W. (1952). Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex (Vol. 1) (Trans., S. Parker). New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Stekel, W. (1952). Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex (Vol. 1) (Trans., S. Parker). New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation.

Reading by example: The books that inspired my career

This Christmas I managed to do a lot of book reading (most of it being David Bowie-related) and my favourite read was John O’Connell’s Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life (which If I’m nit-picking should actually be the 98 heroes because George Orwell and Anthony Burgess make two appearances each on the list), followed by Will Brooker’s Why Bowie Matters (a book I wish I had wrote because it was written by a Professor of Film and Cultural Studies and is a loose account of an academic spending a whole year trying to live like David Bowie as a piece of research). I also love lists so I thought I’d kick off the New Year with a list of the books that have shaped my academic life. This list was first published by The Psychologist (in 2018) but this blog may give my list a wider readership.

Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of the Addictions (by Jim Orford)

One of the most influential books on my whole career is Jim Orford’s seminal book Excessive Appetites that explored many different behavioural addictions including gambling, sex, and eating (i.e., addictions that don’t involve the ingestion of psychoactive substances). Jim Orford’s books are always worth a read and he writes in an engaging style that I have always admired. It was by chance that I did my PhD at the University of Exeter (1987-1990) where Orford was working at the time and since 2005 we have published many co-authored papers together. While we can agree to disagree on some aspects of how and why people become addicted, Jim will continue to be remembered as a pioneer in the field of behavioural addiction.

The Psychology of Gambling (by Michael Walker)

If there’s one book I’d wish I had written myself, it is this one. I did my PhD on slot machine addiction in adolescence but this book was published shortly after I’d finished and beautifully summarises all the main theories and perspectives on gambling psychology. My PhD would have been a whole lot easier if this book had been published when I first started my research career! I got to know Michael quite well before his untimely death in December 2009 (and he was external PhD examiner to some of my PhD students), and one of my enduring images of him was walking around at gambling conferences with his book clutched in his hand. Some of my colleagues found that a little strange but if I’d have written a book that good I’d have it with me at such events all the time!

Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change (by William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick)

I reviewed this book for the British Journal of Clinical Psychology (BJCP) back in the early 1990s and concluded by saying that it is a book that should be read by all therapists because its content can be applied to nearly all clinical situations and not just to those individuals with addictive behaviour problems. Motivational interviewing (MI) borrows strategies from cognitive therapy, client-centred counselling, systems theory, and the social psychology of persuasion, and the underlying theme of the book is the issue of ambivalence, and how the therapist can use MI to resolve it and allow the client to build commitment and reach a decision to change. In my most recent research I’ve used the basic tenets of MI in designing personalised messages to give to gamblers while they are gambling online in real time. I’ve now come to the conclusion 25 years after writing my BJCP review that anyone interested in enabling behavioural change should apply the tenets in this book to their work.

The Myth of Addiction (by John B. Davies)

Even though this book was published back in 1992, I still tell my current students that this is a ‘must read’ book. Davies takes a much researched area of social psychology (i.e., attribution theory) and applies it to addiction. The basic message of the book is that people take drugs because they want to and not because they are physiologically addicted. The whole book is written in a non-technical manner and is highly readable and thought provoking. I often use Davies’ term ‘functional attribution’ from this book in my teaching and writings on sex addiction, and apply it to celebrities who use the excuse of ‘sex addiction’ to justify their infidelities.

Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices (by Anil Aggrawal)

Anyone that reads my blog will know that when it comes to the more bizarre side of sexual activity, my ‘go to’ book is Dr. Aggrawal’s book on unusual sexual practices. Others in the sexology field often look down their noses at this book but it is both enjoyable and informative and the kind of book that once you start reading you find it hard to put down again. A lot of academic books on sexual behaviour can be boring and/or impenetrable but this one is the polar opposite. The book also kick-started some of my own recently published research on sexual fetishes and paraphilias.

Small World (by David Lodge)

During my PhD, I remember watching the 1988 adaptation of David Lodge’s novel Small World. At the time, I had never heard of David Lodge but I went out and bought the book and was totally hooked. I then discovered that Small World was the second part of a ‘campus trilogy’ (preceded by Changing Places and followed by Nice Work). Since then I have bought every novel Lodge has ever published and he’s my favourite fiction writer (and I’ve bought and read some of his academic books on literary criticism). I love campus novels and through Lodge and devoured other university-based novels (including Malcolm Bradbury’s The History Man, Howard Jacobson’s Coming from Behind, and Ann Oakley’s The Men’s Room among my favourites).

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.

Brooker, W. (2019) Why Bowie Matters. London: William Collins.

Davies J. B. (1992). The Myth of Addiction. Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Griffiths, M.D. (2018). My shelfie. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 31, 70.

Lodge, D. (1984). Small World. London: Secker & Warburg.

Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (1991). Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People to Change Addictive Behavior. New York: Guilford Press.

O’Connell, J. (2019). Bowie’s Books: The Hundred Literary Heroes Who Changed His Life. London: Bloomsbury.

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

“I ink, therefore I am”: A brief look at ‘tattoo addiction’

“When I first told people back in 2016 that I was getting my first tattoo, the most common response I got from those who were already inked themselves was ‘You’re going to get addicted to getting tattoos’. I found this notion a little ridiculous – I was nervous enough just getting a small one on my ankle. I couldn’t imagine getting hooked on something that was not only expensive, but painful and permanent. Fast forward to 2019, and I’ve since gotten two more tattoos, each one progressively larger and more detailed, and I’m already planning my fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. As I was warned, I have indeed gotten hooked. For me, it’s both because I love how it makes me feel about my body, and because I’ve gotten to discover a new form of expression in my mid-30s. According to a 2018 report from Statista, roughly 46 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, and 30 percent of these people have two or three –19 percent have up to four or five. Clearly, other people love getting inked just as much as I do. But while tattoos can be fun to have, are they actually addictive?

This opening quote is by Amy Semigran, a journalist who interviewed me earlier this year for an article she was writing on addictions to tattoos for the online magazine Mic (‘Are tattoos really addictive? There’s a reason you keep coming back for more’). Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I’ve written various articles on the psychology of tattoos over the years including articles on stigmatophilia (sexual arousal from a partner who is marked or scarred in some way, which can also include body tattoos), the use of extreme tattooing in films, a look at the TV programme ‘My Tattoo Addiction’, and an article on whether having tattoos makes women more sexually attractive.

In my interview, I told Semigran that in order for a person’s behaviour to be deemed an addiction, it needs to meet my six specific criteria: salience (where tattooing becomes the most important thing in a person’s life), mood modification (e.g., the euphoric feelings that accompany tattooing), tolerance (the gradual build-up of tattooing with the individual spending more and more time engaged in tattooing), withdrawal symptoms (negative psychological and/or physical consequences as a result of not being able to get tattooed such as extreme moodiness or irritability), conflict (tattooing compromising other areas of the individual’s life such as personal relationships and education/occupation), and relapse (returning to tattooing after a period of abstinence). Therefore, I told Semigran that tattooing does not meet my criteria for addiction. I also added that while many behaviours can become impulsive, addiction relies on constant rewards or reinforcement. Alcoholics, gambling addicts, or drug addicts feed their habits with frequent rewarding experiences (at least in the short-term) but even the most heavily tattooed people are not engaging in the behaviour regularly.

