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General selection: Is voluntary self-exclusion a good proxy measure for problem gambling?

A couple of months ago, Dr. Michael Auer and I published a short paper in the Journal of Addiction Medicine and Therapy (JAMT) critically addressing a recent approach by researchers that use voluntary self-exclusion (VSE) by gamblers as a proxy measure for problem gambling in their empirical studies. We argued that this approach is flawed and is unlikely to help in developing harm-minimization measures.

For those who don’t know, self-exclusion practices typically refer to the possibility for gamblers to voluntarily ban themselves from playing all (or a selection of) games over a predetermined period. The period of exclusion can typically be chosen by the gambler although some operators have non-negotiable self-exclusion periods. Self-exclusion in both online sites and offline venues has become an important responsible gambling practice that is widely used by socially responsible operators.

There are many reasons why players self-exclude. In a 2011 study in the Journal of Gambling Studies by Dr. Tobias Hayer and Dr. Gerhard Meyer, players frequently reported excluding as a preventive measure and annoyance with the gambling operator as reasons for VSE. Furthermore, only one-fifth of self-excluders reported to be problem gamblers (21.2%). A recent 2016 (conference) paper by Dr. Suzanne Lischer (2016) reported that in a study of three Swiss casinos, 29% of self-excluders were pathological gamblers, 33% were problem gamblers, and 38% were recreational gamblers. Given that many voluntary self-excluders do not exclude themselves for gambling-related problems, Dr. Lischer concluded that self-exclusion is not a good indicator of gambling-related problems. In line with these results, a 2015 study published in International Gambling Studies led by Simo Dragicevic compared self-excluders with other online players and reported no differences in the (i) mean number of gambling hours per month or (ii) minutes per gambling session. The study also reported that 25% of players self-excluded within one day of their registration with the online operator. This could also be due to the fact that online players can self-exclude with just a few mouse-clicks.


Most studies to date report that the majority of voluntary self-excluders tend to be non-problem gamblers. Additionally, in 2010, the Australian Productivity Commission reported 15,000 active voluntary self-exclusions from 2002 to 2009 and that this represented only 10-20% of the population of problem gamblers. This means that in addition to most self-excluders being non-problem gamblers, that most problem gamblers are not self-excluders. This leads to the conclusion that there is little overlap between problem gambling and self-excluding.

Over the decade, analytical approaches to harm minimization have become popular. This has led to the development of various tracking tools such as PlayScan (developed by Svenska Spel), Observer (developed by, and mentor (developed by neccton and myself). Furthermore, regulators are increasingly recognizing the importance of early risk detection via behavioural tracking systems. VSE also plays an important role in this context. However, some systems use VSE as a proxy of at-risk or problem gambling.

Based on the findings from empirical research, self-exclusion is a poor proxy measure for categorizing at-risk or problem gamblers and VSE should not be used in early problem gambling detection systems. The reasons for this are evident:

  • There is no evidence of a direct relationship between self-exclusion and problem gambling. As argued above, self-excluders are not necessarily problem gamblers and thus cannot be used for early risk detection.
  • There are various reasons for self-exclusion that have nothing to do with problem gambling. Players exclude for different reasons and one of the most salient appears to be annoyance and frustration with the operator (i.e., VSE is used as a way of venting their unhappiness with the operator). In this case, an early detection model based on self-exclusion would basically identify unhappy players and be more useful to the marketing department than to those interested in harm minimization
  • Problem gamblers who self-exclude are already actively changing their behaviour. The trans-theoretical ‘stages of change’ model (developed by Dr. Carlo DiClemente and Dr. James Prochaska) argues that behavioural change follows stages from pre-contemplation to action and maintenance. One could argue that the segment of players who self-exclude because they believe their gambling to be problematic are the ones who already past the stages where assistance is usually helpful in triggering action to cease gambling. These players are making use of a harm-minimization tool. The ones actually in need of detection and intervention are the ones who have not yet reached this stage of change yet and are not thinking about changing their behaviour at all. This is one more argument for the inappropriateness of self-exclusion as a proxy for problem gambling.

But what could be done to prevent the development of gambling-related problems in the first place? For the reasons outlined above, we would argue that the attempt to identify problem gambling via playing patterns that are derived from self-excluders does not assist harm minimization. Firstly, this approach does not target problem gamblers, and secondly it does not provide any insights into the prevention of such problems.

It is evident that any gambling environment should strive to minimize gambling-related harm and reduce the amount of gambling among vulnerable groups. It is also known that information that is given to individuals to enable behavioural change should encourage reflection because research has shown that self-monitoring can enable behavioural change in the desired direction. Dr. Jim Orford has also stated that attempts to explain such disparate gambling types from a single theoretical perspective are essentially a fool’s errand. This also complements the notion that problem gambling is not a homogenous phenomenon and there is not a single type of problem gambler (as I argued in my first book on gambling back in 1995). This also goes in line with the belief of Dr. Auer and myself that gambling sites have to personalize communication and offer the right player the right assistance based on their individual playing history. Recent research that Dr. Auer and I have carried out supports this line of thinking.

Studies have also shown that dynamic feedback in the form of pop-up messages has a positive effect on gambling behaviour and gambling-related thoughts. For instance, research from Dr. Michael Wohl’s team in Canada have found that animation-based information enhanced the effectiveness of a pop-up message related to gambling time limits. Our own research has found that an enhanced pop-up message (that included self-appraisal and normative feedback) led to significantly greater number of players ending their session than a simple pop-up message. In a real-world study of online gamblers, we also found that personalized feedback had a significant effect in reducing the time and money spent gambling.

Personalized feedback is a player-centric approach and in addition to gambling-specific research, there is evidence from many other areas that shows the beneficial effects on behavioural change. For instance, personalized messages have shown to enable behavioural change in areas such as smoking cessation, diabetes management, and fitness activity. Contrary to the self-exclusion oriented detection approach, we concluded in our recent JAMT paper that personalized feedback aims to prevent and minimize harm in the first place and is a much better approach to the prevention of problem gambling than using data from those that self-exclude from gambling.

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

 Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for online gamblers: an empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406.  doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406

Auer, M., Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology. 6, 339 doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339

Auer, M., Littler, A., Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Legal Aspects of Responsible Gaming Pre-commitment and Personal Feedback Initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics. 19, 444-456.

DiClemente, C. C., Prochaska, J. O., Fairhurst, S. K., Velicer, W. F., Velasquez, M. M., & Rossi, J. S. (1991). The process of smoking cessation: an analysis of precontemplation, contemplation, and preparation stages of change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 295-304.

Dragicevic, S., Percy, C., Kudic, A., Parke, J. (2015). A descriptive analysis of demographic and behavioral data from Internet gamblers and those who self-exclude from online gambling platforms. Journal of Gambling Studies. 31, 105-132.

Gainsbury, S. (2013). Review of self-exclusion from gambling venues as an intervention for problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 229-251.

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

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2016). Should voluntary self-exclusion by gamblers be used as a proxy measure for problem gambling? Journal of Addiction Medicine and Therapy, 2(2), 00019.

Hayer, T., & Meyer, G. (2011). Self-exclusion as a harm-minimization strategy: Evidence for the casino sector from selected European countries. Journal of Gambling Studies, 27, 685-700

Kim, H. S., Wohl, M. J., Stewart, M. K., Sztainert, T., Gainsbury, S. M. (2014). Limit your time, gamble responsibly: setting a time limit (via pop-up message) on an electronic gaming machine reduces time on device. International Gambling Studies, 14, 266-278.

Lischer, S. (2016, June). Gambling-related problems of self-excluders in Swiss casinos. Paper presented at the 16th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking, Las Vegas, USA.

Suurvali, H., Hodgins, D. C., Cunningham, J. A. (2010). Motivators for resolving or seeking help for gambling problems: A review of the empirical literature. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 1-33

Aid and a bet: Can personalised feedback help online gamblers play more responsibly?

In recent years, online gambling has become a more common leisure time activity. Research around the world suggests around 8-16% of adults have gambled online during the past year. Research has also demonstrated that there are a number of situational and structural characteristics that make online gambling potentially risky for susceptible and vulnerable individuals. Such factors include increased accessibility, affordability, anonymity and specific structural features of online games such as high event frequency. In addition, some forms of online gambling may be more problematic than others (e.g., online poker, online casino games).

A number of scientific studies have also shown that there are typically more problematic gamblers among those that gamble on the internet compared to those that only gamble in land-based venues. However, problem gambling severity is associated with overall engagement and that when the volume of gambling is controlled for, Internet gambling is not predictive of problems. Furthermore, most online gamblers are also offline gamblers and gamble on many different activities and across different gambling platforms.

Given the increasing number of people gambling online and issues surrounding problem gambling, many of the more socially responsible gambling companies around the world have started to use responsible gambling tools to help their clientele gamble more safely (such as the option to set time and money spending limits or to temporarily self-exclude from gambling for a day, week, month, or longer). In fact, one of our own studies recently demonstrated that the use of both time and money spending limits are most effective among gamblers that play most frequently, and that the effects are differential. For instance, time spending limits were most useful for online poker players and monetary spending limits were most useful for online casino players.

In addition, gamblers can now access and/or are given general advice on healthy and responsible gambling, as well as information about common misbeliefs and erroneous perceptions concerning gambling. However, findings on the effectiveness of providing gamblers with information in correcting or changing erroneous beliefs have been mixed. Some outcomes support the display of information, while other studies have reported non-significant results.

Studies have also shown that the way information is presented can significantly influence behaviour and thinking. Several studies have investigated the effects of interactive versus static pop-up messages during gambling sessions. Static messages do not appear to be effective, whereas interactive pop-up messages and animated information have been shown to change both irrational belief patterns and behaviour of gamblers. It has also been suggested that informational warning signs should promote the application of self-appraisal and self-regulation skills rather than the simple provision of information.

