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Needers of the pack: A brief look at addiction to Solitaire

A few days ago I was interviewed by Business Insider about the addictiveness of the card game Solitaire (also known as Klondike and Patience). The ‘hook’ for the Business Insider article (no pun intended) was that May 22 is National Solitaire Day (NSD). A quick look on the online National Day Calendar confirmed that NSD does indeed exist (a celebration day that only began for the first time last year) and the website also pointed out that the game is over 200 years’ old and that Solitaire “truly went viral” in 1990 when Microsoft included the Microsoft Solitaire game in Windows 3.0 (as a way to teach people how to use the mouse on their computers). The NSD webpage notes that:

“Over the past 28 years, Microsoft Solitaire has been providing great entertainment to hundreds of millions of players in every corner of the world…In 2012, Microsoft evolved Solitaire into the Microsoft Solitaire Collection, which features five of the top Solitaire games in one app. Since then, the game has been played by over 242 million people and has become so popular that each year 33 billion games are played with over 3.2 trillion cards dealt!”

Back in 2000, a short article on internet addiction in The Lancet by Peter Mitchell noted that one of the pioneers in internet addiction research, the clinical psychologist Maressa Hecht Orzack claimed to have a problem (a “near addiction”) playing Solitaire. Orzack was quoted in Mitchell’s article as saying: “So now I don’t have a computer at work. [My playing Solitaire] was getting that serious”. Orzack was also quoted in the Business Insider article. Her Solitaire playing was a “growing obsession” and she neglected her work and lost sleep because of her Solitaire playing. She said: “I kept playing solitaire more and more – my late husband would find me asleep at the computer. I was missing deadlines. I knew something had to be done”.

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As far as I am aware, there is no empirical research about addiction to Solitaire, and I’ve never come across a published case study. However, I have mentioned Solitaire in a number of my papers over the years but all of them were in my critique of Dr. Kimberley Young’s taxonomy of the different types of internet addiction. Young claimed there were five different types of internet addiction (‘cyber-sexual addiction’, cyber-relationship addiction, ‘net compulsions’, ‘information overload’ and ‘computer addiction’). In a number of my publications in journals such as the Student British Medical Journal (1999), Addiction Research (2000), and the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (2006), I argued that the typology was flawed and that most of the examples Young provided were addictions on the internet, not addictions to the internet (and echoing my assertion that individuals are no more addicted to the internet than alcoholics are addicted to bottles).

The reference to Solitaire was in relation to Young’s final type of internet addiction – ‘computer addiction’. One of her examples of ‘computer addiction’ as the playing of Solitaire on computers. (I found this strange particularly because the example didn’t even rely on being on the internet – it was merely about individuals being addicted to playing Solitaire on computers and laptops). Young never provided any empirical evidence that she had ever met or treated anyone with an addiction to Solitaire, just that being addicted to Solitaire would be classed as a ‘computer addiction’ in her typology.

Young is not the only social scientist to use Solitaire as an example in an addiction typology. In a 2008 paper published in the Journal of Applied Social Science, Jawad Fatayer outlined what he believes are the four types of addiction – alpha addictions (addictions that impact the body and physical health such as nicotine addiction and food addiction), beta addictions (addictions that impact the mind and the body such as alcohol and other drug addictions), gamma addictions (all behavioural addictions), and delta addictions (two or more addictions experiences simultaneously). Addiction to Solitaire was listed as a gamma addiction (but again, there was no empirical evidence to support the claim that Solitaire addiction actually exists).

Business Insider spoke to two other psychologists in addition to myself. Dr. Chris Ferguson (with whom I have co-authored a few papers) said:

“It’s important to recognize the difference between really liking something and having a clinical addiction. People (say) ‘I’m addicted to cupcakes’, ‘I’m addicted to chocolate’ meaning ‘This is a really fun thing that I like to do a lot’. There’s a huge debate that goes on in the field right now about whether video games can be compared to things like substance abuse, or if video games are more similar to hobby-like activities that many people enjoy — and some people might overdo…a fixation with Solitaire is more of a behavioral addiction – an obsessive behavioral pattern that can be a sign of underlying mental distress or illness. People who have mental health issues, or are simply under stress, tend to be drawn to things that are fun and distracting. And that’s mostly good, actually. It’s just that sometimes, for some individuals, they may begin to really overdo those activities as a form of escapism…It’s not about technology. It’s about mental health”.

A clinical psychologist, Anthony Bean said:

“There are some clear signs that Solitaire might be playing too big a role in your life. (If you’re) noticing you’re putting more time than other areas into the game and, let’s say, not paying attention to your family, not paying attention to work, not paying attention to school”.

My contribution to the Business Insider was taken from an email I sent the journalist. Very little of what I sent was used. I was asked two specific questions: (i) what characteristics of the game Solitaire might make it addicting? and (ii) what should people be aware of as signs of a disruptive addiction to Solitaire (or gaming in general)?

In answer to the first question, I wrote that addictions rely on constant rewards (what psychologists refer to as reinforcement) and each game of Solitaire can be played quickly and individuals can be quickly rewarded if they win (positive reinforcement) but when they lose, the feeling of disappointment or cognitive regret can be eliminated by playing again straight away (negative reinforcement – playing as way to relive a dysphoric mood state). I also stated that addictions typically result as a coping mechanism to other things in a person’s life. They use such behaviours as a way of escape and the repetitive playing of games can help in such circumstances. For the overwhelming majority of people, such playing behaviour will be an adaptive coping mechanism but if the game takes over all other aspects of the person’s life and compromises their relationships and their education/occupation (depending upon their age), this becomes a poor coping strategy because the short-term benefits are heavily outweighed by the long-term costs.

In relation to the second question, I outlined what I believe to be the six core criteria of addictive behaviour and outlined them with what I believed a genuine Solitaire addiction would constitute. My response was purely hypothetical because I have never met or even heard of anyone being genuinely addicted to Solitaire. So, hypothetically, Solitaire addiction would comprise anyone that fulfilled all of the following six criteria:

  • Salience –This occurs when Solitaire becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialised behaviour). For instance, even if the person is not actually playing Solitaire they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with Solitaire).
  • Mood modification –This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of playing Solitaire and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’).
  • Tolerance –This is the process whereby increasing amounts of time spent playing Solitaire are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in Solitaire, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend playing Solitaire every day.
  • Withdrawal symptoms– These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when the person is unable to play Solitaire because they are ill, have no computer connection, etc.
  • Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time playing Solitaire
  • Relapse– This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive Solitaire playing to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical at the height of excessive Solitaire playing to be quickly restored after periods of control.

Finally, I just want to reiterate that I know of no evidence to support the contention that there are individuals genuinely addicted to Solitaire. However, I do think it’s theoretically possible even though I’ve yet to meet or hear about such individuals.

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

Further reading

Fatayer, J. (2008). Addiction types: A clinical sociology perspective. Journal of Applied Social Science, 2(1), 88-93.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Internet addiction: Internet fuels other addictions. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 428-429.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

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

Mitchell, P. (2000). Internet addiction: genuine diagnosis or not? The Lancet, 355(9204), 632.

National Day Calendar (2018). National Solitaire Day. Located at: https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-solitaire-day-may-22/

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Young K. (1999). Internet addiction: Evaluation and treatment. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 351-352.

Profess on excess in the press: Problematic gaming as a behavioural addiction

As a Professor of Behavioural Addiction, one of duties is to profess. Consequently, today’s blog contains content from an interview that I did on problematic gaming as a behavioural addiction for a Spanish magazine. Because the published version was in Spanish I thought my blog readers might be interested in what I had to profess about behavioural addiction in its simplest terms (plus I never like to see things to be left unused or go to waste!).

The focus of your work is mainly behavioural addiction, could you start by giving a brief overview of what behavoural addiction is?

Behavioural addictions are those addictions that do not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance such as alcohol, nicotine or heroin. Some people believe that a person cannot become addicted to something in the absence of a psychoactive agent, but it is my passionate belief that people can become addicted to non-chemical behaviours. I have written a number of papers over the past 30 years that have tried to show that some behaviours when taken to excess (e.g., gambling, video gaming) are no different from (say) alcoholism or heroin addiction in terms of the core components of addiction (e.g. salience, tolerance, withdrawal, mood modification, conflict, relapse etc.). If it can be shown that a behaviour like pathological gambling can be a bona fide addiction (and I believe that it can), then there is a precedent that any behaviour that provides continuous rewards (in the absence of a psychoactive substance) can be potentially addictive. Such a precedent ‘opens the floodgates’ for other excessive behaviours to be considered theoretically as potential addictions (e.g. exercise, sex, eating, computer games, the internet) which is what I’ve been examining in some of my research.

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Whilst a lot of work is around gambling addictions, you also do work on videogame addiction. What drew you to this area of research?

I suppose the ‘classic’ behavioural addiction is gambling, and it was this type of behavioural addiction that fuelled my interest in other forms of non-chemical addiction such as videogame addiction. Many people might think it’s obvious why a psychologist would be interested in studying behavioural addictions such as videogame addiction. It’s a ‘sexy’ subject, it’s media-friendly, the general public find it interesting, and almost everybody from all walks of life has some kind of view on it, whether it’s rooted in personal experience or in a finely argued theoretical perspective.

Do you feel that online gaming poses more of an issue than offline?

Yes, but in most cases only to those that have a vulnerability or susceptibility in the first place. The key difference is that in offline gaming a player can typically pause and/or save the game and come back to it a point of their choosing. Online games continue even when the player has logged off and that can lead to some people playing excessively because they ‘don’t want to miss anything’ in a 24/7 playing environment (the so-called ‘FOMO’ phenomenon – ‘fear of missing out’). I’ve argued in a lot of my work that the internet can enhance and/or facilitate the acquisition, development and maintenance of online addictions – but the crucial factor is that somebody would have to have some kind of addiction predisposition in the first place.

Are there any potential problems, in your field or otherwise, that could arise from the rapidly expanding user base of video games?

Obviously this depends on the types of game played and their content. Any activity that has the potential to enhance or facilitate excessive play can lead to potential problems. Depending on the types of game played, this could be in the form of medical effects (repetitive strain injuries, headaches, eye-strains, etc.), chronic health conditions (e.g., obesity), psychobiological effects (e.g., addiction), or alleged behavioural effects (e.g., increased aggression). The good news is that most of these potential effects occur in a very small minority of players and that reducing the time spent playing will almost always alleviate or eliminate such problems. 

