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Under the influence: Ten things I’ve learned from David Bowie

It’s now been a year since the tragic death of David Bowie and this is my fourth blog on him in that period (my others being my personal reflections on the psychology of Bowie, Bowie and the Beatles, and Bowie and the occult). Outside of my own friends and family, it’s still Bowie’s death that has affected me the most psychologically but at least I still have his music to listen to. Bowie inspired millions of people in many different ways. This blog looks at the things that I have learned from Bowie and how he influenced my career.

Persevere with your life goals – Most people are aware that it took years for Bowie to have has first hit single (‘Space Oddity’, 1969), five years after his first single (‘Liza Jane’, 1964). Even after the success of ‘Space Oddity’, it took another three years before he had his second hit single (‘Starman’, 1972) and in the early 1970s there were many who thought he would be a ‘one-hit wonder’ and a small footnote in music history. Bowie never gave up his quest for musical stardom and is arguably one of the best examples of the proverb If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I’ve often told others that they key to success is being able to learn from your mistakes and being able to handle rejection (which for academics is having papers rejected, grant bids rejected, and attempts at promotion rejected, etc.). Bowie personified perseverance and for this quality alone I am very grateful as it has been the bedrock of my career to date.

Encourage teamwork and collaboration – Despite being a solo artist for the vast majority of his post-1969 career (Tin Machine being the most high-profile notable exception), Bowie was (like me) a ‘promiscuous collaborator’ and much of his success would not have been possible without a gifted team around him whether it be his inner circle of musicians (Mick Ronson, Carlos Alomar, Robert Fripp, Mike Garson, etc.), his producers (Tony Visconti, Nile Rogers, Ken Scott, etc.), co-writers and inspirators (Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, John Lennon, etc.), or those he jointly released music with (Mott The Hoople, Queen, Arcade Fire, Pet Shop Boys, Placebo, to name just a few). I have carried out and published research with hundreds of people during my 30-year academic career, and like Bowie, some are one-off collaborations and others are lifelong collaborations. Bowie taught me that although I can do some things by myself, it is the working with others that brings out the best in me.

Experiment to the end – Bowie was never afraid to experiment and try new things whether it was musical, pharmacological, spiritual, or sexual. Mistakes were part of the learning process and he pursued this – especially musically – until the very end of his life (for instance, on his ★ [Blackstar] album where he employed a local New York jazz combo led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin). Failure is success if we learn from it and this is one of the maxims that I live my life by. Bowie taught me that you can have lots of other interests that can be rewarding even if you are not as successful as your day job. Bowie liked to act (and obviously had some success in this area) and also liked to paint (but had much less success here than his other artistic endeavours). By any set of criteria, I am a successful academic but I also like to write journalistically and engage in a wide variety of consultancy (areas that I have had some success) and I like writing poetry (something that I have not been successful financially – although I did win a national Poetry Today competition back in 1997 and have published a number of my poems). Bowie taught me that success in one area of your life can lead to doing other more experimental and rewarding activities even if they are not as financially lucrative.

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Push yourself (even in the bad times) – One of the things I love about Bowie was his ability to carry on working and being productive even when he was not at his physical best. Nowhere is this more exemplified than working on the ★ LP while undergoing chemotherapy for his liver cancer. There are also other times in his life such as when he was at the height of his cocaine addiction in 1975 where he produced some of the best music of his career (most notably the Young Americans and Station to Station LPs, the latter of which is one of my all-time favourite records). I have had a few low periods in my life due to various health, relationship and/or personal issues but I have learned through experience that work is a great analgesic and that even when you are at your lowest ebb you can still be highly productive.

Have a Protestant work ethic – Bowie was arguably one of the most hard-working musicians of all time and had what can only be described as a Protestant work ethic from the early 1960s right up until his heart attack in 2004. I am a great believer in the philosophy that “you get out what you put in” and Bowie exemplified this. Andy Warhol told Lou Reed while he was in the Velvet Underground that he should work hard, because work is all that really matters (and was the subject of the song ‘Work’ on the seminal Songs For Drella LP by Reed and John Cale). Bowie also appeared to live by this mantra and is something that I adhere to myself (and is why I am often described as being a workaholic). While Bowie isn’t my only role model in this regard, he’s certainly the most high-profile.

Lead by example but acknowledge your influences – Bowie had a unique gift in being able to borrow from his own heroes but turn it into something of his own (without ever forgetting his own heroes and influences – his Pin Ups LP probably being the best example of this). One of my favourite phrases is Don’t jump on the bandwagon, create it”, and this has as underpinned a lot of the research areas that I have initiated and is something that I learned from Bowie. Maybe Bowie is a case of the quote often attributed to Oscar Wilde that “talent borrows, genius steals”.

Promote yourself – If there is one thing that Bowie was gifted in as much as his songwriting, it was his own art of self-promotion. Bowie always had the knack to generate news stories about himself and his work without seemingly trying. By the end of his career, it was the act of not saying anything or doing any personal publicity that was just as newsworthy. Bowie intuitively knew how to garner media publicity on his own terms in a way that very few others can. (I also argued that another one of my heroes – Salvador Dali – did the same thing in one of my articles on him in The Psychologist back in 1994). I’d like to think I am good at promoting my work and Bowie is one of my role models in this regard.

Be opportunistic and flexible – If there is one thing besides working hard that sums up my career to date, it is being opportunistic and flexible. As a voracious reader of all things Bowie since my early teens, I always loved Bowie’s sense of adventure and just following paths because they might lead you to something unexpected. Whether it was his use of the ‘cut up’ technique for writing lyrics (developed by Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs), his use of Brian Eno’s ‘oblique strategy’ cards, or his love of studio improvisation (such as on the Berlin trilogy albums and the Outside LP), Bowie showed that inspiration for his musical and lyrical ideas could come from anywhere – from a person, from a fleeting observation, from something he read, from something he heard or saw in film or TV programme, and from his own life experiences. I too have taken this approach to my work and believe I am a much better person for it.

Be a mentor to others – Whatever career path you follow, mentors are key in developing talent and Bowie was a mentor to many people that he personally worked with (including many of the artists I named in the section on encouraging teamwork and collaboration above) as well as being an inspirational influence to those he never met (including myself).

Learn from those younger and less experienced than yourself – Paradoxically, despite being an influence on millions of people across many walks of life, Bowie was never afraid to learn from those much younger than himself and exemplified the maxim that you’re never too old to learn new things. He loved innovation and ideas and would soak it up from whoever was around him. As I have got older, this is something that I value more and am never afraid to learn from those much younger or seemingly less experienced than myself – particularly my PhD students.

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

Further reading

Buckley, D. (2005). Strange Fascination: David Bowie – The Definitive Story. London: Virgin Books.

Cann, K. (2010). Any Day Now: David Bowie The London Years (1947-1974). Adelita.

Goddard, S. (2015). Ziggyology. London: Ebury Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Heroes: Salvador Dali. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 240.

Hewitt, P. (2013). David Bowie Album By Album. London: Carlton Books Ltd.

Leigh, W. (2014). Bowie: The Biography. London: Gallery.

Pegg, N. (2011). The Complete David Bowie. London: Titan Books.

Seabrook, T.J. (2008). Bowie In Berlin: A New Career In A New Town. London: Jawbone.

Spitz, M. (2009). Bowie: A Biography. Crown Archetype.

Trynka, P. (2011). Starman: David Bowie – The Definitive Biography. London: Little Brown & Company.