However, it is feasible that tattooing could be a behaviour that results in constant preoccupation (e.g., constantly thinking about getting the next tattoo, looking at tattoo designs, reading tattooing magazines, talking with other heavily tattooed individuals and sharing experiences, working as a tattooist, etc.). However, constantly being preoccupied by tattooing is (in itself) not a problem, unless of course it starts to cause serious conflict with other day-to-day activities. Semigran also interviewed Dr. Daniel Selling (a psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group in New York) for her article. He was quoted as saying:

“The word addiction in the context of tattoos is misused…while you can’t have a tattoo addiction, per se, it can be a dependence where you feel some elements of need and withdrawal…and perhaps spend too much time or money getting work…Being tattooed can also lead to an adrenaline rush of sorts. It’s the body tolerating annoyance and pain coupled with excitement and change”.

I agree that some people can spend too much time or money or spend money they don’t have on getting tattoos, but this is not addiction (and I would also argue that it is not dependence either). For many people, getting tattoos might be more of a passion than a problem, and there is nothing wrong with being passionate about what you do. I am passionate about work and some people describe me as being addicted to work or of being a ‘workaholic’ but given there are almost no negative consequences of me working hard and loving my job, it certainly can’t be viewed as an addiction.

As Semigran pointed out in her article, for many people, their passion and interest in tattooing is something that enhances their lives rather than interferes with it (this is exactly the same as my assertion – published in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Substance Use) that healthy excessive enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from it. Semigran interviewed Lisa Orth, a Los Angeles-based tattoo artist Lisa Orth who has around 100 tattoos). She said:

“It’s an incredible feeling to be able to permanently customize yourself with artwork. [The] feeling of self-expression can be an empowering experience…It’s one of the main reasons [my] clients come back again and again. Tattooing can be a way of engaging with, and taking possession of, one’s body in an active way…[It] can allow people to define themselves visually in a way that forces the observer to see a person as they most authentically see themselves. That’s a big draw (so to speak) for those who repeatedly get inked…Getting tattooed is one of the remaining rituals in our culture that are physical, mental and emotional challenges, where you come out transformed on the other side”.

Again, this explanation has nothing to do with addiction and everything to do with self-identity and passion. Many addiction psychologists, would also add that if he behaviour causes harm or injury to the individual, it may also be a sign or symptom of possible addiction. However, Semigran quoted American psychologist, Dr. Tracy Alderman from an article she wrote for Psychology Today examining the extent to which tattooing and body piercings can be classed as self-harm.

“[E]njoying a rush is different than participating in self-harm. Since tattooing is a needle penetrating skin, that can potentially feed someone’s desire to feel pain or change their appearance due to unhappiness with themselves…Once in a while there will be cases in which piercing and/or tattoos do fit the definition of self-injury. But overwhelmingly,self-injury is a distinct behavior, in definition, method and purpose, from tattooing and piercing”.

I read Dr. Alderman’s article and her views mirror my own when it comes to the psychology of tattooing:

“[A] main issue separating self-injurious acts from tattoos and piercings is that of pride. Most people who get tattooed and/or pierced are proud of their new decorations. They want to show others their ink, their studs, their plugs. They want to tell the story of the pain, the fear, the experience. In contrast, those who hurt themselves generally don’t tell anyone about it. Self-injurers go to great lengths to cover and disguise their wounds and scars. Self-injurers are not proud of their new decorations”.

Semigran also quoted Dr. Suzanne Phillips who recently wrote an article for PsychCentral entitled ‘Tattoos after trauma-do they have healing potential’. Dr. Phillips notes:

“[A tattoo being used] to register a traumatic event is a powerful re-doing…It starts at the body’s barrier of protection, the skin, and uses it as a canvas to bear witness, express, release and unlock the viscerally felt impact of trauma”.

There’s no doubt that tattooing has become part of mainstream culture over the past two decades and there are a number of scholars who claim in the scientific literature that getting tattoos can be potentially addictive (such as Dr. Ivan Sosin; Dr. Allyna Murray and Dr. Tanya Tompkins; see ‘Further Reading’ below) but based on my own addiction criteria I remain to be convinced. However, whenever I think about the psychology of tattooing, I am always reminded of the saying: “Tattoos are like potato chips … you can’t have just one”.

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

Further reading

Alderman, T. (2009). Tattoos and piercings: Self-injury? Psychology Today, December 10. Located at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/nz/blog/the-scarred-soul/200912/tattoos-and-piercings-self-injury?amp

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

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

Kovacsik, R., Griffiths, M.D., Pontes, H., Soós, I., de la Vega, R., Ruíz-Barquín, R., Demetrovics, Z., & Szabo, A. (2019). The role of passion in exercise addiction, exercise volume, and exercise intensity in long-term exercisers. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-018-9880-1

Murray, A. M., & Tompkins, T. L. (2013). Tattoos as a behavioral addiction. Science and Social Sciences, Submission 26. Located at: https://digitalcommons.linfield.edu/studsymp_sci/2013/all/26

Phillips, S. (2019). Tattoos after trauma-do they have healing potential? PsychCentral, March 27. Located at: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/healing-together/2012/12/tattoos-after-trauma-do-they-have-healing-potential/

Semigran, A. (2019). Are tattoos really addictive? There’s a reason you keep coming back for more. Mic, July 3. Located at: https://www.mic.com/p/are-tattoos-really-addictive-theres-a-reason-you-keep-coming-back-for-more-18166085

Sosin, I. (2014). EPA-0786-Tattoo as a subculture and new form of substantional addiction: The problem identification. European Psychiatry, 29, Supplement 1, 1.

Szabo, A., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z., de la Vega, R., Ruíz-Barquín, R., Soós, I. &Kovacsik, R. (2019). Obsessive and harmonious passion in physically active Spanish and Hungarian men and women: A brief report on cultural and gender differences. International Journal of Psychology, 54, 598-603.

The sciences of reliances on appliances: Have we become reliant on digital technologies and what can we do about it?

Readers of my blog will know that I hate to waste anything that I have put time and effort into and today’s blog contain the written transcripts of partly unpublished interviews on smartphone and social media use that I did a number of months ago with the Daily Express and the Nottingham Post. I have no idea which parts of my responses were used or in what context, but here my complete responses to the questions I was asked.

Q: Are we too reliant on tech and gadgets when it comes to family life both in the home, and also social media?

Mark Griffiths: In most walks of life including work, education, and leisure, reliance on tech and gadgets has become the norm. It’s almost impossible to function without relying on tech. However, individuals often spend too much time on things that distract them from what they should be doing. I use social media every day but for no more than about 10-15 minutes so it doesn’t interfere with work productivity or time spent with my family. Most individuals are habitual smartphone and/or social media users. Even though very few people are genuinely addicted to the applications on their smartphones, a few hours use each day can reduce the amount of time they should be spending on their occupation or education (depending upon age) and can reduce the amount of quality time spent with family members. I have three screenagers all who spend a disproportionate amount of time in front of their smartphones. However, I have no problem if it doesn’t impact on their education, chores around the house, social friendships with their peers, or their physical education. However, some parents use tech heavily themselves (which is not good in terms of being a role model to their children) and others use tech as electronic ‘babysitters’ for their children.