Can a person could spend a great deal of times playing games without being an addict?

For some people, definitely. Any behaviour that is done to excess – even if it is not an addiction – can potentially take away time from other important things such as job, relationships, and other hobbies. This will depend on the duties, constraints and context of the person in question. A 21-year old man with no partner, no children and no job may have time to play 8-10 hours a day without any negative detriment on their life. However, a married man with three children and a full-time job would find it very hard to play 8-10 hours a day without it seriously compromising some other aspect of their life. 

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

Further reading

Gentile, D.A., Bailey, K., Bavelier, D., Funk Brockmeyer, J., … Griffiths, M.D., … & Young, K. (2017). The state of the science about Internet Gaming Disorder as defined by DSM-5: Implications and perspectives, Pediatrics, 140, S81-S85. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-1758H

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Online video gaming: What should educational psychologists know? Educational Psychology in Practice, 26(1), 35-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of context in online gaming excess and addiction: Some case study evidence. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 119-125.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). An overview of online gaming addiction. In Quandt, T. & Kröger, S. (Eds.), Multi.player – Social Aspects of Digital Gaming (pp.197-203). London: Routledge.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Online gaming addiction in adolescence: A literature review of empirical research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 3-22.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gaming addiction: A systematic review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 278-296.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). A brief overview of Internet Gaming Disorder and its treatment. Australian Clinical Psychologist, 2(1), 20108.

Király, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.61-95). New York: Elsevier.

Pontes, H.M., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Psychometric assessment of Internet Gaming Disorder in neuroimaging studies: A systematic review. In Montag, C. & Reuter, M. (Eds.), Internet Addiction Neuroscientific Approaches and Therapeutical Implications (pp.181-208). New York: Springer.

Pontes, H.M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). New concepts, old known issues: The DSM-5 and Internet Gaming Disorder and its assessment. In Gaming and Technology Addiction (pp. 893-898). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Torres-Rodriguez, A., Griffiths, M.D., Carbonell, X. Farriols-Hernando, N. & Torres-Jimenez, E. (2019). Internet gaming disorder treatment: A case study evaluation of four adolescent problematic gamers. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 17, 1-12.

Torres-Rodriguez, A., Griffiths, M.D., Carbonell, X. & Oberst, U. (2018). Psychological characteristics of an adolescent clinical sample with Internet Gaming Disorder. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 707-718.

The (not so) beautiful game: A brief look at problematic videogame playing among professional football players

Today’s blog briefly looks at the issue of problematic gaming amongst footballers and whether it is an issue that professional football clubs must take seriously. In a previous article I wrote about gambling (and gambling addiction) among professional footballers which has become a well-known issue over the last couple of decades. The reasons for why professional footballers gamble have similarities to why they play videogames.

It is the night before a big match. Professional football players are confined to staying in a hotel. No sex. No alcohol. No junk food. Basically, no access to all the things they might love. To pass time, footballers may watch television, play cards for money, or play a video game believing these are ‘healthier’ for them. The difficulty in detecting problematic gaming is likely to be one factor in its growth over other forms of potential addiction – especially as many players are more health-conscious and the testing for alcohol and drugs is now more rigorous. However, any of these ‘healthier’ activities when taken to excess can cause problems. Many years ago, England goalkeeper David James once claimed his loss of form was because of his round-the-clock video game playing. In short, the top players are very well paid and inevitably have lots of time on their hands.

During my career, I have been asked a handful of times by the press to comment on why footballers play videogames. For instance, I was recently interviewed by The i newspaper about the medical consequences of excessive gaming after a story emerged that Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil frequent back problems may have been related to the excessive amount of time he spent playing Fortnite (at least according to Professor Ingo Frobose at the Sport University Cologne in Germany).

mesut-ozil

Although the English Football Association has strict rules on gambling by footballers, there are none (as far as I am aware) on the playing of videogames (and to be honest there is no real need to do so). There are many reasons why footballers may gamble or play videogames to excess compared to other less ‘healthy’ behaviours like excessive drinking or drug taking. It is a shame that addictions to drugs and alcohol tend to generate more sympathy among the general public as many people view gambling and gaming as self-inflicted vices. But gambling or gaming to excess can be just as destructive because of the huge consequences on time and/or money.

According to a story earlier this week in The Sun newspaper, an “English football star” (who wanted to remain anonymous so as not to damage his reputation) had allegedly been playing the Fortnite videogame for up to 16 hours a day which he said was threatening his career (and his relationship) and causing him to miss training sessions. He also claimed there are many more in the sport” just like him. By speaking out about the issue, his motive is to “raise awareness about an addiction which has been described as a ‘silent epidemic’ in football”. The Sun claimed that the footballer’s story was “likely to resonate with dozens of his fellow professionals, who also while away their free time on consoles”. Other footballers such as Mesut Ozil and Harry Kane have claimed to big fans of playing Fortnite. The Sun also claimed that the Professional Footballers’ Association had been contacted by football clubs concerned about the amount of gaming habits by players. In the footballer’s interview with The Sun, he said that:

 “[My] gaming has become a massive problem. When I get back from training, the first thing I do is turn the Xbox on to play Fortnite. I play for about eight to ten hours a day, but I once played 16 hours non-stop the day before a match. When we have away matches and we travel by coach, I am gaming from the moment we leave and then I carry on in my hotel room at night. It is quite normal for me to stay up playing until two o’clock or three o’clock in the morning. I get a lot of eye strain, I am tired the next day and I miss training sometimes. When I started missing training, that was when I knew I needed help as I was getting in trouble from my club. This has been going on for about a year now. If I get told to come off the game, I am sometimes quite aggressive. I have mood swings. If I keep gaming, I worry that it could potentially finish my career. It is also affecting my relationship with my girlfriend because I play on the Xbox instead of seeing her…I think some of my team-mates need help as well. About 50 per cent of our squad are into gaming. And I know they play for a lot of hours because I play Fortnite with them – as well as with players from other clubs.”

The Sun also spoke to the footballer’s psychotherapist Steve Pope. He is currently treating five professional footballers who have problematic gaming and he was quoted as saying:

“Over the last few years, we have probably treated more than 20 footballers for this problem alone. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. They are all at it. It is the biggest scourge of our times. It’s a silent epidemic because footballers can’t be tested for it. I don’t think clubs realise what a big problem this is and the debilitating effect excessive gaming has on a player’s psyche. They wouldn’t let a footballer have a bottle of vodka in their hotel room the night before a game, so why would they let him loose with an Xbox?…If it’s a national problem, which gaming is, then why shouldn’t it affect footballers who have hours and hours to kill on planes, trains and coaches, and then sit in hotel rooms by themselves? For footballers, the real appeal about computer games is that, unlike with other addictions, they can’t be tested for it. It is a problem that needs to be outed to save players’ careers”.

Pope then went on to say:

“Footballers have an addictive personality because that’s what makes them good at their job. From an early age at academies, they are conditioned to work for a high, whether that is making a great pass or scoring a great goal. That is the work-for high. The brain likes that feeling, likes that elation, likes that rush. But if they are not getting that high from football, they are getting it from something else – alcohol, drugs, gambling or gaming. That is the lazy high. Footballers are trained to be competitive and with the kind of games they are playing, Fortnite or Fifa, they are continually in a competition. It’s a follow on from playing football. The trouble is they are playing the games all night and use up all their happy chemicals so their brain is imbalanced. So come the match the following day, they are as flat as a pancake. They are a jangled wreck, trying to clear their head. When I worked in-house at Fleetwood, we banned game stations the night before matches. I would walk the hotel corridors at night time nicking PlayStations and Xboxes to stop them using them”.

Whilst I don’t subscribe to the idea of an addictive personality, much of what Pope says I agree with. It’s not hard to see how professional footballers can get hooked into gaming. Consequently, time rich and money rich young footballers need to be educated about the potential downsides of excessive videogame playing.

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

Further reading

Coverdale. D. (2019). Football’s silent addiction: Gaming makes me aggressive and I’m worried it’ll end my career. The Sun, march 28. Located at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/sport/football/8735239/football-silent-addiction-gaming-fortnight-addiction-career/

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). All in the game. Inside Edge: The Gambling Magazine, July (Issue 28), p. 67.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction among footballers: causes and consequences. World Sports Law Report, 8(3), 14-16.

Wigmore, T. (2018). If Mesut Ozil really is addicted to Fortnite then Arsenal have a problem. The i, December 14. Located at: https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/mesut-ozil-fortnite-addicted-gaming-arsenal-injury-news/

Snap chat: The psychology of selfies

“Barefoot Wine is an advocate of self-expression and as such have introduced the House of Sole, a pop up event space in the heart of Soho [in London] that will encourage people to truly express themselves by taking part in a variety of activities including mind and soul reading, a self-customisation bar, and blindfold wine tasting. Barefoot encourages self-expression and celebrates individualism, from campaigns including ‘Bare Your Sole’ where we encourage individuals to shout about a passion point they have to the ‘House of Sole’ which is the ultimate destination for self-expression”.

This opening quote is from a press release by Barefoot Wine (BW) who a few months ago involved me in a press campaign concerning the psychology of selfies. Today’s blog uses material that I provided to BW about the rise of the selfie on social media and which was featured at length in the press release. The reason I was approached was a result of the massive worldwide press coverage that Dr. Janarthanan Balakrishnan and I received in relation to our research on obsessive selfie-taking (‘selfitis’) that I’ve written about in previous blogs (here, here, and here).

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I have come to the view that the selfie is much more than a way to show your friends and family what you’ve been up to, or your new haircut or a celebrity that you’ve meant, and it’s also the most efficient form of self-expression. In research I published last year with Dr. Balakrishnan in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, we identified the reasons behind the ‘selfie’ phenomenon and what it means to an increasingly digitally connected, culturally aware and proud generation.

