Blog Archives

Eight days a week: Survival in the age of the ‘always on’ culture

Recently, I did some work with a PR agency as part of a campaign to get individuals to use their smartphones more responsibly. Today’s blog comprises the some of the text that fed into their press release based on an interview I did with them. The same campaign also publicised my tips to help reduce reliance on technology which you can find here. The following text comes from a transcription of the interview.

“The first thing to bear in mind is that people are no more addicted to smartphones than alcoholics are addicted to bottles. It the applications on smartphones that are potentially addictive not the phones themselves. It is important to understand too that the number of people who actually suffer to the extent that they have a real addiction is likely to be no more than a handful. However, there are certainly a growing number of people who perhaps wish they didn’t use their apps as much as they do. Obviously as phones have become more advanced and more capable, and the issue of both habitual use and problematic use of smartphones has grown.

We live in the ‘always on’ era and I think many people feel obliged to participate in that culture, and ensure that they are constantly available to interact and respond 24/7. I gave up my smart phone several years ago and, though I am not encouraging everybody else to do the same, you will find that after you get over the initial ‘shock’, you are able to cope just fine without it. Usually after the third or fourth day you’ll find that that you have adjusted to not having it. There are natural circumstances where you will find yourself without your phone by necessity, such as when you go swimming or visit the gym. People tend to manage just fine during these scenarios, but many people often experience anxiety if they find themselves on the bus to work and then realise they’ve left their smartphone at home.


I’d encourage people wishing to use their phone or apps less to consider going without their phone for a few hours, or allocating one day each week when you don’t use it at all. And whilst I have given up my smartphone, I haven’t given up social media, using the internet and sending emails. I simply access these functions through my laptop. Obviously one of the big factors with mobile phones is that they are with you constantly. You can’t put a laptop in a pocket or a handbag, like you can with a mobile phone, and that is obviously quite a significant distinction. 

Many apps and phones themselves now have features that record the amount of time spent using each one, and often the time for many people will escalate into a number of hours over the course of the day or week. For many people this won’t be a concern, because they may be really enjoying using particular apps, but to others it might be a bit of a wake-up call. If you discover that you regularly spend ten hours in a week using a specific app you may begin to consider what else you could have done with that time.

There are also features on phones that allow you to dictate the frequency of notifications you receive as well as limit setting features so that you can control how much time you want to spend on your smartphone. Many apps send notifications very frequently, on the basis that the users will anticipate something good in the message they receive. Like in many spheres of our life, there are specific activities that trigger chemical reactions that manifest themselves as happy feelings, and apps are no different in this respect.

But there are often options to disable these notifications, or to limit them to appear only once an hour. This is one way we can limit the time we spend looking at our phones. The world of social media in particular can be very competitive, and we often crave things like ‘likes’ from our friends and colleagues. Many individuals not only feel good when they get ‘likes’ on the things they have posted on social media but also feel good when they get more ‘likes’ than their friends.

FOMO’ – fear of missing out – is also an increasing factor in why people spend so much time on their smartphone, constantly checking their social media and messages. Individuals should rationally and objectively consider just what exactly it is that they think they’re missing out on. We are very eager to take selfies and share them, purely for the purpose of attracting ‘like’s and reactions from others. Are we really missing out by not doing that? Over the past few years there has been increasing use of the term ‘digital detox’. A digital detox refers to the period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world”.

My tips for a successful digital detox can be found here.

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

Further reading

Andreassen, C.S., Pallesen, S., & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). The relationship between excessive online social networking, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addictive Behaviors, 64, 287-293.

Billieux, J., Maurage, P., Lopez-Fernandez, O., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Can disordered mobile phone use be considered a behavioral addiction? An update on current evidence and a comprehensive model for future research. Current Addiction Reports, 2, 154-162.

Csibi, S., Griffiths, M.D., Cook, B., Demetrovics, Z., & Szabo, A. (2018). The psychometric properties of the Smartphone: Applications-Based Addiction Scale (SABAS). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 393-403.

