Category Archives: Psychology
Regular readers of my blog will know that I have both a professional and personal interest in ‘box set binging’ – people like myself who sit and watch a whole television series at once either on DVD or on television catch-up services (see my two previous articles on the topic here and here). In my previous blogs on the topic I noted there was a lack of published academic research on the topic. However, a new study on the phenomenon – ‘Just one more episode’: Frequency and theoretical correlates of television binge watching’ – has just been published by Emily Walton-Pattison and her colleagues in the Journal of Health Psychology. The paper argues that binge watching may have detrimental health implications and that binge watching has impulsive aspects. As the authors noted in their paper:
“With the emergence of online streaming television services, watching television has never been so easy and a new behavioural phenomenon has arisen: television binge watching, that is, viewing multiple episodes of the same television show in the same sitting. Watching television is the most widespread leisure-time sedentary activity in adults (Wijndaele et al., 2010), involving little metabolic activity (Hu et al., 2003). In the United Kingdom, over one-third of adults spend at least four hours a day watching television (Stamatakis et al., 2009). Up to 33% of men and 45% of women in the United Kingdom fail to achieve recommended physical activity levels (Craig and Mindell, 2014). As lack of physical activity is the fourth leading mortality risk factor (World Health Organization, 2010), identifying factors that pre- vent achieving health-protective levels of physical activity remains important Furthermore, sedentary behaviour is linked with adverse health outcomes independently of physical activity (Veerman et al., 2012). Time spent watching television is also linked with obesity and reduced sleep time (Vioque et al., 2000). Understanding the factors that lead to watching television at ‘binge’ levels may help to target interventions to reduce sedentary activity and obesity rates and improve sleep hygiene”.
The study involved 86 people who completed an online survey that assessed (among other things) outcome expectations (assessed via six attitudinal items such as ‘Watching more than two episodes of the same TV show in the same sitting over the next 7 days will lead me to be physically healthier’), proximal goals (assessed via one question ‘On how many days do you intend to watch more than two episodes of the same TV show in the same sitting over the next 7 days?’), self-efficacy (assessed via five attitudinal items such as ‘I am confident that I can stop myself from watching more than two episodes of the same TV show if I wanted to’), anticipated regret (assessed via two items – ‘If I watched more than two episodes of the same TV show in the same sitting in the next 7 days, I would feel regret’ and ‘If I watched more than two episodes of the same TV show in the same sitting in the next 7 days I would later wish I had not’), goal conflict (with two items such as ‘How often does it happen that because of watching more than two episodes of the same TV show in the same sitting, you do not invest as much time in other pursuits as you would like to?’), goal facilitation (assessed via three items such as ‘Watching more than two episodes of the same TV show in the same sitting in the next 7 days will help/facilitate my participation in regular physical activity’), and self-reported binge watching over the last week (defined as “watching more than two episodes of the same TV show in one sitting”), as well as noting various demographic details (age, gender, marital status, number of children, and body mass index).
The study found that their participants reported binge watching at least once a week (an average of 1.42 days/week) and that binge watching was predicted most by intention and outcome expectations. Automaticity, anticipated regret, and goal conflict also contributed to binge watching. Based on their results, the authors noted:
“The findings have implications for theory development and intervention…The role of automaticity suggests that interventions aiming to address problematic binge watching (e.g. due to increased sedentary activity) could consider techniques that address automaticity. For example, some online streaming services include in-built interruptions after a number of consecutive episodes have been viewed. There would be opportunities to harness these interruptions. Goal conflict findings indicated that participants who reported more binge watching also reported that binge watching undermined other goal pursuits. Linking such findings to an intervention addressing anticipated regret could provide a useful opportunity…Drawing upon the addiction literature in relation to other types of binge behaviours may further refine potential appetitive and loss of control features that may extend from addictive behaviours with a binge potential, such as eating, sex and drugs, to binge watching”.
Obviously the study relied on self-reports among a small sample of television viewers but given that this is the first-ever academic study of binge watching, it provides a basis for further research to be carried out. As in my own research into gambling where we have begun to use tracking data provided by gambling companies, the authors also note that such objective measures could also be used in the field of researching into television binge watching:
“[Future research] could include using objective measures of binge watching including ecological momentary assessment, ambient sound detection, recording and/or partnering with streaming firms or software-based monitoring. Further insight into binge watching could make a distinction between television show-specific factors, such as genre, length, real-time versus on-demand services, as well as contextual factors (e.g., where binge watching occurred, with whom and when) and assess the association between binge watching and health outcomes including physical activity, eating and sleep hygiene”.
This is one of the first times I can end one of my articles by saying that this is literally a case of “watch this space”!
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bates, D. (2015). Watching TV box-set marathons is warning sign you’re lonely and depressed – and will also make you fat. Daily Mail, January 29. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2931572/Love-marathon-TV-session-warning-sign-lonely-depressed.html
Craig, R. & Mindell, J. (2014). Health Survey for England 2013. London: The Health & Social Care Information Centre.