Q: What problems can this cause?

MG: Thankfully, serious side effects and genuine addiction to smartphone applications is minimal. However, habitual smartphone use simply leads to less time spent on things that people should be doing including their (i) job or school/ college/ university work, (ii) physical exercise (because smartphone use tends to be a sedentary for most people), and (iii) quality time with friends and family (less face-to-face interaction). For those at risk of genuine addiction, excessive smartphone use leads to a complete deterioration and compromising of everything in that person’s life and can lead to mental health issues (e.g., depression, social anxiety, etc.) but as I said the number of individuals genuinely affected in this way is minimal.

Q: What are the benefits of a more simple life, less gadgets, less tech?

MG: I gave up using my smartphone a couple of years ago and am highly productive in my job. I still actively use social media and am online a lot of the time but doing it via my laptop or work computer means that I’m not constantly bombarded with notifications, pings by the minute, or constant phone vibrations. The benefits of technology far outweigh the negatives but that doesn’t mean that we should be living our whole lives online.

Q: What are your top tips for switching off as a family 

MG: I’ve written a lot about the benefits of digital detox and how to so it (see: https://drmarkgriffiths.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/tech-your-time-12-top-tips-for-a-digital-detox/ ). As a father of three screenagers we have some general rules:

  • No smartphones at the dinner table.
  • No smartphone use late at night (can’t do that now as my children are now al over 18 years of age) but parents have every right to control their younger children’s tech use.
  • No smartphones for children under 11 years of age.
  • Remember that what you do with tech will be mimicked by your children so set a good example of responsible tech use.
  • Having family events where smartphone use is difficult (e.g., going swimming, going for outdoor walks where reception is poor, going on holiday in places where there is no Wi-Fi access). These types of event are more about showing children that life can still live life without being online 24/7. All my children are very sporty and play competitive sport so that’s great for restricting smartphone use.

Q: How young is too young to own a mobile phone?

MG: Making a decision on when is the right time depends on each child and their parents. It is about responsible parenting and limiting screen time. There is no scientific evidence about what the right age is to give a phone. I have three screenagers and none of them got a phone before the age of 11 years of age. We live in a very technologically advances society and there is no harm in letting children learn early on how to use an i-Pad or tablet. It stops them becoming technophobes when they grow older. The majority of children know more about it than adults now. Obviously you need to monitor what they are using the phone for. We wouldn’t want our children using gambling apps for instance but they mostly just want to keep in touch with their friends. However, parents know their children better than anyone else and there is a reason to give a child a phone when it concerns safety and knowing where your child is, especially if they are walking to and from school. One reason to give a child a phone at the start of secondary school is so that they don’t feel ostracized when they realise everyone else in their class has one. Ironically the majority of kids that have a phone rarely use it to make calls but knowing where they are and being able to talk to them almost instantly is a huge relief for parents.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

MG: There’s no scientific evidence that moderate tech use has a negative impact (psychologically or physically on people’s lives). The old cliché is true – everything in moderation. Excessive use of almost anything even when it’s something socially approved and socially sanctioned (e.g., work, exercise, education, etc.) can be problematic if it’s done to the neglect of everything else.

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

Further reading

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Social media addiction: What is the role of content in YouTube? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 364-377.

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Perceived addictiveness of smartphone games: A content analysis of game reviews by players. International Journal of Mental Health and Addictions, 17, 922-934.

Balta, S., Jonason, P., Denes, A., Emirtekin, E., Tosuntaş, S.B., Kircaburun, K., Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Dark personality traits and problematic smartphone use: The mediating role of fearful attachment. Personality and Individual Differences, 149, 214-219.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013) Social networking addiction: Emerging themes and issues. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 4: e118. doi: 10.4172/2155-6105.1000e118.

Griffiths, M.D. & Kuss, D.J. (2011). Adolescent social networking: Should parents and teachers be worried? Education and Health, 29, 23-25.

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.

Hussain, Z., Griffiths, M.D. & Sheffield, D. (2017). An investigation in to problematic smartphone use: The role of narcissism, anxiety, and personality factors. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 378–386.

Kırcaburun, K. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Instagram addiction and the big five of personality: The mediating role of self-liking. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 158-170.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Online social networking and addiction: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Social networking sites and addiction: Ten lessons learned. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14, 311; doi:10.3390/ijerph14030311

Richardson, M., Hussain, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Problematic smartphone use, nature connectedness, and anxiety. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 109-116.

Yang, Z., Asbury, K., & Griffiths, M. D. (2019). Do Chinese and British university students use smartphones differently? A cross-cultural mixed methods study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17(3), 644-657.

Sound affects: Another look at ‘music addiction’

In a previous blog that I wrote seven years ago, I looked at the concept of ‘music addiction’. As Philip Dorrell pointed out in his 2005 book What is Music? Solving a Scientific Mystery, music (like drugs) acts on our emotions and feelings. Regular readers of my blog will know that I describe myself as a ‘music obsessive’ and have written many articles about my own passion for listening to and collecting music (a few examples here, here, and here). One of the proudest moments of my life was getting a populist article on ‘music addiction’ published in Record Collector, my favourite magazine (see screenshot below and ‘Further reading’ for the full reference).

A 2011 study published by Dr. Valorie Salimpoor and her colleagues in Nature Neuroscience reported that on a neurochemical level, the pleasurable experience of listening to music releases the neurotransmitter dopamine that is important for the pleasures associated with rewards such as food, psychoactive drugs and money. This led to many headlines in newspapers along the lines of ‘people who say that they are addicted to music are not lying’. The team also reported that just the anticipation of pleasurable music led to increased dopamine release. Therefore, this helps explain why individuals (like myself) continually repeat songs or albums all the time as we want to re-experience those sensations repeatedly.

My previous article examined the concept of ‘musomania’ (i.e., an obsession with music). I noted that there had been very little in the way of academic or clinical literature on the topic although since writing my original article I have come across a couple of more recently published studies looking at the concept (one which published shortly after my original blog on the topic).

Dr. Nicolas Schmuziger and his colleagues published a paper in a 2012 issue of Audiology Research entitled ‘Is there addiction to loud music? Findings in a group of non-professional pop/rock musicians’. They hypothesized that listening to loud music may be an addictive behavior and that it could result in hearing damage (which is one of the reasons they published their findings in an audiology journal – also, they probably would have found it harder to publish their study in an addiction journal). They hypothesized that individuals who were members of non-professional pop/rock bands who had regular exposure to loud music would be more likely to show an addictive-like behavior for loud music compared to individuals who were not.

In their study, the researchers recruited 50 non-professional musicians and matched them with 50 control participants. Both groups completed a questionnaire called the Northeastern Music Listening Survey (NEMLS) comprising two basic scales. The first scale was an adaptation of the Michigan Alcohol Screening Test (MAST) to study the addictive-like behavior towards loud music. The NEMLS was developed by Dr. Mary Florentine and her colleagues to assess Maladaptive Music Listening (MML). It is a 24 item scale that (in relation to listening to music) examining five distinct areas: “(i) recognition and admission of the problem by self and others; (ii) legal, work and social problems; (iii) seeking involvement with treatment programs; (iv) marital-family difficulties; and (v) medical pathology”. In addition to socio-demographic questions (on age, gender, and level of education), a second component of the NEMLS included “four items assessing three out of seven clinical diagnostic criteria for substance dependence as outlined by the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association…The other four criteria were already embedded within the MAST”.