Emirtekin, E., Balta, S., Sural, I., Kircaburun, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Billieux, J. (2019). The role of childhood emotional maltreatment and body image dissatisfaction in problematic smartphone use among adolescents. Psychiatry Research, 271, 634–639.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent mobile phone addiction: A cause for concern? Education and Health, 31, 76-78.

Griffiths, M.D. (2018). Adolescent social networking: How do social media operators facilitate habitual use? Education and Health, 36, 66-69.

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

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

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

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

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

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., & Billieux, J. (2015). The conceptualization and assessment of problematic mobile phone use. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Mobile Phone Behavior (Volumes 1, 2, & 3) (pp. 591-606). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Männikkö, N., Kääriäinen, M., Griffiths, M.D., & Kuss, D.J. (2018). Mobile gaming does not predict smartphone dependence: A cross-cultural study between Belgium and Finland. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 88-99.

Monacis, L., de Palo, V., Griffiths, M.D. & Sinatra, M. (2017). Social networking addiction, attachment style, and validation of the Italian version of the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6, 178-186.

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

The junkie generation? Teenage “addiction” to social media

Earlier today I appeared live on my local radio station (BBC Radio Nottingham) commenting on a study released by the Allen Carr Addiction Clinics (ACAC) concerning teenage addiction (and more specifically addiction to social media). The study was a survey of 1,000 British teenagers aged 12 to 18 years old and the press release went with the heading “INFO UK BREEDING A GENERATION OF TEENAGE ADDICTS SAYS NEW STUDY” (their capital letters, not mine) with the sub-headline that “83% of UK teenagers would struggle to go ‘cold turkey’ from social media and their other vices for a month”.

As someone that has spent almost 30 years studying ‘technological addictions’ I was interested in the survey’s findings. I tried to get hold of the actual report by contacting the ACAC Press Office. They were very helpful and sent me a copy of the Excel file containing the raw data (entitled ‘Addicted Britain’). They also informed me that the data were collected for ACAC by the market research company OnePoll, and that the teenagers filled out the survey online (with parents’ permission). However, there is no actual published report with the findings (and more importantly, no methodological details). I asked ACAC if they knew the response rate (for instance, was the online survey sent to 10,000 teenagers to get their 1,000 responses that would give a response rate of 10%), and how were the teenagers recruited in the first place. Also, as the survey was carried out online, those teenagers who are the most tech-savvy and feel confident online, would be more likely to participate than those who don’t like (or rarely use) online applications. Before I comment on the survey itself, I would just like to provide some excerpts from the press release that was sent out:

“The explosion of social media, selfies and mobile devices is priming a generation of UK teenagers for a lifelong struggle with addiction…83% of UK teenagers admit they would struggle to give up their vices for a whole month. [The study] unveiled a worrying trend of growing numbers of young people constantly striving to find the next thrill, mostly via technology and social media. When asked which behaviours they could abstain from, UK teens said they would most struggle living without texting (66%), followed by social networking (58%), junk food (28%) and alcohol (6%). The report found that the average teen checks social media 11 times a days, sends 17 text messages and takes a ‘selfie’ picture every four days. This constant pursuit of stimulation, peer approval, instant gratification, and elements of narcissism are all potential indicators of addictive behaviour. The study highlights that parents across the UK are inadvertently becoming ‘co-dependents’ enabling their child’s addictions by providing them with cash albeit with the best of intentions”.

The first thing that struck me reading this text was the use of the word “vice”. Most dictionary definitions of a vice is “immoral or wicked behaviour” or criminal activities involving prostitution, pornography, or drugs”. As far as I am concerned, social networking, junk food, and alcohol are not vices (especially social networking). The whole wording of the press release is written in a way to pathologise normal behaviours such as engaging in social media use. Also, asking teenagers about which behaviours they could not abstain from for a month tells us almost nothing about addiction. All it tells us is that the activities that teenagers most engage in are the ones they would find hardest not to do. This is just common sense. My main hobbies are listening to music on my i-Pod and reading. I would really have difficulty in not listening to my favourite music or reading for a whole month but I’m not addicted to music or reading.