Betting kicks in flicks: A brief look at gambling on film

As a researcher in the gambling studies field and an avid watcher of films, it comes as little surprise that I love watching films where gambling is key to the plot. Occasionally, I write academic papers about gambling portrayals in film (most notably an in-depth look at my favourite gambling film, The Gambler – the original 1974 film starring James Caan in the title role and not the more recent 2014 remake starring Mark Wahlberg – which I published in a 2004 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction). I wrote about this paper in a previous blog and I have also written a few blogs where gambling films are central to the articles such as my blog on Philip Seymour Hoffman and his film Owning Mahowny, my blog on the psychology of Columbo (where I argued that gambling and gamblers are central to many of the plot lines), and my blog on the psychopathology of Star Wars (where problem gambling is one of the many disorders that features in the film’s franchise).

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The world of gambling and gamblers has been portrayed in many films and in many different ways throughout the years (e.g., The Sting, The Cincinnati Kid, Casino, Owning Mahoney, Rain Man). However, I argued (way back) in a 1989 issue of the Journal of Gambling Behavior that many of these film representations tend to cast gambling in an innocuous light, and often portray gamblers, largely male, as hero figures. I made this observation without doing any systematic review of films containing gambling and my thoughts were purely impressionistic.

A decade ago, Dr. Nigel Turner and his colleagues published a lovely study in the Journal of Gambling Issues examining ‘images of gambling’ in films. They built on Jeffrey Dement’s 1999 book Going for broke: The depiction of compulsive gambling in film. They noted that:

“Dement’s (1999) book, Going for Broke is a thorough examination of movies that depict pathological gambling. He examined a number of films in terms of the extent to which the portrayals delivered accurate and appropriate messages about problem gambling. Although some movies accurately portray the nature of pathological gambling at least during some segments, Dement found that many movies about pathological gambling had irresponsibly happy endings. Film images in some cases reflected societal views on gambling. However, images in films may also alter societal views of gambling (Dement, 1999)…Dement focused only on movies that were about problem and pathological gambling. Many films that depict gambling or have images of gambling that are not about pathological gambling per se. In [our] article we will extend Dement’s work by looking more broadly at films about gambling”.

In their study, Turner and colleagues content analysed 65 films (from an initial list of “several hundred films”) mainly from the two decades prior to the publication of the study. The authors recounted that:

Many of the films we discuss are personal favourites that we have watched several times (e.g., Rounders, The Hustler, Vegas Vacation, The Godfather). Some of the films reviewed in this article have been also discussed by [other scholars]. Some films were included because they were found listed as gambling films in film catalogues or by Web searches for ‘gambling movies’ (e.g., Get Shorty). Other films were suggested to us by recovering pathological gamblers, counsellors specializing in problem gambling, recreational gamblers, video rental store employees, and postings to the bulletin board of Gambling Issues International (a listserve for gambling treatment professionals). Our examination of movies was restricted to movies released in cinemas (i.e., not television), and filmed in English (with one exception, Pig’s Law)…In all cases, either the first or second author viewed each film. In some cases both authors viewed the same film separately. The authors then discussed the themes that they thought were depicted in the film. The authors then collected the descriptions of movies and organized them into general themes”. 

After viewing (and re-viewing) the films, the authors found eight themes (often overlapping) represented in the movies watched. More specifically these were the themes of: (1) pathological gambling (films such as Fever Pitch, The Gambler, Owning Mahowny, Pig’s Law, etc.), (2) the magical skill of the professional gambler (Rain Man, Two For The Money, The Cincinatti Kid, Maverick, etc.), (3) miraculous wins as happy endings (The Cooler, The Good Thief, Two For The Money, etc.), (4) gamblers are suckers (Casino, Croupier, Two For The Money, etc., (5) gamblers cheat (Rounders, The Sting, House of Games, The Grifters, etc.), (6) gambling is run by organized crime (The Godfather, Casino, Get Shorty, etc.), (7) the casino heist (Ocean’s Eleven, The Good Thief, Croupier, etc.), and (8) gambling as a symbolic backdrop to the story (Leaving Las Vegas, Pay It Forward, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, etc.).

After this initial content analysis, Dr. Turner and his colleagues organized these eight themes into a general taxonomy of films. They reported that:

“First these films can be divided into two categories: films in which gambling is a central focus of the film, and others where gambling is a relatively minor topic but serves a symbolic role in the film. The films that are about gambling can be further divided into those that present generally negative views of gambling (e.g., pathology, crime, cheating) and those that present a generally positive image of gambling (e.g., magical skills and miraculous wins). The positive image is mainly related to the ability of the player to win (by skill or by miracle), but some of these films also add additional positive images by hinting at a glamorous and exciting lifestyle (The Good Thief, James Bond films, Rounders). Negative images of gambling are more common than positive images of gambling. Negative images were further divided into pathological gambling, suckers, cheaters, organized crime, and robbing casinos”.

They also go on to note that: very few films show ordinary people gambling non-problematically:

“Throughout the history of movies, gambling-related stories have been present. Movies about gambling are most often inhabited by problem gamblers (e.g., The Gambler), cheats (e.g., Shade), criminals (e.g., The Godfather, Ocean’s Eleven), spies (e.g., Diamonds are Forever), people with incredible luck (e.g., Stealing Harvard), and professional gamblers (e.g., Rounders, The Hustler). With the exception of The Odd Couple (1968), we have come across few movies that show ordinary people gambling in a non-problematic manner”.

With regards to problem and pathological gambling they conclude that:

“Some movies provide important insights into the nature of pathological gambling (e.g., The Gambler, Owning Mahowny, The Hustler). However, others make light of the disorder or indulge in the wishful thinking common with pathological gamblers (e.g., Let It Ride, The Cooler, Fever Pitch, The Good Thief). In some movies people develop a problem too quickly (Viva Rock Vegas, Lost in America). Some films take the view that all gamblers are addicted (Croupier, Two for the Money)…Most films about pathological gambling depict a narrow segment of the problem gambling population focusing on the male “action” gambler (see also Griffiths, 2004). Most pathological gamblers simply do not embezzle millions of dollars as in Owning Mahowny or take stupid risks just for the thrill of it as in The Gambler. Films rarely show gamblers hooked on slot machines or other electronic gambling machines even though such machines, where they are available, now account for a majority of problem gamblers in treatment”.

Obviously the sample of films chosen was selective and there were over a hundred films that weren’t analysed. However, even though the study was published ten years ago I don’t think the results (if repeated on more contemporary films) would be particularly different.

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

Further reading

Dement, J.W. (1999) Going for broke: The depiction of compulsive gambling in film. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Gambling in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 66-83.

Griffiths, M. (2004). An empirical analysis of the film ‘The Gambler’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1(2), 39-43.

Gluss, H.M. & Smith, S.E., (2002). Reel people: Finding ourselves in the movies. Keylight: Los Angeles.

Turner, N. E., Fritz, B., & Zangeneh, M. (2007). Images of gambling in film. Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 117-143.

Come undone: The strange case of the ‘ejaculate fetishist’

In a previous blog I briefly examined semen fetishes and the acts of ‘bukkake’ (most commonly seen in hard core pornographic films where a group of men all simultaneously ejaculate over a women or man), and ‘gokkun’ (where a man or woman consumes the semen of one or more men from a drinking receptacle, e.g., cups, glasses, beakers, etc.). In that article I noted that while there is a fair amount of (non-academic) literature about bukkake, references to semen fetishes appear to be rare with nothing published in academic journals.