In one of our more recent studies, we investigated the effect of a pop-up message that appeared after 1,000 consecutive online slot machine games had been played during a single gambling session using behavioural tracking data. Our study analysed 400,000 gambling sessions (200,000 sessions before the pop-up had been introduced and 200,000 after the pop-up had been introduced). We found that the pop-up message had a limited effect on a small percentage of players. Although the study reported nine times as many gamblers stopped after 1000 consecutive plays compared to those gamblers before the introduction of the pop-up message, the number of gamblers that actually stopped after viewing the pop-up message was less than 1%.

In a follow-up study, we investigated the effects of normative and self-appraisal feedback in a slot machine pop-up message compared to a simple (non-enhanced) pop-up message. The study compared two representative random samples of 800,000 gambling sessions (i.e., 1.6 million sessions in total) across two conditions (i.e., simple pop-up message versus an enhanced pop-up message). The results indicated that the additional normative and self-appraisal content doubled the number of gamblers who stopped playing after they received the enhanced pop-up message (1.39%) compared to the simple pop-up message (0.67%). Like our previous study, the findings suggested that pop-up messages influence only a small number of gamblers to cease long playing sessions but that enhanced messages are slightly more effective in helping gamblers to stop playing within-session. Our two studies evaluating pop-up messages are the only published studies that examine the impact of messaging on actual gamblers in a real world online gambling environment.

In order to make individuals gamble more responsibly using behavioural tracking data, we believe that player feedback should also be presented in a motivational way. In practical terms, this means presenting messages in a non-judgmental way alongside normative data so that gamblers can evaluate their actions compared to other like-minded individuals. One of our most recent studies examined personalised feedback and information given to players during real world gambling sessions. We hypothesized that gamblers receiving tailored feedback about their online gambling behaviour would be more likely to change their behaviour (as measured by the amount of time and money spent) compared to those who did not receive tailored feedback.

We were given access to the behavioural tracking data of 1,358 gamblers at a European online gambling website that had voluntarily signed up to a behavioural feedback system that we developed (called mentor) that is offered to all customers on the website. The system is an opt-in system (i.e., gamblers can voluntarily choose to use it and the system is not mandatory). Once gamblers have enrolled to use the system, they can retrieve detailed visual and numerical feedback about their gambling behaviour via a button on the website. Player feedback is displayed in a number of ways (numerical, graphical, and textual) and provides information about wins and losses, playing duration, number of playing days, and games played. The system can also display personal gambling behaviour over time. For instance, Figure 1 shows the playing time information for a hypothetical player in the form of a graph over time.

At the top of the screen, players receive information about playing time over the previous 4-week and 24-week period. The white line in Figure 1 indicates that the player shows an upward trend and is steadily increasing the amount of time spent gambling. During the previous 4-week period, the player spent 25.75 hours gambling online. The upper line in Figure 1 is the average playing time for all other comparable online players (depending upon what types of game are typically played) and provides the gambler both normative and comparative feedback. Such feedback has been emphasized as an important aspect in facilitating behavioural change. Players are either assigned to ‘lottery’ type players or ‘casino’ type players based on their playing patterns.

Of the daily active players, 10% (n=1,358) opted into the system. Players could opt-in via a clearly visible button on the post-login website page which appeared immediately after they logged into their account. The personalised information appeared in a new pop-up window. This typically led to a break in play, as gamblers who viewed the information are unlikely to play and view information simultaneously. The system tracks those players who sign up and therefore the opt-in date is known and can also be used for analytical purposes.

All the visual, numerical, and textual information can be accessed by the gambler via a user-friendly on-screen dashboard. Responsiveness means that interactive content automatically adapts to technical environments. The player front end thus looks similar on different devices such as desktops, laptops, mobile phones, or tablets and also across different browsers and operating systems such as Windows, Android or iOS.

We investigated whether players’ behaviour changed after they have registered for the mentor system and saw the personalised feedback for the first time. We then compared their gambling behaviour with over 15,000 online gamblers displaying the same types of gambling behaviour (i.e., matched controls). Our results indicated that the personalised feedback system achieved the hypothesised effect and that the time and money spent gambling was significantly reduced compared to the online gambler control group that did not utilize the mentor system. The results suggest that responsible gambling tools such as mentor may help the clientele of gambling companies gamble more responsibly, and may be of help those who gamble excessively.

To our knowledge, this study was the first real world study investigating the effects of behavioural feedback on actual gambling behaviour within a real online gambling website. However, there were a number of limitations. For instance, all of the players in the target population had voluntarily registered to use the mentor system and were therefore not selected randomly from the population of players (but we tried to overcome this by using a control group of matched pairs). In addition, the reliability of our findings is limited because our data were only collected from one online gambling environment. It may also the case that players who voluntarily signed up to receive personalised messages about their gambling were different in other ways from controls (i.e., gamblers who voluntarily signed up to receive personalised messages may have already been interested in reducing their gambling and would be likely to gamble less).

Another limitation is that we did not know whether any of the gamblers who voluntarily opted to use the mentor system were problem gamblers. Therefore we do not know whether the system captures gamblers most in need of such interventions. Based on the findings, one explanation may be that the tool may simply be curtailing gambling in those who already play responsibly. Although our study was performed in a real world setting utilising objective behavioural data, it is limited because the motivations and thoughts of the players were unknown and can only be inferred.

Online gambling operators have the technical capabilities to introduce behavioural feedback systems such as the one we described in our paper, and our findings suggest that a system like mentor can help players limit the amount of time and money spent gambling can be achieved. However, the findings are preliminary and future research should focus on investigating at which point in time players should receive personalised messages to optimize behavioural change.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Personalized behavioral feedback for online gamblers: A real world empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1875. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01875. 

Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Teaming with gain: Are daily fantasy sports a form of gambling?

Fantasy sports games have been popular for many years and involves individuals assuming the role of a professional sports team manager (typically football) and assembling a virtual team of sportsmen to compete against other players within a private or public league. For decades, the game was played out across the whole season with the winners being those that had accumulated the most points (with the points gained being based on the real-life statistics of individual sportsmen using a predetermined scoring system).

However, fantasy sports have changed dramatically over the last few years. Although the game can still be played over a whole season, the playing of daily fantasy sports (DFS) has become increasing popular (particularly in countries such as the USA, Canada, and Australia) and can operate over much shorter time periods. In DFS, players can pay to play and this has led to the blurring of lines of whether the activity is a game or whether it is gambling. As Dr. Dylan Pickering and his colleagues noted in a 2016 issue of Current Addiction Reports:

“Daily fantasy sports (DFS) is the most recent and controversial of FS games…It is an accelerated version of FS conducted over much shorter time periods: generally a single game (per day) or weekly round of competition. Users pay entry fees ranging from US 25 cents to US $5000 per league, which is deposited into a prize pool typically paid out to the highest ranked users in the contest. A portion of the entry fees also goes to the operator as commission. Accordingly, DFS, as such, is most associated with wagering. Currently, the US DFS market is dominated by ‘FanDuel’ and ‘DraftKings’ (combined with about 95 % of the market)”.


According to figures in the same paper, in the USA, the fantasy sports (FS) market is currently estimated to be between $3 billion and $4 billion. In 2015, approximately 57 million Americans played FS. Research suggests that the prevalence rates are higher in North America than elsewhere with 19% of Canadian adults and 16% of American adults engaging in FS compared to 10% of British adults and 6% of Australian adults (Pickering et al., 2016). However, these figures relate to FS rather than DFS and many FS players do not pay money to participate in the game and simply play for fun. Some research by Dr. Joris Drayer and colleagues in a 2013 issue of the European Sport Management Quarterly also suggests that those who engage in playing DFS do not typically engage in other forms of gambling. Furthermore, in a 2011 issue of Journal of Sport Management, Dr. Brendan Dwyer and Dr. Yongjae Kim reported that compared to more traditional forms of gambling, the elements of fun, excitement, competition play a bigger role than winning money in the playing of DFS games.

A study carried out by Dr. Ryan Martin and Dr. Sarah Nelson published in a 2014 issue of Addictive Behaviors found that college students who were FS users (free and fee-based) were five times more likely to incur gambling problems than non-FS users, and students who played FS for money had significantly higher rates of gambling problems than those who played in free leagues. A more recent 2016 study by Loredana Marchica and Dr. Jeff Derevensky in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction examined data from national surveys of collegiate athletes and reported a steady rise in FS participation among college students between 2004 and 2012. They reported that approximately half of the male and a quarter of the female college athletes who qualified as at-risk or problem gamblers also reported wagering on FS.

There has been much debate (particularly by US legislators) as to whether playing DFS for money is classed as a legitimate form of gambling. If gambling is defined as “an agreement between two or more parties to deliberately stake something of value (typically money) with intent to profit on the outcome of an event that is determined wholly, or partially by chance” (by Pickering and colleagues), then DFS could well be a form of gambling as they argue:

“DFS can be construed as representing a form of gambling: (a) DFS includes an agreement between an individual and others, (b) money is staked on the relative performances of athletes across a certain number of sporting events with the outcome determined by both chance and skill, and (c) chance is involved given that multiple unknown factors can influence outcomes. In this regard, similarities are found in horse and sports wagering where some skill in selecting horse/sports outcomes is present, but unpredictable variables influence results (i.e., chance)…Literature from the legal field asserts that gambling must contain three elements: (a) consideration (staking something of value in order to participate), (b) chance (luck is a substantial factor in determining results), and (c) prizes (cash, merchandise, services, or points) are redeemable…While the first and third elements are clearly present in DFS, the second element, chance, is the source of current disagreement”.

The US legislation on gambling rests on whether an activity is more skill than chance determined. If DFS is predominantly a game of skill it is not deemed to be a form of gambling. The DFS operators claim that DFS games are not gambling because of the “substantial” amount of skill involved in the selection and management of FS teams. But is this any different for the professional gambler who bets on horse racing given the many factors that the person gambling has to take into account (the form of the horse, the skill of the jockey, the weather conditions, the state of the track, the number of other horses involved in the race, etc.). Similarly, poker and blackjack are both games that players can win big if they are skilful. Personally, I believe that playing DFS games for money is definitely a form of gambling, and even if it isn’t legally classed as a form of gambling, the games contain structural elements (including high event frequencies, low entry fee per game, lots of games, etc.) that can facilitate excessive use and expose vulnerable players to harm. DFS operators also allow team line-ups from a previous sporting event to populate other events which increases the speed of play, another factor that can facilitate habitual use. Furthermore, as Dr. Samantha Thomas and her colleagues argued in a recent 2015 report, the enhanced participatory role that fantasy games introduce could facilitate the illusion of control as they perform actions, making bettors overestimate the importance of skills and knowledge for the outcome of the competitions.