Findings showed that nine (out of 50) met the DSM-IV criteria for ‘music dependence’ compared to just one individual in the control group. Seven of the nine musicians endorsing DSM criteria also had a positive score on the NEMLS. The researchers concluded that traits of addictive-like behavior to loud music were detected more often in members of nonprofessional pop/rock bands than in matched controls. The authors themselves pointed out that they did not explore the reasons why their participants “with repeated exposure to high-sound levels of electro-amplified music may be more likely to show traits of maladaptive behavior to loud music than the control subjects, and whether they develop such behavior before or after joining a pop/rock band”. They also concluded that only a few participants in their sample may have maladaptive music listening.

A more recent paper by Dr. Christine Ahrends entitled ‘Does excessive music practicing have addiction potential?’ was published in the journal Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain. She noted that:

“A theory that has previously been put forward but has not yet been empirically examined is the idea of “musical addictivity” (Panksepp, 1995)… Panksepp assumes an involvement of the opioid system for the emergence of “chills” when listening to music and concludes from there that listening to emotionally arousing music can be addictive through the release of opioids. On those grounds, Panksepp compares the phenomenon of music-induced chills (defining the main bodily response as a feeling of coldness) with that of drug addiction and its related withdrawal symptoms (like the so-called “cold turkey”). Although this comparison has major limitations, the general hypothesis might provide a new perspective on certain types of music-related behavior”.

Put simply, it has been argued that music has the capacity to activate the reward centres in the human brain and this can lead to behavioural addiction. Dr. Ahrends noted that recent studies supported the idea of addictive music consumption (citing the studies by Schmuziger and colleagues, and the study by Florentine and colleagues, both mentioned above) but not for music practicing. She wrote that:

“Anecdotal evidence has shown that some musicians either continue to practice through practice-induced pain or have psychosomatic disorders at deprivation, thus transforming a former goal-directed behavior into a maladaptive one”.

Based on the small empirical literature and anecdotal evidence, Dr. Ahrends hypothesized that music practice has the potential to be addictive and carried out an exploratory empirical study. To assess music practice addiction, she adapted the Exercise Dependence Scale Revised (EDS-R) (very similar to my own Exercise Addiction Inventory) and investigated the extent to whether musicians fulfilled the criteria to be classified as being “at risk for dependence” in relation to their music practice. A total of 25 musicians were recruited from German conservatories. Based on the scale scores three of the participants were classified as “at risk for dependence,” 20 of the participants were classified as “nondependent-symptomatic,” and two were classified as “nondependent-asymptomatic.” Based on these results, Dr. Ahrends claimed the findings provided tentative support for music practice addiction. She went on to argue that the concept of music practice addiction is a promising concept for further research and “may have implications for the understanding of mental health problems in musicians”.

In relation to this latter study, I would argue that this isn’t a case of ‘music practice addiction’ (if it exists at all) but if it exists, it is actually akin to ‘study addiction’ (a pre-cursor to ‘workaholism’) that I and my colleagues have published a number of papers on over the past few years (see ‘Further reading). The notion of ‘study addiction’ is highly controversial so it’s unsurprising that ‘music practice addiction’ would similarly be seen as controversial by most scholars working in the behavioural addiction field.

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

Further reading

Ahrends, C. (2017). Does excessive music practicing have addiction potential? Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 27(3), 191-202.

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.

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.

Atroszko, P.A., Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Pallesen, S. (2016). The relationship between study addiction and work addiction: A cross-cultural longitudinal study. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 5, 708–714.

Dorrell, P. (2005). Is music a drug? 1729.com, July 3. Located at: http://www.1729.com/blog/IsMusicADrug.html

Dorrell, P. (2005).What is Music? Solving a Scientific Mystery. Located at: http://whatismusic.info/.

Florentine, M., Hunter, W., Robinson, M., Ballou, M., & Buus, S. (1998). On the behavioral characteristics of loud-music listening. Ear and Hearing, 19(6), 420-428.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Music addiction. Record Collector, 406 (October), p.20.

The Local (2007). Man gets sick benefits for heavy metal addiction. June 19. Located at: http://www.thelocal.se/7650/20070619/

Morrison, E. (2011). Researchers show why music is so addictive. Medhill Reports, January 21. Located at: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=176870

Panksepp, J. (1995). The emotional sources of “chills” induced by music. Music Perception, 13, 171–207.

Salimpoor, V.N., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K. Dagher, A. & Zatorre, R.J. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature Neuroscience 14, 257–262.

Schmuziger, N., Patscheke, J., Stieglitz, R., & Probst, R. (2012). Is there addiction to loud music? Findings in a group of non-professional pop/rock musicians. Audiology Research, 2(e1), 57-63.

Smith, J. (1989). Senses and Sensibilities. New York: Wiley.

Something really fishy: A brief look at the coelacanth, the ‘living fossil’

In one of my more previous frivolous blogs (‘The beast inside: What does your favourite animal say about you?’) I wrote that my favourite animal is the coelacanth. It’s been my favourite animal ever since I did a junior school project on it when I was nine-years old. At that age I was fascinated by dinosaurs, fossils, and paleontology. Like many boys in my class, I devoured books on dinosaurs. One of the ‘dino-books’ I read talked about a fish called the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish that lived on earth during the late-Devonian period (known as the ‘age of fishes’) dating back 360 million years. What grabbed my attention was mention that a living coelacanth had been caught in the Chalumna River off the east coast of South Africa in 1938. According to fossil records, coelacanths had died out and become extinct 65 million years ago (having lived 200 million years before dinosaurs had even come into existence). I found the idea of a real life coelacanth unbelievable. Although my passion for psychology overtook paleontology in my late teens I still love all things coelacanth. It’s probably one of the subjects I would pick if I ever appeared on the Mastermind television show. I rarely read academic papers outside of psychology but for ones on coelacanths I make exceptions. I must have watched every documentary and video clip on YouTube (and in my opinion, the 2001 Equinoxe documentary ‘The Fish That Time Forgot’ is an excellent primer on the coelacanth. You should also check out the more recent ‘Diving With Dinosaur Fish‘).

The coelacanth has often been dubbed a ‘living fossil’ (in simple terms referring to an organism that closely resembles another organism that is only known from fossil records) and the name ‘coelacanth’ derives from both Greek and modern Latin and means ‘hollow spine’ (one of the fish’s interesting anatomical features). According to Wikipedia, there are two key characteristics of something defined as a living fossil (and some scholars have added a third):

“The first two are required for recognition as a living fossil stasis but some authors include the third. They (i) are members of taxa [a group of one of more organisms] that exhibit notable longevity in the sense that they have remained recognisable in the fossil record over unusually long periods; (ii) show little morphological divergence, whether from early members of the lineage, or among extant species, and (iii) tend to have little taxonomic diversity”.

