Category Archives: Sociology

Selective memories: Charles Darwin, obsession, and Internet dating

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘obsession’ as “(i) a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal; (ii) someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently, [and] (iii) an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing”. By these definitions my good friend and work colleague Dr. Mike Sutton would himself admit that he has had (for the last three or four years) an obsession with the work of English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Scottish landowner and fruit farmer Patrick Matthew (1790-1874). Dr. Sutton is a criminologist and we have published various articles and book chapters over the last 15 years on various topics including emails with unintended consequences, far right wing groups on the internet, and (most recently) the crime substitution hypothesis (which I’ve covered in a previous blog).

Over the past few years, I can’t think of a single conversation that we have had that both Darwin and Matthew’s didn’t get talked about at some point. In 2014, Sutton published his book Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret (“Nullius in verba” is Latin for “on the word of no one” or “take nobody’s word for it”) and as a result of it has experienced a torrent of verbal abuse on social media. So why has Dr. Sutton been the victim of such abuse? In a nutshell, Sutton has asserted that Darwin is a fraud and that his main thesis on natural selection was stolen from Matthew without any acknowledgement. Furthermore, using a new methodological technique that Sutton developed, he believes Darwin lied about his knowledge of Matthew’s work.

Over the last few years, I have read over a dozen of Sutton’s online articles about Darwin and Matthew, and I was also one of the first people to read Sutton’s book before it was published. Sutton’s work is meticulous, rigorous, and fully referenced. Most of his critics have never read (or simply don’t want to read) his book. Instead they appear to take potshots at his research and reputation without bothering to read the original source.

The first thing to note concerns Sutton’s methodology. His method – sometimes referred to ‘internet dating’ in his articles (but nothing to with people meeting up online, so apologies if the use of the words ‘internet dating’ in my article lured you to read this blog on false pretences) but called ‘Internet Date-Detection’ (ID) in his book – relies on the 30+ million books and documents that the Google Books Library Project has digitized and dating back centuries. Using the ID method, Sutton has used a search engine to track down obscure books, articles, and letters (and short phrases within these documents) to work out who published what and when with pinpoint accuracy. (For instance, back in the 1990s, I thought I had first coined the word ‘screenager’ but Sutton used his ID method and proved that others before me had used the word in print prior to my own articles).

The second thing to note is that all Darwinists concede that the process of natural selection was first written about in Patrick Matthew’s 1831 book On Naval Timber and Arboriculture (written 28 years before Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection). However, Darwin claimed he had never read the book (which might be the case) but also claimed in 1860, 1861, and in every edition of the Origin of Species thereafter, that no other naturalist, and no one at all, in the preceding 28 years had read Matthew’s original ideas on macroevolution by natural selection because it was buried away in the book’s appendix. Darwin claimed he had independently formulated the theory of evolution through natural selection. At around the same time as Darwin, the naturalist Alfred Wallace (1823-1913) also (independently of Darwin and supposedly of Matthew) developed a theory of natural selection and together their papers were read on their behalf before the Linnean Society, and then published in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London in 1858.

Using 21st century search engine technology via his ID method, Sutton originally discovered that – as opposed to the various claims of Darwin and the world’s leading Darwin scholars that no naturalists (or no one at all) read Matthew’s (1831) original ideas before 1858 – in fact Matthew’s book was cited 25 times before that date, seven of whom were naturalists, four of whom were known to Darwin and Wallace, and three that played major roles and had major influence on the exact same topic (botanist Prideaux John Selby, publisher and geologist Robert Chambers, and botanist John Loudon).

Like Sutton, a number of recent scholars – most notably the microbiologist Dr. Milton Wainwright – have researched some of the same historical ground as Sutton (arguing that Darwin and Wallace were beaten to a theory of macroevolution by Matthew). Whereas Wainwight wrote his papers after reading some of the original key texts from the early 1800s, Sutton used the ID technique to collate every single book, article and letter written by anyone in the period up to 1859 that had been digitized in the Google Books Library Project. What Sutton found is fascinating and does seem to indicate that Darwin lied about his knowledge of Matthew’s work. Darwin certainly lied after 1860 by claiming that no naturalist had read Matthew’s ideas because Matthew had twice written to inform Darwin that the opposite was true. Using the ID method, Sutton conclusively demonstrated that:

  • Matthew’s original (1831) theory concerning the “natural process of selection” was only slightly different to Darwin’s (1859) the “process of natural selection”. Darwin also used the same analogy as Matthew had written in the opening chapter of Origin of the Species when discussing artificial versus natural selection, but claimed the analogy as his own without citing Matthew.
  • Matthew’s prior-published conception of macroevolution by natural selection was not unread by naturalists and biologists before Darwin and Wallace replicated it. In fact, seven people cited the book in the pre-1859 literature, and Darwin and Wallace (and their influencers) knew four of these people well.
  • Matthew’s conception of natural selection was not just contained solely in the appendix of his 1831 book but was also in the main text. In fact, Matthew even referred Darwin to some of the relevant extracts in the main text of his book (something that Darwin admitted in a letter to his closest friend Joseph Hooker [1817-1911], the botanist and explorer). In short, Darwin lied when he asserted that Matthew’s ideas were only contained in the appendix of his book.

Sutton has been trying to get the Royal Society to acknowledge Matthew as the originator of the macroevolution by natural selection. Sutton notes in his essay on Rational Wiki:

“As Robert Merton (1957) made clear in the classic and authoritative text on priority in science, the Royal Society has not officially changed its position on the rules of priority since those rules were established in the first half of the 19th century. Since that time, the Arago Effect (Strevens 2003), is the rule that has always been seen as a totally inflexible principle and has been followed as such in all other disputes over priority for discovery in science, except in the Matthew, Darwin and Wallace case. The Arago Effect, described by Merton, and also by Strevens, as a norm in cases of scientific discovery, is that being first to publish to the public, and most importantly in print, is everything when it comes to deciding who has priority for an idea or discovery in cases where one scientist claims to have made the same discovery independently of another”.