Our research suggested there were six main motivations for taking selfies. The six motivations are:

  • Self-confidence (e.g. taking selfies to feel more positive about oneself)
  • Environmental enhancement (e.g. taking selfies in specific locations to feel good and show off to others)
  • Social competition (e.g. taking selfies to get more ‘likes’ on social media)
  • Attention seeking (e.g. taking selfies to gain attention from others)
  • Mood modification (e.g. taking selfies to feel better)
  • Subjective conformity (e.g. taking selfies to fit in with one’s social group and peers)

The motivations for taking selfies may be different. However, the selfie in general enables an individual to create a genuine identity or a perceived identity. Either way, this can be a positive source of boosted self-confidence, allowing the individual to express themselves in a way in which adds to their identity or character and showcase who they truly are (or who they believe they are and/or want to be).

The rise in selfie popularity has also allowed to us to be more connected on a personal level. Before the invention of modern day smartphones, sharing personal experiences were restricted to physical social interactions or one-to-one conversations. This trend has seen us being a lot more open and talking about our experiences to an extent where we wouldn’t have before. This has allowed people to celebrate their hobbies, interests, and the aspects that make individuals who they are.

However, as selfies have become a popular form of self-expression, issues around vanity can kick in, the findings of our research showed that excessive selfie-takers were more likely to be motivated to take selfies for attention seeking, environmental enhancement, and social competition (and which emphasises perceived identity).

In recent years, selfies have become a key source of personal expression and are a quick and convenient way for people to instantly satisfy lots of their own personal needs as well as present themselves in a way that they want other individuals to see them. For many people, selfies help create their identity for how they wish others to see them and can be a source of boosting self-esteem. The rise of social media has meant that such self-expressions can be displayed instantly to their followers and the wider world more generally.

The rise of the selfie has put individuals more in control of how they are represented in their wider social community. If a person is not happy with the picture they have taken they can either delete it or use photo editing apps/software to change an image to the way that suits them the best. It has subsequently made the individual more self-aware which for many is a good thing but for a smaller minority it may make them feel worse about how they feel if they are insecure and compare their own selfies with others.

Ten years ago, it was very hard to share personal experiences except on a one-to-one basis or within a person’s immediate social circle. However, social media has allowed social networks to expand in ways never thought possible a decade ago. A selfie can say more about a person than the written word and it’s one of the reasons they have become so popular.

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

 Further reading

 Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). An exploratory study of ‘selfitis’ and the development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 722-736.

Gaddala, A., Hari Kumar, K. J., & Pusphalatha, C. (2017). A study on various effects of internet and selfie dependence among undergraduate medical students. Journal of Contemporary Medicine and Dentistry, 5(2), 29-32.

Griffiths, M.D. (2018). ‘Behavioural addiction’ and ‘selfitis’ as constructs – The truth is out there! Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52, 730-731.

Griffiths, M.D. & Balakrishnan, J. (2018). The psychosocial impact of excessive selfie-taking in youth: A brief overview. Education and Health, 36(1), 3-5.

Kaur, S., & Vig, D. (2016). Selfie and mental health issues: An overview. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, 7(12), 1149

Khan, N., Saraswat, R., & Amin, B. (2017). Selfie: Enjoyment or addiction? Journal of Medical Science and Clinical Research, 5, 15836-15840.

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

Lee, R. L. (2016). Diagnosing the selfie: Pathology or parody? Networking the spectacle in late capitalism. Third Text, 30(3-4), 264-27

Senft, T. M., & Baym, N. K. (2015). Selfies introduction – What does the selfie say? Investigating a global phenomenon. International Journal of Communication, 9, 19

Singh, D., & Lippmann, S. (2017). Selfie addiction. Internet and Psychiatry, April 2. Located at: https://www.internetandpsychiatry.com/wp/editorials/selfie-addiction/

Singh, S. & Tripathi, K.M. (2017). Selfie: A new obsession. SSRN, Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2920945

Goal keeping: The psychology of New Year’s resolutions and how to keep them

(Please note: This blog is a slightly extended and fully referenced version of an article that was first published in The Conversation).

Academic research by Dr. John Norcross and his colleagues has shown that up to 50% of adults make New Year’s resolutions (NYRs) and the most common resolutions are wanting to lose weight, doing more exercise, quitting smoking, and saving money. It’s a time that individuals want to re-invent themselves but less than 10% actually manage to keep the NYRs after a few months.

We’ve all made NYRs that we begin with the best of intentions but within a few weeks are back to our old ways. As a Professor of Behavioural Addiction I know how easy people can fall into bad habits, and why on trying to give up those habits is easy to relapse. NYRs usually come in the form of lifestyle changes and changing behaviour that has become routine and habitual (even if they are not problematic) can be very hard to break.

The main reason that people don’t stick to their NYRs is that they set too many and/or they are unrealistic to achieve. There has also been some research by Dr. Janet Polivy and Dr. Peter Herman into ‘false hope syndrome’ (FHS) that is applicable to NYRs. FHS is characterized by an individual’s unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease, and consequences of changing their behaviour.

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For some people, it takes something radical for them to change their ways. It took a medical diagnosis to make me give up alcohol and caffeine, and it took pregnancy for my partner to give up cigarette smoking. To change your day-to-day behaviour you also have to change your thinking. But there are tried and tested ways that can help individuals stick to their NYRs and here are my personal favourites:

Be realistic You need to begin by making NYRs that you can keep and that are practical. If you want to reduce your alcohol intake because you tend to drink alcohol every day, don’t immediately go teetotal. Try to cut out alcohol every other day or have a drink once every three days. Also, breaking up the longer-term goal into more manageable short-term goals can also be beneficial and more rewarding. The same principle can be applied to exercise or eating more healthily.

Do one thing at a time One of the easiest ways routes to failure is to have too many NYRs. If you want to be fitter and healthier, do just one thing at a time. Give up drinking. Give up smoking. Join a gym. Eat more healthily. But don’t do them all at once. Chose just one and do your best to stick to it. Once you have got one thing under your control, you can begin a second resolution.

Be SMART Anyone working in a jobs that includes objective-setting will know that any goal should be SMART (i.e., specific, measurable, achievable, realist and time-bound). NYRs should be no different. Cutting down alcohol drinking is an admirable goal but it’s not SMART. Drinking no more than two units of alcohol every other day for one month is a SMART resolution. Connecting the NYR to a specific aspirational goal can also be motivating (e.g., dropping a dress size or losing two inches off your waistline in time for the next summer holiday).

Tell someone your resolution(s) Letting family and friends around you know that you have a NYR that you really want to keep will act as both a safety barrier and a face-saver. If you really want to cut down smoking or drinking, real friends will not put temptation in your way and can help you in monitoring your day-to-day behaviour. Never be afraid to ask for help and support from those around you.

Change your behaviour with others – Trying to change habitual behaviour on your own can be difficult. For instance, if you and your partner both smoke, drink and/or eat unhealthily, it is really hard for one partner to change their behaviour if the other is still engaged in the same old bad habits. By having the same NYR (e.g., going on a diet), the chances of success will improve if you are both in it together.

Behavioural change isn’t limited to the New Year Changing your behaviour (or some aspect of it) doesn’t have to be restricted to the start of the New Year. It can be anytime.

Accept lapses as part of the process – It is inevitable that when trying to give up something (alcohol, cigarettes, junk food) that there will be lapses. You shouldn’t feel guilty about giving in to your cravings but accept that it is part of the learning process in enabling behavioural change. Bad habits can take years to become engrained and there are no quick fixes in making major lifestyle changes. These may be clichés but we learn by our mistakes and every day is a new day and you can start each day afresh. Right here. Right now.

Finally, some of you reading this might think all of this sounds like too much hard work and that it’s not worth making NYRs to begin with. However, research by John Norcross and colleagues has also shown that individuals who make NYRs are ten times more likely to achieve their goals than those that don’t make explicit NYRs. Food for thought (rather than thought for food)!

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

Further reading

Koestner, R. (2008). Reaching one’s personal goals: A motivational perspective focused on autonomy. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(1), 60-67.

Marlatt, G. A., & Kaplan, B. E. (1972). Self-initiated attempts to change behavior: A study of New Year’s resolutions. Psychological Reports, 30(1), 123-131.

Norcross, J. C. (2006). Integrating self-help into psychotherapy: 16 practical suggestions. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 37(6), 683-693.

Norcross, J. C., & Mrykalo, M. S. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success predictors, change Processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58, 397-405.

Norcross, J. C., Ratzin, A. C., & Payne, D. (1989). Ringing in the New Year: The change processes and reported outcomes of resolutions. Addictive Behaviors, 14(2), 205-212.

Norcross, J. C., & Vangarelli, D. J. (1989). The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year’s change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1(2), 127-134.

Polivy, J. (2001). The false hope syndrome: Unrealistic expectations of self-change. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 25, S80-84.

Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2000). The False-Hope Syndrome Unfulfilled Expectations of Self-Change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(4), 128-131.

Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2002). If at first you don’t succeed: False hopes of self-change. American Psychologist, 57(9), 677-689.

Trait expectations: Another look at why addictive personality is a complete myth

In the 30 years that I have been carrying out research into addiction, the one question that I have been asked the most – particularly by those who work in the print and broadcast media – is whether there is such a thing as an ‘addictive personality’? In a previous blog I briefly reviewed the concept of ‘addictive personality’ but since publishing that article, I have published a short paper in the Global Journal of Addiction and Rehabilitation Medicine on addictive personality, and in this blog I review I outline some of the arguments as to why I think addictive personality is a complete myth.

Psychologists such as Dr. Thomas Sadava have gone as far to say that ‘addictive personality’ is theoretically necessary, logically defensible, and empirically supportable. Sadava argued that if ‘addictive personality’ did not exist then every individual would vulnerable to addiction if they lived in comparable environments, and that those who were addicted would differ only from others in the specifics of their addiction (e.g., alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, heroin). However, Sadava neglected genetic/biological predispositions and the structural characteristics of the substance or behaviour itself.

There are many possible reasons why people believe in the concept of ‘addictive personality’ including the facts that: (i) vulnerability is not perfectly correlated to one’s environment, (ii) some addicts are addicted to more than one substance/activity (cross addiction) and engage themselves in more than one addictive behaviour, and (iii) on giving up addiction some addicts become addicted to another (what I and others have referred to as ‘reciprocity’). In all the papers I have ever read concerning ‘addictive personality’, I have never read a good operational definition of what ‘addictive personality’ actually is (beyond the implicit assumption that it refers to a personality trait that helps explain why individuals become addicted to substances and/or behaviours). Dr. Craig Nakken in his book The Addictive Personality: Understanding the Addictive Process and Compulsive Behaviour argued that ‘addictive personality’ is “created from the illness of addiction”, and that ‘addictive personality’ is a consequence of addiction and not a predisposing factor. In essence, Nakken simply argued that ‘addictive personality’ refers to the personality of an individual once they are addicted, and as such, this has little utility in understanding how and why individuals become addicted.