Daily Edge (2014). 11 signs of you’re suffering from a binge-watching problem. Located at: http://www.dailyedge.ie/binge-watching-problem-signs-1391910-Apr2014/
Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.
Hu, F.B., Li, T.Y., Colditz, G.A., et al. (2003) Television watching and other sedentary behaviors in rela- tion to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA, 289, 1785–1791.
Kompare, D. (2006). Publishing flow DVD Box Sets and the reconception of television. Television & New Media, 7(4), 335-360.
Spangler, T. (2013). Poll of online TV watchers finds 61% watch 2-3 episodes in one sitting at least every few weeks. Variety, December 13. Located at: http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/netflix-survey-binge-watching-is-not-weird-or-unusual-1200952292/
Stamatakis, E., Hillsdon, M., Mishra, G., et al. (2009) Television viewing and other screen-based entertainment in relation to multiple socioeconomic status indicators and area deprivation: The Scottish Health Survey 2003. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 63, 734–740.
Sussman, S., & Moran, M.B. (2013). Hidden addiction: Television. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(3), 125-132.
Veerman, J.L., Healy, G.N., Cobiac, L.J., et al. (2012) Television viewing time and reduced life expec- tancy: A life table analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 46, 927–930.
Vioque, J., Torres, A. & Quiles, J. (2000) Time spent watching television, sleep duration and obesity in adults living in Valencia, Spain. International Journal of Obesity, 24, 1683–1688.
Walton-Pattison, E., Dombrowski, S.U. & Presseau, J. (2016). ‘Just one more episode’: Frequency and theoretical correlates of television binge watching. Journal of Health Psychology, doi:1359105316643379
Wijndaele, K., Brage, S., Besson, H., et al. (2010) Television viewing time independently predicts all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: The EPIC Norfolk study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 40, 150–159.
Recently, I was approached by Ben Biggs, the editor of the Real Crime magazine, who was running an article on the practicalities and psychology of cannibalism, with expert commentary running through it (and with me as the “expert”). The article has just been published in the May 2016 issue and I was assured that the feature would “highlight how nasty cannibalism is, not glorify it”. I responded to the questions as part of an email interview and today’s blog contains the unedited responses to the questions that I was asked.
What are the main reasons a human might eat another human being?
There are a number of possible reasons including:
Out of necessity – For instance, in 1972, a rugby team from Uruguay was in a plane crash in the Andes. Fifteen people died and the only way they prevented themselves starving to death was to eat the flesh of the deceased (which given the fact it took 72 days for them to be rescued, was one of the few viable options to prevent starvation).
As a way of controlling population size – The Aztecs were said to have eaten no less than 15,000 victims a year as – some have argued – a form of population control).
As part of a religious belief – There are some religious beliefs involving the need to eat human flesh as a way of sustaining the universe or as part of magical and ritualistic ceremonies.
As part of the grieving process – Some acts of cannibalism are where dead people’s body parts are eaten as either part of the grieving process, as a way of guiding the souls of the dead into the bodies of the living, and/or as a way of imbibing the dead person’s ‘life force’ or more specific individual characteristics.
As part of tribal warfare – Cannibalistic acts were most often carried out as part of a celebration victory after battles with rival tribes.
For sexual gratification – Some individuals have claimed to get sexually aroused from eating (or thinking about eating) the flesh of others. When it comes to sexual cannibalism in humans, there are arguably different subtypes (although this is based on my own personal opinion and not on something I’ve read in a book or research paper). Most of these behaviours I have examined in previous blogs:
- Vorarephilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals are sexually aroused by (i) the idea of being eaten, (ii) eating another person, and/or (iii) observing this process for sexual gratification. However, most vorarephiles’ behaviour is fantasy-based, although there have been real cases such as Armin Meiwes, the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’.
- Erotophonophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals have extreme violent fantasies and typically kill their victims during sex and/or mutilate their victims’ sexual organs (the latter of which is usually post-mortem). In some cases, the erotophonophiles will eat some of their victim’s body parts (usually post-mortem). Many lust murderers – including Jack the Ripper – are suspected of engaging in cannibalistic and/or gynophagic acts, taking away part of the female to eat later. Other examples of murderers who have eaten their victims (or parts of them) for sexual pleasure include Albert Fish, Issei Sagawa, Andrei Chikatilo, Ed Gein, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
- Sexual necrophagy refers to the cannibalizing of a corpse for sexual pleasure. This may be associated with lust murder but Brenda Love in her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices says that such cases usually involve “one whose death the molester did not cause. Many cases of reported necrophilia include cannibalism or other forms of sadism and it is believed that many others fantasize about doing it”.
- Vampirism as a sexual paraphilia in which an individual derives sexual arousal from the ingestion of blood from a living person.
- Menophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which an individual (almost always male) derives sexual arousal from drinking the blood of menstruating females.