However, since writing that article, a case study of a 39-year old man with an ‘ejaculate fetish’ was published in the Journal of Psychiatry by three Turkish medics (Dr. Safak Taktak, Dr. Mustafa Karakus and Dr. Salih Murat Eke) –  ‘The Man Whose Fetish Object is Ejaculate: A Case Report’. (In fact, Dr. Taktak has published a number of interesting case studies of paraphilic behaviour including shoe fetishism and paraphilias more generally [see ‘Further reading’ below]). Following a crime of molestation, the man had been arrested by Turkish police. (In fact, it turned out the man had already spent 10 years in prison for armed robbery when he was in his twenties and was released from jail when he was 31 years old).

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The judicial authorities demanded that the man had to undergo a psychiatric assessment because one of his behaviours was the buying of ejaculate from young men that he would then smear on his genitals for sexual satisfaction. The act of smearing semen on his body had begun in prison when he would smear semen on bodily wounds and provided (presumably therapeutic) relief (as the prison did not provide medicine or cream for bodily injuries). The paper also claimed that the act of taking semen from each other and applying it to wounds and sores was commonplace in the prison he was at. Following his release from prison, he continued the habit and “became obsessed with it and he bought semen from different people on a monthly basis and spread it on the genital area”. Fifteen days prior to his psychiatric assessment, he was accused of molesting a 16-year old adolescent while trying to buy semen from him. The adolescent was reported as saying:

“A man held my arm and said that he had a job for me and he would give money if I do that job. I told him if I can do, I would do. He said he would be there [an hour and a half] later, and told me to find him. After he came, he told me that he buys human sperm, and asked me if I give him sperm, which surprised me a lot. Then he took three or four plastic bags out of the pocket of his jacket full of white things. He said these bags are the sperms that he bought from three or four kids. In exchange of sperm, he gave things like money, stereos and televisions”.

The adolescent’s father found out what had happened to his son and caught the man who had wanted his son’s semen. The man told the father that he wanted the semen to alleviate itchiness. During the psychiatric examination by the authors, the man was described as having mildly depressive emotions, natural psychomotor activity, sufficient cognitive function, and no delusions and/or hallucinations. He also had a history of alcohol and marijuana abuse (but since leaving prison he had stopped abusing these substances). Using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) the authors said he had inconsistent behaviour, difficulty in controlling his impulses, was angry and short tempered, displayed antisocial behaviour, was sexually deviant, had obsessive sexual thoughts, was socially isolated, and had a negative self-perception. They also wrote that his psychological profile suggested an antisocial or schizoid personality disorder.

The paper also noted that his father has also been in prison on a number of occasions, and that his mother and her relatives looked after him and his younger brother, and that they had “a hard life” while growing up. From the age of 11-12 years old, he started masturbating regularly (sometimes a few times a day). During early adolescence he began engaging in frotteurism (rubbing his genitals up against other people) particularly on bus journeys. Now, as a man, he claimed he could not masturbate without the use of other people’s semen. He began buying other individuals’ semen when he got out of prison (“from 30 young men in exchanges for money”) and always carried semen with him wherever he went.

The authors noted that unlike most other fetishes, the sexualisation of semen as a fetish did not occur until he was in prison (i.e., adulthood rather than childhood or adolescence). I’m not sure why (based on the evidence in the paper) but they also speculated that the man’s semen fetish was used to overcome low self-esteem and a sense of failure” and that the fetish behaviour “occurred from a trauma caused by the bad attitude of [his] parents at an early age, and [that] such negative experiences contributed to the emergence of fetish behavior”. The paper also claimed that: “He discovered the fetish object to deal with the anger for the negative events he faced when he was in prison for ten years for armed robbery. Impulse control is likely to be impaired because of the adverse conditions created by the prison”.

They also described the man’s semen fetish as a “mental illness” (in fact, the paper seemed to imply that all fetishes are mental illnesses which is clearly not the case as most non-normative sex is non-problematic for those engaging in such behaviour). However, by diagnosing the man has having a mental illness, it meant that he was not mentally competent enough to stand trial. The paper concluded that:

“In our case, the number of [victims] is few, but [our patient is] respectively harmless to the victims and not dangerous. He cannot control his urges and behaviors. For [these] kind of cases, generally, diminished criminal responsibility is decided but for this case, it was decided that he has no criminal responsibility”.

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

Further reading

BBC News (2010). Israel jails man for ‘holy semen’ sex abuse. April 26. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8644637.stm

Kuro5hin (2002). A modern craving. August 5. Located at: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/8/5/71044/01543

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(3), 276.

Taktak, S., Karakus, M., Kaplan, A., & Eke, S.M. (2015) Shoe fetishism and kleptomania comorbidity: A case report. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2, 14-19.

Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Unsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20 years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, in press.

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

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

Ga(y)ming studies: The importance of sexuality in video gaming

Back in May 2014, hundreds of news outlets reported on Nintendo’s decision not to allow gamers to play as gay characters and form same-sex relationships in the life-simulation game Tomodachi Life. Understandably, there was disquiet and outrage from a number of quarters despite Nintendo’s statement that “Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game [and] not trying to provide social commentary”. Their statement at the time appeared to fan the flames rather than silence the critics.

I have been researching video game play for almost three decades and I’ve always found issues surrounding character formation, sexuality, and gender in gaming of great psychological interest. In one of our studies we found that a majority of gamers (57%) had gender-swapped their game character with female gamers (68%) being more likely to gender swap than male gamers (54%). We argued that gender swapping enabled gamers to play around and experiment with various aspects of their in-game character that are not so easy to do in real life. For others it was just fun to see if they felt any different playing a different gendered character. What makes our findings interesting is that in most instances, the gamers had the opportunity to choose the gender of their character and to develop other aspects of their character before they began to play. Choosing to gender swap may have had an effect on the gamers’ styles of play and interaction with other gamers. Whatever the reasons, it was clear from our research that the development of gamers’ online characters and avatars was important to them.

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One of the reasons for the importance of online gaming identities may be because it subverts traditional parasocial interaction (PI). PI is a concept used by psychologists that has traditionally described one-sided, parasocial interpersonal relationships in situations where one individual knows a great deal about someone else, but where the other person knows little about the other (the most common being the relationship between celebrities and their fans).

A study led by Nicholas Bowman (and published in a 2012 issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking [CPBSN]) argued that the playing of video games challenges this concept “as the distance between game players and characters is greatly reduced, if not completely removed, in virtual environments.” The study claimed that online gaming encourages the “psychological merging of a player’s and a character’s mind” and is critical in the development of character attachment. In this context, the sexuality of a character for a player may be of fundamental psychological importance.

This appears to be confirmed in a paper by Melissa Lewis and colleagues (also published in CPBSN) who developed a scale to assess ‘character attachment’ (the connection felt by a video game player toward a video game character”). They found that character attachment had a significant relationship with self-esteem, addiction, game enjoyment, and time spent playing games.

American researcher Dr. Adrienne Shaw has carried out a number of studies into lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) representation in video games from a cultural production perspective. She was one of the first academics in the gaming studies field to note that there was a relative lack of LGBT representation in video games. Other areas of the entertainment media (e.g., music, film, and television) appear to have much greater LGBT representation than in video games so it does beg the question of why the gaming industry appears to be behind in this respect. I recall writing a paper back in 1993 (in The Psychologist) where I argued that most video games at the time were designed by males for other males. This arguably alienated female gamers but eventually led to developers introducing strong female characters into video games (the most notable being Lara Croft in Tomb Raider). Maybe the appearance of LGBT characters and role models within games will increase over time but I’m not holding my breath.

