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Running up debt: A brief overview of our recent papers on exercise and shopping addictions

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 other addictive behaviours, here is a round-up of recent papers that my colleagues and I have published on exercise addiction and shopping addictions (i.e., compulsive buying).

Griffiths, M.D., Urbán, R., Demetrovics, Z., Lichtenstein, M.B., de la Vega, R., Kun, B., Ruiz-Barquín, R., Youngman, J. & Szabo, A. (2015). A cross-cultural re-evaluation of the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI) in five countries. Sports Medicine Open, 1:5.

  • Research into the detrimental effects of excessive exercise has been conceptualized in a number of similar ways, including ‘exercise addiction’, ‘exercise dependence’, ‘obligatory exercising’, ‘exercise abuse’, and ‘compulsive exercise’. Among the most currently used (and psychometrically valid and reliable) instruments is the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI). The present study aimed to further explore the psychometric properties of the EAI by combining the datasets of a number of surveys carried out in five different countries (Denmark, Hungary, Spain, UK, and US) that have used the EAI with a total sample size of 6,031 participants. A series of multigroup confirmatory factor analyses (CFAs) were carried out examining configural invariance, metric invariance, and scalar invariance. The CFAs using the combined dataset supported the configural invariance and metric invariance but not scalar invariance. Therefore, EAI factor scores from five countries are not comparable because the use or interpretation of the scale was different in the five nations. However, the covariates of exercise addiction can be studied from a cross-cultural perspective because of the metric invariance of the scale. Gender differences among exercisers in the interpretation of the scale also emerged. The implications of the results are discussed, and it is concluded that the study’s findings will facilitate a more robust and reliable use of the EAI in future research.

Mónok, K., Berczik, K., Urbán, R., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Farkas, J., Magi, A., Eisinger, A., Kurimay, T., Kökönyei, G., Kun, B., Paksi, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2012). Psychometric properties and concurrent validity of two exercise addiction measures: A population wide study in Hungary. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13, 739-746.

  • Objectives: The existence of exercise addiction has been examined in numerous studies. However, none of the measures developed for exercise addiction assessment have been validated on representative samples. Furthermore, estimates of exercise addiction prevalence in the general population are not available. The objective of the present study was to validate the Exercise Addiction Inventory (EAI; Terry, Szabo, & Griffiths, 2004), and the Exercise Dependence Scale (EDS; Hausenblas & Downs, 2002b), and to estimate the prevalence of exercise addiction in general population. Design: Exercise addiction was assessed within the framework of the National Survey on Addiction Problems in Hungary (NSAPH), a national representative study for the population aged 18–64 years (N = 2710). Method: 474 people in the sample (57% males; mean age 33.2 years) who reported to exercise at least once a week were asked to complete the two questionnaires (EAI, EDS). Results: Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) indicated good fit both in the case of EAI (CFI = 0.971; TLI = 0.952; RMSEA = 0.052) and EDS (CFI = 0.938; TLI = 0.922; RMSEA = 0.049); and confirmed the factor structure of the two scales. The correlation between the two measures was high (r = 0.79). Results showed that 6.2% (EDS) and 10.1% (EAI) of the population were characterized as nondependent-symptomatic exercisers, while the proportion of the at-risk exercisers were 0.3% and 0.5%, respectively. Conclusions: Both EAI and EDS proved to be a reliable assessment tool for exercise addiction, a phenomenon that is present in the 0.3–0.5% of the adult general population.

Szabo, A., Griffiths, M.D., de La Vega Marcos, R., Mervo, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Methodological and conceptual limitations in exercise addiction research. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 86, 303-308.

  • The aim of this brief analytical review is to highlight and disentangle research dilemmas in the field of exercise addiction. Research examining exercise addiction is primarily based on self-reports, obtained by questionnaires (incorporating psychometrically validated instruments), and interviews, which provide a range of risk scores rather than diagnosis. Survey methodology indicates that the prevalence of risk for exercise addiction is approximately 3 percent among the exercising population. Several studies have reported a substantially greater prevalence of risk for exercise addiction in elite athletes compared to those who exercise for leisure. However, elite athletes may assign a different interpretation to the assessment tools than leisure exercisers. The present paper examines the: 1) discrepancies in the classification of exercise addiction; 2) inconsistent reporting of exercise addiction prevalence; and 3) varied interpretation of exercise addiction diagnostic tools. It is concluded that there is the need for consistent terminology, to follow-up results derived from exercise addiction instruments with interviews, and to follow a theory-driven rationale in this area of research.

Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R.M., Torsheim, T. Aboujaoude, E.N. (2015). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: Reliability and validity of a brief screening test. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1374. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01374.

  • Although excessive and compulsive shopping has been increasingly placed within the behavioral addiction paradigm in recent years, items in existing screens arguably do not assess the core criteria and components of addiction. To date, assessment screens for shopping disorders have primarily been rooted within the impulse-control or obsessive-compulsive disorder paradigms. Furthermore, existing screens use the terms ‘shopping,’ ‘buying,’ and ‘spending’ interchangeably, and do not necessarily reflect contemporary shopping habits. Consequently, a new screening tool for assessing shopping addiction was developed. Initially, 28 items, four for each of seven addiction criteria (salience, mood modification, conflict, tolerance, withdrawal, relapse, and problems), were constructed. These items and validated scales (i.e., Compulsive Buying Measurement Scale, Mini-International Personality Item Pool, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale) were then administered to 23,537 participants (Mage = 35.8 years, SDage = 13.3). The highest loading item from each set of four pooled items reflecting the seven addiction criteria were retained in the final scale, The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale (BSAS). The factor structure of the BSAS was good (RMSEA=0.064, CFI=0.983, TLI=0.973) and coefficient alpha was 0.87. The scores on the BSAS converged with scores on the Compulsive Buying Measurement Scale (CBMS; 0.80), and were positively correlated with extroversion and neuroticism, and negatively with conscientiousness, agreeableness, and intellect/imagination. The scores of the BSAS were positively associated with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem and inversely related to age. Females scored higher than males on the BSAS. The BSAS is the first scale to fully embed shopping addiction within an addiction paradigm. A recommended cutoff score for the new scale and future research directions are discussed.

Davenport, K., Houston, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Excessive eating and compulsive buying behaviours in women: An empirical pilot study examining reward sensitivity, anxiety, impulsivity, self-esteem and social desirability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 474-489.

  • ‘Mall disorders’ such as excessive eating and compulsive buying appear to be increasing, particularly among women. A battery of questionnaires was used in an attempt to determine this association between specific personality traits (i.e., reward sensitivity, impulsivity, cognitive and somatic anxiety, self-esteem, and social desirability) and excessive eating and compulsive buying in 134 women. Reward sensitivity and cognitive anxiety were positively related to excessive eating and compulsive buying, as was impulsivity to compulsive buying. Somatic anxiety and social desirability were negatively related to compulsive buying. These preliminary findings indicate that excessive behaviours are not necessarily interrelated. The behaviours examined in this study appear to act as an outlet for anxiety via the behaviours’ reinforcing properties (e.g., pleasure, attention, praise, etc.). As a consequence, this may boost self-esteem. The findings also appear to indicate a number of risk factors that could be used as ‘warning signs’ that the behaviour may develop into an addiction.

Maraz, A., Eisinger, A., Hende, Urbán, R., Paksi, B., Kun, B., Kökönyei, G., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Measuring compulsive buying behaviour: Psychometric validity of three different scales and prevalence in the general population and in shopping centres. Psychiatry Research, 225, 326–334.

  • Due to the problems of measurement and the lack of nationally representative data, the extent of compulsive buying behaviour (CBB) is relatively unknown. The validity of three different instruments was tested: Edwards Compulsive Buying Scale, Questionnaire About Buying Behavior and Richmond Compulsive Buying Scale using two independent samples. One was nationally representative of the Hungarian population (N=2710) while the other comprised shopping mall customers (N=1447). As a result, a new, four-factor solution for the ECBS was developed (Edwards Compulsive Buying Scale Revised (ECBS-R)), and confirmed the other two measures. Additionally, cut-off scores were defined for all measures. Results showed that the prevalence of CBB is 1.85% (with QABB) in the general population but significantly higher in shopping mall customers (8.7% with ECBS-R, 13.3% with QABB and 2.5% with RCBS-R). Conclusively, due to the diversity of content, each measure identifies a somewhat different CBB group.

Maraz, A., Griffiths, M.D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). The prevalence of compulsive buying in non-clinical populations: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Addiction, 111, 408-419.