- Gynophagia is a sexual fetish that involves fantasies of cooking and consumption of human females (gynophagia literally means “woman eating”). There is also a sub-type of gynophagia called pathenophagia. This is the practice of eating young girls or virgins. Several lust murderers were known to consume the flesh of young virgins, most notably Albert Fish).
- ‘Sexual autophagy’ refers to the eating of one’s own flesh for sexual pleasure (and would be a sub-type of autosarcophagy).
A recent 2014 paper by Dr. Amy Lykins and Dr. James Cantor in the Archives of Sexual Behavior entitled ‘Vorarephilia: A case study in masochism and erotic consumption’ referred to the work of Dr Friedemann Pfafflin (a forensic psychotherapist at Ulm University, Germany):
“Pfafflin (2008) commented on the many phrases that exist in the English language to relate sex/love and consumption, including referring to someone as ‘looking good enough to eat’, ’that ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’, and describing a sexually appealing person as ‘sweet’, ‘juicy’, ‘appetizing’, or ‘tasty’. Christian religions even sanction metaphorical cannibalism through their sacrament rituals, during which participants consume bread or wafers meant to represent the ‘body of Christ’ and wine intended to represent the ‘blood of Christ’ – a show of Jesus’s love of his people and, in turn, their love for him, by sharing in his ‘blood’ and ‘flesh’. This act was intended to ‘merge as one’ the divine and the mortal”.
It’s not unusual for a serial killer to cannibalise parts of their victims. Why is this, and what can cause that behaviour?
I think it’s a rare behaviour, even among serial killers. As noted above, in these instances the eating (or the thought of eating) others is sexually arousing. It has also been claimed that the sexual cannibal may also release sexual frustration or pent up anger when eating human flesh. Some consider sexual cannibalism to be a form of sexual sadism and is often associated with the act of necrophilia (sex with corpses). Others have claimed that cannibals feel a sense of euphoria and/or intense sexual stimulation when consuming human flesh. All of these online accounts cite the same article by Clara Bruce (‘Chew On This: You’re What’s for Dinner’) that I have been unable to track down (so I can’t vouch for the veracity of the claims made). Bruce’s article claimed that cannibals had compared eating human flesh with having an orgasm, and that flesh eating caused an out-of-body-experience experience with effects comparable to taking the drug mescaline.
In the case of Japanese cannibal Issei Sagawa, he said that he might have been satisfied with consuming some, non-vital part of his victim Renee Hartevelt, such as her pubic hair, but he couldn’t bring himself to ask her for it. Does the murder and the consumption of flesh stem from the same mental disorder, or is murder just a necessary evil?
I have not seen these claims. I have only read that his desire to eat women was to “absorb their energy”.
Do you think Issei Sagawa would have been satisfied with eating her hair?
Again, I have never read about this. He seems to have claimed that he had cannibalistic desires since his youth and that his murder of women was for this reason and no other.
Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer said he liked to eat mens’ biceps, because he was a ‘bicep guy’. Does the body part consumed necessarily bear a direct relation to the part of the victim’s anatomy the cannibal has a sexual preference for?
Not that I am aware of. Most people that are partialists (i.e., derive sexual arousal from particular body parts such has hands, feet, buttocks, etc.) would be unlikely to get aroused if the body part was not attached to something living.
There are rarer cases where, rather than having a fantasy of eating a sexual partner, the ‘victim’ consents to being eaten by the killer. Does this stem from the same psycho-sexual disorder that leads to a cannibal killing?
This is something entirely different and is part of vorarephilia (highlighted earlier). My understanding is that the flesh eating would only occur consensually (as in the case of Armin Meiwes and Bernd Jürgen Brand).
What reason would there be for someone to eat their own body parts?
The practice is very rare and has only been documented a number of times in the psychological and psychiatric literature (and all are individual case studies). It has sometimes been labeled as a type of pica (on the basis that the person is eating something non-nutritive) although personally I think this is misguided as it could be argued that human flesh may be nutritious (even if most people find the whole concept morally repugnant). However, there are documented cases of autosarcophagy where people have eaten their own skin as an extreme form of body modification. Some authors argue that auto-vampirism (i.e., the practice of people drinking their own blood) should also be classed as a form of autosarcophagy (although again, I think this is stretching the point a little).
The practice has certainly come to the fore in some high profile examples in the fictional literature. Arguably the most infamous example, was in Thomas Harris’ novel Hannibal (and also in the film adaptation directed by Ridley Scott), where Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter psychologically manipulates the paedophile Mason Verger into eating his own nose, and then gets Verger to slice off pieces of his own face off and feed them to his dog. In what many people see as an even more gruesome autosarcophagic scene, Lecter manages to feed FBI agent Paul Krendler slices of his own brain. In real life (rather than fiction), autosarcophagy is typically a lot less stomach churning but in extreme examples can still be something that makes people wince.