In a more recent paper in a 2012 paper in the journal New Media and Society, Dr. Shaw claimed that the demand for minority representation in video games “often focuses on proving that members of marginalized groups are gamers” and that the gaming industry should focus on appealing to such players via targeted content. However, she argues that an individual’s identity as a gamer will intersect with “other identities like gender, race, and sexuality.” She then goes on to say that the negative connotations about being an online gamer may lead to such marginalized groups not wanting to engage in gaming. She concluded that “those invested in diversity in video games must focus their attention on the construction of the medium, and not the construction of the audience…[This] is necessary to develop arguments for representation in games that do not rely on marking groups as specific kinds of gaming markets via identifiers like gender, race, and sexuality.”

Nintendo’s decision not to allow gay relationships to form within Tomodachi Life was ill-judged, ill-informed, and outdated. Games in which identity content can be generated by its users needs to reflect the world in which the gamers’ live. In short, there should be no compromise when it comes to allowing gamers to choose their sexuality within the game.

(N.B. A version of this article first appeared in The Conversation)

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

Further reading

Bowman, N. D., Schultheiss, D., & Schumann, C. (2012). “I’m attached, and I’m a good guy/gal!”: how character attachment influences pro-and anti-social motivations to play massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(3), 169-174

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

Griffiths, M.D., Arcelus, J. & Bouman, W.P. (2016). Video gaming and gender dysphoria: Some case study evidence. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 34(2), 59-66.

Hussain, Z., & Griffiths, M. D. (2008). Gender swapping and socializing in cyberspace: An exploratory study. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11(1), 47-53.

Lewis, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Confronting gender representation: A qualitative study of the experiences and motivations of female casual-gamers. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 28, 245-272.

Lewis, M. L., Weber, R., & Bowman, N. D. (2008). “They may be pixels, but they’re MY pixels:” Developing a metric of character attachment in role-playing video games. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11(4), 515-518.

McLean, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Female gamers: A thematic analysis of their gaming experience. International Journal of Games-Based Learning, 3(3), 54-71.

Shaw, A. (2009). Putting the gay in games cultural production and GLBT content in video games. Games and Culture, 4(3), 228-253.

Shaw, A. (2012). Do you identify as a gamer? Gender, race, sexuality, and gamer identity. New Media and Society, 14(1), 28-44.

Shaw, A. (2015). Gaming at the edge: Sexuality and gender at the margins of gamer culture. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

More mass debating: Compulsive sexual behaviour and the internet

The issue of sex addiction as a behavioural addiction has been hotly debated over the last decade. A recent contribution to this debate is a review by Shane Kraus and his colleagues in the latest issue of the journal Addiction that examined the empirical evidence base for classifying compulsive sexual behaviour (CSB) as a behavioural (i.e., non-substance) addiction. The review raised many important issues and highlighted many of the problems in the area including the problems in defining CSB, and the lack of robust data from many different perspectives (epidemiological, longitudinal, neuropsychological, neurobiological, genetic, etc.).

As my regular blog readers will know, I have carried out empirical research into a wide variety of different behavioural addictions (gambling, video gaming, internet use, exercise, sex, work, etc.) and have argued that some types of problematic sexual behaviour can be classed as sex addiction depending upon the definition of addiction used. I was invited by the editors of Addiction to write a commentary on the review and this has just been published in the same issue as the paper by Kraus and colleagues. This blog briefly looks at the issues in that review that I highlighted in my commentary.

For instance, there are a number of areas in Kraus et al.’s paper that were briefly mentioned without any critical evaluation. For instance, in the short section on co-occurring psychopathology and CSB, reference was made to studies claiming that 4%-20% of those with CSB also display disordered gambling behaviour. I pointed out that a very comprehensive review that I published with Dr. Steve Sussman and Nadra Lisha (in the journal Evaluation and the Health Professions) examining 11 different potentially addictive behaviours also highlighted studies claiming that sex addiction could co-occur with exercise addiction (8%-12%), work addiction (28%-34%), and shopping addiction (5%-31%). While it is entirely possible for an individual to be addicted to (say) cocaine and sex concurrently (because both behaviours can be carried out simultaneously), there is little face validity that an individual could have two or more co-occurring behavioural addictions because genuine behavioural addictions consume large amounts of time every single day. My own view is that it is almost impossible for someone to be genuinely addicted to (for example) both work and sex (unless the person’s work was as an actor/actress in the pornographic film industry).

The paper by Kraus et al also made a number of references to “excessive/problematic sexual behavior” and appeared to make the assumption that ‘excessive’ behaviour is bad (i.e., problematic).  While I agree that CSB is typically excessive, excessive sex in itself is not necessarily problematic. Preoccupation with any behaviour in relation to addiction obviously needs to take into account the context of the behaviour, as the context is far more important in defining addictive behaviour than the amount of the activity undertaken. As I have constantly argued, the fundamental difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasms and addictions is that healthy excessive enthusiasms add to life whereas addictions take away from them.

The paper also appeared to have an underlying assumption that empirical research from a neurobiological and genetic perspective should be treated more seriously than that from a psychological perspective. Whether problematic sexual behaviour is described as CSB, sex addiction and/or hypersexual disorder, there are thousands of psychological therapists around the world that treat such disorders. Consequently, clinical evidence from those that help and treat such individuals should be given greater credence by the psychiatric community.

shutterstock_cybersex

Arguably the most important development in the field of CSB and sex addiction is how the internet is changing and facilitating CSB. This was not even mentioned until the concluding paragraph yet research into online sex addiction (while comprising a small empirical base) has existed since the late 1990s including sample sizes of up to almost 10,000 individuals. In fact, there have been a number of recent reviews of the empirical data concerning online sex addiction including its treatment including ones by myself in journals such as Addiction Research and Theory (in 2012) and Current Addiction Reports (in 2015). My review papers specifically outlined the many specific features of the Internet that may facilitate and stimulate addictive tendencies in relation to sexual behaviour (accessibility, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, disinhibition, etc.). The internet may also be facilitating behaviours that an individual would never imagine doing offline such as cybersexual stalking.

Finally, there is also the issue of why Internet Gaming Disorder was included in the DSM-5 (in Section 3 – ‘Emerging measures and models’) but sex addiction/hypersexual disorder was not, even though the empirical base for sex addiction is arguably on a par with IGD. One of the reasons might be that the term ‘sex addiction’ is often used (and arguably misused) by high profile celebrities as an excuse to justify their infidelity (e.g., Tiger Woods, Michael Douglas, David Duchovny, Russell Brand), and is little more than a ‘functional attribution’. For instance, the golfer Tiger Woods claimed an addiction to sex after his wife found out that he had many sexual relationships during their marriage. If his wife had never found out, I doubt whether Woods would have claimed he was addicted to sex. I would argue that many celebrities are in a position where they are bombarded with sexual advances from other individuals and have succumbed. But how many people would not do the same thing if they had the opportunity? Sex only becomes a problem (and is pathologised) when the person is found to have been unfaithful. Such examples arguably give sex addiction a ‘bad name’, and provides a good reason for those not wanting to include such behaviour in diagnostic psychiatry texts.

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

Further reading

Bocij, P., Griffiths, M.D., McFarlane, L. (2002). Cyberstalking: A new challenge for criminal law. Criminal Lawyer, 122, 3-5.

Cooper, A., Delmonico, D.L., & Burg, R. (2000). Cybersex users, abusers, and compulsives: New findings and implications. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 6, 79-104.

Cooper, A., Delmonico, D.L., Griffin-Shelley, E., & Mathy, R.M. (2004). Online sexual activity: An examination of potentially problematic behaviors. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 11, 129-143.