In the same essay, Sutton then discusses Richard Dawkins‘s reasoning for not giving Matthew priority of scientific discovery (i.e., that his work went “unnoticed”):

“Totally ignoring the Arago Effect convention of priority for scientific discovery, Richard Dawkins (2010) has built upon prior rationale for denying Matthew full priority over Darwin by creating a new, unique in the history of scientific discovery, ‘Dawkins’s Demand Rule’. Effectively, Dawkins demands that Matthew should not have priority over Darwin and Wallace based upon the recently proven fallacious premise (Sutton 2014) that Matthew’s unique views went unnoticed. Moreover, Dawkins demands also that Matthew should have ‘trumpeted his discovery from the rooftops’. However in making this post-hoc demand, Dawkins does not, as other writers (e.g. Desmond and Moore 1991; Secord 2000) have done with regard to the fears and difficulties of writing on natural selection at this time, which faced Darwin and Chambers, explain that the first half of the 19th century was a time of great social unrest, tension and violent rioting, which made writing on the topic of natural selection a great threat to the social controlling interests of natural theology. Is Dawkins willfully ignorant of the fact that in the year 1794 Pitt passed his notorious Two Acts against ‘Seditious Meetings’ and ‘Treasonable Practices’? In particular, the former curtailed topics of discussion at institutional scientific societies by requiring them to be licensed and proscribing discussion of either religion or politics (Sutton 2015). Perhaps it is for reasons of historical ignorance that Richard Dawkins, whilst holding forth as an expert on the history of science, fails also to address the issue that Matthew’s Chartist political ideas were in his book and that he linked these seditious ideas quite clearly to the implications of his heretical natural selection discovery. Consequently, it should go without saying, that this meant his unique ideas were especially both seditious and heretical in the 1830s and 1840s. How then was Matthew meant to trumpet his discovery when he had effectively silenced himself from doing so under the scientific conventions that followed in the wake of the laws of the land? Matthew explained this very fact to Darwin in 1860, in his second letter in the Gardeners’ Chronicle”.

My own reading of all Sutton’s work is that there is no good reason for Matthew not to be credited with being the originator of the theory of macroevolution by natural selection and that Matthew has full priority over Darwin and Wallace.

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

Further reading

Darwin. C.R. (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London. John Murray.

Darwin, C.R. & Wallace, A.R. (1858) On the tendency of species to form varieties; and on the perpetuation of varieties and species by natural means of selection. Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnaean Society of London.

Dawkins, R. (2010). Darwin’s five bridges: The way to natural selection. In Bryson, B (ed.), Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society. London: Harper Collins.

Desmond, A. & Moore, J. (1991). Darwin. London. Penguin Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Sutton, M. (2013). Proposing the Crime Substitution Hypothesis: Exploring the possible causal relationship between excessive adolescent video game playing, social networking and crime reduction. Education and Health, 31, 17-21.

Griffiths, M.D. & Sutton, M. (2015). Screen time and crime: The ‘Crime Substitution Hypothesis’ revisited. Education and Health, 33, 85-87.

Matthew, P. (1831) On Naval Timber and Arboriculture; With a critical note on authors who have recently treated the subject of planting. Edinburgh. Adam Black.

Matthew, P. (1860). Nature’s Law of Selection (Letter). The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 7 April, pp. 312-313.

Matthew, P. (1860). Nature’s Law of Selection (Letter), Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette, 12 May, p. 433.

Merton, R.K. (1957) Priorities in scientific discovery: A chapter in the sociology of science. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 635-659.

Secord. J.A. (2000). Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Strevens, M. (2003) The role of priority in science. Journal of Philosophy, 100, 55-79.

Sutton, M. (2014). Nullius in Verba: Darwin’s Greatest Secret. Thinker Books.

Sutton, M. (2016). On knowledge contamination: New data challenges claims of Darwin’s and Wallace’s independent conceptions of Matthew’s prior-published hypothesis. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Aspects of Origin), 12: Located at http://www.nauka-a-religia.uz.zgora.pl/index.php/pl/czasopismo/46-fag-2015/921-fag-2015-art-05

Sutton, M. (2016). Patrick Matthew: priority and the discovery of natural selection. Located at: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Essay:Patrick_Matthew:_priority_and_the_discovery_of_natural_selection

Sutton, M. (2016). Darwin’s Greatest Secret Exposed: Response to Grzegorz Malec’s De Facto fact denying review of my book. Filozoficzne Aspekty Genezy (Aspects of Origin), 13, 1-10. Located at: http://www.nauka-a-religia.uz.zgora.pl/images/FAG/2016.t.13/art.01.pdf

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Far Right Groups on the Internet: A new problem for crime control and community safety? The Criminal Lawyer, 123, 3-5.

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Emails with unintended criminal consequences. The Criminal Lawyer, 130, 6-8.

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Emails with unintended consequences: New lessons for policy and practice in work, public office and private life. In P. Hills (Ed.). As Others See Us: Selected Essays In Human Communication (pp. 160-182). Dereham: Peter Francis Publishers.

Wainwright, M. (2008) Natural selection: It’s not Darwin’s (or Wallace’s) theory. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, 15(1), 1-8

Wainwright, M. (2011). Charles Darwin: Mycologist and refuter of his own myth. FUNGI, 4(1), 13-20.

A burning for earning: A brief look at ‘wealth addiction’

Back in 1996, I published a paper on behavioural addictions in the Journal of Workplace Learning. One of my introductory paragraphs in that paper noted:

“There is now a growing movement (e.g. Miller, 1980; Orford, 1985) which views a number of behaviours as potentially addictive, including many behaviours which do not involve the ingestion of a drug. These include behaviours diverse as gambling (Griffiths, 1995), overeating (Orford, 1985), sex (Carnes, 1983), exercise (Glasser, 1976), computer game playing (Griffiths, 1993a), pair bonding (Peele and Brodsky, 1975), wealth acquisition (Slater, 1980) and even Rubik’s Cube (Alexander, 1981)! Such diversity has led to new all encompassing definitions of what constitutes addictive behaviour”.

The reason I mention this is that I was recently asked to comment on a story about ‘wealth addiction’ and I vaguely remembered that I had mentioned (in passing) Philip Slater’s 1980 book (also entitled Wealth Addiction). Slater’s book was written from a sociological standpoint and was both controversial and provocative. Slater claimed on the book cover that: ““Money is America’s most powerful drug. Here’s how it weakens us and how we can free ourselves”. I also came across an interesting 2012 article by journalist Scott Burns (on ‘wealth addiction revisited’) who noted that:

“One of the hallmarks of wealth addiction is very simple: more possessions but less use. We become so interested in possessing the thing that we lose the experience it provides. This can be as vast as owning homes all around the world, as some of the very rich do, as simple as Bernie Madoff’s shoe collection, or as obsessive as a collection of rare watches. Whatever it is, the wealth addict confuses possession with experience”.