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When teaching my own students about the concept of ‘addictive personality’ I always tell them that operational definitions of constructs in the addictive behaviours field are critical. Given that I have never seen an explicit definition of ‘addictive personality’ I provide my own definition and argue that ‘addictive personality’ (if it exists) is a cognitive and behavioural style which is both specific and personal that renders an individual vulnerable to acquiring and maintaining one or more addictive behaviours at any one time. I also agree with addiction experts that the relationship between addictive characteristics and personality variables depend on the theoretical considerations of personality. According to Dr. Peter Nathan there must be ‘standards of proof’ to show valid associations between personality and addictive behaviour. He reported that for the personality trait or factor to genuinely exist it must: (i) either precede the initial signs of the disorder or must be a direct and lasting feature of the disorder, (ii) be specific to the disorder rather than antecedent, coincident or consequent to other disorders/behaviours that often accompany addictive behaviour, (iii) be discriminative, and (iv) be related to the addictive behaviour on the basis of independently confirmed empirical, rather than clinical, evidence. As far as I am aware, there is no study that has ever met these four standards of proof, and consequently I would argue on the basis of these that there is no ‘addictive personality’.

Although I do not believe in the concept of ‘addictive personality’ this does not mean that personality factors are not important in the acquisition, development, and maintenance of addictive behaviours. They clearly are. For instance, a paper in the Psychological Bulletin by Dr. Roman Kotov and his colleagues examined the associations between substance use disorders (SUDs) and higher order personality traits (i.e., the ‘big five’ of openness to experience, conscientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, and neuroticism) in 66 meta-analyses. Their review included 175 studies (with sample sizes ranged from 1,076 to 75,229) and findings demonstrated that SUD addicts were high on neuroticism (and was the strongest personality trait associated with SUD addiction) and low on conscientiousness. Many of the studies the reviewed also reported that agreeableness and openness were largely unrelated to SUDs.

Dr. John Malouff and colleagues carried published a meta-analysis in the Journal of Drug Education examining the relationship between the five-factor model of personality and alcohol. The meta-analysis included 20 studies (n=7,886) and showed alcohol involvement was associated with low conscientiousness, low agreeableness, and high neuroticism. Mixed-sex samples tended to have lower effect sizes than single-sex samples, suggesting that mixing sexes in data analysis may obscure the effects of personality. Dr. James Hittner and Dr. Rhonda Swickert published a meta-analysis in the journal Addictive Behaviors examining the association between sensation seeking and alcohol use. An analysis of 61 studies revealed a small to moderate size heterogeneous effect between alcohol use and total scores on the sensation seeking scale. Further analysis of the sensation seeking components indicated that disinhibition was most strongly correlated with alcohol use.

Dr. Marcus Munafo and colleagues published a meta-analysis in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research examining strength and direction of the association between smoking status and personality. They included 25 cross-sectional studies that reported personality data for adult smokers and non-smokers and reported a significant difference between smokers and non-smokers on both extraversion and neuroticism traits. In relation to gambling disorder, Dr. Vance MacLaren and colleagues published a meta-analysis of 44 studies that had examined the personality traits of pathological gamblers (N=2,134) and non-pathological gambling control groups (N=5,321) in the journal Clinical Psychology Review. Gambling addiction was shown to be associated with urgency, premeditation, perseverance, and sensation seeking aspects of impulsivity. They concluded that individual personality characteristics may be important in the aetiology of pathological gambling and that the findings were similar to the meta-analysis of substance use disorders by Kotov and colleagues.

More recently, I co-authored a study with Dr. Cecilie Andreassen and her colleagues in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions. We carried out the first ever study investigating the inter-relationships between the ‘big five’ personality traits and behavioural addictions. They assessed seven behavioural addictions (i.e., Facebook addiction, video game addiction, Internet addiction, exercise addiction, mobile phone addiction, compulsive buying, and study addiction). Of 21 inter-correlations between the seven behavioural addictions, all were positive (and nine significantly so). More specifically: (i) neuroticism was positively associated with Internet addiction, exercise addiction, compulsive buying, and study addiction, (ii) extroversion was positively associated with Facebook addiction, exercise addiction, mobile phone addiction, and compulsive buying, (iii) openness was negatively associated with Facebook addiction and mobile phone addiction, (iv) agreeableness was negatively associated with Internet addiction, exercise addiction, mobile phone addiction, and compulsive buying, and (v) conscientiousness was negatively associated with Facebook addiction, video game addiction, Internet addiction, and compulsive buying and positively associated with exercise addiction and study addiction. However, replication and extension of these findings is needed before any definitive conclusions can be made.

Overall these studies examining personality and addiction consistently demonstrate that addictive behaviours are correlated with high levels of neuroticism and low levels of conscientiousness. However, there is no evidence of a single trait (or set of traits) that is predictive of addiction, and addiction alone. Others have also reached the same conclusion based on the available evidence. For instance, R.G. Pols (in Australian Drug/Alcohol Review) noted that findings from prospective studies are inconsistent with retrospective and cross-sectional studies leading to the conclusion that the ‘addictive personality’ is a myth. Dr. John Kerr in the journal Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental noted that ‘addictive personality’ had long been argued as a viable construct (particularly in the USA) but that there is simply no evidence for the existence of a personality type that is prone to addiction. In another review of drug addictions, Kevin Conway and colleagues asserted (in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence) there was scant evidence that personality traits were associated with psychoactive substance choice. Most recently, Maia Szalavitz in her book Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction noted that:

“Fundamentally, the idea of a general addictive personality is a myth. Research finds no universal character traits that are common to all addicted people. Only half have more than one addiction (not including cigarettes)—and many can control their engagement with some addictive substances or activities, but not others”.

Clearly there are common findings across a number of differing addictions (such as similarities in personality profiles using the ‘big five’ traits) but it is hard to establish whether these traits are antecedent to the addiction or caused by it. Within most addictions there appear to be more than one sub-type of addict suggesting different pathways of how and way individuals might develop various addictions. If this is the case – and I believe that it is – where does that leave the ‘addictive personality’ construct?

‘Addictive personality’ is arguably a ‘one type fits all’ approach and there is now much evidence that the causes of addiction are biopsychosocial from an individual perspective, and that situational determinants (e.g., accessibility to the drug/behaviour, advertising and marketing, etc.) and structural determinants (e.g., toxicity of a specific drug, game speed in gambling, etc.) can also be influential in the aetiology of problematic and addictive behaviours. Another problem with ‘addictive personality’ being an explanation for why individuals develop addictions is that the concept inherently absolves an individual’s responsibility of developing an addiction and puts the onus on others in treating the addiction. Ultimately, all addicts have to take some responsibility in the development of their problematic behaviour and they have to take some ownership for overcoming their addiction. Personally, I believe it is better to concentrate research into risk and protective factors of addiction rather than further research of ‘addictive personality’.

As I have argued in a number of my papers and book chapters, not every addict has a personality disorder, and not every person with a personality disorder has an addiction. While some personality disorders appear to have an association with addiction including Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, just because a person has some of the personality traits associated with addiction does not mean they are, or will become, an addict. Practitioners consider specific personality traits to be warning signs, but that’s all they are. There is no personality trait that guarantees an individual will develop an addiction and there is little evidence for an ‘addictive personality’ that is predictive of addiction alone. In short, ‘addictive personality’ is a complete myth.

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

Further reading

Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Gjertsen, S.R., Krossbakken, E., Kvan, S., & Ståle Pallesen, S. (2013). The relationships between behavioral addictions and the five-factor model of personality. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2, 90-99.

Conway, K. P., Kane, R. J., Ball, S. A., Poling, J. C., & Rounsaville, B. J. (2003). Personality, substance of choice, and polysubstance involvement among substance dependent patients. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 71(1), 65-75.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). An exploratory study of gambling cross addictions. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 371-384.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). The psychology of addictive behaviour. In: M. Cardwell, M., L. Clark, C. Meldrum & A. Waddely (Eds.), Psychology for A2 Level (pp. 236-471). London: Harper Collins.

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). The myth of ‘addictive personality’. Global Journal of Addiction and Rehabilitation Medicine, 3(2), 555610.

Hittner, J. B., & Swickert, R. (2006). Sensation seeking and alcohol use: A meta-analytic review. Addictive Behaviors, 31(8), 1383-1401.

Kerr, J. S. (1996). Two myths of addiction: The addictive personality and the issue of free choice. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 11(S1), S9-S13.

Kotov, R., Gamez, W., Schmidt, F., & Watson, D. (2010). Linking “big” personality traits to anxiety, depressive, and substance use disorders: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 136(5), 768-821.

MacLaren, V. V., Fugelsang, J. A., Harrigan, K. A., & Dixon, M. J. (2011). The personality of pathological gamblers: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(6), 1057-1067.

Malouff, J. M., Thorsteinsson, E. B., Rooke, S. E., & Schutte, N. S. (2007). Alcohol involvement and the Five-Factor Model of personality: A meta-analysis. Journal of Drug Education, 37(3), 277-294.

Munafo, M. R., Zetteler, J. I., & Clark, T. G. (2007). Personality and smoking status: A meta-analysis. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 9(3), 405-413.

Nakken, C. (1996). The addictive personality: Understanding the addictive process and compulsive behaviour. Hazelden, Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Nathan, P. E. (1988). The addictive personality is the behavior of the addict. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56(2), 183-188.

Pols, R. G. (1984). The addictive personality: A myth. Australian Alcohol/Drug Review, 3(1), 45-47.

Sadava, S.W. (1978). Etiology, personality and alcoholism. Canadian Psychological Review/Psychologie Canadienne, 19(3), 198-214.

Szalavitz M (2016). Unbroken brain: A revolutionary new way of understanding addiction. St. Martin’s Press, New York.

Szalavitz M (2016). Addictive personality isn’t what you think it is. Scientific American, April 5.