Cooper, A., Galbreath, N., Becker, M.A. (2004). Sex on the Internet: Furthering our understanding of men with online sexual problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 223-230.

Cooper, A., Griffin-Shelley, E., Delmonico, D.L., Mathy, R.M. (2001). Online sexual problems: Assessment and predictive variables. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 8, 267-285.

Dhuffar, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). A systematic review of online sex addiction and clinical treatments using CONSORT evaluation. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 163-174.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Compulsive sexual behaviour as a behavioural addiction: The impact of the Internet and other issues. Addiction, 111, 2107-2109.

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

Kraus, S., Voon, V., & Potenza, M. (2016). Should compulsive sexual behavior be considered an addiction? Addiction 111, 2097-2106.

Orzack M.H., & Ross C.J. (2000). Should virtual sex be treated like other sex addictions? Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 7, 113-125.

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

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Meditation Awareness Training for the treatment of sex addiction: A case study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 363–372.

 

Dying for it: Bizarre autoerotic deaths (Part 2)

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

Case 1: Autoerotic death by aerosol propellant

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

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

Case 2: Autoerotic death by clothing

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

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

Case 3: Autoerotic death by hanging (female)

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

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

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-13-38-03

Case 4: Autoerotic death by vacuum cleaner

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

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

Case 5: Autoerotic death by hydraulic tractor shovel

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the unexpected: 10 bad habits that sometimes do us good (Part 2)

In my previous blog I looked at five bad habits that might actually have benefits for psychological and/or physical wellbeing. Here are the next five:

(6) Swearing helps reduce pain and relieve work stress

Although swearing has become increasingly commonplace, most people would agree it is a bad habit. However, research has shown that swearing can help alleviate pain. In an experimental study led by Dr. Richard Stephens (at Keele University, UK) in the journal Neuroreport, results showed that individuals that swore (compared to individuals that didn’t) could endure the pain of putting their hand in a bucket of ice-cold water nearly 50% longer (nearly two minutes for those that swore compared to one minute 15 seconds for those that said a neutral non-swearword instead). Dr. Stephens thought of the idea for doing the study after accidentally hitting his thumb with a hammer while building a garden shed and realizing that simultaneous swearing appeared to help reduce the pain. The researchers speculated that swearing might trigger our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response by downplaying a weakness or threat in order to deal with it. However, there appears to be a caveat. Swearing may only be effective in helping reduce pain if it is a casual habit. Dr. Stephens cautioned that swearing is emotional language but if individuals overuse it, swearing loses its emotional attachment, and is less likely to help alleviate pain. Research published in the Leadership and Organization Development Journal by Professor Yehuda Baruch (University of East Anglia, UK) found that regular use of swearing expressed and reinforced solidarity among staff members. The acts of profanity enabled employees to express their feelings, such as frustration, and develop social relationships.

(7) Being messy helps boost creativity

Being messy – whether it’s a messy work desk or a messy bedroom – has often perceived as a sign of being disorganized. However, recent American research published in the journal Psychological Science by Dr. Kathleen Vohs and colleagues (at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota) suggests that being messy can boost creativity. Vohs and her team carried out a number of experiments and published them in a paper entitled ‘Physical order produces healthy choices, generosity, and conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity’. In one of the experiments, 48 participants were assigned to either a messy or tidy room. Participants were asked to think up as many uses for Ping-Pong balls, and to write down. Independent judges then rated the participants’ answers for degree of creativity. Results showed that participants in both tidy and messy rooms produced the same number of ideas, but those generating ideas in the messy room were more creative. Those in the messy room were (on average) 28% more creative and were five times more likely to produce “highly creative” ideas. Dr. Vohs concluded that messiness and creativity are very strongly correlated, and that “while cleaning up certainly has its benefits, clean spaces might be too conventional to let inspiration flow”.

(8) Having a lie-in helps reduce heart attacks and strokes

While the old proverb that ‘the early bird catches the worm’ might be true, the old saying ‘early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy and wise’ may not be. According to Dr. Mayuko Kadono, a Japanese physician at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, getting up too early in the morning may have serious health consequences. Kadono has led a number of studies on sleep and its relationship with health. In one of his studies of 3,017 healthy adults, it was reported that those individuals getting up before 5 a.m. and engaging in vigorous exercise have a 1.7 times greater risk of high blood pressure and were twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as those who got up two to three hours later. The number of hours slept did not make a difference, only the time of getting up. Dr. Kadono said the results were “contrary to the commonly held belief that early birds are in better health. We need to find what the causes of this are, and whether exercising after waking early is beneficial”. A study conducted by American researchers at Stanford University have reported that the most restorative sleep occurs between 2:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. More general research has found that getting enough sleep can help individuals’ reduce their stress and boost their memory. In short, it’s better to wake up when your body feels ready to get up (i.e., aligning with your body’s natural circadian rhythm) rather than waking up because your alarm clock has gone off.

(9) Gossiping helps friendships and relieves stress

Gossiping is often perceived as a malicious and untrustworthy behaviour but most individuals appear to like gossiping – particularly if it is about the misfortunes of someone else. One of the reasons we like to hear about other people’s problems is that it makes us feel better about ourselves. However, there is also a growing amount of psychological research showing that gossiping may actually have positive benefits. Gossiping is important in helping us bond with other people, promoting co-operation, forming friendships, and learning about cultural norms. These consequences of gossip make us feel good, and when we feel good it helps us relieve stress, tension, and anxiety. In a recent American study published in the journal Psychological Science by Dr. Matthew Feinberg (Stanford University) and colleagues, it was reported that gossip and ostracism can have positive effects within group situations. According to Feinberg, “groups that allow their members to gossip sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t. And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracize untrustworthy members. While both of these behaviors can be misused, [the] findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society”. The evolutionary psychologist Dr. Robin Dunbar (University of Oxford, UK) notes that because language is principally used for the exchange of social information and that such topics are so overwhelmingly important, he concludes that “gossip is what makes human society as we know it possible”.

(10) Burping and farting help relieve bloating and stomach pain

Burping and farting may well be viewed as bad habits, but both are a normal part of the body digestion process, both acts help release unwanted gas that builds up inside the stomach, and both are vital for good gastric health. Farting is particularly beneficial for relieving bloating and preventing oneself from breaking wind can be incredibly painful. Dr Nick Read, a British consultant gastroenterologist warns “If you don’t belch and the gas stays on the stomach, this can cause the valve that separates the gullet and the stomach to relax, allowing stomach acid to splash up into the gullet, triggering heartburn”. In relation to farting he added “We evacuate wind for a reason – it forms in the bowel and we need to get rid of it. Holding it back can also trigger pain. A colleague used to call it Metropolitan Railway Syndrome – all these commuters suffered pain and bloating because they were too embarrassed to break wind on public transport”. All this leads to the conclusion that it’s the act of not burping or farting that should be considered bad habits. Is I was often told by one of my aunts: “It’s better out than in”. And never has a truer word been spoken.

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

Further reading

Baruch, Y., & Jenkins, S. (2007). Swearing at work and permissive leadership culture: When anti-social becomes social and incivility is acceptable. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 28(6), 492-507.

Dunbar, R.I. (2004). Gossip in evolutionary perspective. Review of General Psychology, 8(2), 100-110.

Feinberg, M., Willer, R., & Schultz, M. (2014). Gossip and ostracism promote cooperation in groups. Psychological Science, 25, 656-664.

Feinberg, M., Willer, R., Stellar, J., & Keltner, D. (2012). The virtues of gossip: reputational information sharing as prosocial behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 1015-1030.