The ACAC kindly sent me all the questions that were asked in the survey and there was no kind of addiction scale embedded in any of the questions asked. Basically, the survey does not investigate teenagers’ potential addictions, as no screening instrument for any behaviour asked about was included in the survey. There were some attitude questions asking whether activities like social networking could be addictive, but as I have argued in previous blogs, almost any activity that is constantly rewarding can be potentially addictive.

That’s not so say we shouldn’t be concerned about teenagers’ excessive use of technology as my own research has shown that a small minority of teenagers do appear to have problems and/or be addicted to various online activities. However, as my research has shown, doing something excessively doesn’t mean that it is addictive. As I have noted in a number of my academic papers, the difference between a healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasm add to life and addictions take away from it. The perceived overuse of technology by the vast majority of teenagers is quite clearly something that is life-enhancing and positive with no detrimental effects whatsover.

Given that the vast majority of teenagers use the social media to communicate and interact with friends, I was surprised that ACAC’s findings were not closer to 100% saying that they couldn’t abstain for one month. Which teenagers would find it easy not to use social media for a month given how important it is in their day-to-day social lives? The findings in the press release also quote John Dicey (Global Managing Director and Senior Therapist of ACAC) who said:

“The findings of this report are cause for concern and highlight a generation of young people exhibiting many of the hallmarks of addictive behaviour. The explosion of technology we have seen since the late 90’s offers incredible opportunities to our youth – the constant stimulation provided by access to the internet for example can be a good or a bad thing. There’s a price to pay. This study indicates that huge numbers of young people are developing compulsions and behaviours that they’re not entirely in control of and cannot financially support. Unless we educate our young people as to the dangers of constant stimulation and consumption, we are sleepwalking towards an epidemic of adulthood addiction in the future”.

While my own research shows that a small minority of teenagers experience problems concerning various online activities, there was almost nothing in the ACAC report “huge numbers of young people are developing compulsions and behaviours that they’re not entirely in control of”. The use of the word “huge” is what we psychologists call a ‘fuzzy quantifier’ (as what is ‘huge’ to one person may not be ‘huge’ to another). Mr. Dicey’s conclusions simply cannot be made from the data collected. He says that the report shows that many teenagers are displaying the “hallmarks of addictive behaviour” but given no addiction screening instruments were used, the data do not show this. The press release uses the following findings to make the claim that “the abundance of technology that UK teens can access seems to be creating a generation of ‘tech addicts’!”

“One-third of UK teens (32%) admit they check social media more than 10 times a day. The report also found that the average teen checks social media 11 times day, which equals once every 1.5 hours they are awake. UK teens are also avid takers of ‘selfies’, with over a quarter taking more than 10 a month. The average teen takes 7.4 selfies a month, equalling one every four days on average…The plethora of technology available to teens is also having a worrying impact on their attention spans. 1 in 4 teens have over 20 apps on their smartphones, with the average teen having 13 apps on their device. The constant search for the ‘next thing’ is evidenced in how they use apps – 46% admitted that they stop using or delete an app less than a week after using it, freeing up storage space for a new app”.

Anyone that has teenagers (I have three screenagers myself) will tell you that the above statistics indicate adolescent normality not addiction. Checking social media 10 times a day does not indicate addiction in the slightest. Although I have never taken a selfie, I check my social media far more than 10 times a day. Deleting apps to make way for other apps is no different from me removing songs on my i-Pod every week to make way for other songs I want to listen to. Again, there is absolutely nothing in these statistics that provides evidence of adolescent addiction.

Anyone that is aware of my work will know that I take the issue of teenage technology use seriously and that I firmly believe that a small minority of adolescents experience addiction to various online applications. However, studies like the one done for ACAC do little for the area as the rhetoric of the claims are unsupported by their data.