Depending on the definition of autosarcophagy used, the spectrum of self-cannibalism could potentially range from behaviours such as eating a bit of your own skin right through eating your own limbs. There are many reasons including for art, for the taste, for body modification, for protest (associated to mental illness), because they had taken mind-altering drugs, and for sexual pleasure. Here are four autosarcophagic examples that have been widely reported in the media but are very different in scope and the public’s reaction to them.
- Example 1: Following a liposuction operation in 1996, the Chilean-born artist Marco Evaristti held a dinner party for close friends and served up a pasta dish with meatballs made from beef and the fatty liposuction remains. The meal was claimed by Evaristti to be an artistic statement but was highly criticized as being “disgusting, publicity-seeking and immoral”.
- Example 2: On a February 1998 episode of the Channel 4 British cookery programme TV Dinners, a mother was shown engaging in placentophagy when she cooked her own placenta (with fried garlic and shallots), made into a pate and served on foccacia bread. The programme received a lot of complaints that were upheld by the British Broadcasting Standards Commission who concluded that the act of eating placenta pate on a highly watched TV programme had “breached convention”.
- Example 3: In 2009, Andre Thomas, a 25-year old murderer on Texas death row (and with a history of mental problems) pulled out his eye in prison and ate it.
- Example 4: The German man Bernd Jürgen Brande who engaged in self-cannibalism (cutting off and then eating his own cooked penis) before being killed and eaten by Armin Meiwes, the ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’ (who also shared in the eating of Brande’s cooked penis).
Dr Friedemann Pfafflin (a forensic psychotherapist at Ulm University, Germany) and who has written about Armin Meiwes, the ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’ asserts that “apart from acts of cannibalism arising from situations of extreme necessity…the cannibalistic deeds of individuals are always an expression of severe psychopathology”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Ahuja, N. & Lloyd, A.J. (2007). Self-cannibalism: an unusual case of self-mutilation. Australian and New Journal of Psychiatry, 41, 294-5.
Arens, William (1979). The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Beier, K. (2008). Comment on Pfafflin’s (2008) “Good enough to eat”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 164-165.
Beneke M. (1999). First report of nonpsychotic self-cannibalism (autophagy), tongue splitting, and scar patterns (scarification) as an extreme form of cultural body modification in a western civilization. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 20, 281-285.
Benezech, M., Bourgeois, M., Boukhabza, D. & Yesavage, J. (1981). Cannibalism and vampirism in paranoid schizophrenia. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 42(7), 290.
Beier, K. (2008). Comment on Pfafflin’s (2008) “Good enough to eat”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 164-165.
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Huffington Post (2009). Andre Thomas, Texas Death Row inmate, pulls out eye, eats it. TheHuffington Post, September 9. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/09/andre-thomas-texas-death-_n_156765.html
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Sunay, O. & Menderes, A. (2011). Self cannibalism of fingers in an alzheimer patient. Balkan Medical Journal, 28, 214-215.
Unlimited Blog (2007). Sexual cannibalism and Nithari murders. November. Located at: http://sms-unlimited.blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/sexual-cannibalism-and-nithari-murders.html
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A number of years ago, I was asked to write an article on “The Sin of Pride” for the British Psychological Society. Before writing that article, I knew very little about the topic. To me it was the title of an record album by The Undertones that I bought in 1983 when I was 16 years old from Castle Records in Loughborough. I perhaps learned a bit more about it when I watched 1995 film ‘Seven’ directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt (which coincidentally just happens to be one of my all-time favourite films).
After agreeing to write the article I did a bit of research on the subject (which admittedly meant I did a quick Google search followed by a more considered in-depth search on Google Scholar). While I’m no expert on the topic I can at least have a decent pub conversation about it if anyone is prepared to listen. Just to show my complete ignorance, I wasn’t even aware that the sin of pride was the sin of all sins (although I could in a pub quiz be relied upon to name the seven deadly sins).
I was asked to write on this topic because I was seen as someone who is very proud of the work that I do (and for the record, I am). However, I have often realized that just because I am proud of things that I have done in my academic career it doesn’t necessarily mean others think in the same way. In fact, on some occasions I have been quite taken aback by others’ reactions to things that I have done for which I feel justifiably proud (but more of that later).
At a very basic level, the sin of pride is rooted in a preoccupation with the self. However, in psychological terms, pride has been defined by Dr. Michael Lewis and colleagues in the International Journal of Behavioral Development as “a pleasant, sometimes exhilarating, emotion that results from a positive self-evaluation” and has been described by Dr. Jessica Tracy and her colleagues (in the journal Emotion) as one the three ‘self-conscious’ emotions known to have recognizable expressions (shame and embarrassment being the other two). From my reading of the psychological literature, it could perhaps be argued that pride has been regarded as having a more positive than negative quality, and (according to a paper in the Journal of Economic Psychology by my PhD supervisors – Professor Paul Webley and Professor Stephen Lea) is usually associated with achievement, high self-esteem and positive self-image – all of which are fundamental to my own thinking. My reading on the topic has also led to the conclusion that pride is sometimes viewed as an ‘intellectual’ or secondary emotion. In practical (and psychological) terms, sin is either a high sense of one’s personal status or ego, or the specific mostly positive emotion that is a product of praise or independent self-reflection.