Voyeurs and their lawyers: Can ‘upskirting’ be addictive?

Over the past few months, ‘upskirting’ has been in the British news, particularly in relation to making it a criminal offence. A campaign initiated by freelance writer Gina Martin was started after she became a victim of upskirting. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, upskirting refers to taking a photograph (typically with a smartphone) up someone’s skirt without their permission. Martin published an account of her ordeal for the World Economic Forum in April 2018 and reported that:

“Last summer, I was standing in a crowd of 60,000, on a hot summer’s day in London, waiting for The Killers to come on stage, when a man – whose advances I’d rejected – took pictures of my crotch by putting his phone between my legs as I chatted to my sister blissfully unaware. A few minutes later, I saw one of his friends looking at an intrusive picture of a woman’s crotch covered by a thin strip of fabric. I knew it was me. I grabbed the phone off him and checked. Tears filled my eyes and I began drawing attention to him: ‘You guys have been taking pictures of my vagina! What is wrong with you!?’ He grabbed me and pushed his face in front of mine, bellowing that I give him his phone back. I didn’t…The police arrived and were lovely. I was, understandably, a mess and they patiently calmed me down. What the police then did was ask him to delete the images – my evidence – and then, they told me they couldn’t do anything. ‘We had to look at the image, and although it showed far more than you’d want anyone to see, it’s not technically a graphic image. There’s not much we can do. If you weren’t wearing knickers it would be a different story.’ I was completely humiliated and devastated”.

Following this incident, and because upskirting wasn’t an offence, Martin began a campaign to get the act criminalized. Upskirting is currently an offence in Scotland but not in England and Wales. Upskirting is one of many sexual acts that are present among those individuals that have a voyeuristic disorder. In an article for the Law Gazette in July 2017 (‘Fifty shades of sexual offending’), forensic psychologist Dr. Julia Lam made countless references to upskirting in an overview of voyeuristic disorder. She noted that:

“Voyeuristic Disorder is a paraphilic/psychosexual disorder in which an individual derives sexual pleasure and gratification from looking at naked bodies and genital organs, observing the disrobing or sexual acts of others…Instead of peeping in situ using high-powered binoculars, with advances in technology such as camera phones and pin-hole cameras, voyeurs can now record the private moments with their devices: taking upskirt photos of unsuspecting individuals on escalators, or filming women in various states of undress in toilets and changing rooms. Voyeuristic behaviour is on the rise…Learning theory suggests that an initially random or accidental observation of an unsuspecting person who is naked, in the process of disrobing, or engaging in sexual activity, may lead to sexual interest and arousal; with each successive repetition of the peeping act reinforcing and perpetuating the voyeuristic behaviour”.

She reported that voyeurism is the most common type of sexual offence and that voyeurs can be men or women but that “men are commonly the perpetrators in the peeping acts/upskirt, with women being the victims”. She noted that the lifetime prevalence of voyeuristic disorder is around 12% among men and 4% in women, and that the causes of voyeurism are unknown. She then went onto say:

“The new vocabulary ‘upskirt’ is both a verb (the practise of capturing an image/video of an unsuspecting and non-consenting person in a private moment) and a noun (i.e. the actual voyeuristic photos or videos made; referred as “voyeur photography”)…While most voyeurs film for self-gratification (i.e. using upskirt materials for fantasy and masturbation), there are offenders who make upskirt photos and videos specifically for uploading onto the internet (e.g. fetish and pornographic websites and video-sharing sites like YouTube) for monetary profit…Upskirt is considered a ‘serious’ crime in Singapore as it intrudes upon the privacy of unsuspecting and non-consenting individuals. Offences typically take place on escalators, in fitting rooms, public toilets or shower rooms; with the offenders trying to capture what is underneath the ‘skirts’ or private moments of the victims with a recording device which may or may not be disguise”.

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She also said that in recent years in Singapore, she had assessed “a considerable number” of voyeurs that had engaged in upskirting and who were arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for their actions. Most of these criminal voyeurs were ‘first-timers’ (i.e., arrested and charged with upskirting for the first time), had a long history of engaging in excessive masturbation and pornography use, and that the offences were non-violent. However, she did note that although they may have been arrested for the first time, their interest in peeping and upskirting usually stemmed from adolescence. Dr. Lam also claimed that:

“Getting apprehended for [upskirting] is more a norm than an exception in this group, as it is just a matter of time that the offender would be careless or daring enough to invite apprehension. Police arrest usually serves as a final ‘wake-up call’ that breaks the offending pattern, accompanied with a great sense of shame and embarrassment. Many of these voyeurs are amenable to treatment…Most of the sufferers of Voyeuristic Disorder who came for my assessment reported their urges to upskirt and use the materials to masturbate as overwhelming, to the extent that they gave in to temptation without considering the grave consequences of their acts”.

Dr. Lam also talked about her treating upskirting voyeurs and recounted one case which she claimed was a compulsion. The case involved a male university student who was very sport active but who masturbated excessively whenever major sporting events or important exams were imminent as a coping strategy to relieve stress. Upskirting was another one of his coping strategies and he was eventually arrested for his behaviour. Dr. Lam then went on to report” 

“Every morning after he woke up, he would feel the urge to go out to find his ‘targets’. Although he knew it was very risky to take upskirt [photos] on MRT escalators, he felt compelled to satiate his urges and gratification, and was oblivious to his surroundings (e.g. passers-by security staff and CCTV) and the risk of being arrested. He could still feel the thrill and excitement, but he no longer enjoyed the act. It had become more like a compulsion…He was prescribed medication to manage his mood and urges to act out, and attended psychotherapy to work on his voyeuristic behaviour and learn more effective coping skills. He has since graduated from university, and has not breached the law with [upskirting] behaviour again”.

Dr. Lam, like other practitioners who treat sex offenders, often view extreme cases of voyeurism as a compulsion, obsession and/or an addiction. If extreme voyeurism (in general) can be seen as an addiction, there is no theoretical reason why upskirting couldn’t be viewed similarly. As far as I am aware, the case described by Dr. Lam is the only one in the academic literature of outlining and treating an individual with an upskirting disorder. As with other sexually non-normative behaviours I went online to see if there were any anecdotal accounts of addiction to upskirting and came across a few self-confessed accounts (particularly on The Candid Forum website):

  • Extract 1: “I’m not sure if you could help me. I suppose it’s an addiction. I am obsessed with women’s knickers and constantly try to look up women’s skirts, even schoolgirls. I know it’s wrong but I love to see the secrets. One day I will be caught and arrested. Am I a pervert?” (‘Andy’).
  • Extract 2: “I’m really starting to feel overwhelmed by this ‘addiction’ I have to upskirt videos…I just can’t seem to get enough, even when in the big picture, most of them are all the same. I have well over 3000 videos on my computer of just upskirts (not including other types of videos)…It’s also stressful to know that I may very well not get through them all, at least for a very long time (I still have yet to watch 1800 of them). There’s a lot of time involved in downloading them (waiting due to file hosting sites telling you [that] you have reached your daily limit etc., entering captcha codes). But all these videos actually amaze me at the same time, due to just how many times guys have gotten away with it…There’s a certain ‘wow’ factor I guess, but that also derives from the entire voyeur aspect of it to begin with, where a guy is able to creep up on a woman and she doesn’t even realize it…Do any of you share the same addiction as me, and do you want to get rid of it? (‘GD102’).
  • Extract 3: I used to be really addicted [to upskirting] until I made myself understand something you already know – once you’ve seen 200 asses, you’ve pretty much seen them all. There’s no point in wasting your time overindulging in the same thrill over and over again. Yeah, the excitement of seeing something you’re not supposed to see is hot as hell, but you have to set limits for yourself, and not try to fantasize too much about the upskirts you haven’t seen, and spend more time enjoying, and maybe sorting, the upskirts you already have. That’s what I’ve been doing lately” (‘Agent Ika’).
  • Extract 4: “[Upskirting] really does get repetitive. For me the thrill now comes from pretending I’m a director of a film – getting new angles, upskirts from the front, whole body shots with the upskirt still showing, and always including faceshots” (‘Stimulus’).

Obviously I have no way of knowing whether these online forum confessions are true (but they seem to be). Based on these extracts, there is certainly the possibility raised that upskirting may be addictive to a very small minority of individuals. Extract 2 was particularly interesting in that the individual had never engaged in upskirting himself but his ‘addiction’ to watching upskirting videos takes up so much time in his life.

Another source suggesting that upskirting may be an addictive activity comes from the details of those arrested and prosecuted. For instance, one infamous example in the UK (in 2015) was the case of Paul Appleby who managed to take 9000 upskirting photos in the space of just five weeks (suggesting that he was doing it all day every day to have taken so many photos). Appleby was finally caught when he was caught bending over to take a photo up a woman’s skirt in a Poundland shop. The Daily Mirror reported that:

“The tubby pervert, who was ‘addicted’ to snapping upskirts, fled the store after he was spotted…when [police] officers found his camera and iPhone a staggering 9,000 ‘upskirt’ images were discovered. The photos had been taken between November 1 and December 4 last year. [Appleby] admitted two counts of committing an act of outraging public decency…and was given a three-year community order…[Appleby] had been prosecuted for a ‘similar matter’ of outraging public decency in London in 2010. Alistair Evans, defending claimed Appleby had committed the crime for ‘sexual gratification’ and his behaviour was a ‘compulsion and an addiction’ he needed treatment for”.

Here, the mitigating factor for Appleby’s behaviour was that he was addicted to upskirting. The fact that Appleby did not receive a custodial sentence suggests the excuse of being ‘addicted’ to the behaviour led to the judge being more lenient. Another individual who avoided a custodial sentence for upskirting offences was Andrew MacRae who claimed he was addicted to sex. MacRae had amassed 49,000 upskirt photos and videos using hidden cameras at his workplace, on trains, and at the beach. He pled guilty to three counts of outraging public decency and seven counts of voyeurism. The judge said he would spare him jail if he was treated for his “compulsive voyeurism”. A report in the Daily Mail recounted what that Judge Jeremy Donne said:

“This was undoubtedly a sophisticated, organised, planned and long-running campaign of voyeurism – again with a significant degree of planning – and members of the general public, female commuters in the main, were caught by your voyeuristic activities. Your activities were undoubtedly despicable and will cause deep revulsion in all who hear them.  Women will undoubtedly feel a need to be protected from such behaviour by the knowledge that the courts will deal with offenders severely, and men will thereby be deterred from committing such offences. On the other hand, you suffer from an illness that can be treated and you have submitted to that treatment. You have features of sexual addiction disorder with disorders of sexual preference, namely voyeurism and fetishistic transvestism – all defined in the international classification of diseases. You continue to receive treatment from psychiatrists who consider you to be at low risk of re-offending”.