Slater argued that our increasing reliance on money and all of the things that it can buy has the potential to become an obsession that can destroy individual lives. According to short article by Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, wealth addiction has three key characteristics:

  • Tolerance: More and more money is needed to attain a baseline level of satisfaction.
  • Withdrawal: The thought of losing money or not making it fills a person with fear, anxiety and stress.
  • Negative consequences: In their pursuit of money, the person forgoes emotional fulfillment, intimate relationships and peace of mind.

These are actually three of the six criteria that I personally believe comprise genuine addictive behaviour (although I use the word ‘conflict’ rather than ‘negative consequences’; the other three criteria are salience, mood modification and relapse – see my previous blog on behavioural addiction for further details).

The reason why wealth addiction has made a re-appearance over the last month is because of an article published in the New York Times by Sam Polk, a former hedge fund trader that worked on Wall Street (and who since the article has been published has been compared to Jordan Belfort, the person that Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed in the true story film The Wolf of Wall Street).

Polk’s article is an interesting read (whether you think wealth addiction exists or not) and I thought I would pick out some of the text and relate it to my own views about what constitutes addictive behaviour.

  • Extract 1: “In my last year on Wall Street my bonus was $3.6 million – and I was angry because it wasn’t big enough. I was 30 years old, had no children to raise, no debts to pay, no philanthropic goal in mind. I wanted more money for exactly the same reason an alcoholic needs another drink: I was addicted”

Here, Polk refers to his work bonuses becoming bigger and bigger and that they were never enough. To me, this sounds like some kind of tolerance effect with more and more money needed to achieve the desired (presumably mood modifying effect). Polk also claims – after the fact – that he had become addicted.

  • Extract 2: “I was also a daily drinker and pot smoker and a regular user of cocaine, Ritalin and ecstasy. I had a propensity for self-destruction that had resulted in my getting suspended from Columbia for burglary, arrested twice and fired from an Internet company for fist fighting”.

Polk openly discusses his previous use of potentially addictive substances and made the comparisons himself between his self-confessed behavioural (wealth) addiction and his previous self-destructive chemical abuse. Some readers may jump to the conclusion that Polk had (or has) an ‘addictive personality’ but this is not something that I personally believe in. To me, Polk is displaying ‘reciprocity’ (swapping one potential addiction with another) rather than being a function of an underlying personality trait. Giving up one addiction often leaves a large void and sometimes the only way to fill it is by engaging in other behaviours that provide similar feelings and sensations.

  • Extract 3: “My counselor didn’t share my elation [at earning more and more money]. She said I might be using money the same way I’d used drugs and alcohol – to make myself feel powerful — and that maybe it would benefit me to stop focusing on accumulating more and instead focus on healing my inner wound”.

Here, Polk’s therapist appears to hit the nail on the head in relation to what money represented for Polk. I would describe the feeling that Polk gained from both drugs and money was omnipotence (something that I have also written about in relation to my research on gambling).

  • Extract 4: “I was terrified of running out of money and of forgoing future bonuses. More than anything, I was afraid that five or 10 years down the road, I’d feel like an idiot for walking away from my one chance to be really important. What made it harder was that people thought I was crazy for thinking about leaving. In 2010, in a final paroxysm of my withering addiction, I demanded $8 million instead of $3.6 million. My bosses said they’d raise my bonus if I agreed to stay several more years. Instead, I walked away”.

Polk’s language here is very much rooted in what addicts say about their drug or behaviour of choice (“terrified” of being without the thing they love doing). The weighing up of the costs clearly led to a decision for Polk to quit his “withering addiction” and there are obviously signs both here (and the rest of the article if you read it) that leaving behind the wealth left him with some feelings of regret.

  • Extract 7: “The first year was really hard. I went through what I can only describe as withdrawal — waking up at nights panicked about running out of money, scouring the headlines to see which of my old co-workers had gotten promoted. Over time it got easier — I started to realize that I had enough money, and if I needed to make more, I could. But my wealth addiction still hasn’t gone completely away. Sometimes I still buy lottery tickets”.

Here, Polk uses addictive terminology (i.e., withdrawal) to describe giving up the activity that led to him gaining wealth. Again, the fear of running out of money appears psychologically similar to the fear that other more traditional addicts have about running out of their drug of choice. It could also be argued that he has given up one form of gambling (financial trading) with partially doing another (buying lottery tickets).

  • Extract 8: “I was lucky. My experience with drugs and alcohol allowed me to recognize my pursuit of wealth as an addiction. The years of work I did with my counselor helped me heal the parts of myself that felt damaged and inadequate, so that I had enough of a core sense of self to walk away”

Polk uses his experiences in giving up drugs with the help of his therapist as a way of helping him give up wealth acquisition. Knowing you have managed to give up one addiction shows that you have the mental strength to give up another.

Obviously I have never met Polk and I can only go on how he described his experiences during his time on Wall Street, However, the insights shared do seem to suggest that some of the wealth acquisition behaviour had addictive elements and that there was at least some evidence that Polk – at least on some occasions – experienced salience, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict and mood modification. Whether he was genuinely addicted to money in the same way as drug addicts are addicted to psychoactive substances is debatable. However, theoretically, I can see how someone might be become addicted to wealth. There are also interesting questions as to whether wealth acquisition may be an underlying motivation for those addicted to work.

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

Further reading

Alexander, R. (1981). A cube popular in all circles. New York Times, 21 July, p. C6.

Burns, S. (2012). Beyond envy: Wealth addiction revisited. Dallas News, December 15: Located at: http://www.dallasnews.com/business/columnists/scott-burns/20121215-beyond-envy-wealth-addiction-revisited.ece?nclick_check=1

Carnes, P. (1983). Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. CompCare, New York, NY.

Glasser, W. (1976). Positive Addictions. Harper & Row, New York, NY.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Are computer games bad for children? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 6, 401-407.

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

Orford, J. (1985). Excessive Appetites: A Psychological View of the Addictions. Wiley: Chichester.

Peele, S. and Brodsky, A. (1975). Love and Addiction. Taplinger: New York, NY.

Polk, S. (2013). For the love of money. New York Times, January 29. Located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/opinion/sunday/for-the-love-of-money.html?_r=1

Slater, P. (1980). Wealth Addiction. E.P. Dutton: New York, NY.