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

Further reading

Drayer, J., Dwyer, B., & Shapiro, S. L. (2013). Examining the impact of league entry fees on online fantasy sport participation and league consumption. European Sport Management Quarterly, 13(3), 339-335.

Dwyer, B., & Kim, Y. (2011). For love or money: Developing and validating a motivational scale for fantasy football participation. Journal of Sport Management, 25(1), 70-83.

Marchica, L., & Derevensky, J. (2016). Fantasy sports: A growing concern among college student-athletes. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-15. Epub ahead of print.

Martin, R. J., & Nelson, S. (2014). Fantasy sports, real money: Exploration of the relationship between fantasy sports participation and gambling-related problems. Addictive Behaviors, 39(10), 1377-138.

Pickering, D., Blaszczynski, A., Hartmann, M., & Keen, B. (2016). Fantasy sports: Skill, gambling, or are these irrelevant issues? Current Addiction Reports, 3(3), 307-313.

Thomas, S., Bestman, A., Pitt, H., Deans, E., Randle, M., Stoneham, M., & Daube, M. (2015). The marketing of wagering on social media: An analysis of promotional content on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Victoria, Australia: Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

Net bets: What makes betting online attractive to gamblers?

Over the past two decades I have carried out a lot of research on what factors are important in attracting people to engaging in online activities such as online video gaming, online gambling, online shopping, and online sex. Research has shown that virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement and/or distraction – all of which can be highly reinforcing to internet users. My research has consistently shown that there are many generic factors that facilitate online use including accessibility, anonymity, affordability, convenience, escape, immersion, interactivity, disinhibition, and simulation. Today’s blog briefly examines these factors.


Accessibility Access to the Internet is now commonplace and widespread, and can be done easily from the home, the workplace and (via mobile gambling) on the move. Given that the uptake of consumptive behaviours is strongly correlated with increased access to the activity, it is not surprising that the incidence of activities like online gambling and online gaming is slowly increasing across different populations across the world. Fundamentally, increased accessibility of these activities enables the individual to rationalize involvement by removing previously restrictive barriers such as time constraints emanating from occupational and social commitments.

Anonymity – The anonymity of the Internet allows users to privately engage in such activities as sex and gambling without the fear of stigma. This anonymity can also provide the user with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of the online experience. Anonymity also has the capacity to increase feelings of comfort since there is a decreased ability to look for, and thus detect, signs of insincerity, disapproval, or judgment in facial expression, as would be typical in face-to-face interactions. For activities such as gambling, this may be a positive benefit – particularly when losing – as no-one will actually see the face of the loser. Anonymity, like increased accessibility, may reduce social barriers to engaging in gambling, particularly skill-based gambling activities such as poker that are relatively complex and often possess tacit social etiquette. The potential discomfort of committing a structural or social faux-pas in the gambling environment because of inexperience is minimized because the individual’s identity remains concealed.

Affordability – Given the wide accessibility of the Internet, it is now relatively inexpensive to use online services on offer. Furthermore, the overall cost of has been reduced significantly through technological developments, again, rendering affordability less of a restrictive force when it comes to rationalizing involvement in the behaviour. For example, the saturation of online gambling industry has lead to increased competition, and the consumer is benefiting from the ensuing promotional offers and discounts available on gambling outlay. Regarding interactive wagering, the emergence of peer-to-peer gambling through the introduction of betting exchanges has provided punters with commission free sporting gambling odds, which in effect means the player needs to risk less money to obtain potential revenue. Finally, ancillary costs of face-to-face gambling, such as parking, tipping and purchasing refreshments, is removed when gambling within the home and therefore the overall cost of gambling is reduced making it more affordable.

Convenience – Online behaviours usually occur in the familiar and comfortable environment of home or workplace thus reducing the feeling of risk and allowing even more adventurous behaviours. For the internet user, not having to move from their home or their workplace is of great positive benefit and increases the attractiveness of online activities compared to offline activities.

Escape – For some internet users, the primary reinforcement to engage in an online behaviour is the gratification they experience online. However, the experience of activities like online gambling, online gaming and/or online sex may be reinforced through a subjectively and/or objectively experienced ‘high’ or positive change in mood state. The mood-modifying experience has the potential to provide an emotional or mental escape and further serves to reinforce the behaviour. In short, online activities can provide a potent escape from the stresses and strains of real life.

Immersion – The medium of the Internet can provide feelings of dissociation and immersion and may facilitate feelings of escape (see above). Immersion can produce lots of different types of feelings that may be reinforcing for the internet user such as losing track of time, feeling like you’re someone else, and being in a trance like state.

Interactivity – The interactivity component of the Internet can also be psychologically rewarding and different from other more passive forms of entertainment (e.g., television). The interactive nature of the Internet can therefore provide a convenient way of increasing such personal involvement that can – in online situations – lead to increased online use. Furthermore, the alternative methods of peer interaction are available within interactive online activities that retain the socially reinforcing aspects of the behaviour. Individuals can communicate via computer-mediated communication in most online activities (including gambling and gaming).

Disinhibition – The feeling of disinhibition is one of the Internet’s key appeals as there is little doubt that the Internet makes people less inhibited when they are online. Online users appear to open up more quickly online compared to offline situations and reveal themselves emotionally much faster than in the offline world. This has been referred to by Dr. John Suler as ‘hyperpersonal communication’. According to Dr. Suler, this occurs because of four features of online communication: 

  • The communicators usually share social categories so will perceive each other as similar (e.g., all online poker players)
  • The message sender can present themselves in a positive light, and so may be more confident
  • The format of online interaction (e.g., there are no other distractions, users can spend time composing messages, mix social and task messages, users don’t waste cognitive resources by answering immediately)
  • The communication medium provides a feedback loop whereby initial impressions are built upon and strengthened.

Simulation – Finally, simulations provide an ideal way in which to learn about something and which tends not to have any of the possible negative consequences. For instance, most online gambling sites have a practice mode format, where potential gamblers can place a non-monetary bet in order to see and practice the procedure of gambling on that site. Furthermore, gambling in practice modes can build self-efficacy and potentially increase perceptions of control in determining gambling outcomes motivating participation in their ‘real cash’ counterparts within the site.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications. pp. 61-75. New York: Academic Press.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment (pp. 91-111). New York: Wiley.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Billieux J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). The evolution of internet addiction: A global perspective. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 193–195.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2002). The social impact of internet gambling. Social Science Computer Review, 20, 312-320.

Griffiths M.D. & Szabo, A. (2014). Is excessive online usage a function of medium or activity? An empirical pilot study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3, 74–77.

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

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

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 and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

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

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.

Pontes, H.M., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The clinical psychology of Internet addiction: A review of its conceptualization, prevalence, neuronal processes, and implications for treatment. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 4, 11-23.

Pontes, H.M., Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The impact of Internet-based specific activities on the perceptions of Internet Addiction, Quality of Life, and excessive usage: A cross-sectional study. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 19-25.

Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 321-326.

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

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Unravelling the Web: Adolescents and Internet Addiction. In R. Zheng, J. Burrow-Sanchez & C. Drew (Eds.), Adolescent Online Social Communication and Behavior: Relationship Formation on the Internet. pp. 29-49. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Market forces: Does gambling advertising increase problem gambling?

Anyone who watched the Euro 2016 football tournament on ITV a couple of months ago will have noticed the many offers to gamble on the matches. You were encouraged to download the bookies’ mobile apps, or asked to bet-in-play and gamble responsibly. But how do we respond to gambling ads? Do they actually draw us in? Arguably the most noticeable change in the British gambling landscape since the Gambling Act came into force in September 2007 has been the large increase in gambling advertising on television. Prior to this, the only gambling ads allowed on TV were those for National Lottery products, bingo, and the football pools.

In 2013, Ofcom published their research examining the volume, scheduling, frequency and exposure of gambling advertising on British television. The findings showed that there had been a 600% increase in UK gambling advertising between 2006 and 2012 – more specifically, there were 1.39m adverts on television in 2012 compared to 152,000 in 2006. The report also showed that gambling adverts accounted for 4.1% of all advertising seen by viewers in 2012, up from 0.5% in 2006 and 1.7% in 2008.

So is the large increase having any effect on gambling and problem gambling? In 2007, prior to there being widespread gambling ads on TV, the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) of over 9,000 people (aged 16 years and over) reported that 0.6% of them were problem gamblers. In the 2010 BGPS, the problem gambling prevalence rate had increased by half to 0.9%. Some of this increase may, arguably, have been due to increased gambling advertising. However, the latest British survey research shows that the prevalence of problem gambling is back down (to 0.5%), so perhaps increased gambling advertising hasn’t resulted in an increase of problem gambling.

Surprisingly, there is relatively little scientific evidence that advertising directly influences gambling participation and problem gambling. This is partly because demonstrating empirically that the negative effects of gambling are solely attributable to advertising is hard. For instance, a study of 1,500 people in New Zealand by Ben Amey, a governmental social science researcher at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reported an association between participation in gambling activities and recall of gambling advertising. The study fund that over 12 months, 83% of people who had gambled between zero and three times remembered seeing gambling ads during that time. For people that had gambled four or more times, the figure was at 93%.

Last year, research colleagues from the University of Bergen in Norway and I published one of the largest studies carried out on gambling advertising. It involved more than 6,000 people and examined three specific dimensions of gambling advertising impacts: gambling-related attitudes, interest, and behavior (“involvement”); knowledge about gambling options and providers (“knowledge”); and the degree to which people are aware of gambling advertising (“awareness”). Overall, we found that impacts were strongest for the “knowledge” dimension. We also found that for all three dimensions, the impact increased with the level of advertising exposure.