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

Further reading

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

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, 4(1), 1-4.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

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. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Addiction to social networks on the internet: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D. & Binder, J. (2013). Internet addiction in students: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 959-966.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Kuss, D.J., van Rooij, A.J., Shorter, G.W., Griffiths, M.D. & van de Mheen, D. (2013). Internet addiction in adolescents: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1987-1996.

Network premiere: Can Facebook be addictive?

Back in 1995, I published a paper entitled ‘Technological Addictions” that (as far as I am aware) was the first ever paper published using the term to encompass a wide range of activities that involved the potentially addictive use of technology. In that paper, I mainly made reference to slot machine addiction, video game addiction and television addiction (with a cursory mention of internet addiction thrown in for good measure). I never would have predicted that years later I would be writing on topics such as “social networking addiction”.

This month sees the publication of a new scale in the journal Psychological Reports that measures “Facebook Addiction”. The scale was led by a good research colleague of mine (Dr. Cecilie Andraessen at the University of Bergen, Norway) who I have have recently been working with on some research into other behavioural addictions (e.g., workaholism, shopaholism).

The measure has been named the ‘Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale’ (BFAS). The scale initially comprised a pool of 18 items, three reflecting each of the six core elements of addiction (salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse) that I overviewed in my very first blog. The scale was constructed and administered to 423 students together with several other standardized self-report scales (e.g., including various measures that assess personality and sociability characteristics, attitudes towards Facebook, the Addictive Tendencies Scale and questions about sleep). The items within each of the six addiction elements with the highest correlation were retained in the final scale. Scores on the BFAS converged with scores for other scales of Facebook activity. The scale was also shown to positively relate to various personality traits (e.g., neuroticism, extraversion), and negatively related to others (e.g., conscientiousness). High scores on the new scale were also associated with going to bed very late and getting up very late.

While I have no problem with the paper by Dr. Andraessen and her colleagues, I believe there are a number of wider issues that require further consideration and comment. As a consequence, I wrote a response to their paper published in the same issue of Psychological Reports – not so much a critique of the paper but a commentary on the field of those working in the area of ‘Facebook addiction’.

Over the last five years, the field of research into online social networking has developed rapidly (there is even a journal – Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking – that publishes papers dedicated to the topic). As with the introduction of other new technological phenomena and activities, research papers examining excessive, problematic, and/or addictive use of such new technological phenomena typically tend to follow. My research colleague (Daria Kuss, Nottingham Trent University, UK) and I recently wrote a comprehensive literature review on ‘social networking addiction’ and we have also published a number of articles examining particular sub-groups use of social networking sites (such as teenagers).

The development of the BFAS is most likely a proactive response to the fact that researchers studying problematic Facebook use currently have no psychometrically validated tool. On this level, the new BFAS is clearly of use to those in the field. However, there are a number of key issues that must be addressed for the ‘Facebook addiction’ field to move forward. These are the things that I have commented on in my new paper responding to the publication of the BFAS.

Firstly, I argued that from the spate of academic papers that have appeared over the last five years that Facebook has become almost synonymous with social networking. However, I made the point that researchers need to remember that Facebook is just one of many websites where social networking can take place. Therefore, the BFAS has been developed relating to addiction to one particular commercial company’s service (i.e., Facebook) rather than the whole activity itself (i.e., social networking).

Secondly, I argued that the real issue concerns what people on social networks are actually addicted to and what a Facebook Addiction Scale actually measures. These arguments are almost identical to those I have made in relation to Internet addiction and mobile phone addiction. I am the first to admit that Facebook is the biggest site for social networking activity in the world but there are other sizeable ones but which cater for a different demographic (e.g., Bebo, is a social networking site primarily used by young teenagers). Therefore, the new scale may only be relevant and/or applicable to people that are socially networking of the Facebook website.