Another recent British case highlighted the ingenious methods used to aid upskirting. Here, Stafford Cant used spy cameras hidden inside one of his trainers, his key fob, and his wrist watch to engage in upskirting women (as well as filming the backs of their legs) who were shopping in a Cheshire village. Acting on a tip-off, his house was raided and the police found 222,000 videos and pictures dating back seven years. ‘Addiction’ was again used as a mitigating factor in the crimes (along with depression and anxiety disorders) but this time it was not addiction to voyeurism but an addiction to collecting things. However, unlike the two cases above, Cant was jailed for three years after pleading guilty to outraging public decency, voyeurism and possessing and distributing indecent images.

Although there is little psychological literature on upskirting, there appears to be anecdotal evidence that the behaviour (in the extreme) could perhaps be conceptualized as an addiction and/or compulsion among a minority of individuals. The cases of those that have been arrested and prosecuted demonstrate that upskirting behaviour was time-consuming given the sheer number of photos and videos amassed, and that the behaviour was ultimately problem-inducing and undesirable. Given that the relatively recent rise of upskirting appears to mirror the rise in the use of smartphones and spy equipment available at affordable prices, I expect to see more such cases to be written about in psychological and criminological journals in the years to come.

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

Further reading

Fight The New Drug (2018). What’s “upskirting”, and how does porn culture feed this twisted trend? July 5. Located at: https://fightthenewdrug.org/whats-upskirting-and-how-does-porn-culture-feed-this-twisted-trend/

Jolly, B. (2015). Upskirt pervert who took 9,000 secret photos in just five weeks avoids jail. Daily Mirror, January 28. Located at: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/upskirt-pervert-who-took-9000-5058048

Keay, L. (2018). Live Nation executive who built-up sordid library of 49,000 upskirt pictures by filming women on trains, the beach and at work is spared jail as his wife stands by him. Daily Mail, January 5. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5239815/LiveNation-executive-Andrew-MacRae-avoids-jail-upskirt.html

Lam, J. (2017). Fifty shades of sexual offending – Part 1. The Law Gazette, July. Located at: http://v1.lawgazette.com.sg/2017-07/1910.htm

Martin, G. (2018). What happened to me was wrong. Time to make it illegal, too. World Economic Forum, April 9. Located at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/what-happened-to-me-was-wrong-time-to-make-it-illegal-too/

Petter, O. (2018). Upskirting: What is it and why are people trying to make it illegal” The Independent, June 18. Located at: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/upskirting-explained-law-rules-criminal-offence-photos-skirt-consent-women-gina-martin-a8401011.html

Shepherd, R. & Smithers, D. (2018). The public school pervert who spent years secretly filming up women’s skirts in one of Britain’s wealthiest villages. Manchester Evening News, March 29. Located at: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/alderley-edge-upskirt-film-pervert-14470375

The Strait Times (2016). Taking upskirt photos may be symptomatic of voyeuristic disorder. July 30. Located at: https://adelphipsych.sg/straits-times-taking-upskirt-photos-may-be-symptomatic-of-voyeuristic-disorder/

Wilson, H. (2004). Peeping Tom’s secret weapon. The Independent, July 8. Located at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/peeping-toms-secret-weapon-552402.html

Teenage pics: A brief look at ‘selfie addiction’

In March 2014, the Daily Mirror published the story of Danny Bowman, a teenage ‘selfie addict’ who allegedly took up to 10 hours a day taking 200 selfies, dropped out of school, and tried to kill himself when he was unable take the perfect photo of himself. Taking selfies has become a very popular activity, particularly amongst teenagers and young adults. However, selfie-taking is more than just the taking of a photograph and can include the editing of the colour and contrast, changing backgrounds, and adding other effects, before uploading the picture onto a social media platform. These added options and the use of integrative editing has further popularized selfie-taking behaviour. From a psychological perspective, the taking of selfies is a self-oriented action which allows users to establish their individuality and self-importance and is also associated with personality traits such as narcissism. In an interview for the Daily Mirror, Bowman said that:

“I was constantly in search of taking the perfect selfie and when I realised I couldn’t I wanted to die. I lost my friends, my education, my health and almost my life. The only thing I cared about was having my phone with me so I could satisfy the urge to capture a picture of myself at any time of the day. “I finally realised I was never going to take a picture that made the craving go away and that was when I hit rock bottom. People don’t realise when they post a picture of themselves on Facebook or Twitter it can so quickly spiral out of control. It becomes a mission to get approval and it can destroy anyone. It’s a real problem like drugs, alcohol or gambling. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through. People would comment on [my selfies], but children can be cruel. One told me my nose was too big for my face and another picked on my skin. I started taking more and more to try to get the approval of my friends. I would be so high when someone wrote something nice but gutted when they wrote something unkind. [Taking lots of selfies sounds trivial and harmless but that’s the very thing that makes it so dangerous. It almost took my life, but I survived and I am determined never to get into that position again.”

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While Bowman’s case is extreme, it doesn’t mean that obsessive selfie-taking is a trivial condition. Bowman was diagnosed as having (and eventually treated for) body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) which at its simplest level, is a distressing, handicapping, and/or impairing preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in body appearance that the sufferer perceives to be ugly, unattractive, and/or deformed. Bowman’s psychiatrist, Dr. David Veale (one of the world’s most foreknown experts on BDD) said that: “Danny’s case is particularly extreme. But this is a serious problem. It’s not a vanity issue. It’s a mental health one which has an extremely high suicide rate.”

To date, there has been very little research on ‘selfie addiction’ and most of what has been academically published (both theorizing and empirical research studies) has tended to come from psychiatrists and psychologists in India. The main reasons for this are that (i) no other country has more Facebook users than India, and (ii) India accounts for more selfie deaths in the world compared to any other country with 76 deaths reported from a total of 127 worldwide. For instance, the death on February 1, 2016, of the 16-year old Dinesh Kumar killed by a train in Chennai while taking a selfie was reported widely in the media.

In 2014, there were a handful of separate media reports all reporting that ‘selfie addiction’ had been recognized by psychologists and psychiatrists as a genuine mental disorder. On March 31, 2014, a news story appeared in the Adobo Chronicles website that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) had classed ‘selfitis’ (i.e., the obsessive taking of selfies) as a new mental disorder.

The article claimed that selfitis was “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy”. The same article also claimed there three levels of the disorder – borderline (“taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day but not posting them on social media”), acute (“taking photos of one’s self at least three times a day and posting each of the photos on social media”), and chronic (“uncontrollable urge to take photos of one’s self round the clock and posting the photos on social media more than six times a day”). The story was republished on numerous news sites around the world but it soon became clear the story was a hoax. However, many of the academic papers exploring the concept of ‘selfie addiction’ have reported the story as genuine.

Other academics claim in a rather uncritical way that ‘selfie addiction’ exists. For instance, in 2015, in an article in theInternational Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, Shah claimed that selfie-taking behaviour “classically fits” the criteria of addiction but then fails to say what these criteria are. He then goes on to argue that anyone taking more than 3-5 selfies a day “may be considered as a disease” and that spending more than 5 minutes taking a single selfie or more than 30 minutes per day may also be “considered as disease”. Such proposals add little to the credence of excessive selfie-taking being potentially addictive.

In a 2017 editorial entitled ‘Selfie addiction’ (in the journal Internet and Psychiatry), Singh and Lippmann asserted that knowing about the psychology of selfies and their consequences is important for both individuals and the communities in which they live. They claim that the taking of selfies can sometimes be “inconsiderate of other people, especially when ‘getting the perfect shot’ becomes an obsession”. They claim that excessive selfie clicking can become “a troublesome obsession and may be related to different personality traits” such as psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. More specifically, the argue that:

“Narcissistic people exhibit feelings of superiority and perfection, but also often harbor self-doubt. Those with psychopathy have little compassion about harming others. Persons with Machiavellian traits fulfill their wishes with diminished ethics. All three utilize social websites that allow posting and amending pictures. Individuals with low self-esteem, obsession, and/or hyperactivity also sometimes exhibit high rates of “snapping” selfies”.

In a very brief review of the literature on selfie-taking and mental health in a 2016 issue of the Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, Kaur and Vig concluded that selfie addiction was most associated with low self-esteem, narcissism, loneliness and depression. Also in 2016, Sunitha and colleagues also reported similar findings based on their review of selfie-taking in theInternational Journal of Advances in Nursing Management. In an online populist article in 2017 on the rise of the ‘selfie generation’, Tolete and Salarda interviewed a teen development specialist, Dr. Robyn Silverman about how and why adolescents might get hooked on selfie-taking. He said that teens “crave positive feedback to help them see how their see how their identity fits into their world. Social media offers an opportunity to garner immediate information…the selfie generation ends up agonizing over very few likes or one or two negative comments, as if these are the only metrics that will prove they matter. One can only imagine the vulnerability of their still fragile self-esteem in such an environment”.

Other academics have claimed that while the evidence for ‘selfie addiction’ being a social problem is lacking, it does not mean that it could not be a ‘primary pathology’ in times to come. However, there has been very few empirical studies that have examined ‘selfie addiction, and those that have been published suffer from many methodological weaknesses.

For instance, in a 2017 issue of the Journal of Contemporary Medicine and Dentistry, Gaddala and colleagues examined the association between Internet addiction and ‘selfie addiction’ among 402 Indian medical students (262 females). They reported a significant association between selfie dependence and internet dependence. However, they used Shah’s operationalization of ‘selfie addiction’ (the taking of three or more selfies a day; 4% of the total sample), therefore it is unlikely that very few of the participants would have been genuinely addicted to taking selfies.