  • Aims: To estimate the pooled prevalence of compulsive buying behaviour (CBB) in different populations and to determine the effect of age, gender, location and screening instrument on the reported heterogeneity in estimates of CBB and whether publication bias could be identified. Methods: Three databases were searched (Medline, PsychInfo, Web of Science) using the terms ‘compulsive buying’, ‘pathological buying’ and ‘compulsive shopping’ to estimate the pooled prevalence of CBB in different populations. Forty studies reporting 49 prevalence estimates from 16 countries were located (n = 32 000). To conduct the meta-analysis, data from non-clinical studies regarding mean age and gender proportion, geographical study location and screening instrument used to assess CBB were extracted by multiple independent observers and evaluated using a random-effects model. Four a priori subgroups were analysed using pooled estimation (Cohen’s Q) and covariate testing (moderator and meta-regression analysis). Results: The CBB pooled prevalence of adult representative studies was 4.9% (3.4–6.9%, eight estimates, 10 102 participants), although estimates were higher among university students: 8.3% (5.9–11.5%, 19 estimates, 14 947 participants) in adult non-representative samples: 12.3% (7.6–19.1%, 11 estimates, 3929 participants) and in shopping-specific samples: 16.2% (8.8–27.8%, 11 estimates, 4686 participants). Being young and female were associated with increased tendency, but not location (United States versus non-United States). Meta-regression revealed large heterogeneity within subgroups, due mainly to diverse measures and time-frames (current versus life-time) used to assess CBB. Conclusions: A pooled estimate of compulsive buying behaviour in the populations studied is approximately 5%, but there is large variation between samples accounted for largely by use of different time-frames and measures.

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

Further reading

Allegre, B., Souville, M., Therme, P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Definitions and measures of exercise dependence, Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 631-646.

Allegre, B., Therme, P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Individual factors and the context of physical activity in exercise dependence: A prospective study of ‘ultra-marathoners’. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 233-243.

Berczik, K., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Kurimay, T., Kun, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2012). Exercise addiction: symptoms, diagnosis, epidemiology, and etiology. Substance Use and Misuse, 47, 403-417.

Berczik, K., Griffiths, M.D., Szabó, A., Kurimay, T., Kökönyei, G., Urbán, R. and Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Exercise addiction – the emergence of a new disorder. Australasian Epidemiologist, 21(2), 36-40.

Berczik, K., Griffiths, M.D., Szabó, A., Kurimay, T., Urban, R. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Exercise addiction. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.317-342). New York: Elsevier.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Exercise addiction: A case study. Addiction Research, 5, 161-168.

Griffiths, M.D., Szabo, A. & Terry, A. (2005). The Exercise Addiction Inventory: A quick and easy screening tool for health practitioners. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39, 30-31.

Kurimay, T., Griffiths, M.D., Berczik, K., & Demetrovics, Z. (2013). Exercise addiction: The dark side of sports and exercise. In Baron, D., Reardon, C. & Baron, S.H., Contemporary Issues in Sports Psychiatry: A Global Perspective (pp.33-43). Chichester: Wiley.

Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Exercise addiction in British sport science students. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 25-28.

Terry, A., Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). The Exercise Addiction Inventory: A new brief screening tool, Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 489-499.

Warner, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). A qualitative thematic analysis of exercise addiction: An exploratory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 13-26.

Deal love: Bargain hunting as an addiction

“Bargain hunting may save money, but for some people, looking for the next ‘great deal’ becomes an addiction. The call of the clearance rack wins out over practical matters – like whether you need or want what you found, or even have a place to put it” (Tesh Media, ‘Are You Addicted To Bargain Hunting?’)

A couple of weeks ago, I did some background research for a newspaper interview on the psychology of bargain hunting (only for the journalist then to interview somebody else about it). Instead of wasting all the material collected, I decided to use it for this article. Most of the material in this article borders on ‘pop psychology’ but I found it interesting nonetheless. For instance, in a recent article on the BBC News website, the (anonymous) author provided some basic rules on how to be a more savvy shopper and bargain hunter (which I am quoting verbatim):

  • “Try to avoid stores that are too busy with loud music. This can confuse and distract you from judging what is a genuine offer.
  • Ask the sales rep to repeat the sales details in a clear and slow manner and if possible ask him/her to write them down.
  • Before you make a decision take a break, count from one to ten and think again about the benefits and perils of the offer.
  • Can you shop alone? Peer pressure has been proven to be a key indicator for individuals buying products that they do not need.
  • Never shop when you are feeling emotionally upset. Purchasing to overcome any mood or behavioural troubles is not beneficial in the long term.
  • Go shopping after a meal or when in a good and clear mood. There is evidence that shopping when you feel peckish can make you spend more than intended”.