Stats entertainment (Part 2): A 2013 review of my personal blog

My last blog of 2013 was not written by me but was prepared by the WordPress.com stats helper. I thought a few of you might be interested in the kind of person that reads my blogs. I also wanted to wish all my readers a happy new year and thank you for taking the time to read my posts.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 860,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 37 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Completing the ‘killection’: A brief look at ‘murderabilia’

In a previous blog, I examined the psychology of collecting and whether collecting can (in extreme cases) be classed as an addiction. Yesterday, the Daily Mail’s front page story was about collectors that buy ‘Holocaust memorabilia’ on eBay such as the striped pyjamas that prisoners were forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps during Word War II. This type of collecting is closely related to collectors that buy ‘murderabilia’. Although the word ‘murderabilia’ is fairly new (and is an amalgam of ‘murder memorabilia’), the act itself has a long history and basically refers to collectibles that relate to murder, murderers and/or violent crimes (including such items as artwork produced by incarcerated serial killers, as well as houses, vehicles, clothes, and weapons used in crimes by mass murderers).

The fact that people collect such extreme memorabilia doesn’t surprise me in the least. To me, such behaviour is only one step removed from ‘disaster tourism’ where people pay money to see places, sites, and/or artefacts related to death and disaster. One recent example involved a travel company selling €10 tours to see the sunken cruise liner Costa Concordia off the Tuscan island of Giglio (Italy). Another related type of collecting are the thousands of people that collect Nazi memorabilia (including high profile cases such as the lead singer of Motörhead – Lemmy). As Lemmy’s Wikipedia entry notes:

“Lemmy collects German military regalia, and has an Iron Cross encrusted on his bass, which has led to accusations of Nazi sympathies. He has stated that he collects this memorabilia for aesthetic values only, and considers himself an anarchist or libertarian, and that he is ‘anti-communism, fascism, any extreme’ saying that ‘government causes more problems than it solves’. According to Keither Emerson’s autobiography, two of Lemmy’s Hitlerjugend knives were given to Emerson by Lemmy during his time as a roadie for The Nice. Emerson used these knives many times as keyholders when playing the Hammond Organ during concerts with The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer”.

As I noted in my previous blog on collecting as an addiction, Dr. Ruth Formanek suggested five common motivations for collecting in a 1991 issue of the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality. These were: (i) extension of the self (e.g., acquiring knowledge, or in controlling one’s collection); (ii) social (finding, relating to, and sharing with, like-minded others); (iii) preserving history and creating a sense of continuity; (iv) financial investment; and (v), an addiction or compulsion. Formanek claimed that the commonality to all motivations to collect was a passion for the particular things collected. None of these motivations beyond passion appears to explain why people collect murderabilia (unless the collectors themselves identify with the person and/or actions of the murderabilia they collect). Crime writer Leigh Lundin claims such individuals may be interested in the macabre, and that many believe by collecting such items offers the collector power and control. My own opinion is that such collectors want to possess unique items that no-one else has and also believe that possess a piece of history (even if the item is connected with actions or people that are sadistic, depraved and/or deluded). Arguable this latter motivation may be related to the motivation of ‘preserving history’.

Back in May 2001, eBay banned the sale of murderabilia items but all this has done is move the murderabilia industry elsewhere (for instance, on websites like Supernaught.com that claims on its’ homepage that it is the first and longest running website providing true crime collectibles”; among the items they were selling were bricks from [Milwaulkee Cannibal] Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment at $300 a time). The Australian Caslon Analytics website also noted that:

“Contemporary murderabilia has included items owned or created by serial killers, including postcards from Charles Manson, what are claimed as his fingerprint cards, the license plate of the van used by John Wayne Gacy, a murder weapon used by Gary Gilmore, letters from the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ [Peter Sutcliffe] and the ‘Acid Bath Killer’ [John George Haigh] in the UK, drawings by Gacy and other US killers, the radiator cap from the Bonnie & Clyde ‘death car’, Heinrich Himmler’s limousine, earth supposedly from the house where Gacy buried some of his victims and the clothing of some killers. 2009 saw artworks by UK gang leaders Ronnie and Reggie Kray auctioned for £17,125, along with £3,105 for a canvas by poisoner Graham Young”.

The academic literature on murderabilia is mostly in the field of law and/or morality. However, I did unearth a few interesting academic pieces on the topic. There are also some interesting pieces written from a media studies perspective. For instance, Dr. Melinda Wilkins in her PhD ‘A Comfortable Evil’ noted that:

“The serial murder epidemic also generated within the popular media a lucrative moral controversy to negotiate via films, television movies, docu-dramas, true-crime accounts, novels, and memoirs. There were serial-killer comic books and serial killer trading cards to sell; there were serial-killer records to play, taped interviews with Edmund Kemper, Ted Bundy, Henry Lee Lucas, and Kenneth Bianchi billed as ‘honesty about violence’; and for a while during the early 2000s, there was even an eBay web site devoted to the sale of ‘Murderabilia’, memorabilia of one sort and another from various notorious murderers in prison. The epidemic provided American journalists with an apparently inexhaustible topic guaranteed to draw readers and viewers”.

One US academic – Professor David Schmid – has written a number of articles and books on the general public’s consumption of fame including murderabilia including one on this very topic in the M/C Journal (an academic journal concerning media and culture). As Professor Schmid observes:

“The sale of murderabilia is just a small part of the huge serial killer industry that has become a defining feature of American popular culture over the last twenty-five years. This industry is, in turn, a prime example of what Mark Seltzer has described as ‘wound culture,’ consisting of a ‘public fascination with torn and open bodies and torn and opened persons, a collective gathering around shock, trauma, and the wound’. According to Seltzer, the serial killer is ‘one of the superstars of our wound culture’ and his claim is confirmed by the constant stream of movies, books, magazines, television shows, websites, t-shirts, and a tsunami of ephemera that has given the figure of the serial murderer an unparalleled degree of visibility and fame in the contemporary American public sphere”

Schmid’s paper examined how the celebrity culture concerning serial killers has developed and the ethics of collecting such items. He provided examples of how collectors buy the hair and nail clippings of murderers as if they were religious icons. Citing from an old book chapter by US sociologist Leo Lowenthal (‘Biographies in Popular Magazines’), Lowenthal argued that magazine biographies underwent a striking change in the first half of the twentieth century with a new type of social biography emerging. His main argument was that biographies had changed from ‘idols of production’ (those in politics, science, sports, business, etc.) to ‘idols of consumption’ (those in film, music, literature, etc.). This latter group has also evolved to include the lives of infamous criminals. As Schmid then notes:

“With Lowenthal in mind, when one considers the fact that the serial killer is generally seen, in Richard Tithecott’s words, as ‘deserving of eternal fame, of media attention on a massive scale, of groupies’, one is tempted to describe the advent of celebrity serial killers as a further decline in the condition of American culture’s ‘mass idols’. The serial killer’s relationship to consumption, however, is too complex to allow for such a hasty judgment, as the murderabilia industry indicates”.