Singh and Tripathi carried out a very small study on 50 Indian adolescents aged 12-18 years of age (28 females; average age 14.6 years) in 2017 (in the journal SSRN). They found that narcissism and hyperactivity were positively correlated with ‘selfie addiction’ whereas self-image was negatively correlated with ‘selfie addiction’. However, in addition to the very small sample size, the instrument used to assess selfie tendencies had little to do with addiction and simply asked questions about typical selfie behaviour (e.g., how many selfies a day/week are taken, how much time a day is spent taking selfies, are the selfies posted onto social media, etc.)

Finally, a 2017 study in the Journal of Medical Science and Clinical Research by Kela and colleagues examined the more medical effects of excessive selfie-taking. In a survey of 250 Indian students aged 18-25 years (56% females), it was reported that 30% reported lower back ache, 15% suffered stress, 20%, suffered from cervical spondylitis, 25% suffered from headache, and 10% suffered from ‘selfie elbow’ (a tendonitis condition). However, it was unclear from the methodology described to what extent these effects were specifically attributable to selfie-taking.

Taking the academic literature as a whole, there is little evidence – as yet – that ‘selfie addiction’ exists although if stories like Danny Bowman are to be believed, it does appear at least theoretically possible for an individual to become addicted to such an activity.

(Note: some of this material first appeared in the following paper: Griffiths, M.D. & Balakrishnan, J. (2018). The psychosocial impact of excessive selfie-taking in youth: A brief overview. Education and Health, 36(1), 3-5).

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

Further reading

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). An exploratory study of ‘selfitis’ and the development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-017-9844-x.

Barakat, C. (2014). Science links selfies to narcissism, addiction, and low self esteem. Adweek, April 16. Located at: www.adweek.com/socialtimes/selfies-narcissism-addiction-low-self-esteem/147769

Bhattacharyya, R. (2017). Addiction to modern gadgets and technologies across generations. Eastern Journal of Psychiatry, 18(2), 27-37.

Gaddala, A., Hari Kumar, K. J., & Pusphalatha, C. (2017). A study on various effects of internet and selfie dependence among undergraduate medical students. Journal of Contemporary Medicine and Dentistry, 5(2), 29-32.

Grossman, S. (2014). Teenager reportedly tried to kill himself because he wasn’t satisfied with the quality of his selfies. Time, March 24. Located at: http://time.com/35701/selfie-addict-attempts-suicide/

Gupta, R. & Pooja, M. (2016). Selfie an infectious gift of IT to modern society. Global Journal for Research Analysis, 5(1), 278-280.

Kaur, S., & Vig, D. (2016). Selfie and mental health issues: An overview. Indian Journal of Health and Wellbeing, 7(12), 1149-1152.

Kela, R., Khan, N., Saraswat, R., & Amin, B. (2017). Selfie: Enjoyment or addiction? Journal of Medical Science and Clinical Research, 5, 15836-15840.

Lee, R. L. (2016). Diagnosing the selfie: Pathology or parody? Networking the spectacle in late capitalism. Third Text, 30(3-4), 264-27

Senft, T. M., & Baym, N. K. (2015). Selfies introduction – What does the selfie say? Investigating a global phenomenon. International Journal of Communication, 9, 19.

Shah, P.M. (2015). Selfie – a new generation addiction disorder – Literature review and updates. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, 17, 602.

Singh, D., & Lippmann, S. (2017). Selfie addiction. Internet and Psychiatry, April 2. Located at: https://www.internetandpsychiatry.com/wp/editorials/selfie-addiction/

Singh, S. & Tripathi, K.M. (2017). Selfie: A new obsession. SSRN, 1-3. Located at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2920945

Sunitha, P. S., Vidya, M., Rashmi, P., & Mamatha, M. (2016). Selfy [sic] as a mental disorder – A review. International Journal of Advances in Nursing Management, 4(2), 169-172.

Term warfare: Another look at ‘behavioural addiction’ and ‘selfitis’ as constructs

I recently published a response to a debate article by Dr. Vladan Starcevic and his colleagues in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Unfortunately, my response was restricted to a stringent word limit so I am using my personal blog to provide the original version of my response before it was edited. My published version can be found here. Below is the original version:

The article by Starcevic, Billieux and Schimmenti (2018) made a number of assertions concerning my research with various co-authors. While I am always grateful that my work is being read and cited, some of the assertions made were arguably unfair, misguided and/or not stated in context (and could therefore be construed as untrue). In this short article, I first address some of the claims made about our research into the construct of ‘selfitis’. I then address a few of the wider issues made by Starcevic et al. in relation to behavioural addictions more generally because they used some of my other research into various behavioural addictions to make their arguments.

The construct of ‘selfitis’

Starcevic et al. noted that there has been a trend “to medicalize problematic behaviours” (p.1) and used the example of ‘selfitis’ to make their point. The way the article was written it would appear to the naïve reader that I and my co-author (Janarthan Balakrishnan) had coined the term ‘selfitis’. For instance, the article by Starcevic et al. cites our paper in specific reference to the following assertion:

“Instead of labelling an excessive and sometimes dangerous practice of taking selfies a ‘selfie addiction’, this behaviour was conceptualised as an inflammation-like selfitis (Balakrishnan and Griffiths, in press)”.

This sentence clearly gives the impression that it was Dr. Balakrishnan and I who conceptualised ‘selfitis’ and that our conceptualisation was that it was “inflammation-like”. However, we made it very clear to readers in the very first paragraph of our paper that the concept of ‘selfitis’ originally started a hoax claiming that the ‘disorder’ was to be included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The original hoax report defined selfitis as “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of one’s self and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy” which we again made clear in the second sentence of our paper. The two studies in our paper were exploratory and merely set out to examine whether there were individuals who were ‘obsessive selfie-takers’. In many parts of their article, Starcevic et al. appear to insinuate that our paper equates ‘selfitis’ with ‘selfie addiction’. For instance, they wrote:

“Interestingly, the components of selfitis that were identified (environmental enhancement, social competition, attention seeking, mood modification, self-confidence and subjective conformity) have practically nothing in common with behavioural addiction…Therefore, selfitis appears to be a construct that is very different from ‘selfie addiction’, and its purported link with compulsivity also seems tenuous” (p.1).

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 18.12.52The six components comprising selfitis in our new psychometric tool (the Selfitis Behavior Scale [SBS]) were correctly reported but at no point in our paper did we ever say that ‘selfitis’ was a behavioural addiction. What we did write was that (a) “selfitis is a new construct in which future researchers may investigate further in relation to selfitis addiction and/or compulsion” (p.8), and (ii) “the qualitative focus group data from participants strongly implied the presence of ‘selfie addiction’ although the SBS does not specifically assess selfie addiction” (p.11). They also noted that our published paper on selfitis:

“…did not go unnoticed by the media, always ready to exploit everything that is ‘novel’ and sensational. Thus, one newspaper reported that selfitis, ‘the obsessive need to post selfies’, was a ‘genuine mental disorder’ and quoted one of the authors of the aforementioned article that the existence of selfitis appeared to be confirmed (www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/12/15/selfitis-obsessiveneed-post-selfies-genuine-mental-disorder/)…The word has thus become enriched by one more ‘condition’, complete with an assessment tool to establish its severity and a suggestion that people with selfitis may need professional help” (p.2).

While it is true that our study did not go unnoticed by the media (and was reported in hundreds of news stories around the world), only one newspaper journalist ever interviewed me about the study and at no point either in our published paper or in any conversations with the broadcast media did we ever say that ‘selfitis’ was a mental disorder. Our paper simply concluded that obsessive selfie-taking was a condition that appears to exist and made the observation that selfitis has “psychological consequences (which may be both positive and negative)” (p.12). In fact, we talked about the positive aspects of selfitis throughout the discussion section of our paper. In short, I would like it to be made clear that (i) we did not coin the term ‘selfitis’, (ii) we have never anywhere in published print (academic papers or the print media) claimed selfitis is a mental disorder, (iii) we have never claimed selfitis is a behavioural addiction, and (iv) we have never equated ‘selfitis’ with ‘selfie addiction’ (although we have just published another paper briefly reviewing the studies that have examined the concept of ‘selfie addiction’ [i.e., Griffiths & Balakrishnan, 2018]).

The construct of ‘behavioural addiction’

Starcevic et al. also claimed in their article that the term ‘behavioural addiction’ is “vague, misused and applied to an exceptionally wide variety of activities” (p.1). I would argue that the far from being ‘vague’, behavioural addiction has clearly been defined as any addiction that does not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance (Griffiths, 1996, 2005). I agree that it is sometimes misused and I have written dozens of populist articles on my personal blog pointing this out. However, I totally disagree that behavioural addiction has been applied to an ‘exceptionally wide variety of activities’. As I noted in a recent paper: Very few of the thousands of leisure activities that individuals engage in have ever been written about in terms of addiction in peer-reviewed scientific papers” (Griffiths, 2017; p.1719). Starcevic et al. would be hard pushed to name more than about 20 leisure activities that have ever been empirically examined as a possible behavioural addiction. Of the five activities named by Starcevic in an attempt to show the behavioural addiction is being misused three of them were actually just sub-types of more widely researched behavioural addictions (i.e., stock market addiction is a sub-type of gambling addiction, study addiction is a sub-type of work addiction, and dance addiction is a sub-type of exercise addiction) as made clear in my papers on these topics.

Starcevic et al. also noted that a group of scholars (Kardefelt-Winther et al., 2017) “recently made an effort to reach a consensus, promote conceptual rigour and avoid misuse by proposing an open (modifiable) definition of behavioural addiction” (p.1). More specifically, Kardefelt‐Winther et al. provided four exclusion criteria and argued that behaviours should not be classed as a behavioural addiction if:

  1. “The behaviour is better explained by an underlying disorder (e.g. a depressive disorder or impulse-control disorder).
  2. The functional impairment results from an activity that, although potentially harmful, is the consequence of a willful choice (e.g. high-level sports).
  3. The behaviour can be characterized as a period of prolonged intensive involvement that detracts time and focus from other aspects of life, but does not lead to significant functional impairment or distress for the individual.
  4. The behaviour is the result of a coping strategy” (p.1710)

I doubt anyone researching in the behavioural addiction would disagree with the third exclusion criterion because to have a genuine behavioural addiction, the behaviour has to comprise significant functional impairment or distress for the individual. However, I would point out that if these criteria were applied to substance abuse, very few substance users would ever be classed as addicted (Griffiths, 2017). More specifically, I have written elsewhere that three of the four exclusion criteria proposed by Kardefelt‐Winther et al. (2017) are simply untenable:

“For instance, it is proposed that any behaviour in which functional impairment results from an activity that is a consequence of wilful choice should not be considered an addiction. I cannot think of a single addictive behaviour that when the person first started engaging in the behaviour (e.g., drinking alcohol, illicit drug-taking, gambling) was not engaged in wilfully…Also, not being classed as an addiction if the behaviour is secondary to another comorbid behaviour (e.g., a depressive disorder) or is used as a coping strategy again means that some other substance addictions (e.g., alcoholism) would not be classed as genuine addictive behaviours using such exclusion criteria because many substance-based addictions are used as coping strategies and/or are symptomatic of other underlying pathologies” (Griffiths, 2017; pp.1718-1719).