One of the most useful distinctions can be made about sin (and is rooted in my own personal experience), is what Lea and Webley distinguish as ‘proper pride’ and ‘false pride’. They claim that:
“Proper pride is pride in genuine achievements (or genuine good qualities) that are genuinely one’s own. False pride is pride in what is not an achievement, or not admirable, or does not properly belong to oneself. Proper pride is associated with the desirable property of self-esteem; false pride with vanity or conceit. Proper pride is associated with persistence, endurance and doggedness; false pride with stubbornness, obstinacy and pig-headedness.”
As I noted above, there have been times when I have been immensely proud of doing something only for friends and colleagues to be appalled. ‘Proper pride’ as Lea and Webley would argue. One notable instance was when I wrote a full-page article for The Sun on ‘internet addiction’ published in August 1997. I originally wanted to be a journalist before I became a psychologist, and my journalist friends had always said that to get a full-page ‘by line’ in the biggest selling newspaper in the UK was a real achievement. I was immensely proud – apart from the headline that a sub-editor had dubbed my piece ‘The Internuts’ – and showed the article to whoever was around.
I had always passionately argued (and still do) that I want my research to be disseminated and read by as many people as possible. What was better than getting my work published in an outlet with (at the time) 10 million readers? My elation was short-lived. One close colleague and friend was very disparaging and asked how I could stoop so low as to “write for the bloody Sun?” Similar comments came from other colleagues and I have to admit that I was put off writing for the national tabloids for a number of years. (However, I am now back writing regularly for the national dailies and am strong enough to defend myself against the detractors).
In 2006, I was invited to the House of Commons by the ex-Leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan-Smith and invited to Chair his Centre For Social Justice Working Party on Gambling and write a report as part of the Conservative Party’s ‘Breakdown Britain’ initiative. Anyone who knows me will attest that my political leanings are left of centre and that I working with the Conservatives on this issue was not something I did without a lot of consideration. I came to the conclusion that gambling was indeed a political issue (rather than a party political issue) and if the Conservative Party saw this as an important issue, I felt duty bound to help given my research experience in the area. I spent a number of months working closely with Iain Duncan-Smith’s office and when the report was published I was again very proud of my achievement.
However, as soon as the report came out I received disbelieving and/or snide emails asking how I could have “worked with the Conservatives”. I have spent years trying to put the psychosocial impact of gambling on the political agenda. If I am offered further opportunities by those with political clout, I won’t think twice about taking them. I am still immensely proud of such actions despite what others may think.
Pride is ultimately a subjective experience and the two personal experiences that I outlined above will not put me off doing what I want to do. I shall continue to engage in activities where I think my work can have an impact and shall work with (and write for) those that can help me disseminate my research findings to as many people as possible.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Averill, J.R. (1991). Intellectual emotions. In: C.D. Spielberger, I.G. Sarason, Z. Kulesar & G.L. van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion: Anger, Anxiety and Curiosity [Vol. 14] pp.3-16. New York: Hemisphere.
Griffiths, M.D. (1997). The internuts (internet addiction). The Sun, August 13, p.6.
Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling addiction in the UK. In K. Gyngell (Ed.), Breakdown Britain: Ending the Costs of Social Breakdown (pp.393-426). London: Social Justice Policy Group.
Kemper, T.D. (1987). How many emotions are there? Wedding the social and autonomic components. American Journal of Sociology, 93, 263-289.
Lawler, E.J. (1992). Affective attachments to nested groups: A choice-process theory. American Sociological Review, 57, 327-339.
Lea, S.E.G. & Webley, P. (1997). Pride in economic psychology. Journal of Economic Psychology, 18, 323-340.
Lewis, M., Takai-Kawakami, K., Kawakami, K., & Sullivan, M. W. (2010). Cultural differences in emotional responses to success and failure. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34, 53-61
Tracy, J.L., Robins, R.W. & Schriber, R.A. (2009). Development of a FACS-verified set of basic and self-conscious emotion expressions. Emotion, 9, 554-559.
To me, shoes (and the psychology of them) have always been a trivial topic. However, maybe I just haven’t got my finger on the pulse (or should that be my foot on the pedal?) Here are a few quotes that I came across while researching this blog:
- “Shoes are totems of Disembodied Lust. They are candy for the eyes, poetry for the feet, icing on your soul. They stand for everything you’ve ever wanted: glamour, success, a rapier like wit, a date with the Sex God of your choice…They seem to have the magic power to make you into someone else, someone without skin problems, someone without thin hair, someone without a horsy laugh. And they do” (Mimi Pond, in her 1985 book Shoes Never Lie).
- “Almost every woman is not only conscious of her feet, but sex conscious about them” (Andre Perugia, shoe designer).