Schmid also discusses the 2000 US documentary Collectors (directed by Julian P. Hobbs) and discusses some of the multiple connections between serial killing and consumerism.

“Hobbs points out that the serial killer is connected with consumerism in the most basic sense that he has become a commodity, ‘a merchandising phenomenon that rivals Mickey Mouse. From movies to television, books to on-line, serial killers are packaged and consumed en-masse’…But as Hobbs goes on to argue, serial killers themselves can be seen as consumers, making any representations of them implicated in the same consumerist logic: ‘Serial killers come into being by fetishizing and collecting artifacts – usually body parts – in turn, the dedicated collector gathers scraps connected with the actual events and so, too, a documentary a collection of images’…Hobbs implies that no one can avoid being involved with consumerism in relation to serial murder, even if one’s reasons for getting involved are high-minded”.

Schmid then goes on to say:

“The reason why it is impossible to separate neatly ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ expressions of interest in famous serial killers is the same reason why the murderabilia industry is booming; in the words of a 1994 National Examiner headline: ‘Serial Killers Are as American as Apple Pie’. Christopher Sharrett has suggested that: ‘Perhaps the fetish status of the criminal psychopath…is about recognizing the serial killer/mass murderer not as social rebel or folk hero…but as the most genuine representative of American life’. The enormous resistance to recognizing the representativeness of serial killers in American culture is fundamental to the appeal of fetishizing serial killers and their artifacts”.

Even if the murderabilia market carries on ‘making a [financial] killing out of a killing’, it is unlikely to wane in popularity (unless the mass media stops reporting such behaviour). Furthermore, even if legislation outlaws such a practice, the activity will simply go (and likely burgeon) underground. There will always be individuals that are fascinated by the macabre (myself included) and no law will ever stop people collecting such items, however immoral, bizarre and/or depraved.

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

Further reading

Chang, S. (2004). Prodigal son returns: An assessment of current Son of Sam laws and the reality of the online murderabilia marketplace. Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal, 31, 430.

Daily Mail (2012). ‘Disaster tourism’ boom for Giglio as day-trippers visit the Costa Concordia site. August 15. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2188623/Costa-Concordia-tragedy-Disaster-tourism-boom-Giglio-day-trippers-visit-stricken-ship.html

Formanek, R. (1991). Why they collect: Collectors reveal their motivations. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 275-286.

Jarvis, B. (2007). Monsters Inc.: Serial killers and consumer culture. Crime, Media, Culture, 3(3), 326-344.

Lowenthal, L. (1961). The Triumph of Mass Idols. Literature, Popular Culture and Society (pp.109-140). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Schmid, D. (2004). Murderabilia: Consuming fame. M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture, 7(5). Located at: http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0411/10-schmid.php

Sharrett, C. (1999). Introduction. Mythologies of Violence in Postmodern Media. (pp. 9-20). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Tithecott, R. (1997). Of Men and Monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Construction of the Serial Killer. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Wikipedia (2013). Murderabilia. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murderabilia

Wilkins, M. P. (2004). A Comfortable Evil. Doctoral Dissertation, Pennsylvania State University).

For whom the hell trolls: Harassment in online gaming

Trolling is an online phenomenon that people may witness without necessarily knowing what it is.  The term “troll” appears to have originated from a method of fishing, where one would fish by trailing a baited line behind a boat. However, many internet users often use the description of being a troll as a mythological creature that hides under bridges, waiting for an opportunity to pounce. With the latter definition, one can see the comparison with the modern day world with hiding under bridges being the online world waiting for an opportunity that may warrant a troll to take action. With the first definition, it is clear that casting a baited line as a form of provoking individuals into some form of emotional response.

Trolling appears to be a variably defined concept, with multiple definitions existing. It appears to have been first reported in 1999 by Dr. Judith Donath who argued that “trolling is a game about identity deception”, which suggests that a troll’s personal opinion is often avoided during the act. According to Dr Susan Herring and her colleagues, trolling comprises “luring others into often pointless and time-consuming discussions”. In a 2010 paper, Lochlan Morrissey expanded this even further by saying trolling is an utterer producing an intentionally false or incorrect utterance with high order intention [the plan] to elicit from recipient a particular response, generally negative or violent”. Thus, it appears trolling is an act of intentionally provoking and/or antagonising users in an online environment that creates an often desirable, sometimes predictable, outcome for the troll. Morrissey also states that trolling is a complex intentional act, that some may consider an art. On the other hand, others have included trolling as a form of cyberbullying.

To date, there has been very little empirical research into online trolling, with only two key studies being documented before we carried out our own research (but more of that later). The first of these was published by Dr. Pnina Shachaf and Dr. Norika Hara in the Journal of Information Science, and examined trolling in the context of Wikipedia. The second study by Susan Herring and her colleagues focused on trolling in feminist forums. Despite the lack of research, some key findings have emerged. Firstly, Herring’s study identified three types of messages sent by trolls. These were (i) messages from a sender who appears outwardly sincere, (ii) messages designed to attract predictable responses or flames, and (iii) messages that waste a group’s time by provoking futile argument. From this, it is apparent that trolling often merges with several other online behaviours. They pointed out that a troll is an online user that can be uncooperative, that seeks to confuse and deceive and can be a flamer by using insults.

Shachaf and Hara’s study on trolling within Wikipedia revealed that the main reasons for trolling were boredom, attention seeking, and revenge. Furthermore, they regarded Wikipedia as an entertainment venue, and found pleasure from causing damage to it and the people who used the site. Herring’s paper argued that it is non-mainstream environments that are especially vulnerable (such as forums) as they “provide a new arena for the enactment of power inequities such as those motivated by sexism, racism, and heterosexism”. Due to this, one could suggest that trolling is a behaviour that is facilitated and possibly exacerbated by the anonymity of the internet.

Many authors have argued that relative anonymity facilitates disinhibition, resulting in flaming and harassment. This online disinhibition effect is well established in the literature (particularly in a 2004 paper in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior by Dr. John Suler). As a 2011 paper on internet addiction by Dr. Laura Widyanto myself noted, the internet “might lead to disinhibition, whereby individuals feel more confident as they are protected by their anonymity”. Therefore, internet users have an opportunity to present themselves differently online. From this, the opportunity for trolling is undeniably present as Widyanto and myself make clear, “the internet provides anonymity, which removes the threat of confrontation, rejection and other consequences of behaviour”. This allows individuals to behave online in ways that they would not normally do in the offline world.