Throughout my 30 years of research into behavioural addiction, I have never simply looked at a behaviour and claimed that it cannot be potentially addictive. Using my own operational criteria for what I believe constitutes a genuine addiction (i.e., salience, conflict, tolerance, withdrawal, mood modification, and relapse; Griffiths, 1966, 2005) very few individuals would be classed as being addicted to activities such as sex, work, exercise, or gaming. However, if there is evidence of what I consider to be the core components of addiction in activities that others believe should not be pathologised (e.g., dancing or academic study), I would not choose to ignore such evidence if such activities caused significant functional impairment and distress for the individuals concerned.

References

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). An exploratory study of ‘selfitis’ and the development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Epub ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-017-9844-x

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Behavioural addiction and substance addiction should be defined by their similarities not their dissimilarities. Addiction 112: 1718-1720.

Griffiths, M.D. & Balakrishnan, J. (2018). The psychosocial impact of excessive selfie-taking in youth: A brief overview. Education and Health 36(1): 3-5.

Kardefelt-Winther D, Heeren A, Schimmenti A, et al. (2017) How can we conceptualize behavioural addiction without pathologizing common behaviours? Addiction 112: 1709–1715.

Starcevic, V., Billieux, J., & Schimmenti, A. (2018). Selfitis, selfie addiction, Twitteritis: Irresistible appeal of medical terminology for problematic behaviours in the digital age. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Epub ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1177/0004867418763532

Gripped by ‘crypt’: A brief look at ‘crypto-trading addiction’

Last week I was approached by Rupert Wolfe-Murray, a PR representative of a well-known addiction treatment clinic (Castle Craig) asking what my views were on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading (colloquially known as ‘crypto trading’) and whether the activity could be addictive. More specifically he wrote:

“I write to you about the research we’re doing into addiction to Bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading. We’ve had an enquiry about this at Castle Craig and they would treat it as a gambling addiction. We think it’s a new type of behavioural addiction and we plan to publish a web page (and FAQ) with the intention of alerting people that the online trading of cryptocurrencies may be addictive. It would be very helpful if we could get a quote from you, putting it into perspective. Do you think it’s a growing problem? There’s very little information about this issue online but there is an active forum of ‘crypto addicts’ on Reddit, where I got some friendly feedback…The therapist I often turn to when writing about gambling and the behavioural addictions told me that it sounds like addiction to day trading. Would you agree?”

In short, I couldn’t agree more although my own view is that this is not a ‘new’ addiction but a sub-type of online day-trading addiction (on which I first published an article about back in 2000 for GamCare, the gambling charity I co-founded with Paul Bellringer in 1997) and/or stock market trading addiction (which I’ve written a couple of previous blogs about, here and here, and an article in iGaming Business Affiliate magazine). However, I decided to do a bit of research into the issue.

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A recent January 2018 article in the Jakarta Post by Ario Tamat examined this issue which was a personal account of his own experiences (‘Bitcoin trading: Addictive ‘hobby’ that could break my bank’). He wrote:

“I was always interested in Bitcoin, not that I really understand the technology, but first impressions were appealing: a decentralized currency, mined by solving mathematical equations and potentially accessible to anyone…Fast forward to 2017. Discussions on cryptocurrencies had entered the public consciousness, Bitcoin prices were sky high… A few friends introduced me to a local site on cryptocurrency trading – the most suitable term for the entire affair, actually – bitcoin.co.id. Taking the leap, I took some money out of my measly savings and bought myself some Bitcoin…In three days, I had made 6 percent. I was hooked… I’ve noticed that the whole cryptocurrency trading trend is like placing bets on a never-ending horse race, where new horses are introduced to the race almost daily”.

Another article by Douglas Lampi on the Steemit website noted that “the elements of addiction and gambling are a consistent risk that traders must always be on the guard against” and provided some signs to readers that they may be trading impulsively. These included (i) feeling muscle tension, (ii) feeling background anxiety, (iii) checking the price of Bitcoin and alt coins several times through the day, and (iv) thinking about trading while engaged in other activities. While these ‘symptoms’ and behaviours might be found among those addicted to crypto day trading, on their own they are arguably little more than mildly problematic. These signs applied to gambling or social media use would be unlikely to raise many worries among addiction treatment practitioners.

I also visited the online Bitcoin Forum where one of the topics was ‘Is crypto trading an addiction’ prompted by a Russian who allegedly committed suicide after losing all his money crypto trading. Most of the people on the forum didn’t think it was an addiction and claimed the suicide was reminiscent of the suicides that occurred at the time of the 2009 stock market crash (although a couple of individuals believed that crypto trading was a potentially ‘addicting’ activity). One participant in the discussion noted:

“Yes [crypto trading is] highly addictive, specially formulated if you start to notice that need, urge in side you, to check the price even in the middle of the night. Find yourself skipping your daily routines it is and can be addictive if you don’t know how to control you and your emotions. I have found somewhere that some say that it is like being in casino, betting, playing rules etc. because like every coin was made mostly for pure profit and it’s all speculation rather than to have their own sole purpose which when I think of it can make sense to even why it can be addictive”.

Another individual on the Bitcoin Pub website wrote:

“I think I might actually have an unhealthy addiction to [crypto trading]. I’d say 3/4 times when I unlock my phone I’m checking Blockfolio, when I’m at work, at home, with my girlfriend, or even between sets at the gym. I’m starting to think I need to discipline myself to NOT check it or limit it to maybe 1-2 times a day as its noticeably impacting my passions and in turn my mental state. I’m not a day trader, I hold all my coins in cold storage. So there’s really no reason for me to be checking that frequently, or watching crypto analysis YouTube videos, or reading articles about it several times a day”.

The issue was also discussed in a recent February 2018 article in the Irish Times by Fiona Reddan (‘It’s addictive’: Why investors are still flocking to bitcoin and crypto’). Interviewing Nicholas Charalambous (Managing Director of Alpha Wealth) was quoted as saying: “Previously, I would have described cryptos as ‘shares on steroids’; now I would say they’re shares with jetpacks and boosters and then some”. While Bitcoin shares have fallen, there are plenty of new cryptocurrencies that individuals can dabble buying shares in (ethereum, litecoin, ripple, putincoin and dogecoin) and all can be akin to gambling. Reddan also interviewed Jonathan Sheehan (Managing Director, Compass Private Wealth) who said:

“It has the exact same risk and return characteristics as a naive gambler, who has opened their first online betting account. There is absolutely no valuation metric for these currencies and allocating capital to them is an extreme and unnecessary risk”.

One country that has taken crypto trading addiction seriously is South Korea. Their government’s Office for Government Policy Coordination has introduced new rules to inhibit the speculation on cryptocurrencies. According to a Market Watch article:

“The proposed measures…range from levying capital-gain taxes on trading cryptocurrencies, to restricting financial firms from holding, acquiring and investing in them…The new regulations come amid mounting concern within South Korea about the potential for people to become addicted to bitcoin trading”.

The country’s prime minister Lee Nak-yon went as far as to say that the increasing interest in cryptocurrencies could “lead to some serious distorted or pathological phenomenon”.

I did quickly check what had been written about academically. I came across a couple of papers on Google Scholar that mentioned possible addiction to crypto trading. Justine Brecese (in a 2013 ‘research note’ on the socioeconomic implications of cyber‐currencies for ASA Risk Consultants) asserted that risks with virtual currency include the potential for addiction and resultant over-spending” (but providing little in the way of empirical evidence for the claim). In a paper by Haraši Namztohoto on ‘cryptocoin avarice’, he noted:

“Reason often discretely quits the cognitive battlefield whenever hoarding tendencies of human beings are coupled with addictive behaviour which financial derivate trading surely is, thus leaving humans prone to caprices of mass psychology”.

Given that addictions rely on constant rewards and reinforcement, there is no theoretical reason why crypto trading cannot be addictive. However, there is only anecdotal evidence of addicted individuals and if they are addicted a case could be made that this is a type of gambling addiction.

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

Further reading

Brecese, J. (2013). Research note – Money from nothing: The socioeconomic implications of “cyber-currencies”. Seattle, WA: ASA Institute for Risk & Innovation

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Day trading: Another possible gambling addiction? GamCare News, 8, 13-14.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Financial trading as a form of gambling. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, April/May, 40.

Namztohoto, H. (2013). Myth, machinery and cryptocoin avarice. Wizzion.com. Located at: http://wizzion.com/papers/2013/cryptocoin-avarice.pdf

Jeong, E-Y. & Russolillo, S. (2017). South Korea mulls taxing cryptocurrency trade as fears mount about bitcoin addiction, speculation. Market Watch, December 13. Located at: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/south-korea-mulls-taxing-cryptocurrency-trade-as-fears-mount-about-bitcoin-addiction-speculation-2017-12-13

Lampi, D. (2018). Two sure signs YOU are a crypto trading addict. Steemit.com. February. Located: https://steemit.com/cryptocurrency/@ipmal/two-sure-signs-you-are-a-crypto-trading-addict

Reddan, F. (2018). ‘It’s addictive’: Why investors are still flocking to bitcoin and crypto. Irish Times, February 13. Located at: https://www.irishtimes.com/business/financial-services/it-s-addictive-why-investors-are-still-flocking-to-bitcoin-and-crypto-1.3388392

Tamat, A. (2018). Bitcoin trading: Addictive ‘hobby’ that could break my bank. The Jakarta Post, January 8. Located at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2018/01/08/bitcoin-trading-addictive-hobby-that-could-break-my-bank.html