Based on such characteristics, there are dozens of ‘living fossils’ on the planet including reptiles (e.g., crocodiles, various turtles), birds (e.g., pelicans, magpie geese), many types of shark, and mammals (e.g., aardvarks, red pandas, okapis), as well as bony fish such as the coelacanths and African lungfish. Just as an aside, in 2018, I co-authored a paper (published in the journal Social Sciences, see ‘Further reading’ below) with Dr. Mike Sutton debunking the assertion that Charles Darwin coined the phrase ‘living fossil’. The Oxford English Dictionary claims Charles Darwin (1859) coined the term ‘living fossil’. Using the ‘internet date detection’ method, we highlighted that the term ‘living fossil’ first appeared in the literature at least 147 years earlier in the work of a Welsh Botanist Lhwyd (1712). He used it in Philosophical Transactions, the journal of the Royal Society of London (which was also thefirst ever peer-reviewed scientific journal).

It could be argued that the twentieth century history concerning the coelacanth was due to one man’s obsession, namely Professor James Leonard Brierley Smith (but known to all in the field as ‘J.L.B.’ Smith and who was an ichthyologist at Rhodes University). For those who don’t know, ichthyology is the branch of zoology that concern itself with the scientific study of fish. (And as another aside, when I worked in the University of Plymouth’s psychology department [1990-1995], one of my colleagues [Dr. Phil Gee] described himself – at least at the time – as an ‘ichthyopsychologist’ and published a paper in 1994 from his PhD entitled ‘Temporal discrimination learning of operant feeding in goldfish’ in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior). Smith is credited with formally identifying the coelacanth that was caught in 1938 but the story actually began with Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, the curator at the East London Natural History Museum, who spotted a strange looking blue-finned fish among the catch of a local fisherman (Hendrick Goosen) on December 23, 1938. She made a sketch of the 1.5-metre fish and contacted her friend Smith who instantly knew he was looking at something history-changing. It actually took nearly two months before Smith actually saw the fish in the flesh (he lived over 500 miles away and finally visited Courtenay-Latimer on February 16, 1939).

Courtenay-Latimer had tried to preserve it as best as she could but all the internal organs were disposed of (she had sent it to a taxidermist) before Smith was able to examine the specimen (the refrigeration facilities were poor in the 1930s so she had the fish skinned and mounted). The specimen was eventually named after Courtenay-Latimer and the river where it was found (genus name Latimeria chalumnae). Coelacanths were actually known to the local fishermen who called them ‘gombessa’ or ‘mame’.

Smith knew the importance of the find and spent years trying to find a second West Indian Ocean coelacanth. He distributed leaflets for thousands of miles all along the East African coast and offered a large financial reward to any fisherman who caught one. Fourteen years later, a second coelacanth turned up in the Comoro Islands (followed by over 80 other specimens up to 1975 including catches off the coasts of Tanzania, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique). Smith managed to persuade the South African Prime Minister (Daniel Malan) to get the military to fly him to the Comoros (islands that were actually owned by France). Smith subsequently began the first ever dissection of a coelacanth and concluded it was different in many ways from all modern fish (see bullet point on ‘Body characteristics’ below).

One of the most interesting features of coelacanths are its fins. They are almost limb-like and because of this anatomical feature, Smith (wrongly) believed that the coelacanth was evidence of the evolutionary ‘missing link’ between fish and land-walking mammals (in fact on December 30, 1952, the New York Times front-page article was headlined ‘14-Year Hunt Yields ‘Missing Link’ Fish’). Much of Smith’s post-1952 career was spent writing about and researching the coelacanth (most notably his 1956 book The Search Beneath the Sea – The Story of the Coelacanth also known as Old Fourlegs: The Story of the Coelacanth).

Remarkably, the story of the coelacanth didn’t end in the east coast of Africa. In September 1997, a different species of coelacanth was identified at a local market in Sulawesi (Indonesia) by Dr. Mark Erdmann (a coral reef ecologist) who was on honeymoon with his wife. Erdmann took photographs but someone bought the fish so was unable to carry out any research on the specimen. Erdmann subsequently returned to Indonesia and in July 1998, local fisherman caught a second Indonesian coelacanth (and was subsequently given the genus name Latimeria menadoensis). The fish was known to local Indonesian fisherman as ‘raja laut’ (king of the sea). So what else do we know about present-day coelacanths? Here’s my brief bluffer’s guide to coelacanths.

  • Maximum size and weight: Coelacanths can be as long as six feet and weigh up to 200 pounds, and females are bigger than males.
  • Life expectancy: It is estimated coelacanths can live up to 80 to 100 years based on the growth rings in the ear bones (called otoliths).
  • Body characteristics: Coelacanths have thick (almost armour-like) scales and a tiny brain (comprising 1.5% of the cranial cavity). They have hinge in their skull (i.e., an intracranial joint) that allows them to open their mouths wide to consume their prey, and instead of a spine they have an oil-filled hollow pressurized tube called a notocord. They also have very primitive hearts described as the most primitive in the vertebrate world. In their nose they have an electro-sensory system (a rostral organ comprising a jelly-filled cavity) that has been speculated to help sense its prey (similar to that found in some sharks – in fact coelacanths and sharks have almost identical blood chemistry). The East African species is blue in colour whereas the Indonesian species is brown in colour.
  • Body metabolism and diet: Coelacanths are carnivorous and also have the lowest metabolism of any fish its size. It is speculated that it is this feature that may have allowed them to survive on earth for so long. They feed on small fish and occasionally squid, eels and small sharks. The low metabolism means they don’t need much food to survive and they live in relatively low-food environments.
  • Number of species: Historically there were over 120 species of coelacanth identified by fossil records but only two extant species have been verified.
  • Movement: J.L.B. Smith speculated that coelacanths ‘walked’ on the sea bed but the four (almost limb-like) facilitate a form of locomotion that is similar to tetrapods (four-legged animals) but ‘walk’ in the water not on the sea bed (Smith described their fins as “paddles”).
  • Habitat: During the daytime they tend to be relatively stationary (inside underground caves and crevices up to 700 metres below the water’s surface although some coelacanths live in shallower depths of 90-150 metres such as those found in Sodwana Bay off the South African coast) and are nocturnal and move around (up to 8 km) during the night. The fact they live so deep underwater means they cannot live in captivity so almost everything known about coelacanths comes from dead specimens or study in-situ.
  • Reproduction and giving birth: Very little was known about how coelacanths until a pregnant coelacanth was dissected in 1975 (at the American Museum of Natural History in New York) and five fully-formed coelacanth ‘pups’ were found inside the female. The gestation period has been estimated to be around 13 to 15 months (the longest among any living fish and some papers claim a gestation period of up to three years) and they give birth to live offspring (i.e., ovoviviparous – producing offspring via eggs which are hatched within the body of their mother). Coelacanth eggs are larger than any other fish (around the size of tennis balls) and are full of nutrients to help the growing embryos. It is thought that coelacanths can give birth to between five and 25 pups. Coelacanths become sexually active at around 20 years of age. However, as far as I am aware, no-one has ever seen coelacanths mate. However, a paper published in a 2013 issue of Nature Communications carried out analysis on pregnant coelacanths and concluded that coelacanths appear to be monogamous and that offspring do not appear to mate with each other.
  • Edibility: Because of the excessive amounts of oil and wax esters within their bodies, they are slimy, ooze a mucus-type substance, coelacanths have a foul flavour (and because of the high urea content in their body they can also smell and taste of urine). In fact, people can become sick after eating coelacanth.
  • World population – It is estimated that there are approximately 350 coelacanths living on the planet and it is now classed as an endangered species which although better than extinct, could still mean they become extinct within a few generations. A genetic study of the two different extant species estimated that they had diverged 30-40 million years ago.