Thirdly, I argued that although Facebook was originally set up to facilitate social contact between individuals, it is now a site on which people can do so much more than just communicate with other people. For instance, Facebook users can play games like Farmville, can gamble on games like poker, can watch videos and films, and can engage in activities such as swapping photos or constantly updating their profile and/or messaging friends on every minutiae of their life. In short – and just like the term ‘Internet addiction’ – ‘Facebook addiction’ as a term may already be obsolete because there are many activities that a person can engage in on the medium. Therefore, ‘Facebook addiction’ is not synonymous with ‘social networking addiction’ – they are two fundamentally different things as Facebook has become a specific website where many different online activities can take place.

As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, there is a fundamental difference between addictions on the Internet and addictions to the Internet. The same argument now holds true for Facebook as well as activities such as mobile phone use. What this suggests is that the field needs a psychometrically validated scale that specifically assesses ‘social networking addiction’ rather than Facebook use. In the new scale, social networking as an activity is not mentioned, therefore the scale does not differentiate between someone addicted to Farmville or someone addicted to constantly messaging their Facebook friends.

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

Further reading 

Andraessen, C.S., Tosheim, T., Brunberg, G.S., & Pallesen, S. (2011). Development of a Facebook Addiction Scale. Psychological Reports, 110, 501-517.

Choliz, M. (2010). Mobile phone addiction: A point of issue. Addiction, 105, 373-374.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gaming in social networking sites: A growing concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(5), 12-13.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Facebook addiction: Concerns, criticisms and recommendations. Psychological Reports, 110, 2, 518-520.

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

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Addiction to social networks on the internet: A literature review of the psychological literature. International Journal of Environment and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Excessive online social networking: Can adolescents become addicted to Facebook? Education and Health, 29. 63-66.

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

Are Twitter and Facebook more ‘addictive’ than nicotine and alcohol?

Last week I was asked by the British media to comment on the story suggesting that using Twitter and Facebook were more addictive than activities like smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Once again this was a classic example of the media – for instance the Daily Telegraph – going beyond the data and not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Before being interviewed for a radio programme, I had read the newspaper reports about the research but these didn’t seem to tell me very much. I wanted to know the aims of the research, the method that had been used to collect the data, and I wanted to know how the researchers had reported their results and what conclusions they had reached. The research was carried out by psychologists Dr Wilhelm Hofmann (University of Chicago), Dr Kathleen Vohs (University of Minnesota), and Dr Roy Baumeister (Florida State University). I emailed Dr Hofmann and told him that I wanted to write about his study in my blog. He immediately sent me a copy of the paper and a very helpful ‘media summary’. So what was the researchers’ aim and what did they actually do?

The first thing to note was that the research was not about addiction but about desire and temptation. The researchers point out that little is known about what types of urges are felt strongly (or only weakly), which urges conflict with other important things that we should be doing, and the extent to which urges can be resisted. The primary aim of the research team was to compare the various desires and the extent to which they are resisted in people’s day-to-day lives. The researchers used an innovative methodology to assess the frequency, intensity, conflict, resistance, and enactment of peoples’ desires.

The data were collected from 205 people (although interestingly, this turned into 250 in many of the press reports I read). They were aged 18 to 55 years and all living in (and around) Würzburg (in Germany). Two-thirds of the participants were female (66%) and three-quarters of the total sample were university students (73%). All of the people taking part in the study were provided with a handheld Blackberry device and carried it around with them for a one-week period. Each day, they were sent seven messages over a 14-hour period asking them for specific data relating to desires and urges. All those taking part were given a small financial incentive at the start the study and were given additional financial incentives if they completed data entry for more than 80% of the messages sent by the research team. On average, over 90% of messages sent by the research team resulted in data being sent back (so there was an excellent response rate).