We then compared the responses from problem gamblers against those of recreational (non-problem) gamblers. We found that problem gamblers were more likely than recreational gamblers to agree that gambling advertising increased their gambling involvement and knowledge, and that they were more aware of gambling advertising. In simple terms, our study showed that gambling advertising has a greater impact on problem gamblers than recreational gamblers. This indirectly supports previous research showing that problem gamblers often mention that gambling advertising acts as a trigger to their gambling.

We also found that younger gamblers were more likely than older ones to agree that advertising increased their gambling involvement and knowledge. This supports previous research showing that problem gambling is associated with stronger perceived advertising impacts among adolescents. One of the more worrying statistics reported in the Ofcom study was that children under 16 years of age were each exposed to an average of 211 gambling adverts a year (adults saw an average of 630). I am a firm believer that gambling is an adult activity and that gambling adverts should be shown only after the 9pm watershed. Unfortunately, all televised sporting events such as Euro 2016 can feature gambling ads at any time of the day, and that means that tens of thousands of schoolchildren have been bombarded with gambling ads over the last month.

Most of us who work in the field of responsible gambling agree that advertising “normalises” gambling and that all relevant governmental gambling regulatory agencies should prohibit aggressive advertising strategies, especially those that target impoverished individuals or youths. Most of the research data on gambling advertising uses self-report data (surveys, focus groups, interviews, etc.) and very little of these data provide an insight into the relationship between advertising and problem gambling. A review by the British lawyer Simon Planzer and Heather Wardle (the lead author of the last two BGPS surveys) concluded that gambling advertising is an environmental factor that has the power to shape attitudes and behaviours relating to gambling – but just how powerful it is remains unclear.

Overall, the small body of research on the relationship between gambling advertising and problem gambling has few definitive conclusions. If gambling advertising does have an effect, it appears to impact specific groups (such as problem gamblers and adolescents) but most of this research uses self-reported data that has been shown to be unreliable among gamblers.

At best, the scientific research only hints at the potential dangers of gambling ads. But in order to challenge the increasing normalisation of gambling among these most-at-risk groups, we need more robust evidence. Only then will we be able to understand the psychosocial impact of the kind of blanket advertising seen by children and adults during major sporting events such as Euro 2016.

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

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Children and gambling: The effect of television coverage and advertising. Media Education Journal, 22, 25-27.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3(2), 15-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Media and advertising influences on adolescent risk behaviour. Education and Health, 28(1), 2-5.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Social responsibility in marketing for online gaming affiliates. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, p.32.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Responsible marketing and advertising of gambling. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 50.

Hanss, D., Mentzoni, R.A., Griffiths, M.D., & Pallesen, S. (2015). The impact of gambling advertising: Problem gamblers report stronger impacts on involvement, knowledge, and awareness than recreational gamblers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 483-491.

Lopez-Gonzalez, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Is European online gambling regulation adequately addressing in-play betting advertising? Gaming Law Review and Economics, in press.

Reid, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Lotteries, television advertising, and televised lottery draws, Panorama (European State Lotteries and Toto Association), 15, 8-9.

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

“Just one more thing”: The psychology of ‘Columbo’

My favourite TV detective has always been Columbo (played by Peter Falk). I have watched every single one of the 69 episodes (as my family will attest) many times. While I am working, I will often have Columbo on in the background in the way that other people have music on in the background (although I do the latter as well). For those reading this that have not come across Columbo, here is a brief synopsis from Wikiquote:

“Columbo (1968, 1971-1978, 1989-2003) was an American crime fiction television show about Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He uses his deferential and absent-minded persona to lull criminal suspects into a false sense of security, by harassing and pestering suspects non-stop – without letting them know that they’re suspects – under the pretense that he’s simply being a pesky detective, in order to spy on them and agitate them into giving up clues”.


I have asked myself many times why I love the iconic show so much and it’s hard to put my finger on any single reason. One of the things I love about the show is that almost all the episodes are a ‘reverse whodunit’ (often referred to as an ‘open mystery’) in which the viewer knows the identity of the murderer(s) and we watch to see how Lt. Columbo uncovers who the killer or killers are. (I say “almost all” because there are actually a few episodes that are more typical ‘whodunits’ such as 1976’s ‘Last Salute To The Commodore’, 1992’s ‘No Time To Die’ [involving a kidnapping rather than a murder] and 1994’s ‘Undercover’). Another aspect I love is the inherent contradictions in Lt. Columbo’s day-to-day behaviour. His dishevelled clothing (the infamous beaten-up raincoat), his apparently bumbling absent-minded nature, and his habit of going off-topic in conversations, but knowing that he is actually one of the most astute and clever detectives that you are ever likely to meet (he would no-doubt fit the description of the stereotypical ‘absent-minded professor’). As a psychologist I find him fascinating. As an article about Columbo on the Cult TV Lounge rightly notes:

“The emphasis is on the psychological duel between detective and suspect, with (mercifully) no interest in social commentary and few concessions to the ‘realism’ that would become more and more of a fetish in TV cop shows during the course of the 70s. This is pure entertainment and it’s all the better for it”.

And finally, it is Lt. Columbo’s brilliant trademark ‘false exits’ that wrongfoot all the murderers. After most informal interrogations with the murderer, Columbo leaves the scene, only to return a few seconds later with the opening gambit of “there’s just one more thing” (or a variant of the phrase) only for it to be the most important question that he “forgot to ask”. As an obituary at the In The Dark website on Peter Falk noted:

“The more trivial the “thing” is, the more damning it proves. As an application of psychology, it’s a superb tactic and it slowly but surely grinds down the criminal’s resistance. Often the murderer’s exasperation at Columbo’s relentless badgering leads to rash actions and errors; the second murder, if there is one, is never as carefully planned as the first”.

As the selected (emboldened) quotes above show, psychology is an integral part of Columbo’s appeal. I was also surprised to find that clinical psychologists and forensic psychologists have used Lt. Columbo’s modus operandi in their day-to-day work. (In fact, even some writers claim that if you want to be a better writer you should watch Columbo according to an article by Shahan Mufti in the New York Times; also, a number of marketing gurus claim that Lt. Columbo can teach marketers a thing or two – check out ‘10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo’). For instance, in an article on motivational interviewing (MI) via the Australian Mental Health Academy describe the ‘Columbo approach’:

“Proponents of motivational interviewing owe a debt of gratitude to the 1970s television series Columbo…[Columbo] was a master of the skill of ‘deploying discrepancies’, and MI therapists/practitioners can use the same skill to get clients to help them make sense of their (the clients’) discrepancies. With the Columbo approach, an interviewer makes a curious enquiry about discrepant behaviours without being judgmental or blaming. In a non-confrontational manner, information that is contradictory is juxtaposed, allowing the therapist to address discrepancies between what clients say and their behaviour without evoking defensiveness or resistance. Wherever possible when deploying discrepancies, practitioners are encouraged to end the reflection on the side of change, as clients are more likely to elaborate on the last part of the statements”

The article then goes on to explicitly describe specific MI interventions using the ‘Columbo approach’. Another online article by Greg Lhamon (‘A simple trick to make a powerful last impression’) describes the ‘Columbo Technique’. Here is an abridged version:

“One way in which you can leave someone with a powerful last impression is to use…“the Columbo Technique”…named after the lovable yet shrewd TV detective from the 1970s…He was unassuming and appeared almost absent-minded as he questioned a murder suspect. Yet his seemingly random line of questioning was the process by which he built an airtight case against the suspect. At the conclusion of every interview, he did something unique: he’d thank the suspect profusely, step toward the door, stop, and then turn back, and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” Then he’d ask one last question, a particularly damning question that let the suspect know that Lieutenant Columbo was onto him. Like every form of good communication, sincerity is critical. It cannot be contrived. The goal is simply to make a strong, memorable point, not to manipulate someone. The process is simple: (1) hold back a critical piece of information and reserve it for the end of the meeting, (2) right before you part company, share the information or ask a question, and (3) enjoy the response you receive”.

A 2009 article in the American Bar Association Journal reported that the best way to interrogate a suspect is to ‘Think Columbo’. The advice given was that police should focus on what suspects say rather than their behaviour (such as fidgeting, sweating, and averting eyes during an interview). After reviewing interrogation tapes, Professor Ray Bull, a British forensic psychologist told the Times newspaper that British police use an investigative interviewing technique:

“These interviews sound much more like a chat in a bar. It’s a lot like the old Columbo show, you know, where he pretends to be an idiot but he’s gathered a lot of evidence.”

The ABA article also included comments from American psychologist Kevin Colwell, who said that suspects that lie in police interviews “often prepare a script that doesn’t have much detail”. Colwell recommended using interview techniques where the individual undergoing questioning should talk about the event in question more than once “adding details in retelling the event about things such as sounds and smells” and asking the person “to recall the event in reverse” and that:

“Those who tell the truth tend to add 20% to 30% more external detail than do those who are lying. Those who are adept at lying may start to feel more strain if the interviewer introduces evidence throughout the questioning that has been previously uncovered. Detective Columbo, it turns out, was not just made for TV”.

Another reason I love Columbo because a number of episodes featured psychologists and/or psychiatrists as the killer, most of who used their psychological expertise to carry out an ingenious murder. This included the episodes ‘Prescription Murder’ (1968 – the first ever episode; Dr. Ray Flemming who uses his high intelligence rather than his psychiatric expertise to murder his wife), ‘Double Exposure’ (1973; Dr. Bart Kepple, a consumer psychologist who uses subliminal advertising to lure his victim to be killed), ‘A Deadly State Of Mind’ (1975; Dr. Marcus Collier, a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to make his victim jump from a high rise apartment), ‘How To Dial A Murder’ (1978; Dr. Eric Mason, a behavioural psychologist who uses classical conditioning to train his dogs to kill his victim), and ‘Sex And The Married Detective’ (1998; Dr. Joan Allenby, a sex therapist who uses her knowledge of psychosexual roleplay to ensnare and kill her lover). In one episode (‘How To Dial A Murder’), Columbo and the psychologist Dr. Eric Mason have an interesting exchange:

Dr. Eric Mason: You’re a fascinating man, Lieutenant. Columbo: To a psychologist, sir? Dr. Eric Mason: You pass yourself off as a puppy in a raincoat happily running around the yard digging holes all up in the garden, only you’re laying a mine field and wagging your tail.