Research suggests that anonymity, which is naturally characterised by the internet, may affect a person’s self-esteem. Self-esteem has been consistently associated as an important determinant of adolescent mental health with lower self-esteem being linked to depression and increased levels of anxiety. Therefore, it has been claimed that high self-esteem is psychologically healthy. However, online interactions allow an individual to represent a different self, leading to increased feelings of self-worth and therefore be more psychologically healthy.

However, research into online trolling had not established any association between the effects of trolling and self-esteem, and was one of the main reasons we carried out our own research into the topic. There is quite a lot of research into self-esteem and more general internet use. For instance, research indicates that individuals with low self-esteem prefer to communicate with others through the internet, such as emails, rather than face-to-face. It has also been found that general internet use increases self-esteem, and some research has indicated that video game use decreases self-esteem. This suggests that the internet can be used as a form of social interaction that positively affects self-esteem for those with considerably low self-esteem. However, given the evolution of online gaming in recent years, the effect of self-esteem while playing online video games where social interaction (including trolling) can occur is relatively unknown.

Until recently, trolling had never been studied in an online video game context and there is still little empirically known about it in the most general sense of the term. Trolling often merges other online behaviours such as flaming. Dr. Angela Adrian (in a 2010 issue of Computer Law and Security Review) offers limited, albeit useful, insight into how an individual may troll during online gaming. Adrian names those who enact such behaviour as “griefers”, a term used on those who try to ruin a gaming experience, often by team-killing or obstructing objectives. It could be that griefing is one such behaviour used during trolling in the context of an online video game. Furthermore, given the evolution of online gaming, it is possible that the behaviour of trolling has evolved to fit into the context in which the trolling is being used in (e.g., online forums, Wikipedia, video games), and therefore, contains many other online behaviours that are used to disrupt others’ gaming enjoyment.

Given the little psychological research that had been conducted beyond the fact that it exists Scott Thacker and myself carried out a study to examine the (i) frequency of trolling, (ii) type and reasons for trolling and (iii) the effects trolling may have on self-esteem. Using an online survey, a self-selected sample of 125 gamers participated in our study. Our results showed that trolls tended to play longer gaming sessions. Frequent trolls were significantly younger and male. Types of trolling included griefing, sexism/racism, and faking/intentional fallacy. Reasons for trolling included amusement, boredom, and revenge. Witnessing trolling was positively associated with self-esteem, whereas experiencing trolling was negatively associated. Experience of trolling was positively correlated with frequency of trolling. Although the study used a self-selecting sample, the results appear to provide a tentative benchmark into video game trolling and its potential effects on self-esteem.

Our study has many limitations that need to be taken into account. Firstly, due to the nature of questionnaire design and it being self-report, it may be open to social desirability effects (i.e., participants may answer differently to represent a different self) and any of the other known problems with self-report methods (e.g., unreliable memory and recall biases, etc.). Another major limitation was that the sample was self-selecting and modest in size. This raises questions into its relative generalizability. Despite these limitations, our exploratory study appears to provide several key findings that now provide a preliminary benchmark into video game trolling where there was no previous research. Moreover, it expands the neglected research into online trolling and offers areas and directions for future research.

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

Additional input: Scott Thacker

Further reading

Adrian, A. (2010). Beyond griefing: Virtual crime. Computer Law and Security Review, 26, 640-648.

Donath, J. S. (1999). Identity and deception in the virtual community. In M. A. Smith and P. Kollock (Eds.), Communities in cyberspace (pp. 29–59). London: Routledge.

Herring, S., Job-Sluder, K., Scheckler, R. & Barab, S. (2002). Searching for safety online: Managing “Trolling” in a feminist forum. The Information Society, 18, 371-384.

Morrissey, L. (2010). Trolling is a art: Towards a schematic classification of intention in internet trolling. Griffith Working Papers in Pragmatics and Intercultural Communications, 3(2), 75-82.

Shachaf, P. & Hara, N. (2010). Beyond vandalism: Wikipedia trolls. Journal of Information Science, 36(3), 357-370.

Suler, J. R. (2004). The online dishibition effect. CyberPsychology and Behaviour, 7, 321-326.

Thacker, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory study of trolling in online video gaming. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 2(4), 17-33.

Widyanto, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). An empirical study of problematic internet use and self-esteem. International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning, 1(1), 13-24.

Willard, N. (2006). Cyberbullying and cyberthreats: responding to the challenge of online social cruelty, threats, and distress. Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.

The ego has landed: A personal look at egomania

One idle evening I was surfing the net looking for blog ideas when I came across a November 2011 article by David Reinstein entitled “Egomania: An adaptive and necessary illness for politicians”. Given that some individuals have described me as an egomaniac over the years, and the fact that I am academically interested in manias and personally interested in politics, I couldn’t help but want to read the article (which I’ll come to in a minute).

There are countless definitions of egomania all of which have considerable overlaps. Reinstein’s article defines it as “an obsessive (driven, constant and uncontrollable) preoccupation with the self” (which pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as I am concerned). Other definitions often mention things like ‘an irresistible love of the self’ and ‘an obsessive concern for one’s own needs’ that again are again how I would define it myself. Dr. Andrew Colman in The Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines it as “a pathological love for, or preoccupation with, oneself”. The Wikipedia entry is a bit more long-winded:

“Egomania is an obsessive preoccupation with one’s self and applies to someone who follows their own ungoverned impulses and is possessed by delusions of personal greatness and feels a lack of appreciation. Someone suffering from this extreme egocentric focus is an egomaniac. The condition is psychologically abnormal. The term egomania is often used by laypersons in a pejorative fashion to describe an individual who is intolerably self-centred”.

Egomaniacs are typically characterized as individuals who believe the ‘whole world revolves around them’ and that they are ‘the centre of the universe’. Reinstein also claims in his article that “most egomaniacs suffer from delusions of personal greatness that cover over deeper feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Everything is to, from, for and about them”. (And on that definition I would certainly rule out myself as being an egomaniac). Egomania also seems to be a close cousin of megalomania (i.e., a disorder in which individuals believe they are more powerful, important, or influential than is actually true – and a possible contender for a future blog!).