- “Shoes are seen by most of those studied as revealing age, sex, and personality and as creating moods and capturing memories. For adolescents, shoes are a key signifier of their identities, and the shoes they desire often conflict what their parents regard as appropriate. Shoes appear as a key vehicle through which adolescents and young adults work out issues of identity, individualism, conformity, lifestyle, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and personality” (Dr. Russell Belk in a 2003 issue of Advances in Consumer Research).
According to Dr. Russell Belk (who has written lots of great papers on the psychology of collecting that I have referred to in a number of my previous blogs), the average woman in the USA owns over 30 pairs of shoes. Citing from William Rossi’s 1976 book The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe, Belk also claimed that 80% of shoes are bought for purposes of sexual attraction. He also noted that:
“Shoes figure prominently in stories and fairytales, including Cinderella (a highly sexualized tale in it’s more original versions), Puss ‘n’ Boots, Seven League Boots, The Wizard of Oz, The Red Shoes, and The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, as well a more contemporary tales. Shoes and our desire for them are the objects of art, satire, museum exhibitions, [and] films. And they are the objects of a growing number of histories, catalogs, essays, and tributes…As all of this attention suggests, what we wear on our feet is far from a matter of indifference or utilitarianism” (Please note that I removed all the academic references and just cited the text).
These selective quotes all seem to point to the special place that shoes seem to hold in some people’s lives, and that there can be a sexualized element to them. For a small minority of people, shoes can become a sexual fetish either on its own or overlapping with other sexual praphilias including clothing fetishes, foot fetishism (podophilia), pedal pumping, transvestite fetishism, sexual sadism, and sexual masochism. Obviously it is the restrictive types of clothing that are most associated with sadomasochistic activity. This includes very high heel shoes (which make it difficult to walk) and which I examined in a previous blog on altocalciphilia (a sexual paraphilia specifically related to high-heeled shoes). As Valerie Steele noted in her 1996 book Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power, the shoe (like the corset), was one of the first items of clothing to be treated as a fetish.
In a previous blog on sexual fetishism more generally, I wrote about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5,000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). Their results showed that there were 44,722 members of online fetish forums with a fetishistic and/or paraphilic sexual interest in feet (47% of all ‘body part’ fetishists that they encountered). Among those people preferring objects related to body parts, footwear (shoes, boots, etc.) was the second most preferred (26,739 online fetish forum members; 32% of all objects related to body parts) just behind objects wore on the legs and/or buttocks (33%).
A Master’s thesis by Ash Sancaktar explored the “many paradoxes inherent in shoes in collecting, consuming, fashioning, representing, and wearing them”. The thesis also examined the significance of shoes in a number of different disciplines i.e., history, fashion, sociology, psychology and dance) as well as sexuality (with a large part of one chapter devoted to shoe fetishism). The chapter noted:
“Foot fetishism has been a powerful sub-division of sex since shoes were first created. Many scholars accept feet were used as convenient metaphors for the genitalia. Keen, perhaps, to downplay emphasis on the generative process, the belief set of many pagan religions, the ancient Hebrews took the foot and made it a gender icon. According to Brame, the definition of foot fetishism is a pronounced sexual interest in the lower limb or anything that covers portions of them. The allure normally attributed to erogenous zones is literally translocated downward and the fetishist response to the foot is the same as a conventional person’s arousal at seeing genitals. (Brame & Jacobs 1996). Freud considered foot binding as a form of fetishism…Foot fetishists tend to keep their inclination concealed for fear of social ridicule or other apprehensions. Published research indicates fetishists have poorly developed social skills, are quite isolated in their lives and have a diminished capacity for establishing intimacy. Rossi (1990) reported the majority of male fetishists were married, living perfectly conventional lives with their spouse, who in turn was fully aware of partner’s behaviours and preferences”.
Unsurprisingly, Sancaktar asserts that shoe fetishists are similar to foot fetishists but their stimulus (the shoe) becomes the total focus for arousal (rather than the foot within it). He cites Freud and says that he considered the shoe as symbolically representing female genitalia and that the foot symbolically represented a male phallus and when the foot entered the shoe, the union was symbolically complete. (Annoyingly, Freud doesn’t appear in the references so I am unsure which of Freud’s works is being referred to). Quoting from Valerie Steele’s book, he also notes that “The naked foot itself is not as erotically appealing, the shoe raises up the foot and gives it mystery and allure so it’s not just a piece of meat”. He then goes on to say that:
“According to [Steele], since the 1880s, high heeled shoes have been almost entirely associated with femininity with the exception of cowboy boots. Retifists usually collect women’s shoes and have exquisite taste for elegant style. Their preference covers the seven basic shoe styles described by Rossi (1993) and materials such as leather and furs often influence their choice. Retifists will personalize their collection by giving names to their favourite shoes. Freud was convinced all women were clothes fetishist, and believed clothes were worn to provocatively shield the erotic body. Most authorities now acknowledge there is a difference between foot and shoe fetishism and someone who innocently collects shoes…There are degrees of fetishes, according to Steele. Using the example of high heeled shoes, she said that most people are level one or two, finding them appealing. Her example of level three was a French writer who followed women in Paris wearing high heeled shoes. She gave for an example of level four, Marla Maples’ ex-publicist, who was found guilty of stealing Maples’ shoes. ‘He denied being a fetishist, but admitted that he had a sexual relationship with Marla’s shoes’, Steele said”.