As an ex-Professor of Gambling Studies, another aspect that I have noticed is how many episodes of Columbo feature gamblers and gambling that are often integral to the storyline. Gambling is a key feature in the episodes ‘Double Shock’ (1973; the murderer Norman Paris, a banker, is featured at a Las Vegas casino running up gambling debts), ‘A Friend in Deed’ (1974; the murderer Mark Halperin, a deputy police commissioner, is shown in his opening scene to be a regular casino gambler), ‘Uneasy Lies The Crown’ (1990; the murderer, Dr. Wesley Corman is a dentist and a compulsive gambler), ‘Death Hits The Jackpot’ (1991; photographer and murder victim Freddy Brower wins a $30 million on the lottery and is killed by his uncle Leon Lamarr), ‘A Bird In The Hand’ (1992; would-be murderer Harold McCain, a compulsive gambler tries to murder his millionaire uncle, owner of a US football team), ‘All in The Game’ (1993; murder victim Nick Franco is a playboy and high stakes poker player killed by his lover Laura Staton), and ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (1995; Randy McVeigh the murder victim owes money for gambling debts to the Mafia and is killed by his brother Graham who has ‘inherited’ his brother’s debt).

In another episode (‘Troubled Waters’, 1975), it turns out that the killer (Hayden Danzinger, an autocar executive) is also a regular casino gambler but this only comes to light late in the episode when Lt. Columbo talks to his wife (Sylvia Danzinger). Here we learn that Lt. Columbo thinks about slot machines:

Columbo: You see that fellow over there playing the slot machines? Waste of money. I’ve played it 44 times. I won once right at the beginning and I never won again. Sylvia Danzinger: You can’t beat ‘em. I don’t even try. Columbo: You’re not a gambler? Sylvia Danzinger: No, I prefer more quiet activities. Columbo: That’s funny. I was under the impression you and your husband went to Las Vegas quite a few times. Sylvia Danzinger: Oh, no. Hayden goes often but without me. I wouldn’t be caught dead there.

I’ve often wondered if gambling was an important issue (positive or negative) for Peter Falk in his private life, because when he wasn’t playing Lt. Columbo, it wasn’t unusual for him to be in gambling-related acting roles. Most notably, he played an ageing bookmaker Vinnie in the 1988 film Money Kings (also known under the title Vig, a film about the illegal world of gambling), and the 1988 film Pronto he played Harry Arno, a sports bookmaker who stole money from the local mafia boss Jimmy Capatorto. He also played the poker player Waller in a 1960 episode of Have Gun – Will Travel (‘Poker Fiend‘), and in the 1970 film Husbands he played Archie Black, one of three men undergoing mid-life crises following the death of their friend who then who all go to Europe to gamble, drink, and womanise.

If you’ve got this far, I’ll just leave you with the answers to a couple of my favourite Columbo trivia questions. The most asked question concerning Lt. Columbo (like Inspector Morse) is what was his first name. (When asked the same question in the series itself, Columbo would answer ‘Lieutenant’!). Lt. Columbo never once revealed his first name verbally in the series but did once flash his police badge in an early episode (‘Dead Weight’; Episode 3, Series 1) and accidentally revealed his name was Frank. The second most asked question is how Peter Falk lost his eye. Falk had his eye removed at the age of three years (due to cancer) and had a glass eye for the rest of his life. Although Falk had a glass eye, fans debated for years whether Lt. Columbo had only one eye. The answer was revealed in the 25th anniversary episode (‘A Trace of Murder’) when Lt. Columbo asked the murderer (Patrick Kinsley, a forensic expert) to look at something with him because “three eyes are better than one”!

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

Further reading

Burns, S. (2016). The Columbo Episode Guide. Located at:

Changing Minds (2013). The Columbo Technique. Located at:

Dawidziak, M. (1989). The Columbo Phile. Mysterious Press.

D For Doom (2015). Columbo, Season 1 (1971). Cult TV Lounge, July 3. Located at:

Haynes, N. (2012). Guide to TV detectives: No.1. The Guardian, January 23. Located at:

Henley, J. (2013). 10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo – yes, Columbo. Rock The Deadline, November 24. Located at:

Mental Health Academy (2015). Principles and techniques of motivational interviewing. January 12. Located at:

Mufti, S. (2013). Want to write better? Watch Columbo. New York Times (The 6th Floor), September 25. Located at:

Telescoper (2011). In memorium: Peter Falk (1927-2011). In The Dark,

Weiss, D.C. (2009). The best way to interrogate: Think Columbo. American Bar Association, May 12. Located at:

Wikipedia (2016). Columbo. Located at:

Wikipedia (2016). List of Columbo episodes. Located at:

Wikipedia (2016). Peter Falk. Located at:

Wikiquote (2016). Columbo. Located at:

Back tracking: A brief look at using big data in gambling research

I’ve been working in the area of gambling for nearly 30 years and over the past 15 years I have carrying out research into both online gambling and responsible gambling. As I have outlined in previous blogs, one of the new methods I have been using in my published papers is online behavioural tracking. The chance to carry out innovative research in both areas using a new methodology was highly appealing – especially as I have used so many other methods in my gambling research (including online and offline surveys, experiments in laboratories and ecologically valid settings, offline focus groups, online and offline case study interviews, participant and non-participation observation, secondary analysis of survey data, and analysis of various forms of online data such as those found in online forums and online diary blogs).

Over the last decade there has been a big push by gambling regulators for gambling operators to be more socially responsible towards its clientele and this has led to the use of many different responsible gambling (RG) tools and initiatives such as voluntary self-exclusion schemes (where gamblers can ban themselves from gambling), limit setting (where gamblers can choose how much time and/or money they want to lose while gambling), personalized feedback (where gamblers can get personal feedback and advice based on their actual gambling behaviour) and pop-up messages (where gamblers receive a pop-up message during play that informs them how long they have been playing or how much money that have spent during the session).

However, very little is known about whether these RG tools and initiatives actually work, and most of the research that has been published relies on laboratory methods and self-reports – both of which have problems as reliable methods when it comes to evaluating whether RG tools work. Laboratory experiments typically contain very few participants and are carried out in non-ecologically valid settings, and self-reports are prone to many biases (including social desirability and recall biases). Additionally, the sample sizes are also relatively small (although bigger than experiments).

The datasets to analyse player behaviour are huge and can include hundreds of thousands of online gamblers. Given that my first empirical paper on gambling published in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 1990 was a participant observational analysis of eight slot machine gamblers at one British amusement arcade, it is extraordinary to think that decades later I have access to datasets beyond anything I could have imagined back in the 1980s when I began my research career. The data analysis is carried with my research colleague Michael Auer who has a specific expertise in data mining and we use traditional statistical tests to analyse the data. However, the hardest part is always trying to work out which parameters to use in assessing whether the RG tool worked or not. The kind of data we have includes how much time and money that players are spending on the gambling website, and using that data we can assess to what extent the amount of time and money decreases as a result of using limit setting measures, or receiving personalized feedback or a pop-up message.

One of the biggest problems in doing this type of research in the gambling studies field is getting access to the data in the first place and the associated issue of whether academics should be working with the gambling industry in the first place. The bottom line is that we would never have been able to undertake this kind of innovative research with participant sizes of hundreds of thousands of real gamblers without working in co-operation with the gambling industry. (It should also be noted that the gambling companies in question did not fund the research but provided simply provided access to their databases and customers). In fact, I would go as far as to say the research would have been impossible without gambling industry co-operation. Data access provided by the gambling industry has to be one of the key ways forward if the field is to progress.

Unlike other consumptive and potentially addictive behaviours (smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, etc.), researchers can study real-time gambling (and other potentially addictive behaviours like video gaming and social networking) in a way that just cannot be done in other chemical and behavioural addictions (e.g., sex, exercise, work, etc.) because of online and/or card-based technologies (such as loyalty cards and player cards). There is no equivalent of this is the tobacco or alcohol industry, and is one of the reasons why researchers in the gambling field are beginning to liaise and/or collaborate with gambling operators. As researchers, we should always strive to improve our theories and models and it appears strange to neglect this purely objective information simply because it involves working together with the gambling industry. This is especially important given the recent research by Dr. Julia Braverman and colleagues published in the journal Psychological Assessment using data from gamblers on the bwin website showing that self-recollected information does not match with objective behavioural tracking data.

The great thing about online behavioural tracking data collected from gamblers is that it is totally objective (as it provides a true record of what every gambler does click-by-click), is collected from real world gambling websites (so is ecologically valid), and has large sample sizes (typically tens of thousands of online gamblers). There of course some disadvantages, the main ones being that the sample is unrepresentative of all online gamblers (as the data only comes from gamblers at one website) and nothing is known about the person’s gambling activity at other websites (research has shown that online gamblers typically gamble at a number of different websites and not just one). Despite these limitations, the analysis of behavioural tracking data (so-called ‘big data’) is a reliable and cutting-edge way to assess and evaluate online gambling behaviour and to assess whether RG tools actually work in real world gambling settings with real online gamblers in real time.

To get access to such data you have to cultivate a trusting relationship with the data providers. It took me years to build up trust with the gambling industry because researchers who study problem gambling are often perceived by the gambling industry to be ‘anti-gambling’ but in my case this wasn’t true. I am ‘pro-responsible gambling’ and gamble myself so it would be hypocritical to be anti-gambling. My main aim in my gambling research is to protect players and minimise harm. Problem gambling will never be totally eliminated but it can be minimised. If gambling companies share the same aim and philosophy of not wanting to make money from problem gamblers but to make money from non-problem gamblers, then I would be prepared to help and collaborate.