Matsuyama, K. (2011). Early birds linked to higher cardiovascular risk, study says. Bloomberg News. October 20. Located at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-10-20/early-birds-linked-to-higher-cardiovascular-risk-study-says

Stephens, R., Atkins, J., & Kingston, A. (2009). Swearing as a response to pain. Neuroreport, 20, 1056-1060.

Vohs, K.D. (2013). It’s not ‘mess’. It’s creativity. New York Times, September 13. Located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/opinion/sunday/its-not-mess-its-creativity.html?_r=0

Vohs, K.D., Redden, J.P., & Rahinel, R. (2013). Physical order produces healthy choices, generosity, and conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity. Psychological Science, 24, 1860-1867.

Wighton, K. (2013). From biting your nails to burping and even eating in bed: The bad habits that can be GOOD for you! Daily Mail, April 8. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2305953/Bad-habits-From-biting-nails-burping-eating-bed-The-bad-habits-GOOD-you.html

Tech it or leave it: Excessive email use and how to curb it

If there is a single behaviour in my life that borders on the pathological, it is the urge I feel to log on and check my emails. When I have no email access (such as when I am on a plane or am on holiday staying at a foreign beachside villa with no Wi-Fi) I function perfectly well but as soon as I know there is a Wi-Fi connection, the first thing I typically do is check my emails. It’s like an itch that I have to scratch. Given that the vast majority of my emails are work-related I don’t necessarily see this as problematic (as I love my work) but it does admittedly facilitate my workaholic tendencies. The psychology and psychosocial impact of email use is also an area that I have published a few articles and book chapters on (see ‘Further reading’ below).

The reason I mention all this is that earlier this month, many of the British newspapers featured a story about how turning off automatic emails helps reduce stress levels. The survey study of just under 2,000 individuals was carried out by psychologists at the Future Work Centre (FWC) and examined the impact of ‘email pressure’ on individuals’ work-life balance. The report noted that there were “2.5 billion email users worldwide, and adults spent an average of over an hour of each day on emails, according to Radicati and Ofcom”. The FWC’s main findings (which I have taken verbatim from the report) highlighted:

  • A strong relationship between using ‘push’ email and perceived email pressure. This means that people who automatically receive email on their devices were more likely to report higher perceived email pressure.
  • People who leave their email on all day were much more likely to report perceived email pressure.
  • Checking email earlier in the morning or later at night is associated with higher levels of perceived email pressure.
  • Managers experience significantly higher levels of perceived email pressure when compared to non-managers.
  • Higher email pressure was associated with more examples of work negatively impacting home life and home life negatively impacting performance at work.
  • Perceived email pressure is significantly higher in people with caring responsibilities. This finding is probably less of a surprise, as the work-life balance research literature is full of examples citing the challenges facing carers when it comes to navigating the boundaries between work and home. Interestingly, our data didn’t reveal any significant differences between people with different caring responsibilities. It seems that just having these responsibilities is associated with significantly higher email pressure.
  • Personality appears to moderate the relationship between perceived email pressure and work-life balance. People who rate their own ability and sense of control over their environment lower find that work interferes more with their home life, and vice versa.

Clearly the benefits of email outweigh the disadvantages but as the FWC report noted, emails are a “double-edged sword” in that that they are clearly a useful communication tool but can be a source of stress. The report concluded that:

“[The results of the study] link perceptions of email pressure to actual work-life balance outcomes, not just perceptions of work-life balance. But that’s not the end of the story. Whilst we’ve identified the external factors that affect our perceived email pressure and explored the relationship between perceived email pressure and work-life balance, there’s another variable we should consider in order to increase our understanding of an individual’s experience of email – personality…Personality moderates the relationship between perceived email pressure and all work-life balance outcomes. It shows that people with low core self-evaluation experience more interference, both positive and negative, between their work and home lives – i.e. they are more sensitive to how the two domains – work and home – affect each other. This could be due to how people with low core self-evaluation make sense of their world. People with high core self-evaluation don’t see these things as happening to them – they can take control and set boundaries”.

The report also provided some tips to combat email stress many of which can be found in other articles examining the topic. For instance, back in 2004, I published my own set of tips in the British Medical Journal (not that I follow my own advice based on what I said in the opening paragraph of this article). However, I’ll end this blog with my (hopefully) common-sense and practical advice:

  • Set retrieval limits: Limit email retrieval to a few times per day (say when you first get in, lunchtime, and/or just before you leave work). You will spend less time both reading and responding to each email than if you had read them when they individually came in.
  • Turn off instant messaging system: There is a tendency to look at emails straight away if the instant messaging system is turned on. This is only helpful when you are expecting a message.
  • Get a good spam filter: There is nothing worse than an inbox full of junk mail so invest in a good filter system.
  • Use your ‘auto delete’ button: If there are constant junk emails that you get most days then use the ‘auto delete’ button to avoid them appearing in your inbox.
  • Develop a good filing system: The setting up of a good email filing system is paramount in keeping on top of your emails. This is no different to the desktop management system on your computer. You can put unread messages into appropriate folders to read at a later time and reducing the size of your inbox. A good filing system also aids in retrieving important emails at a later date.
  • Reply and file: Once you have replied to an email either delete it immediately or file it away in a separate email folder.
  • Use your ‘out of office’ assistant facility: This will help reduce the repeated emails from the same people asking “Did you get my earlier email?” Once people know you are unavailable for a given time period they may not send the email in the first place.
  • Print out hard copies of really important e-mails: There is always a chance that emails can get lost or accidentally deleted. If it is really important, print a hard copy straight away and file it.
  • Be selective in who you respond to: When responding to an email sent to a group, don’t necessarily reply to all the group. This will cut down on the number of potential replies.

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

Further reading

Byron, K. (2008). Carrying too heavy a load? The communication and miscommunication of emotion by email. Academy of Management Review, 33, 309-327.

Future Work Centre (2015). You’ve got mail: Research Report 2015. London: Future Work Centre. Located at: http://www.futureworkcentre.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/FWC-Youve-got-mail-research-report.pdf

Giumetti, G.W., Hatfield, A.L., Scisco, J. L., Schroeder,
A.N., Muth, E.R., & Kowalski, R. M. (2013).
What a rude email! Examining the differential effects of incivility versus support on mood, energy, engagement, and performance in an online context. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18, 297-309.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Hey! Wait, just a minute, Mister Postman: The joy of e-mail. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 8, 373.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Tips on…Managing your e-mails. British Medical Journal Careers, 329, 240.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dennis, F. (2000). How to beat techno-stress. Independent on Sunday (Reality section), May 7, p.22.

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.

Ng, K. (2016). Turn off automatic email updates to ease stress, psychologists advise. The Independent, January 5. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/turn-off-automatic-email-updates-to-ease-stress-psychologists-advise-a6794826.html

Radicati, S. & Levenstein, J. (2014). Email Statistics Report, 2014-2018. Located at: http://www.radicati.com/?p=10644

Against all odds: The rise and rise of gambling

In many areas of the world, gambling has become a popular activity. Almost all national surveys into gambling have concluded that most people have gambled at some point in their lives, there are more gamblers than non-gamblers, but that most participants gamble infrequently. Commissions and official government reviews in a number of countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have all concluded that increased gambling availability has led to an increase in problem gambling. Estimates of the number of problem gamblers vary from country to country but most countries that have carried out national prevalence surveys suggest around 0.5%-2% of individuals have a gambling problem.