Sancaktar uses the work of McDowell (and more specifically his 1989 book Shoes, Fashion and Fantasy) and briefly explores the alleged aphrodisiac qualities of some shoewear including the use of tight lacing:
“Tight lacing excites desire not just because it has a constraining effect but also because it carries the promise of release. This is why stays have always been such a powerful aphrodisiac. Both the tying and untying can have a strong sexual charge – a fact that shoe makers have been aware of for a very long time [McDowell, 1989]”.
Sancaktar also talks about the rise of mules and why they are considered the most seductive shoes and a rival for the traditional sexiest footwear (i.e., the stiletto):
“There are so many kinds of fetish shoes over a long period of time. Mules were originally simple, flat, backless slippers. Originally it evolved as a form of footwear for the boudoir, worn by the most fashionable of ladies and the most exclusive of courtesans. In the Rococo period mules were popular also for men and they had the romantic connotations. By the eighteenth century they had evolved into backless shoes on high heels. Today mules, which are known also as ‘slides’ are believed to be among the most seductive of all shoes, because they leave the foot half undressed. Fetish mules stand tall with the stiletto heel, and are decorate with an unexpected pattern. It is worn by women who don’t entirely realize what they say, historically and presently, to admirers yet know they look sexy”.
As with many other fetishes that I have covered in my blog, there is little empirical research on shoe fetishism. I know of no research that has pathologized the behavior and as such is unlikely to be the focus of scientific and/or clinical enquiry.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Belk, R. W. (2003). Shoes and self. Advances in Consumer Research, 30, 27-33.
Brame, G.G. & Jacobs J. (1996). Different loving: A Complete Exploration of the World of Sexual Dominance and Submission. New York: Villard.
McDowell, C. (1989). Shoes, Fashion and Fantasy. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Pond, Mimi (1985). Shoes Never Lie. New York: Berkley Publishing Group.
Rossi, W.A. (1976). The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing.
Sancaktar, A. (2006). An analysis of shoe within the context of social history of fashion (Doctoral dissertation, İzmir Institute of Technology).
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.
Steele, V, (1996). Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J. & Calhan, C. (1995). “If the shoe fits…” Exploring male homosexual foot fetishism. Journal of Sex Research, 32, 17-27.
In previous blogs on both muscle worship (i.e., sthenolagnia) and sexual piggybacks, I briefly mentioned that some individuals have ‘lift and carry’ (L&C) fetishes. To my knowledge, there has been no academic research on L&C fetishism but it did make it into the Buzzfeed website’s ‘11 Most Unlikely Sexual Fetishes’ list along with balloon popping, gut flopping, beard rubbing, masking, and pedal pushing. According to an article on L&C fetishism at the Area Orion website:
“The fantasy world of female muscle is no stranger to the odd and weird. Another such addition is Lift and Carry, a fetish where someone is aroused by being lifted and carried away, most often by a woman. She doesn’t need to be a bodybuilder or powerlifter, just strong enough to carry the weight of a full grown man. So what is the turn on with Lift and Carry? To many, it can be harmless fun or even part of foreplay. Some like the helpless feeling of domination by a powerful woman with no control. Others like the difference in size and enjoy the feeling of having the women struggle beneath their weight. There are various types of lifts popular to L&C. Piggy-back rides, shoulder rides, over-the-shoulder carries, pony & donkey rides and Fireman’s carry are just a few. These obviously depend on the strength of the woman and weight of the man to pull off successfully…Many men are embarrassed to have this fetish, feeling the gender role reversal makes them appear weak. Fortunate for them, there are websites, videos, stories, forums and even porn for Lift and Carry where fans can live out there fantasies in private”.
A short article about L&C at the Nation Master website makes a number of claims. It asserts that the fetish is popular, harmless, used by some as a form of sexual foreplay, and is engaged in by both genders and (implicitly) by all sexual orientations. More specifically:
“Lift & Carry is an interest wherein a person may receive sexual stimulation by either being carried around by another person or carrying one yourself. Several forms exist: Male/Male, Female/Female, Female/Male and Male/Female. Especially Female/Male and Female/Female…Some are aroused by the fact that they feel dominated because another person carries them and they have no control. In this case, the person usually likes the one who is carrying them to be strong and muscular. Others enjoy the feeling of having a person struggle to carry them and enjoy feeling the person under them having a hard time. Still others may enjoy the surprise of a smaller, lighter girl who suddenly lifts another off his or her feet”.