You also need to be thick-skinned. If you are analysing any behavioural tracking data provided by the gambling industry, then you need to be prepared for others in the field criticizing you for working in collaboration with the industry. Although none of this research is funded by the industry, the fact that you are collaborating is enough for some people to accuse you of not being independent and/or being in the pockets of the gambling industry. Neither of these are true but it won’t stop the criticism. Nor will it stop me from carrying on researching in this area using datasets provided by the gambling industry.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity (revisited): A response to Braverman et al (2013). Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 921-931.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.

Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Auer, M., Schneeberger, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity: A simulation study. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 16, 269-273.

Braverman, J., Tom, M., & Shaffer, H. J. (2014). Accuracy of self-reported versus actual online gambling wins and losses. Psychological Assessment, 26, 865-877.

Griffiths, M.D. (1990). Addiction to fruit machines: A preliminary study among males. Journal of Gambling Studies, 6, 113-126.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2011). Approaches to understanding online versus offline gaming impacts. Casino and Gaming International, 7(3), 45-48.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2015). Research funding in gambling studies: Some further observations. International Gambling Studies, 15, 15-19.

Accentuating the positives: A brief overview of our recent papers on responsible gambling

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, gaming addiction, youth gambling, and sex addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on responsible gambling.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Voluntary limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

Social responsibility in gambling has become a major issue for the gaming industry. The possibility for online gamblers to set voluntary time and money limits are a social responsibility practice that is now widespread among online gaming operators. The main issue concerns whether the voluntary setting of such limits has any positive impact on subsequent gambling behaviour and whether such measures are of help to problem gamblers. In this paper, this issue is examined through data collected from a representative random sample of 100,000 players who gambled on the win2day gambling website. When opening an account at the win2day site, there is a mandatory requirement for all players to set time and cash-in limits (that cannot exceed 800 <euro> per week). During a 3-month period, all voluntary time and/or money limit setting behaviour by a subsample of online gamblers (n = 5,000) within this mandatory framework was tracked and recorded for subsequent data analysis. From the 5,000 gamblers, the 10 % most intense players (as measured by theoretical loss) were further investigated. Voluntary spending limits had the highest significant effect on subsequent monetary spending among casino and lottery gamblers. Monetary spending among poker players significantly decreased after setting a voluntary time limit. The highest significant decrease in playing duration was among poker players after setting a voluntary playing duration limit. The results of the study demonstrated that voluntary limit setting had a specific and significant effect on the studied gamblers. Therefore, voluntary limits appear to show an appropriate effect in the desired target group (i.e., the most gaming intense players).

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.

To date, empirical research relating to responsible gambling features has been sparse. A Delphi-based study rated the perceived effectiveness of 45 responsible gambling (RG) features in relation to 20 distinct gambling type games. Participants were 61 raters from seven countries and included responsible gambling experts (n = 22), treatment providers (n = 19) and recovered problem gamblers (n = 20). The most highly recommended RG features could be divided into three groups: 1) Player initiated tools focused on aiding player behavior; 2) RG features related to informed-player choice; 3) RG features focused on gaming company actions. Overall, player control over personal limits were favoured more than gaming company controlled limits, although mandatory use of such features was often recommended. The study found that recommended RG features varied considerably between game types, according to their structural characteristics. Also, online games had the possibility to provide many more RG features than traditional (offline games). The findings draw together knowledge about the effectiveness of RG features for specific game types. This should aid objective, cost-effective, evidence based decisions on which RG features to include in an RG strategy, according to a specific portfolio of games. The findings of this study will available via a web-based tool, known as the Responsible Gambling Knowledge Centre (RGKC).

Auer, M., Malischnig, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Is ‘pop-up’ messaging in online slot machine gambling effective? An empirical research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 29, 1-10.

Certain gambling operators now provide social responsibility tools to help players gamble more responsibly. One such innovation is the use of pop-up messages that aim to give feedback to the players about the time and money they have thus far spent gambling. Most studies of this innovation have been conducted in laboratory settings, and although controlled studies are indeed more reliable than real-world studies, the non-ecological validity of laboratory studies is still an issue. This study investigated the effects of a slot machine pop-up message in a real gambling environment by comparing the behavioural tracking data of two representative random samples of 400,000 gambling sessions before and after the pop-up message was introduced. The study comprised approximately 200,000 gamblers. The results indicated that, following the viewing of a pop-up message after 1000 consecutive gambles on an online slot machine game, nine times more gamblers ceased their gambling session than did those gamblers who had not viewed the message. The data suggest that pop-up messages can influence a small number of gamblers to cease their playing session, and that pop-ups appear to be another potentially helpful social responsibility tool in reducing excessive play within session.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). An empirical investigation of theoretical loss and gambling intensity. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 879-887.

Many recent studies of internet gambling—particularly those that have analysed behavioural tracking data—have used variables such ‘bet size’ and ‘number of games played’ as proxy measures for ‘gambling intensity’. In this paper it is argued that the most stable and reliable measure for ‘gambling intensity’ is the ‘theoretical loss’ (a product of total bet size and house advantage). In the long run, the theoretical loss corresponds with the Gross Gaming Revenue generated by commercial gaming operators. For shorter periods of time, theoretical loss is the most stable measure of gambling intensity as it is not distorted by gamblers’ occasional wins. Even for single bets, the theoretical loss reflects the amount a player is willing to risk. Using behavioural tracking data of 100,000 players who played online casino, lottery and/or poker games, this paper also demonstrates that bet size does not equate to or explain theoretical loss as it does not take into account the house advantage. This lack of accuracy is shown to be even more pronounced for gamblers who play a variety of games.

Hanss, D., Mentzoni, R.A., Griffiths, M.D., & Pallesen, S. (2015). The impact of gambling advertising: Problem gamblers report stronger impacts on involvement, knowledge, and awareness than recreational gamblers. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29, 483-491.

Although there is a general lack of empirical evidence that advertising influences gambling participation, the regulation of gambling advertising is hotly debated among academic researchers, treatment specialists, lobby groups, regulators, and policymakers. This study contributes to the ongoing debate by investigating perceived impacts of gambling advertising in a sample of gamblers drawn from the general population in Norway (n = 6,034). Three dimensions of advertising impacts were identified, representing perceived impacts on (a) gambling-related attitudes, interest, and behavior (“involvement”); (b) knowledge about gambling options and providers (“knowledge”); and (c) the degree to which people are aware of gambling advertising (“awareness”). Overall, impacts were strongest for the knowledge dimension, and, for all 3 dimensions, the impact increased with level of advertising exposure. Those identified as problem gamblers in the sample (n = 57) reported advertising impacts concerning involvement more than recreational gamblers, and this finding was not attributable to differences in advertising exposure. Additionally, younger gamblers reported stronger impacts on involvement and knowledge but were less likely to agree that they were aware of gambling advertising than older gamblers. Male gamblers were more likely than female gamblers to report stronger impacts on both involvement and knowledge. These findings are discussed with regard to existing research on gambling advertising as well as their implications for future research and policy-making

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Testing normative and self-appraisal feedback in an online slot-machine pop-up message in a real-world setting. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 339. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00339.

Over the last few years, there have been an increasing number of gaming operators that have incorporated on-screen pop-up messages while gamblers play on slot machines and/or online as one of a range of tools to help encourage responsible gambling. Coupled with this, there has also been an increase in empirical research into whether such pop-up messages are effective, particularly in laboratory settings. However, very few studies have been conducted on the utility of pop-up messages in real-world gambling settings. The present study investigated the effects of normative and self-appraisal feedback in a slot machine pop-up message compared to a simple (non-enhanced) pop-up message. The study was conducted in a real-world gambling environment by comparing the behavioral tracking data of two representative random samples of 800,000 gambling sessions (i.e., 1.6 million sessions in total) across two conditions (i.e., simple pop-up message versus an enhanced pop-up message). The results indicated that the additional normative and self-appraisal content doubled the number of gamblers who stopped playing after they received the enhanced pop-up message (1.39%) compared to the simple pop-up message (0.67%). The data suggest that pop-up messages influence only a small number of gamblers to cease long playing sessions and that enhanced messages are slightly more effective in helping gamblers to stop playing in-session.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Understanding positive play: An exploration of playing experiences and responsible gambling practices. Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 1715-1734.

This study is one of the first to explore in detail the behaviors, attitudes and motivations of players that show no signs of at-risk or problem gambling behavior (so-called ‘positive players’). Via an online survey, 1484 positive players were compared with 209 problem players identified using the Lie/Bet screen. The study identified two distinct groups of positive players defined according to their motivations to play and their engagement with responsible gambling (RG) practices. Those positive players that played most frequently employed the most personal RG strategies. Reasons that positive players gave for gambling were focused on leisure (e.g., playing for fun, being entertained, and/or winning a prize). By contrast, problem gamblers were much more focused upon modifying mood states (e.g., excitement, relaxation, depression and playing when bored or upset). The present study also suggests that online gambling is not, by default, inherently riskier than gambling in more traditional ways, as online gambling was the most popular media by which positive players gambled. Furthermore, most positive players reported that it was easier to stick to their limits when playing the National Lottery online compared to traditional retail purchasing of tickets. Problem players were significantly more likely than positive players to gamble with family and friends, suggesting that, contrary to a popular RG message, social play may not be inherently safer than gambling alone. It is proposed that players (generally) may identify more with the term ‘positive play’ than the term ‘RG’ which is frequently interpreted as being aimed at people with gambling problems, rather than all players.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The use of personalized behavioral feedback for problematic online gamblers: An empirical study. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1406. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01406.

Over the last few years, online gambling has become a more common leisure time activity. However, for a small minority, the activity can become problematic. Consequently, the gambling industry has started to acknowledge their role in player protection and harm minimization and some gambling companies have introduced responsible gambling tools as a way of helping players stay in control. The present study evaluated the effectiveness of mentor (a responsible gambling tool that provides personalized feedback to players) among 1,015 online gamblers at a European online gambling site, and compared their behavior with matched controls (n = 15,216) on the basis of age, gender, playing duration, and theoretical loss (i.e., the amount of money wagered multiplied by the payout percentage of a specific game played). The results showed that online gamblers receiving personalized feedback spent significantly less time and money gambling compared to controls that did not receive personalized feedback. The results suggest that responsible gambling tools providing personalized feedback may help the clientele of gambling companies gamble more responsibly, and may be of help those who gamble excessively to stay within their personal time and money spending limits.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overview. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity (revisited): A response to Braverman et al (2013). Journal of Gambling Studies, 31, 921-931.