Egomania is not listed in the most recent (fourth) version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV] (and as far as I an aware it won’t be in the next one either). However, many people believe that egomania is highly prevalent particularly among celebrities and politicians (and is something that at the very least has good face validity). In fact I read a 2011 article in Variety magazine by Peter Bart arguing that it was a “close call” as to whether egomania was a mental illness. However, we appear to tolerate (and arguably even value) egomania if the person is a politician rather than someone we personally know. As Reinstein notes:

“Why would we be so prone to accept this otherwise off-putting quality in the people we elect to represent us? One possible explanation comes immediately to mind. Many people in the general population have reservations about themselves. Perhaps we are drawn to people who seem to be (or at least present themselves as being) more self-assured. People who seem more capable, more assured and assuring, more in control and consistently authoritative may appeal to the electorate as they often do to the movie-going public”.

Again, these assertions appear to have good face validity as we are hardly going to vote for someone who doesn’t come across as confident and cocksure. As a casual observer of American politics, I didn’t give a damn about Bill Clinton’s infidelities. All I would be bothered about if I was an American voter is whether he can do the job (which personally I think he did). From a more psychological standpoint, Gretchen Reevy’s 2011 Encyclopedia of Emotion notes that egomaniacs may perhaps be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as individuals with NPD are incredibly self-centred and appear to match the criteria for being an egomaniac (although NPD is often linked more with megalomania than egomania). Such individuals also have ‘disordered relationships’. Reinstein argued in his article that he couldn’t think of anyone in American politics whether they were running for the presidency or running for Congress that wouldn’t meet the criteria for NPD. As he argues:

“How could someone not afflicted with a substantial dose of Egomania ever consider themselves to be worthy of being elected to such an office? The roles, their responsibilities, trappings and perquisites tend to attract such people. They may not always be the ‘best’ that we have, but their egos are never significantly deficient!  Thus, our culture seems to require some egomaniacs. To entertain us and to lead us. It is probably not a coincidence that many entertainers have found their way into major political jobs”

I am presuming here that Reinstein is referring to (among others) Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Bono. Here in the UK, we have similar (if not such high profile) examples including Glenda Jackson, Andrew Faulds, and Michael Cashman. In the Encyclopedia of Emotion also notes that:

“Narcissistic personality disorder affects less than 1 percent of the population (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The cause of the disorder is unknown; the two most accepted theories are contradictory. Some theorists (e.g., Wink, 1996) say that narcissism begins with cold, rejecting parents. The child then creates the self- absorption and grandiosity as a defense against feelings of worthlessness. Others (e.g., Sperry, 2003) argue that people who become adult narcissists were spoiled as children and were taught by their parents that they were superior and special. Thus far, treatment of narcissistic personality disorder is of limited success”.

To be diagnosed with NPD an individual must show at least five of the following characteristics (although it’s worth noting that NPD is being removed from the new DSM-V). This version was taken from Sarah Myers article on ‘manic behaviour’:

  • A grandiose sense of self-importance: Egomaniacs exaggerate their achievements and talents, and want other people to recognise them as superior.
  • Preoccupation with success and power: Egomaniacs are obsessed with fantasies involving their own brilliance or beauty.
  • Arrogance: Egomaniacs’ behaviour is haughty, their attitude conceited and they show rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
  • Need for excessive admiration: Egomaniacs need attention, they want to be adored or, failing that, feared.
  • A sense of entitlement: Egomaniacs have unreasonable expectations and believe they deserve favourable treatment.
  • Exploitative: Egomaniacs are happy to take advantage of others and use people to get what they want.
  • Lack of empathy: Egomaniacs can’t and/or won’t acknowledge other people’s feelings.
  • A belief of being unique: Egomaniacs believe that they’re special and can only be understood by and associate with people of high status.
  • Feel envy towards others: Egomaniacs believe others feel envious of them.

Myers’ article claims approximately six million people across the world have NPD (and thankfully, having completed the diagnostic test above, I’m not one of them). However, Myers claims that there are many more undiagnosed (as such people are unlikely to think there is anything wrong with them). The Encyclopedia of Emotion notes that:

“Underneath the apparent over-confidence and bravado [of an egomaniac] lies a fragile personality. The narcissistic individual actually fears that he is unworthy or a fraud. His self-esteem may be highly dependent on being recognized as the best or perfect. For instance, he may believe that he is the best salesperson in his office, and if another individual wins the salesperson award, the narcissistic person will react with extreme humiliation. He has grandiose fantasies of boundless success or power or perfect love. He is jealous of those whom he perceives as being more successful in these areas that are valued. Be- cause of the extreme insecurity, the narcissistic person often seeks attention and fishes for compliments”.

After my own brief look at some of the literature on egomania, I am now 100% confident that I am not an egomaniac (although that doesn’t mean I don’t have a big ego).

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

Further reading

Bart, P. (2011). Egomania or mental illness: A close call. Variety, March 7. Located at: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118033402

Myers, S. (2007). Manic behaviour. Channel 4 Health. November 1. Located at: http://www.channel4.com/health/microsites//0-9/4health/mind/wwr_manic.html

Parker, Pope, T. (2010). Narcissism no longer a psychiatric disorder. New York Times, November 29. Located at: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/narcissism-no-longer-a-psychiatric-disorder/

Reevy, G. (2011). Encyclopedia of Emotion. Oxford: Greenwood.

Reinstein, D.A. (2011). Egomania: An Adaptive and Necessary Illness for Politicians. Yahoo! Voices, November 11. Located at: http://voices.yahoo.com/egomania-adaptive-necessary-10348579.html?cat=5

Sperry, L. (2003). Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of DSM-IV-TR Personality Disorders (2nd ed.). New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Wikipedia (2012). Egomania. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egomania

Wikipedia (2012). Narcissistic personality disorder. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_personality_disorder

Wink, P. (1996). Narcissism. In C.G. Costello (Ed.), Personality characteristics of the personality disordered (pp. 146–172). New York: John Wiley.

Creature comforts: How do zoophiles justify their behaviour?

Regular readers of my blog will know that I don’t shy away from talking about behaviours that some people find abhorrent and/or morally repugnant. I’ve now published around a dozen blogs on zoophilia-related topics and in the process have received some fairly abusive emails from zoophiles who “loathe” and “detest” the articles that I have posted on my blog. Well, here’s a blog that’s also likely to enrage.