After each message was sent, those taking part in the study had to indicate whether they were currently experiencing a desire (explained as a craving, urge, or longing to do certain things) or whether (in the previous half an hour) they had just experienced a desire. If they had a desire, they then had to indicate what kind of desire from a list of 15 domains (i.e., food, non-alcoholic drinks, alcohol, coffee, tobacco, other substances, sexual, media, spending, work, social, leisure, sleep, hygiene-related, or other). Additionally, they had to indicate:

(i) The strength of the desire on a scale from ‘0’ (no desire at all) to ‘ (irresistible)

(ii) The degree to which the desire conflicted with other personal goals on a scale from 0 (no conflict at all) to 4 (very high conflict)

(iii) The nature of the conflicting goals from a list of 20 options (such as sleep conflict, social conflict, work conflict, etc.) and whether they attempted to resist the desire (yes or no), and whether they yielded to the behaviour implied by the desire at least to some extent (yes or no).

Up to three desires could be reported any given measurement occasion. In total there were 10,558 responses and a total of 7,827 desires reported during the one-week period. So what did the results show? The main finding – perhaps unsurprisingly – was that the most frequently described desires related to basic bodily needs (e.g., eating, drinking, and sleeping). More specifically, the researchers reported significantly above-average desires for sleep, sex, hygiene (e.g., needing to go to the toilet), sports participation, social contact, and non-alcoholic drinks. The lowest average desire strength were for drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes (and is where the sensationalist headlines came from).

The study also noted that the participants’ desires to work and use media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) were especially prone to yielding to their urges. However, the authors rightly note that “resisting the desire to work when it conflicts with other goals such as socializing or leisure activities may be difficult because work can define people’s identities, dictate many aspects of daily life, and invoke penalties if important duties are shirked”. They also speculate that checking emails, surfing the web, texting, and/or watching television might be hard to resist in light of the constant availability, huge appeal, and apparent low costs of these activities. They also assert that “media consumption behaviors might, however, turn into strong habits or forms of pathological media abuse”.

I ought to add that I did ask Dr. Hofmann about the media reports and how the press had sensationalized the study. In an email to me he said:

“Our data can only speak to self-control failure rates in the different domains, not to the ‘addictiveness’ of these desires. To study the development of addiction, we would have to sample desires over longer time spans and see whether they become more frequent and pressing over time. Still, I believe our findings tell us that people have a hard time putting desires for media use of, perhaps because we did not really learn well how to control those (plus, given the constant availability of those gadgets). Whether the consequences of frequent media (over)use outweigh those of more risky things such as alcohol and nicotine consumption is a different ballgame, again”.

I was also interested to read the media summary that Dr Hofmann sent me. It said that:

Our main finding can be summarized in just two words: people want. However, the present data are among the first to paint a clearer picture of what it is people desire, how they feel about it, and how successful they are in dealing with it. Extrapolating our findings to a 16-hour waking day, people on average spend about eight hours desiring things, three hours resisting desire, and a glorious half hour yielding to temptation”

The authors’ claim that based on their findings, their results challenge the stereotype of addiction as driven by irresistibly strong desires. They also claim that the knowledge they have generated can inform understandings about self-control, behavioral change, and addiction. However, there does seem to be one major limitation of the research. I couldn’t find anywhere in the paper that the authors had reported what percentage of the people who took part in the study were either cigarette smokers or drank alcohol. In fact there were no limitations mentioned whatsoever (such as the small non-representative sample – mainly female and mainly university students – from one German locality). If most of the sample were non-smokers/non-drinkers or casual smokers/casual drinkers it wouldn’t be surprising if there were few urges or desires to drink or smoke!

Postscript: Since writing this article, I received a very informative email from Dr Hofmann informing me that 22% of the sample in this study were current smokers (and that a very small minority were ex-smokers). Dr Hofmann informed me that they are doing further analysis on the data set. I look forward to seeing more papers from this interesting research study.

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

Further reading

Hofmann, W, Vohs, K.D. & Baumeister, R.F. (2012). What people desire, feel conflicted about, and try to resist in everyday life. Psychological Science, in press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gaming in social networking sites: A growing concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(5), 12-13.

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

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Addiction to social networks on the internet: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Excessive online social networking: Can adolescents become addicted to Facebook? Education and Health, 29. 63-66.

Are parents right to worry about their children’s time online?