In May 2013, the new criteria for problem gambling (now called ‘Gambling Disorder’) were published in the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5), and for the very first time, problem gambling was included in the section ‘Substance-related and Addiction Disorders’ (rather than in the section on impulse control disorders). Also included in the Appendix of the DSM-5 as a potential addiction was Internet Gaming Disorder (i.e., online video game addiction). Although most of us in the field had been conceptualizing problematic gambling and video gaming as addictions for many years, this was arguably the first time that an established medical body had described them as such. For me, gambling and gaming addictions should not be considered any differently from other more traditional chemical addictions (e.g., alcohol addiction, nicotine addiction). Consequently, there is no theoretical reason why other problematic and excessive activities that do not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance cannot be deemed as legitimate behavioural addictions in the years to come (e.g., shopping addiction, sex addiction, work addiction, exercise addiction, etc.).

Gambling is a multifaceted rather than unitary phenomenon. Consequently, many factors are involved in the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. Such factors include an individual’s biological and genetic predisposition, their social environment, psychological variables (personality characteristics, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, etc.), macro-situational characteristics (how much gambling is marketed and advertised, the number of gambling venues within a jurisdiction, where the gambling venue is located), micro-situational characteristics of the gambling environment (on-site cash machine, provision of free alcohol, floor layout etc.), and the structural characteristics of the gambling activity itself (jackpot size, stake size, the number of times a individual can gamble in a given time frame, etc.). Most research has tended to concentrate on individual characteristics (personality, genetics, family and peer influence) rather than situational and structural characteristics.

The introduction of national lotteries, the proliferation of slot machines, the expansion of casinos, and the introduction of new media in which to gamble (e.g., Internet gambling, mobile phone gambling, interactive television gambling, gambling via social networking sites), has greatly increased the accessibility and popularity of gambling worldwide, and as a result, the number of people seeking assistance for gambling-related problems. In addition, the rise of remote gambling via the internet and mobile phones has arguably changed the psychosocial nature of gambling. I have also published a number of studies showing that to vulnerable and susceptible individuals (e.g., problem gamblers, minors, the intoxicated, etc.), the medium of the internet may facilitate and fuel problematic and addictive behaviours.

There are many known factors that make online activity potentially problematic to a minority of individuals. This includes factors such as easy accessibility, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, and disinhibition. Some of these factors can change the psychological experience of gambling. For instance, gambling with virtual representations of money online lower the psychological value of the money and people tend to spend more with virtual representations of money than if they were gambling with physical money. Also, when people lose money online it is a different psychological experience because no-one can see anyone losing face-to-face. As a result, there is less guilt and embarrassment about losing and vulnerable individuals may be tempted to spend more time and money than they had originally intended.

One very salient trend that has implications for gambling (and arguably problem gambling) is that technology hardware is becoming increasingly convergent (e.g., internet access via smartphones and interactive television) and there is increasing multi-media integration such as gambling and video gaming via social networking sites. As a consequence, people of all ages are spending more time interacting with technology in the form of internet use, playing videogames, watching interactive television, mobile phone use, social networking, etc. In addition to convergent hardware, there is also convergent content. This includes some forms of gambling including video game elements, video games including gambling elements, online penny auctions that have gambling elements, and television programming with gambling-like elements.

One of the key drivers behind the increased numbers of people gambling online and using social networking sites is the rise of mobile gambling and gaming. Compared to internet gambling, mobile gambling is still a relatively untapped area but the functional capabilities of mobile phones and other mobile devices are improving all the time. There are now hundreds of gambling companies that provide casino-style games to be downloaded onto the gambler’s smartphone or mobile device (e.g., tablet or laptop). This will have implications for the psychosocial impact of gambling and will need monitoring. Like online gambling, mobile gaming has the capacity to completely change the way people think about gambling and betting. Mobile phones provide the convenience of making bets or gambling from wherever the person is, even if they are on the move.

One of the most noticeable changes in gambling over the last few years – and inextricably linked to the rise of mobile gaming – has been the large increase of in-play sports betting. Gamblers can now typically bet on over 60 ‘in-play’ markets while watching a sports event (such as a soccer match). For instance, during a soccer game, gamblers can bet on who is going to score the first goal, what the score will be after 30 minutes of play, how many yellow cards will be given during them game and/or in what minute of the second half will the first free kick be awarded. Live betting is going to become a critical activity in the success of the future online and mobile gambling markets.

The most salient implication of ‘in-play’ sports betting is that it has taken what was traditionally a discontinuous form of gambling – where an individual makes one bet every Saturday on the result of the game – to one where an individual can gamble again and again and again. Gaming operators have quickly capitalized on the increasing amount of televised sport. In contemporary society, where there is a live sporting event, there will always be a betting consumer. ‘In-play’ betting companies have both catered for the natural betting demand but introduced new gamblers in the process. If the reward for gambling only happens once or twice a week, it is completely impossible to develop problems and/or become addicted. ‘In-play’ has changed that because there are soccer matches on almost every day of the week making a daily two-hour plus period of betting seven days a week.

New technologies in the form of behavioural tracking have helped online gambling companies keep track of players by noting (among many other things) what games they are playing, the time spent playing, the denomination of the gambles made, and their wins and losses. Although such technologies can potentially be used to exploit gamblers (e.g., targeting the heaviest spenders with direct marketing promotions to gamble even more), such technologies can also be used to help gamblers that may have difficulties stopping and/or limiting their gambling behaviour. Over the past few years, innovative social responsibility tools that track player behaviour with the aim of preventing problem gambling have been developed. These new tools are providing insights about problematic gambling behaviour. A number of European jurisdictions (such as Germany and The Netherlands) are now considering whether such tools should be mandatory for gaming operators to use especially as such tools are already being used in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Austria.

Although gamblers are ultimately responsible for their own behaviour, gambling can be minimised via both governmental policy initiatives (age restrictions, marketing and advertising restrictions, no gaming licenses unless operators display the highest standards of social responsibility to their clientele, etc.) and gaming operator initiatives (self-exclusion programs, information about games so gamblers can make informed choices, limit-setting tools that allow gamblers to set time and money loss limits, staff training on responsible gambling, referral to gambling treatment providers, etc.). Problem gambling can never be totally eliminated but harm minimisation practices can be put in place to keep the problem to a minimum. Treatment for gambling addiction should be free and paid for by gambling industry profits (either in the form of voluntary donations to a charitable trust or – if that doesn’t work – a statutory levy). In short, any jurisdiction that has legalised and liberalised gambling has a duty of care to put a national social responsibility infrastructure in place to prevent, minimise, and treat problem gambling as they would with any other consumptive and potentially addictive behaviour (e.g., drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, etc.)

Please note: A version of this article first appeared in Science and Technology (Pan European Networks) magazine (Volume 15, pages 153-155).

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gaming convergence: Further legal issues and psychosocial impact. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 14, 461-464.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Mind games (A brief psychosocial overview of in-play betting). i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, 44.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2014). The technological convergence of gambling and gaming practices. In Richard, D.C.S., Blaszczynski, A. & Nower, L. (Eds.). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Disordered Gambling (pp. 327-346). Chichester: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? (pp. 277-292). New York: Prometheus Books.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

McCormack, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A scoping study of the structural and situational characteristics of internet gambling. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 29-49.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies (pp.211-243). New York: Elsevier.

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

Zangeneh, M., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2008). The marketing of gambling. In Zangeneh, M., Blaszczynski, A., and Turner, N. (Eds.), In The Pursuit Of Winning (pp. 135-153). New York: Springer.