Auer, M., Schneeberger, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Theoretical loss and gambling intensity: A simulation study. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 16, 269-273.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The use of behavioural tracking methodologies in the study of online gambling. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at:

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2011). Approaches to understanding online versus offline gaming impacts. Casino and Gaming International, 7(3), 45-48.

Luccini, F. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Preventing and treating problem gamblers in Italy. Responsible Gambling Review, 2, 20-26.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Putting responsible gambling, theory and research into practice. Responsible Gambling Review, 1, 1-5.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Selecting the right responsible gambling features, according to the specific portfolio of games. Responsible Gambling Review, 1(1), 51-63.

Loud and proud: A psychological (and personal) look at the ‘Sin of Pride’

A number of years ago, I was asked to write an article on “The Sin of Pride” for the British Psychological Society. Before writing that article, I knew very little about the topic. To me it was the title of an record album by The Undertones that I bought in 1983 when I was 16 years old from Castle Records in Loughborough. I perhaps learned a bit more about it when I watched 1995 film Sevendirected by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt (which coincidentally just happens to be one of my all-time favourite films).

After agreeing to write the article I did a bit of research on the subject (which admittedly meant I did a quick Google search followed by a more considered in-depth search on Google Scholar). While I’m no expert on the topic I can at least have a decent pub conversation about it if anyone is prepared to listen. Just to show my complete ignorance, I wasn’t even aware that the sin of pride was the sin of all sins (although I could in a pub quiz be relied upon to name the seven deadly sins).

I was asked to write on this topic because I was seen as someone who is very proud of the work that I do (and for the record, I am). However, I have often realized that just because I am proud of things that I have done in my academic career it doesn’t necessarily mean others think in the same way. In fact, on some occasions I have been quite taken aback by others’ reactions to things that I have done for which I feel justifiably proud (but more of that later).

At a very basic level, the sin of pride is rooted in a preoccupation with the self. However, in psychological terms, pride has been defined by Dr. Michael Lewis and colleagues in the International Journal of Behavioral Development as “a pleasant, sometimes exhilarating, emotion that results from a positive self-evaluation” and has been described by Dr. Jessica Tracy and her colleagues (in the journal Emotion) as one the three ‘self-conscious’ emotions known to have recognizable expressions (shame and embarrassment being the other two). From my reading of the psychological literature, it could perhaps be argued that pride has been regarded as having a more positive than negative quality, and (according to a paper in the Journal of Economic Psychology by my PhD supervisors – Professor Paul Webley and Professor Stephen Lea) is usually associated with achievement, high self-esteem and positive self-image – all of which are fundamental to my own thinking. My reading on the topic has also led to the conclusion that pride is sometimes viewed as an ‘intellectual’ or secondary emotion. In practical (and psychological) terms, sin is either a high sense of one’s personal status or ego, or the specific mostly positive emotion that is a product of praise or independent self-reflection.

One of the most useful distinctions can be made about sin (and is rooted in my own personal experience), is what Lea and Webley distinguish as ‘proper pride’ and ‘false pride’. They claim that:

“Proper pride is pride in genuine achievements (or genuine good qualities) that are genuinely one’s own. False pride is pride in what is not an achievement, or not admirable, or does not properly belong to oneself. Proper pride is associated with the desirable property of self-esteem; false pride with vanity or conceit. Proper pride is associated with persistence, endurance and doggedness; false pride with stubbornness, obstinacy and pig-headedness.”

As I noted above, there have been times when I have been immensely proud of doing something only for friends and colleagues to be appalled. ‘Proper pride’ as Lea and Webley would argue. One notable instance was when I wrote a full-page article for The Sun on ‘internet addiction’ published in August 1997. I originally wanted to be a journalist before I became a psychologist, and my journalist friends had always said that to get a full-page ‘by line’ in the biggest selling newspaper in the UK was a real achievement. I was immensely proud – apart from the headline that a sub-editor had dubbed my piece ‘The Internuts’ – and showed the article to whoever was around.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 15.27.58Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 15.37.07

I had always passionately argued (and still do) that I want my research to be disseminated and read by as many people as possible. What was better than getting my work published in an outlet with (at the time) 10 million readers? My elation was short-lived. One close colleague and friend was very disparaging and asked how I could stoop so low as to “write for the bloody Sun?” Similar comments came from other colleagues and I have to admit that I was put off writing for the national tabloids for a number of years. (However, I am now back writing regularly for the national dailies and am strong enough to defend myself against the detractors).

In 2006, I was invited to the House of Commons by the ex-Leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan-Smith and invited to Chair his Centre For Social Justice Working Party on Gambling and write a report as part of the Conservative Party’s ‘Breakdown Britain’ initiative. Anyone who knows me will attest that my political leanings are left of centre and that I working with the Conservatives on this issue was not something I did without a lot of consideration. I came to the conclusion that gambling was indeed a political issue (rather than a party political issue) and if the Conservative Party saw this as an important issue, I felt duty bound to help given my research experience in the area. I spent a number of months working closely with Iain Duncan-Smith’s office and when the report was published I was again very proud of my achievement.

However, as soon as the report came out I received disbelieving and/or snide emails asking how I could have “worked with the Conservatives”. I have spent years trying to put the psychosocial impact of gambling on the political agenda. If I am offered further opportunities by those with political clout, I won’t think twice about taking them. I am still immensely proud of such actions despite what others may think.

Pride is ultimately a subjective experience and the two personal experiences that I outlined above will not put me off doing what I want to do. I shall continue to engage in activities where I think my work can have an impact and shall work with (and write for) those that can help me disseminate my research findings to as many people as possible.

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

Further reading

Averill, J.R. (1991). Intellectual emotions. In: C.D. Spielberger, I.G. Sarason, Z. Kulesar & G.L. van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion: Anger, Anxiety and Curiosity [Vol. 14] pp.3-16. New York: Hemisphere.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). The internuts (internet addiction). The Sun, August 13, p.6.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling addiction in the UK. In K. Gyngell (Ed.), Breakdown Britain: Ending the Costs of Social Breakdown (pp.393-426). London: Social Justice Policy Group.

Kemper, T.D. (1987). How many emotions are there? Wedding the social and autonomic components. American Journal of Sociology, 93, 263-289.

Lawler, E.J. (1992). Affective attachments to nested groups: A choice-process theory. American Sociological Review, 57, 327-339.

Lea, S.E.G. & Webley, P. (1997). Pride in economic psychology. Journal of Economic Psychology, 18, 323-340.

Lewis, M., Takai-Kawakami, K., Kawakami, K., & Sullivan, M. W. (2010). Cultural differences in emotional responses to success and failure. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34, 53-61

Tracy, J.L., Robins, R.W. & Schriber, R.A. (2009). Development of a FACS-verified set of basic and self-conscious emotion expressions. Emotion, 9, 554-559.

You bet! A brief overview of our recent papers on youth gambling

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that my colleagues and I have published on mindfulness, Internet addiction, and gaming addiction, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on adolescent gambling.

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Mom, Dad it’s only a game! Perceived gambling and gaming behaviors among adolescents and young adults: An exploratory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 772-794.

  • Gambling and gaming are increasingly popular activities among adolescents. Although gambling is illegal in Portugal for youth under the age of 18 years, gambling opportunities are growing, mainly due to similarity between gambling and other technology-based games. Given the relationship between gambling and gaming, the paucity of research on gambling and gaming behaviors in Portugal, and the potential negative consequences these activities may have in the lives of young people, the goal of this study was to explore and compare the perceptions of these two behaviors between Portuguese adolescents and young adults. Results from six focus groups (comprising 37 participants aged between 13 and 26 years) indicated different perceptions for the two age groups. For adolescents, gaming was associated with addiction whereas for young adults it was perceived as a tool for increasing personal and social skills. With regard to gambling, adolescents associated it with luck and financial rewards, whereas young adults perceived it as an activity with more risks than benefits. These results suggest developmental differences that have implications for intervention programs and future research.

Delfabbro, P.H., King, D.L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). From adolescent to adult gambling: An analysis of longitudinal gambling patterns in South Australia. Journal of Gambling Studies, 30, 547-563.

  • Although there are many cross-sectional studies of adolescent gambling, very few longitudinal investigations have been undertaken. As a result, little is known about the individual stability of gambling behaviour and the extent to which behaviour measured during adolescence is related to adult behaviour. In this paper, we report the results of a 4-wave longitudinal investigation of gambling behaviour in a probability sample of 256 young people (50 % male, 50% female) who were interviewed in 2005 at the age of 16–18 years and then followed through to the age of 20–21 years. The results indicated that young people showed little stability in their gambling. Relatively few reported gambling on the same individual activities consistently over time. Gambling participation rates increased rapidly as young people made the transition from adolescence to adulthood and then were generally more stable. Gambling at 15–16 years was generally not associated with gambling at age 20–21 years. These results highlight the importance of individual-level analyses when examining gambling patterns over time.

Canale, N., Vieno, A., Griffiths, M.D., Rubaltelli, E., Santinello, M. (2015). Trait urgency and gambling problems in young people: the role of decision-making processes. Addictive Behaviors, 46, 39-44.