I recently came across an interesting zoophilia paper published in a 2011 issue of the journal Deviant Behavior. The paper was entitled Screwing the pooch: Legitimizing accounts in a zoophilia on-line community and written by Dr. R.J. Maratea (New Mexico State University, USA). The paper examined how deviant individuals use Internet technology to communicate accounts that neutralize hostile labels associated with their behaviors”. The data were collected from a zoophilia message board with 550,000 users referred to by a pseudonym (i.e., Zoo Board) throughout the paper. (Having visited a lot of online zoophilia forums in my own research, I could take a fairly educated guess at which forum Dr Maratea collected his data from, but as he took a lot of time in his paper to guarantee the forum’s anonymity I’ll leave it be). Dr. Maratea’s decision to study Zoo Board was threefold. As he argued:

“The decision to use Zoo Board was predicated by three factors: (1) message threads were regularly created and updated, indicating that members are actively involved in the Zoo Board community; (2) the vast membership on Zoo Board meant that a large number of users could potentially post or respond to posted accounts at any given time; and (3) the archival capacity of the message board allows for the cultivation of accounts over an extended period of time. The final research sample was comprised of 87 discussion threads containing 4983 individual posts, which dated back as far as March 4, 2004”.

Dr. Maretea claimed that his data suggest that zoophiles routinely justify their actions through four particular types of argument: (i) denial of injury, (ii) justification by comparison, (iii) claims of benefit, and (iv) condemning of condemners. He also asserts that zoophiles produce what is termed “neutralizing accounts”. More specifically, these three types were categorized as (i) appeals to enlightenment, (ii) claims of cultural diffusion, and (iii) neutralization by comparison.

Denial of injury: This refers to an assertion by zoophiles that their actions are permissible because they did not harm or cause injury to the animals involved.

  • Example: I think a lot of people who have never seen an animal ‘‘ask for sex’’ (and most of us here know, they can and WILL, sometimes very insistently!) assume that we’re performing selfish acts against the animals’ will . . . non-zoos tend to just associate the fact that bestiality is more or less entirely illegal with the assumption that it must horribly hurt the animal, such is life, I’m afraid”.

Justification by comparison: This refers to the justification of zoophilic behaviour by comparison of their behaviour to other worse criminal behaviour (i.e., zoophiles highlight their sense of self-worth by saying that their behaviour is not as bad as other behaviours).

  • Example: I like the way the [media] blatantly link bestiality with pedophilia. I guess what we do is sorta like marijuana, ours is a ‘’gateway’’ type of sexuality. People like to think that zoophilia is a step away from necrophilia, pedophilia, and so on when it’s in no way related”.

Claims of benefit: This refers to zoophiles who claim that not only was the animal not harmed but that their sexual activity with animals was beneficial to the animal and met the animal’s sexual needs.

  • Example: We are all animals at some level, with about the same wants and desires. Your fuzzy friend loves getting his rocks off or her world rocked just as much as you do! This is pretty evident to us, but think about it: very few animals are intelligent enough to have sex for fun! I like to think dogs (maybe horses) are among them most of the time. The drive for sex is seen in all living things”.

Condemning of condemners: This refers to the practice of zoophiles condemning those who vilify their zoophilic behaviour. Here, the accusers are viewed as “unfit to judge” or pass comment on zoophilia because the accusers engage in behaviour that is equally as bad. Zoophiles denounce “conventional society as hypocritical for demonizing zoophilia. Some claimants argue that normals tend to callously abuse the very animals they allegedly seek to protect”.

  • Example: A neighbor of mine crates their dog (puppy), all day in their backyard. Totally neglects the dog. I called animal control as the weather is getting cold. Makes me sad that this happens all the time, everywhere. My amazing dog goes every- where with me. I couldn’t imagine leaving her in the yard in a 3X3 crate with less than 1hr of human contact a day…Some people need to be treated how they treat their pets. Nothing pisses me off like animal/pet neglect. WE chose them, not the other way around”.

Appeals to enlightenment: This refers to zoophiles who try to appeal to enlightenment and justify their zoophilic activity by arguing that “certain behaviors are vilified because larger society is incapable of comprehending the appropriateness of those actions”.

  • Example: You will run into objections such as: it’s against the law; it’s against religion; it’s perverted; and it’s dirty. All of these issues are artificial and belie a fundamental problem with modern society. We as a nation, as a world, exploit animals for everything from food to companionship. Giving animals or admitting that animals are capable of being in mutual loving relationships puts that world view into serious question”.

Neutralization by comparison: This refers to zoophiles that identify similarities between themselves and “other social groups that have overcome a corresponding deviant identity”. Although this is similar to ‘justification by comparison’ (above) the difference here is that individuals are not ‘‘justifying their actions by comparing their crimes to more serious offenses, but rather neutralizing their deviance via comparison to other historically stigmatized acts and behaviors that have achieved some level of mainstream social acceptance”.

  • Example: For years, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexual/transgender people have been fighting a long hard battle for their rights of equality and for the freedom to express their own individual sexuality without the fear of legal prosecution. Personally, I don’t see why practicing zoophiles such as myself and other people here and around the world, [shouldn’t] campaign for the right to legally express our own sexuality too”.

Claims of cultural diffusion: This refers to zoophiles that try to normalize their behaviour through reference to zoophilic acts in popular culture in as a way of showing there is greater mainstream acceptance for their behavior than publicly acknowledged.

  • Example: I think it does seem like more zoo/beasty stuff is popping up in movies and TV lately, usually as jokes on sitcoms and stuff, but still, it puts it out there, exposing people to the idea, making it a bit more familiar. And, slowly, I think the more familiar the idea becomes the more likely it is to become gradually more accepted”.

Although I’m a psychologist, I still appreciate the contribution that sociology can make in the field of sexual paraphilias. As Dr. Maratea argues, traditional sociological theory has examined how those classed as ‘deviants’ manage their day-today identity and stigmatization from non-deviants. However, online communities such as the ones at Zoo Board allow virtual anonymity and facilitate those who were once isolated to meet like-minded individuals (albeit virtually) who validate their own behaviour and experiences. As Dr. Maratea concludes:

“On Zoo Board, accounts are regularly disseminated that normalize zoophilia by constructing alternative dialogues that challenge the mainstream social discourse that defines animal sex as deviant. To this end, the messages and themes contained in neutralizing accounts reveal much about the social organization of the Zoo Board community, and the individual and collective identity work that takes place therein”.

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

Further reading

Beetz, A.M. (2000, June). Human sexual contact with animals: New insights from current research. Paper presented at the 5th Congress of the European Federation of Sexology, Berlin.

Beirne, P., 1997. Rethinking bestiality: towards a concept of interspecies sexual assault. Theoretical Criminology, 1, 317–340.

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

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

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

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

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