In my research for this article, I did come across a 1997 paper by Hans Fricke (in the Marine Ecology Progress Series) that had a whole section on the psychology of coelacanths. He noted:

“The long evolutionary existence and unchanged appearance of coelacanths since the Devonian provides spiritual insight into our own comparatively short human existence on earth. Furthermore, coelacanths are of interest not only because of their long evolutionary history but also because they remain for the public – and also for many scientists – the nearest living relatives close to our own tetrapod roots. This makes the coelacanth unique among living fossils. We appreciate the timeless existence of this ‘old cousin’ which provides a window into the past. This existence value was nicely expressed in a German youth magazine. Youngsters selected a hit list of reasons ‘Why it is worthwhile living this week’. One entry contained the statement ‘…that coelacanths still exist’.”

The paper also talked about how humans can become emotionally and strongly affected after seeing films about coelacanths. I can attest to this. I was gripped as an adult in my thirties when I first saw a coelacanth on film (and I have never lost that feeling). Their existence is quite simply life-affirming and life-enhancing.

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

Further reading

Amemiya, C. T., Alföldi, J., Lee, A. P., Fan, S., Philippe, H., MacCallum, I., … & Organ, C. (2013). The African coelacanth genome provides insights into tetrapod evolution. Nature, 496(7445), 311-316.

Bates, M. (2015). The feature creature: 10 fun facts about the coelacanth. Wired, February 3. Located at: https://www.wired.com/2015/03/creature-feature-10-fun-facts-coelacanth/

Fricke, H. (1997). Living coelacanths: values, eco-ethics and human responsibility. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 161, 1-15.

Gee, P., Stephenson, D., & Wright, D.E. (1994). Temporal discrimination learning of operant feeding in goldfish (Carassius auratus). Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 62(1), 1-13.

Holder, M.T., Erdmann, M.V., Wilcox, T.P., Caldwell, R. L., & Hillis, D.M. (1999). Two living species of coelacanths? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 96(22), 12616-12620.

Inoue J. G., Miya, M., Venkatesh, B., & Nishida, M. (2005). The mitochondrial genome of Indonesian coelacanth Latimeria menadoensis (Sarcopterygii: Coelacanthiformes) and divergence time estimation between the two coelacanths. Gene, 349, 227–235.

Johanson, Z., Long, J. A., Talent, J. A., Janvier, P., and Warren, J. W (2006). Oldest coelacanth, from the early Devonian of Australia. Biology Letters, 2(3), 443–446.

Lampert, K. P., Blassmann, K., Hissmann, K., Schauer, J., Shunula, P., El Kharousy, Z., … & Schartl, M. (2013). Single-male paternity in coelacanths. Nature communications, 4, 2488.

Lavett Smith, C., Rand, C. S., Schaeffer, B., and Atz, J. W. (1975). Latimeria, the living coelacanth, is ovoviviparous. Science 190(4219), 1105–1106.

Pouyaud, L., Wirjoatmodjo, S., Rachmatika, I., Tjakrawidjaja, A., Hadiaty, R., & Hadie, W. (1999). A new species of coelacanth. Genetic and morphologic proof. Comptes Rendus de l’Academie des Sciences. Serie III, Sciences de la Vie, 322(4), 261-267.

Smith, J.L.B. (1956). The Search Beneath the Sea – The Story of the Coelacanth. New York: Holt.

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Using date specific searches on Google Books to disconfirm prior origination knowledge claims for particular terms, words, and names. Social Sciences, 7, 66. doi:10.3390/socsci7040066.

Bed-ly serious: A brief look at ‘sleeping addiction’

As a life-long insomniac, I’ve always been interest in sleep at a personal level. In 1984, when I was studying for my psychology degree, the first ever research seminar I attended was one on the psychology of sleep by Dr. Jim Horne (who was, and I think still is, at Loughborough University). I found the lecture really interesting and although I never pursued a career in sleep research it was at that point that I started to take an interest more professionally. In my blog I’ve written a number of articles on various aspects of sleep including sexsomnia (engaging in sexual acts while sleeping, for instance, while sleepwalking), somnophilia (engaging in sexual acts while individuals are sleeping), Sleeping Beauty paraphilia (a sub-type of somnophilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by watching other people sleep), and lucid dreaming (where individuals are aware they are dreaming and exert some kind of control over the content of the dream),

More recently, I’ve been a co-author on a number of research papers in journals such as Sleep Medicine Reviews, Journal of Sleep Research, and Sleep and Biological Rhythms (see ‘Further reading below) but these have all involved either the effects of internet addiction on sleep or the psychometric evaluation of insomnia screening instruments rather than being about the psychology of sleep.

In a previous A-Z article on “strange and bizarre addictions” I included ‘sleep addiction’ as one of the entries. Obviously I don’t believe that sleeping can be an addiction (at least not by my own criteria) but the term ‘sleep addiction’ is sometimes used to describe the behaviour of individuals who sleep too much. Conditions such as hypersomnia (the opposite of insomnia) has been referred to ‘sleeping addiction’ (in the populist literature at least). In a 2010 issue of the Rhode Island Medical Journal, Stanley Aronson wrote a short article entitled ‘Those esoteric, exoteric and fantabulous diagnoses’ and listed clinomania as the compulsion to stay in bed. Given the use of the word ‘compulsive’ in this definition, there is an argument to consider clinomania as an addiction or at least a behaviour with addictive type elements.

In an online article entitled ‘Sleep addiction’, Amber Merton also mentioned clinomania in relation to an addiction to sleep:

“If you are obsessed with sleeping or have an intense desire to stay in bed, you could be suffering from a condition called clinomania. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who can experience symptoms similar to addiction and even withdrawal in association with sleep, or lack thereof”.