  • Although the personality trait of urgency has been linked to problem gambling, less is known about psychological mechanisms that mediate the relationship between urgency and problem gambling. One individual variable of potential relevance to impulsivity and addictive disorders is age. The aims of this study were to examine: (i) a theoretical model associating urgency and gambling problems, (ii) the mediating effects of decision-making processes (operationalized as preference for small/immediate rewards and lower levels of deliberative decision-making); and (iii) age differences in these relationships. Participants comprised 986 students (64% male; mean age = 19.51 years; SD = 2.30) divided into three groups: 16–17 years, 18–21 years, and 22–25 years. All participants completed measures of urgency, problem gambling, and a delay-discounting questionnaire involving choices between a smaller amount of money received immediately and a larger amount of money received later. Participants were also asked to reflect on their decision-making process. Compared to those aged 16–17 years and 22–25 years, participants aged 18–21 years had a higher level of gambling problems and decreased scores on lower levels of deliberative decision-making. Higher levels of urgency were associated with higher levels of gambling problems. The association was mediated by a lower level of deliberative decision-making and preference for an immediate/small reward. A distinct pathway was observed for lower levels of deliberative decision-making. Young people who tend to act rashly in response to extreme moods, had lower levels of deliberative decision-making, that in turn were positively related to gambling problems. This study highlights unique decision-making pathways through which urgency trait may operate, suggesting that those developing prevention and/or treatment strategies may want to consider the model’s variables, including urgency, delay discounting, and deliberative decision-making.

Carran, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Gambling and social gambling: An exploratory study of young people’s perceptions and behavior. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(1), 101-113.

  • Background and aims: Gambling-type games that do not involve the spending of money (e.g., social and ‘demo’ [demonstration] gambling games, gambling-like activities within video games) have been accused in both the legal and psychological literature of increasing minors’ propensity towards prohibited forms of gambling thus prompting calls for gambling regulation to capture address such games and subject them to age restrictions. However, there is still a shortage of empirical data that considers how young people experience monetary and non-monetary gambling, and whether they are sufficiently aware of the differences. Methods: Data was collected from 23 qualitative focus groups carried out with 200 young people aged between 14 and 19 years old in schools based in London and Kent. As the study was exploratory in nature, thematic analysis was adopted in order to capture how pupils categorise, construct, and react to gambling-like activities in comparison to monetary forms of gambling without the constrains of a predetermined theoretical framework. Results: Despite many similarities, substantial differences between monetary and non-monetary forms of gambling were revealed in terms of pupils’ engagement, motivating factors, strengths, intensity, and associated emotions. Pupils made clear differentiation between non-monetary and monetary forms of gambling and no inherent transition of interest from one to the other was observed among participants. Only limited evidence emerged of ‘demo’ games being used as a practice ground for future gambling. Conclusion: For the present sample, non-monetary forms of gambling presented a different proposition to the real-money gambling with no inherent overlap between the two. For some the ‘softer’ form minimised the temptation to try other forms of gambling that they were not legally allowed to engage in, but ‘demo’ games may attract those who already want to gamble. Policy implications: Regulators must recognise and balance these two conflicting aspects.

Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Adolescent gambling and gambling-type games on social networking sites: Issues, concerns, and recommendations. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(2), 31-37.

  • Research indicates that compared to the general population, teenagers and students make the most use of social networking sites (SNSs). Although SNSs were originally developed to foster online communication between individuals, they now have the capability for other types of behaviour to be engaged in such as gambling and gaming. The present paper focuses on gambling and the playing of gambling-type games via SNSs and comprises a selective narrative overview of some of the main concerns and issues that have been voiced concerning gambling and gambling-type games played via social network sites. Overall, there is little empirical evidence relating to the psychosocial impact of adolescents engaging in gambling and gambling-type activities on SNSs, and the evidence that does exist does not allow definitive conclusions to be made. However, it is recommended that stricter age verification measures should be adopted for social games via SNSs particularly where children and adolescents are permitted to engage in gambling-related content, even where real money is not involved.

Canale, N., Vieno, A., Griffiths, M.D., Marino, C., Chieco, F., Disperati, F., Andriolo, S., Santinello, M. (2016). The efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for high school students: A preliminary randomized study. Computers in Human Behavior, 55, 946-954.

  • Early onset in adolescent gambling involvement can be a precipitator of later gambling problems. The aim of the present study was to test the preliminary efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for students within a high school-based setting. Students attending a high school in Italy (N= 168) participated in the present study (58% male – age, M = 15.01; SD = 0.60). Twelve classes were randomly assigned to one of two conditions: intervention (N = 6; 95 students) and control group (N = 6; 73 students). Both groups received personalized feedback and then the intervention group received online training (interactive activities) for three weeks. At a two-month follow-up, students in the intervention group reported a reduction in gambling problems relative to those in the control group. However, there were no differences in gambling frequency, gambling expenditure, and attitudes toward the profitability of gambling between the two groups. In addition, frequent gamblers (i.e., those that gambled at least once a week at baseline) showed reductions in gambling problems and gambling frequency post-intervention. Frequent gamblers that only received personalized feedback showed significantly less realistic attitudes toward the profitability of gambling post-intervention. The present study is the first controlled study to test the preliminary efficacy of a web-based gambling intervention program for students within a high school-based setting. The results indicate that a brief web-based intervention delivered in the school setting may be a potentially promising strategy for a low-threshold, low-cost, preventive tool for at-risk gambling high school students.

Canale, N., Griffiths, M.D., Vieno, A., Siciliano, V. & Molinaro, S. (2016). Impact of internet gambling on problem gambling among adolescents in Italy: Findings from a large-scale nationally representative survey. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 99-106.

  • Aims: The primary aim of the present study was to understand the impact of online gambling on gambling problems in a large-scale nationally representative sample of Italian youth, and to identify and then further examine a subgroup of online gamblers who reported higher rates of gambling problems. Design: Data from the ESPAD®Italia2013 (European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs) Study were used for analyses of adolescent Internet gambling. Setting: Self-administered questionnaires were completed by a representative sample of high school students, aged 15–19 years. Participants: A total of 14,778 adolescent students. Measurements: Respondents’ problem gambling severity; gambling behavior (participation in eight different gambling activities, the number of gambling occasions and the number of online gambling occasions, monthly gambling expenditure); Socio-demographics (e.g., family structure and financial status); and control variables were measured individually (i.e., use of the Internet for leisure activities and playing video games). Findings: Rates of problem gambling were five times higher among online gamblers than non-online gamblers. In addition, factors that increased the risk of becoming a problem online gambler included living with non-birth parents, having a higher perception of financial family status, being more involved with gambling, and the medium preferences of remote gamblers (e.g., Internet cafes, digital television, and video game console). Conclusions: The online gambling environment may pose significantly greater risk to vulnerable players. Family characteristics and contextual elements concerning youth Internet gambling (e.g., remote mediums) may play a key role in explaining problem online gambling among adolescents.

Pallesen, S., Hanss, D., Molde, H., Griffiths, M.D. & Mentzoni, R.A. (2016). A longitudinal study of factors explaining attitude change towards gambling among adolescents. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5, 59–67

  • Background and aims: No previous study has investigated changes in attitudes toward gambling from under legal gambling age to legal gambling age. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate attitudinal changes during this transition and to identify predictors of corresponding attitude change. Methods: In all 1239 adolescents from a national representative sample participated in two survey waves (Wave 1; 17.5 years; Wave 2; 18.5 years). Results: From Wave 1 to Wave 2 the sample became more acceptant toward gambling. A regression analysis showed that when controlling for attitudes toward gambling at Wave 1 males developed more acceptant attitudes than females. Neuroticism was inversely related to development of acceptant attitudes toward gambling from Wave 1 to Wave 2, whereas approval of gambling by close others at Wave 1 was positively associated with development of more acceptant attitudes. Continuous or increased participation in gambling was related to development of more acceptant attitudes from Wave 1 to Wave 2. Conclusions: Attitudes toward gambling became more acceptant when reaching legal gambling age. Male gender, approval of gambling by close others and gambling participation predicted development of positive attitudes toward gambling whereas neuroticism was inversely related to development of positive attitudes toward gambling over time.

Ciccarelli, M., Griffiths, M.D., Nigro, G., & Cosenza, M. (2016). Decision-making, cognitive distortions and alcohol use in adolescent problem and non-problem gamblers: An experimental study. Journal of Gambling Studies, in press.

  • In the psychological literature, many studies have investigated the neuropsychological and behavioral changes that occur developmentally during adolescence. These studies have consistently observed a deficit in the decision-making ability of children and adolescents. This deficit has been ascribed to incomplete brain development. The same deficit has also been observed in adult problem and pathological gamblers. However, to date, no study has examined decision-making in adolescents with and without gambling problems. Furthermore, no study has ever examined associations between problem gambling, decision-making, cognitive distortions and alcohol use in youth. To address these issues, 104 male adolescents participated in this study. They were equally divided in two groups, problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers, based on South Oaks Gambling Screen Revised for Adolescents scores. All participants performed the Iowa gambling task and completed the Gambling Related Cognitions Scale and the alcohol use disorders identification test. Adolescent problem gamblers displayed impaired decision-making, reported high cognitive distortions, and had more problematic alcohol use compared to non-problem gamblers. Strong correlations between problem gambling, alcohol use, and cognitive distortions were observed. Decision-making correlated with interpretative bias. This study demonstrated that adolescent problem gamblers appear to have the same psychological profile as adult problem gamblers and that gambling involvement can negatively impact on decision-making ability that, in adolescence, is still developing. The correlations between interpretative bias and decision-making suggested that the beliefs in the ability to influence gambling outcomes may facilitate decision-making impairment.

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

Further reading

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Adolescent gambling: Risk factors and implications for prevention, intervention, and treatment. In D. Romer (Ed.), Reducing Adolescent Risk: Toward An Integrated Approach (pp. 223-238). London: Sage.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Asian national adolescent gambling surveys: Methodological issues, protocols, and advice. Asian Journal of Gambling Issues and Public Health, 1, 4-18.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.

Griffiths, M.D. & Linsey, A. (2006). Adolescent gambling: Still a cause for concern? Education and Health, 24, 9-11.

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

Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The prevention and treatment of problem gambling in adolescence. In T.P. Gullotta & G. Adams (Eds). Handbook of Adolescent Behavioral Problems: Evidence-based Approaches to Prevention and Treatment (Second Edition) (pp. 539-558). New York: Kluwer.