In households across the country the scene is the same. Hundreds of thousands of youngsters are spending countless hours on social networking sites like Facebook or on internet sites such as YouTube. Indeed, a survey published last year during National Family Week reported that among eight to 15-year-old children, 40% of girls claimed Facebook was the most important thing in their lives (compared to just 6% of boys). Meanwhile, another survey reported that only 10% children had ever penned a handwritten letter. So should these findings be a concern to parents, or to society in general?

Well, when I was at school, if I fancied someone I’d send them a handwritten note. Nowadays, teenagers have SMS, Twitter and Facebook. The youth of today are just using the technologies of the day in the same way we did when we were their age. I love it when I’m working abroad and my children send me emails and texts. Snail mail couldn’t (and wouldn’t) work in these situations. When I was a teenager I passively watched a lot of television. For today’s teenagers, television viewing appears to have been displaced by various forms of interactive social media. They probably spend as much time in front of the screen as I did – it’s just they have more choice and are more proactive than I ever was.

I have three children – one teenager and two ‘tweenagers’ – although I like to call them ‘screenagers’. Like me, all of them spend a significant amount of daily time in front of the Internet, video games, television, mobile phone screen and their iPads. But my daughter watching the latest Lady Gaga video on YouTube is really not that far removed from me waiting a whole week to see my favourite bands on Top Of The Pops. I just wish I’d had in my teenage years what my children have today.

Some have argued there’s a technological generation gap between parents and their children. For some, this may be so but as socially responsible parents we need to play a proactive role in our children’s lives and get to know what they’re up to online. Almost all of my childrens’ online computer use takes place in front of me. Whether I’m watching my young son play with his virtual friends on Club Penguin or my daughter dressing up cartoon girls on Star Dolls or watching my oldest son play Farmville on Facebook, I try to take an active interest in their online use.

The fact social networking sites appear to be so popular among girls is really no surprise. Comparing boys and girls, research has shown females tend to have better social skills and males often have better spatial ability. If this translates to online behaviour, I’d expect to see more girls engaged in social networking and more boys playing video games (which is what the empirical literature seems to show).

When I started researching the psychology of Internet behaviour back in 1994, there were isolated instances of people using the web to meet and date other like-minded users. Such behaviour was classed as strange and bizarre and these people were called ‘geeks’ and ‘anoraks’. Nowadays, the Internet is just another tool in peoples’ social armoury and used in almost every area of our lives.

Whether it’s work, romance or simply keeping in touch, it’s part of modern life and teenagers should be adept in using state-of-the-art technology – they’re certainly going to need it in the future. That’s not to say there aren’t downsides to children and teenagers using the Internet (such as the small minority who seem to be addicted to some online activities). One of the main reasons why behaviour online is very different from offline is because it provides a disinhibiting experience (a well known psychological phenomenon). This is where people lower their emotional guard and become much less restricted in their actions. The main reason for this is because when people are interacting with others online it’s non-face-to-face, non-threatening, and people perceive themselves to be anonymous.

On the positive side, this process can lead people to develop long-lasting friendships and sometimes fall in love online. On the negative side, people might do things online that they’d never dream of doing offline including, in some instances, criminal behaviour such as cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking. These people are engaged in text-based virtual realities and sometimes take on other personas and social identities as a way of making themselves feel good and raising their own self-esteem. Despite the negative side of online behaviour, there’s lots of evidence suggesting the Internet has a positive effect in most people’s lives. In short, for the vast majority of people, including screenagers, the advantages of being online, and on social networking websites, far outweigh the negatives.

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

Further reading

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Cyber affairs – A new area for psychological research. Psychology Review, 7(1), 28-31.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Trends in technological advance: Implications for sedentary behaviour and obesity in screenagers. Education and Health, 28, 35-38.

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

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Addiction to social networks on the internet: A literature review of empirical research. International Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 8, 3528-3552.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Excessive online social networking: Can adolescents become addicted to Facebook? Education and Health, 29. 63-66.