The reference to ‘addiction-like’ symptoms appears to have some validity based on these self-report accounts I found online. All of these individuals mention various similarities between their constant need for sleep and addiction. I have highlighted these to emphasize my assertions that some of the consequences are at the very least addiction-like:

  • Extract 1: “I believe someone can become psychologically dependent on sleep. I am 47 and have used sleep for 40 years to escape from life…I typically sleep 4-6 hours too much each day. Sleep feels like an addiction to me because I crave it several times a day and am looking forward to how I can sneak it in. I don’t seem to be able to control it with will power for very long…I only have short periods when this isn’t a problem. When I am under stress it is at its worse. If I have any free or unstructured time, I can’t control how much I sleep excessively. When my time is heavily scheduled, I really struggle with keeping a full schedule and crave the time off when I can sleep for hours. If I know I’ll have a few hours in between activities free, I will find ways to sneak in some sleep. I am embarrassed about this, don’t tell the people around me the extent of the problems and devise ways to sneak in sleep without people knowing”.
  • Extract 2: “I love sleeping. It feels so good I think I could even become addicted if I didn’t HAVE to wake up. I sleep about 12 hours every day and could sleep more if I didn’t have to do daily necessities. I am aware of the fact that people who generally sleep more than they are supposed to, die sooner and have other various health problems. To be honest I would rather sleep than do most things. I even choose sleep over sex a lot”.
  • Extract 3: “I often sleep for 12-20 hours at a time. I have depression and am on anti-depressants. I just love sleeping. It’s so safe and comfy. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just amazing”.
  • Extract 4: “I sleep AT LEAST 12 hours a day. But on days off I’ve been known to sleep for about 15-20 hours. [I am] addicted to sleep. I’ve cancelled social outings with friends pretending to be sick when really I just wanted to sleep in. I love sleep and I can’t get enough of it. I’ve slept through the entire weekend multiple times before, only waking up Monday morning when my alarm rang. And even after that much wonderful sleep I was still tired. The second I come home from work every day I eat, shower, and then crawl into bed and sleep the entire evening and night away. My alarm’s the only thing that can wake me up anymore…As for why I love sleep so much, I see a lot of people saying it’s an escape for them. For me it’s more, I don’t like people or going out or socializing, so sleep is my drug of choice. Is it bad? Maybe. Do I care? Not really…I more than love it, and it’s not hurting anyone if we’re being honest”.
  • Extract 5: “I feel like I’m addicted to sleep. Here’s why I think though. I suffered for 13 years with depression and while I know I am still getting over it I don’t feel that’s the reason I’m addicted. During those 13 years I would have serious bouts of chronic insomnia. The doctors tried to many different sleeping medications, meditation, clinics to help me find a routine for natural sleep without meds. Nothing worked. Now I live in Thailand and my doctor here recommended melatonin tablets, all natural as your brain is supposed to produce it anyway to tell you when it’s dark it’s time to sleep and when it’s like light it’s time to wake up. She thinks my brain fails to produce certain chemicals as such with serotonin and now figured melatonin. Since I have been taking a melatonin supplement, I sleep so well, I fall asleep within 20 minutes and I sleep for AT LEAST 8 hours. When I wake up I just want to go back to sleep again because it feels amazing. I don’t feel like it’s part of my anxiety or my depression, I just think it’s because I had insomnia for so long its addictive!
  • Extract 6: “To be honest if I could I would sleep my life away. My so called normal sleeping pattern: I am awake all night. Fall asleep around 4am-8am. Sleep 12 hours. Repeat. My mind is a broken record, constantly repeating the trauma. I do suffer from depression and anxiety. Sleep is my addiction. When I sleep I feel SAFE regardless?”
  • Extract 7: “I’ve been addicted to sleep (the escape from an abusive childhood, depression, and PTSD) since I was ten years old! I want to change though because my body is a mess. I’ve slept for 4 days and sometimes more with short awake periods to eat a little and use the potty. Not enough though, because now my body doesn’t work properly…Oversleeping has its consequences”.
  • Extract 8: “I’m so pleased that I have found this site and other people who are addicted to sleep as this problem has plagued my adult life and I would like it to stop. Take today for instance, I woke at 5.30am and was quite awake feeling a little anxious but I could not wait to get to sleep again, so I did and stayed in bed till around 2.20 pm. I have many days like this and as the lady above the sleep state is quite lucid and I do seem to enjoy it rather than getting up and living life for real”.

Again, I reiterate that none of these individuals are addicted to sleep but in addition to the addiction-like descriptions, there is also crossover in the motivations for excessive sleep and motivations underlying addictions (most noticeably the association with depression, anxiety, psychological trauma, and using the activity as an escape). In relation to addiction, these extracts include references to salience (engaging in sleep to the neglect of everything else in their life), cravings (for sleep), the sleep being excessive, repetitive and habitual, sleep leading to negative consequences (conflict), and loss of control. The fact that many of these individuals describe their behaviour as an addiction or addictive doesn’t mean that it is.

While there is no academic paper that I know of that has ever claimed sleep can be a genuine addiction there are countless clinical and empirical papers examining excessive sleep (i.e., hypersomnia) and the different etiological pathways that can lead to hypersomnia. Although hypersomnia is not an addiction, those with the condition (like addicts) can suffer many negative side-effects from the relatively minor (e.g., low energy, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite, restlessness, hallucinations) to the more severe (e.g., diabetes, obesity, heart disease, clinical depression, memory loss, suicidal ideation, and in extreme cases, death). In one online article I came across, the similarity between hypersomnia and addiction in relation to depression was evident:

It’s important to note that in some cases separating cause from effect here can be muddled. For instance, does over sleeping contribute to depression or does depression contribute to oversleeping? Or are both oversleeping and depression the effect of a larger underlying cause? Furthermore, once a person is experiencing both, could they act to reinforce the other as a feedback loop?”

This observation could just as easily be made about most addictions (substance or behavioural). Finally, it’s worth noting that there are many sub-types of hypersomnia and excessive sleep. In a good review of hypersomnia [HS] in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, Dr. Yves Dauvilliers notes the following hypersomnia sub-types (including narcolepsy which can include excessive sleep but isn’t usually classed as a type of hypersomnia; also note that ‘idiopathic’ means of unknown cause) which I have paraphrased below:

  • Narcolepsy: This is a disabling neurologic disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleep (EDS) and cataplexy (i.e., a sudden loss of voluntary muscular tone without any alteration of consciousness in relation with strong emotive reactions such as laughter, joking).
  • Narcolepsy without cataplexy: This is simply a variant of narcolepsy with cataplexy (but without the cataplexy).
  • Idiopathic hypersomnia: Idiopathic HS is rare and remains a relatively poorly defined condition due to the absence of specific symptoms such as cataplexy or sleep apneas (i.e., loss of breathing while sleeping).
  • Recurrent hypersomnia: This HS is characterized by repeated episodes of excessive sleep (at least 16 hours a day) lasting from a few days up to several weeks. The most well-known recurrent HS is Kleine-Levin syndrome which comprises both cognitive disturbances (feelings of confusion and unreality) and behavioural disturbances (such as overeating and hypersexual behaviour during symptomatic episodes).
  • Hypersomnia associated with neurologic disorders: This type of HS causes EDS and can be a result of brain tumours, dysfunction in the thalamus, hypothalamus, or brainstem that may mimic idiopathic HS or narcolepsy.
  • Hypersomnia associated with infectious disorders: This type of HS can be a result of viral infection such as HIV pneumonia, Whipple’s disease (a systemic disease most likely caused by a gram-positive bacterium), or Guillain-Barré syndrome (a rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system).
  • Hypersomnia associated with metabolic or endocrine disorders: This type of HS can be a result of conditions such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, hepatic encephalopathy (a liver dysfunction among individuals with cirrhosis), and acromegaly (a hormonal disorder that develops when the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone).
  • Hypersomnia caused by drugs: This type of HS is secondary to many different types of drug medication including hypnotics, anxiolytics, antidepressants, neuroleptics, anti-histamines, and anti-epileptics.
  • Hypersomnia not caused by drugs or known physiologic conditions: This type of HS can be caused by a range of disorders such as depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and abnormal personality traits.