L&C fetishism may also have psychological and behavioural overlaps with anasteemaphilia (i.e., a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from those who are much taller or shorter than themselves – here, it is the large difference in height that is the primary source of sexual arousal). This is because the Nation Master article claims:
“The people who have this fetish are usually interested in the height and weight differences between the person carrying and the person being carried, and often prefer to see a small person carry a big person, but there are also some who prefer the opposite situations. There are several sites catering to most tastes of Lift & Carry and also [pornographic] pay sites serving customers who have this fetish”.
The article also claims that L&C fetishism is “somewhat related” to ponyplay fetishism (that I examined in a previous blog) where people get sexually aroused from dressing up like horses and engaging in horse-like activity. Although this has some face validity, this is the only article that I have seen mention the link between L&C fetishism and ponyplay. In researching this blog I visited lots of online forum and discussion sites where various individuals discussed their love of this activity or how they wanted to stop liking the activity and be ‘normal’, or from women who have partners that are into it. Here are a few selected extracts:
- Extract 1: “This fetish has been bothering me forever and I just want to be the normal guy I am. I heard that it might be because I am submissive, but I don’t want to be like that at all, I just want to be a man. Any tips from anybody?”
- Extract 2: “I have strong fetish of lift and carry and I want to heal it. How can I do that?”
- Extract 3: “I am the caring and compassionate kinda guy. I admit that I enjoy both carrying girls (all different kinds of ways) and being carried by girls (again in any kinda way). I find that either way arouses me…I just like them to be regular, feminine-figured women. I discovered this when one day I was playing around with my then [girlfriend], and I held her around my waist as we kissed – I had a huge rush. For some strange reason, she decided she wanted to reverse it, and she held me around her waist as we kissed. I had an even bigger rush!! Is there anyone else out there with similar desires?”
- Extract 4: “My boyfriend recently told me that he has what is referred to as a lift/carry fetish. Specifically, he fantasizes about me giving him piggy-back rides. I would love to be able to satisfy his desires; he tends to be pretty reserved and undemanding, so I was ECSTATIC that he was able to tell me about this. But our size difference makes the idea a little terrifying (me: 5’5″, 160lb; him: 6’2″, 200lb)”
- Extract 5: “I’d like to know if this one has a name…several men have contacted me online because I’m tall, all wanting to know if I could pick them up and carry them around like they were a toddler…I’ve also been hit on by men with a thing about being shrunken to a few inches tall and carried around…In my travels about the [internet] I’ve stumbled across entire sites devoted to the Lift-And-Carry fetish (which doesn’t seem to have a snazzy name). I don’t quite understand it myself – it seems to be a subset of guys who get off on giant women”.
- Extract 6: “I have a lift and carry fetish and I would really love a woman to carry me(especially the piggyback rides)”
- Extract 7: “I’ve long been fascinated with lift & carry, but honestly, it all depends. I’m really not at all into guys lifting other guys. I mean, I’m a straight male for starters, but beyond that? My fave thing is seeing women strong enough to lift and carry other women or men. My ex-wife was awesome in that respect. She was *really* strong with a thick build. She weighed a lot more than people ever guessed (around 200lbs at 5’6″ when people usually guessed at least 50lbs. less). So it was always amusing when a guy (or a couple times, even a female friend) would try to pick her up”
The activity (while niche) appears to have a large online following with discussions on sex and fetish forums, and seemingly masses of pornographic L&C videos. There also appears to be a market for men buying the services of strong women and bodybuilders that supplement there income with those that desire to be lifted and carried. As the Area Orion article on L&C fetishes reported the case of the ‘Lift Goddess’:
“Lift Goddess is one such professional, a Lift and Carry dominatrix who can lift a 250 lb man while wearing stilettos. She is a naturally strong athlete, former Las Vegas Showgirl and classically trained dancer. A one-hour session runs $400 plus a $100 booking fee. She describes the experience as ‘You will be lifted born upon the wings of my superior strength. I may carry you in my arms like a child. And you will wonder… am I your Protector, or are you my prey?’”
As I have noted in other blogs on strange fetishistic behaviour, it never ceases to amaze me what arouses people sexually. A couple of people in the extracts above claim they have this fetish but do not want it (suggesting they want their fetish to be ‘treated’) but I doubt whether L&C fetishism will ever be the subject of empirical research.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Area Orion (2011). Lift and carry. October 19. Located at: http://areaorion.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/lift-and-carry.html
Klein, A.M. (1993). Little Big Men: Bodybuilding Subculture and Gender Construction. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Nation Master (2013). Lift and carry. Located at: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Lift-and-Carry
Richardson, N. (2008): Flex-rated! Female bodybuilding: feminist resistance or erotic spectacle? Journal of Gender Studies, 17, 289-301
Sex and the University (2008). Sthenolagnia: Muscle fetishism. Located at: http://sexandtheuniversity.wordpress.com/2008/05/28/sthenolagnia-muscle-fetishism/
Wikipedia (2012). Muscle worship. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muscle_worship