Adolescent gambling on Facebook: Is there a cause for concern?

Today’s Daily Mail published a story about Facebook’s plans to introduce gambling services and the potential effect on children and adolescents. The Mail reported that the world’s biggest social network site wants to use Britain as a testing ground for games that would let users gamble on virtual fruit machines, bingo, poker and roulette.” Given my research into youth gambling I was contacted by the paper and spoke at length to the journalist (Keith Gladdis) and sent him some of my papers on gambling on social networking sites. I have written a number of papers examining the playing of gambling-type games on social networking sites like Facebook and Bebo, and have concluded that the non-money games that children play online may also be of concern. In the end, only one quote of mine made it into the story in the Mail. I was quoted as saying:

“Even when no money changes hands, young children are learning the mechanics of gambling. These games can be a gateway to more serious gambling.”

So what is my basis for my quote? Across the world, the social networking phenomenon has spread rapidly. When it comes to gambling and gambling-like games, researchers have claimed that such games have the potential to ‘normalize’ gambling behaviours, and that the playing of them may change social understandings of the role of gambling amongst young people.

While socially responsible gambling companies emphasize that money spent gambling may not offer a return other than the pleasure gained from the game, social networking utilities can present gambling as a viable route for the acquisition of scarce virtual goods. Dr Carolyn Downs of Salford University has written about a type of pseudo-gambling on social networking sites called Fluff Friends. In this social networking forum, users (typically young girls) create ‘Fluff’ Art. To do this they have to earn ‘munny’ (sic) – a type of virtual money through pet racing. Pet racing costs 1-point per race and winnings can be up to 4000 points. Clearly no money is changing hands, but young children are learning the mechanics of gambling and Dr Downs asserts there are serious questions about whether gambling with virtual money encourages positive attitudes toward gambling in young people.

This raises interesting questions that need to be empirically examined. For instance, does gambling with virtual money lead to an increased prevalence of actual gambling? To what extent are gambling-related groups on social networking sites being used by those under 18 years of age? Does membership of such a groups facilitate access to commercial gambling sites?

Empirical evidence suggests that ‘money free’ gambling plays an important role for adolescents in conceptualizing and experiencing internet gambling. Over one in three British adolescents have been reported to gamble in money-free mode. A study by Ipsos MORI reported that 28% of 11- to 15-year olds in a United Kingdom sample had done so within the last week. It is through money-free gambling (using social networking sites or ‘demo’ modes of real gambling sites) that children are being introduced to the principles and excitement of gambling without experiencing the consequences of losing money. Using the Ipsos MORI data, researchers from Salford University carried out some further analysis and reported that gambling in money-free mode was the single most important predictor of whether the child had gambled for money and one of the most important predictors of children’s problem gambling. However, the possibility and extent to which money-free gambling is responsible for real gambling participation and gambling-related risk and harm can only be confirmed using longitudinal data.

Based on the available literature, it may be important to distinguish between these different types of money-free gambling being made available. Initial considerations suggest that these may be different both in nature and in impact. Adolescents who gamble in social networking modes may experience a different type and level of reinforcement than those gambling in ‘demo’ modes on real online gambling sites. For example, on some social networking sites the accumulation of ‘play money’ or ‘points’ may have implications for buying virtual goods or services or being eligible for certain privileges. This may increase the value and meaning of the gambling event to the individual. Secondly, when considering the ‘flow’ and intention of individuals accessing such sites, it could be argued that individuals accessing money free gambling through social networking sites may be more likely to be induced or persuaded to play given that these web-site visitors’ primary intention may have been social interaction (i.e., the primary function of the website) as opposed to those playing in ‘demo’ mode where gambling is the primary function of the website. Interestingly, four or five times more children reporting money free gambling on social networking sites compared to ‘demo’ or ‘free play’ modes on gambling websites. The nature and impact of various forms of money free gambling should be the subject of further research and empirical investigation.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Group, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gaming in social networking sites: A growing concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(5), 12-13.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.