None of these types of HS is an addiction but clearly the negative consequences can be just as serious for the individual.

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

Further reading

Alimoradi, Z., Lin, C-Y., Broström, A., Bülow, P.H., Bajalan, Z., Griffiths, M.D., Ohayon, M.M. & Pakpour, A.H. (2019). Internet addiction and sleep problems: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Review, 47, 51-61.

Aronson, S. M. (2010). Those esoteric, exoteric and fantabulous diagnoses. Rhode Island Medical Journal, 93(5), 163.

Bener, A., Yildirim, E., Torun, P., Çatan, F., Bolat, E., Alıç, S., Akyel, S., & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Internet addiction, fatigue, and sleep problems among students: A largescale survey study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. doi: 10.1007/s11469-018-9937-1

Billiard, M., & Dauvilliers, Y. (2001). Idiopathic hypersomnia. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 5(5), 349-358.

Dauvilliers, Y. (2006). Differential diagnosis in hypersomnia. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 6(2), 156-162.

Domenighini, A. (2016). Can you be addicted to sleep? Vice, January 24. Located at: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mg7e33/can-you-be-addicted-to-sleep

Hawi, N.S., Samaha, M., & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Internet gaming disorder in Lebanon: Relationships with age, sleep habits, and academic achievement. Journal of Behavioral Addiction, 7, 70-78.

Mamun, M.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2019). Internet addiction and sleep quality: A response to Jahan et al. (2019). Sleep and Biological Rhythms. doi: 10.1007/s41105-019-00233-0

Merton, A. (2008). Sleep addiction. Located at: https://www.plushbeds.com/blog/sleep-disorders/sleep-addiction/

Mignot, E. J. (2012). A practical guide to the therapy of narcolepsy and hypersomnia syndromes. Neurotherapeutics, 9(4), 739-752.

Pakpour, A., Lin, C-Y., Cheng, A.S., Imani, V., Ulander, M., Browall, M. Griffiths, M.D., Broström, A. (2019). A thorough psychometric comparison between Athens Insomnia Scale and Insomnia Severity Index among patients with advanced cancer. Journal of Sleep Research. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12891.

Risky business: Organisations should have a ‘gambling at work’ policy

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by the BBC about whether organisations should help individuals who have gambling problems and whether they should have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. Most of us work in organisations that have policies on behaviours such as drinking alcohol and cigarette smoking. However, very few companies have a ‘gambling at work’ policy. One problem gambler in a position of financial trust can bring down a whole organisation – Nick Leeson being a case in point when he single-handedly brought down Barings Bank). Leeson’s (albeit somewhat extreme) antics demonstrate that organisations need to acknowledge that gambling with company money can be disastrous for the company if things go horribly wrong. While no company expects an employee gambling to bring about their collapse, Leeson’s case does at least highlight gambling as an issue that companies ought to think about in terms of risk assessment.

Gambling is a popular leisure activity and national UK surveys into gambling participation show that around two-thirds of adults’ gamble annually and that problem gambling affects approximately 0.5% of the British population (although the prevalence rates for adolescents can be three to four rimes higher). There are a number of socio-demographic factors associated with problem gambling. These included being male, having a parent who was or who has been a problem gambler, being single, and having a low income. Other research shows that those who experience unemployment, poor health, housing, and low educational qualifications have significantly higher rates of problem gambling than the general population.

It is clear that the social and health costs of problem gambling can be large on both an individual and societal level. Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, family neglect, and bankruptcy. There can also be adverse health consequences for both the problem gambler and their partner including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraines, and other stress-related disorders.

For most people, gambling is not a serious problem and in some cases may even be of benefit in team building and/or creating a collegiate atmosphere in the workplace (e.g., National Lottery syndicates, office sweepstakes). However, for those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues. Typically problem gambling at work can lead to many negative “warning signs” such as misuse of time, mysterious disappearances, long lunches, late to work, leaving early from work, unusual vacation patterns, unexplained sick leave, internet and telephone misuse, etc. However, new forms of gambling, such as gambling via the internet or smartphones at work, means that many of these warning signs are unlikely to be picked up. However, just because problem gambling is difficult to spot does not mean that managers should not include it in risk assessments and/or planning procedures. Listed below are some practical steps that can be taken to help minimise the potential problem.

  • Take the issue of gambling seriously. Gambling (in all its many forms) has not been viewed as an occupational issue at any serious level. Managers, in conjunction with Human Resources Departments need to ensure they are aware of the issue and the potential risks it can bring to both their employees and the whole organisation. They also need to be aware that for employees who deal with finances, the consequences for the company should that person be a problem gambler can be very great.
  • Raise awareness of gambling issues at work. This can be done through e-mail circulation, leaflets, and posters on general notice boards. Most countries (including the UK) have national and /or local gambling agencies that can supply useful educational literature (including posters). Telephone numbers for these organisations can usually be found in most telephone directories.
  • Ask employees to be vigilant. Problem gambling at work can have serious repercussions not only for the individual but also for those employees who befriend a problem gambler, and the organisation itself. Fellow staff members need to know the signs and symptoms of problem gambling. Employee behaviours such as asking to borrow money all the time might be indicative of a gambling problem.
  • Give employees access to diagnostic gambling checklists. Make sure that any literature or poster within the workplace includes a self-diagnostic checklist so that employees can check themselves to see if they might have (or be developing) a gambling problem.
  • Check internet “bookmarks” of staff. In some jurisdictions across the world, employers can legally access the e-mails and internet content of their employees. One of the easiest checks is to simply look at an employee’s list of “bookmarked” websites. If they are gambling on the internet regularly, internet gambling sites are almost certainly likely to be bookmarked.
  • Develop a “Gambling at Work” policy. As mentioned at the start of this blog, many organisations have policies for behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol in the workplace. Employers should develop their own gambling policies by liaison between Human Resource Services and local gambling agencies. A risk assessment policy in relation to gambling would also be helpful.
  • Give support to identified problem gamblers.  Most large organisations have counselling services and other forms of support for employees who find themselves in difficulties. Problem gambling needs to be treated sympathetically (like other more bona fide addictions such as alcoholism). Employee support services must also be educated about the potential problems of workplace gambling.

Problem gambling can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet gambling and gambling via smartphone or tablets is making it easier to gamble from the workplace. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people, gambling is not a serious problem. For those whose gambling starts to become more of a problem, it can affect both the organisation and other work colleagues (and in extreme cases cause major problems for the company as a whole). Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the work force. Gambling is a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue. Although not high on the list for most employers, the issues highlighted here suggest that it should at least be on the list somewhere.

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

Further reading

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Prevalence of adolescent problem gambling: A systematic review of recent research. Journal of Gambling Studies, 33, 397-424.

Calado, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Problem gambling worldwide: An update of empirical research (2000-2015). Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 592–613.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Internet gambling in the workplace. In M. Anandarajan & C. Simmers (Eds.). Managing Web Usage in the Workplace: A Social, Ethical and Legal Perspective. pp. 148-167. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2002).  Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The hidden addiction: Gambling in the workplace. Counselling at Work, 70, 20-23.