The hold of rolled gold: A brief look at wedding ring fetishes

In January 1995, the Channel 4 television documentary programme Equinox examined sexual paraphilias in a programme called ‘Beyond Love’. One of the many experts interviewed for the programme, Dr. Gene Abel, talked about a man with an unusual fetish. His sexual turn-on was gold wedding rings. In recounting the individual’s story, Dr. Abel said that the fetish was very specific and that the ring had to be of a particular width (6mm to 10mm if I recall correctly) for it to be sexually stimulating to the man in question. The roots of the fetish were established in childhood and arose from the time that the man was a boy and used to sit on his baby-sitter’s knee and play with the ring (twirling it around on her finger). The playing with the ring was accompanied by sexual arousal (from sitting on the knee of an attractive woman) but over time, the ring itself became the source of sexual arousal via continued associative pairing (i.e., sexual arousal from the sight of the female babysitter’s ring became a classically conditioned response).

The man had now married and his wife was unaware of his fetish but the sexologist explained that the man could not get sexually aroused and make love to his wife unless she was wearing her wedding ring and he was twirling it on her finger during sexual intercourse. Dr. Abel also said the man would also walk up to female strangers and comment how lovely their wedding ring was and ask if he could take a photograph of it. He would then use the developed photographs as source material for masturbatory purposes. This anecdotal case story might sound a little bizarre especially as there is no sexual paraphilia that refers to being sexually attracted to gold wedding rings (although Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices does mention timophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals gain sexual pleasure and arousal from gold or wealth – and which I briefly mentioned in a previous blog).

However, Dr. Abel and his colleagues later wrote up this account as one of six unusual case studies in a 2008 issue of the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America where the man in question was given the pseudonym ‘Mr. Rings’ (the other five being ‘Mr. Cartoons’, ‘Mr. Feet’, ‘Mr. Balloons’, ‘Mr. Cigarettes’, and ‘Mr. Spanking’). In all of these cases (including ‘Mr. Rings’), they noted:

“The fetish objects in these case histories were unique enough, and the attraction to the objects strong enough, that the individuals could clearly track their interest from early childhood through adulthood. It is much easier to retrieve remote, explicit memories, such as events (e.g., a party where balloons popped) or playing with objects, than to recall the process of sexual development with no distinct markers in the individual’s history. Because these distinct experiences predated identified sexuality, became a focus of attention for the individual, and then were incorporated into the individual’s sexual interests and masturbatory fantasies, it was possible to accurately track the patterns of sexual arousal. We were also able to clearly identify how these men attempted to blend their deviant interests into sexual relationships with partners and the consequences of their efforts”.

As far as I am aware, this is the only academic paper to have examined ‘ring fetishism’ but my own research on the topic has led me to the conclusion that ‘Mr. Rings’ case is not unique. Here are a few accounts that I found in various online forums on the internet:

  • Extract 1: “[I] have a wedding [ring] on hand fetish. Even more aroused if the woman wears both a wedding and an engagement ring. I don’t like any other kind of ring. Rather than the plain yellow I prefer silver colour (platinum ones)” (Welly11)
  • Extract 2: “I have the same type of fetish. I’m turned on by ladies who wear wedding and engagement rings stacked on the same finger, and other simple band (plain gold or pave) rings. That’s why I founded a Yahoo! Group for other fetishists to share their photos” (Saladinthewise)
  • Extract 3: “I thought I was the only person on the planet with this (get incredibly aroused when I see a woman wear the plain yellow gold wedding ring) and I couldn’t make any sense of it for ages…Thanks for restoring a bit of my sanity and faith in my normality!” (Heshan1)
  • Extract 4: “My husband bought me a wedding ring that looks very similar to the one his mom wears. He later confessed it is a tremendous turn-on for him just seeing me wearing it. He doesn’t remember his mom (who is a wonderful person) doing anything ‘out of line’ with him in the past and it is not essential for me to have it on for sex. Could something have happened as a baby to implant this ‘fascination’ in his mind?” (iDawn491)

These are all fairly short self-confessed admissions and don’t really tell us much except that the fetish appears to be male-based and that the ring (or stacked rings in the case of two of the accounts) have to be worn by women. Extract 4 does point out that her husband can engage in sex without her wearing the ring so in this case, it wouldn’t be a true fetish behaviour (merely a strong sexual preference). There are also some sexually explicit discussions about wedding ring fetishes here. However, I did come across some more detailed accounts:

  • Extract 5: “My fetish started a long time ago, I am 55. Women who have worn wide bands have always had my interest. I have been married twice and each time I have told my wife to be about my fetish. Both women have worn wide band. My first wife got deep in to religion and wanted me to quit carrying an off duty side arm, I was a police officer at the time. My second wife said if I wanted her to she would wear a few wide rings if I got her what I wanted. I have been married to her for almost 20 years and she has worn them both day and night. I really dislike the thin plain gold rings that a lot of women wear. I feel all women should wear wide band on one of their ring fingers. My second wife dated a guy before me who had a fetish for bangle bracelets that could not be removed he had her wearing 5 to 6 on each arm that were soldered on and could not pass over the wrist. Even after she broke up with him she continued to wear them for about 10 years and once in a blue moon she would see him somewhere and shake them at him, just to see and you can’t have me” (Edward 5759).

This account hints that the fetish probably started in adolescence and that like ‘Mr. Rings’, the ring has to be of a specific type (in this case a wide band). It is also a fetish that the man in question was happy to tell his wives about, and something that the wives were psychologically comfortable with. This last account is a little more complicated as there are overlaps with other sexually fetishistic behaviours:

  • Extract 6: “My longstanding fetish is to be tied up by married women wearing a certain type of wedding ring. These are plain gold, very large 20-25 mms in width, curved like a barrel and smooth, the curve less pronounced as the width increases…All you need to know is that every woman I have ever encountered wearing one I have subsequently fantasized about them tying me up…My fetish even leading me to follow women I know to wear them. I have no idea why these wedding rings turn me on, and continue to do so, but it is a fetish I feel might be a new one and something I have just wanted to tell people about for a very long time. I can only think that the size and shape have something to do with my fetish and would appear to be linked somehow to my desire to always be tied with lots of rope, generously wrapped around the body. I’ve never really viewed my fetish as a problem other than the fact that chancing upon women wearing these rings is something that rarely ever happens, as they are not commonplace, therefore there is practically nothing to satisfy my ‘addiction’, for want of a better description…There was a woman who wore a wedding ring of the kind I have described, a particularly large one, who would shop every Saturday at a certain location at a certain time and I would make sure I’d be there to see it. This went on for three years. That was a long time ago now, and I still fantasize about her tying me up…I simply cannot imagine that ANYONE shares my fetish, so I can’t really expect to meet anyone here who does. The unusual nature of it being the biggest problem, that there is simply no concrete outlet for it” (Brainpan).

This final account is the most interesting one I have come across although is complicated by the fact that there are elements of bondage and sexual masochism added to the fetishistic mix. Although (like the other extracts) there is no insight into the roots and etiology of the behaviour, the size and the shape of the ring are again very specific suggesting that the longstanding desire dates back to a time where the person simply can’t recall where the interest in rings began (i.e., early childhood perhaps). As with other accounts, the fetishistic behaviour is not viewed as a problem by the person who has it (although in this latter case, there is arguably an element of stalking involved).

In all honesty (and although I find this interesting), I can’t see ‘wedding ring fetishism’ ever being the topic of in-depth psychological research particularly as the behaviour appears to be non-problematic in the main.

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

Further reading

Abel, G.G., Coffey, L. & Osborn, C.A. (2008). Sexual arousal patterns: normal and deviant. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31, 643-655.

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