As soon as we enter any shop (online or offline) we are being bombarded with psychological tactics in an attempt to get us to buy more products (such as selling products that have a price ending in 99p). The BBC article interviewed consumer psychologist Dr. Dimitri Tsivrikos who said:

“These prices are obviously used to convince you that you are spending less than you actually are. A price reduction makes it even more tempting. The bargain price is appealing to you because it challenges the status quo. The retailer appears not to be in complete control of the final price of the product, and this makes you feel that you are now in control. And because of that you feel you can negotiate the final price that you have to pay – whether that is the sale price or even a buy one get one free deal…Brain studies have shown that when we are excited by a bargain, this interferes with your ability to clearly judge whether it is actually a good offer or not”.

When I started researching online, I came across a number of articles claiming that for a small minority, bargain hunting was addictive (as the opening quote demonstrates). In another article on the Tesh Media website, reference was made to April Lane Benson’s edited book I Shop, Therefore I Am. According to that article (which merges bargain hunting addiction with shopping addiction more generally):

“[Benson] says that when it comes to bargain-hunting addictions, what people buy isn’t as important as how big the price reduction is. In fact, the bigger the price cut, the more tempting a purchase is. After all, if something’s 80% off the original price – you’re saving 80 percent! What you may not consider is that by not buying, you’ll save 100%. Bargain addicts also make illogical purchases, like grabbing up sale-price auto parts for cars they don’t own, or bargain kid’s clothes for children they don’t have…So, why is a bargain-hunting addiction so common? Tim Kasser, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois, says it’s a way for people to ease insecurities, and feel more competent and in control. In fact, shopping addicts often don’t realize they have a problem, even when the bags and bills start stacking up. It usually takes a big event to bring it to their attention, like divorce, a new baby, unemployment, or retirement. Or they simply max out their credit cards, and have no more spending power”

In the same article published on the Tech Media website, it claimed the five signs of being ‘addicted’ to bargain hunter were:

  • “You hit sales and clearance racks when you feel angry or blue. Or you feel guilty after shopping and hide your purchases.
  • You spend more money than you can afford.
  • You see sales as opportunities you can’t pass up.
  • Another clue you’re a bargain addict: You spend so much time tracking down deals that it intrudes on your time with family and friends.
  • You often forget what you bought, and find things in your closets you’ve never used”.

Obviously some of these ‘warning signs’ tap into what I believe are the core components of addiction (such as the fourth bullet point that taps into ‘conflict’), however, most of the criteria have nothing to do with ‘addiction’ whatsoever. Using bargain-hunting as a way of making oneself feel better mirrors what is found in other addictions, but characteristics such as not being able to pass up a bargain, and forgetting what has been bought are not core signs of addiction but are idiosyncratic consequences that specifically relate to bargain hunting. Another online article also noted:

“According to new survey findings from Consumer Reports, 23% of women say they sometimes buy things they don’t need just because they’re on sale. For most of us, getting a discount is enough of a reward: 80% say they would hunt for a bargain even if money weren’t an issue for them. In general, the survey found bargain shopping has increased significantly, from 76% in 2011 to 83% today. That shift may be due in part to the growing use of smartphone coupons, which has increased from 11% in 2011 to 24% today. Human psychology may help explain the irresistible allure of a discount. Research suggests that people tend to enjoy bargains, regardless of whether any financial gain is involved. You might even be able to blame your bargain hunting on Mom and Dad, because some experts say genetic differences make certain people predisposed to finding pleasure in raiding the sale rack”.

This paragraph provided a hyperlink to some genuine academic research carried out by Dr. Peter Darke and his colleagues (published in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology). They carried out a couple of experiments examining both the financial and non-financial motivations underlying bargain hunting. They reported that:

“Subjects read scenarios that described the purchase of a television set. Scenarios differed in terms of whether a bargain was received, whether there was personal financial gain, and whether the sale was acquired through skill or luck. The results suggest that subjects generally enjoyed bargains regardless of any financial gain, thereby implying that nonfinancial motives might also be involved. Surprisingly, bargains acquired skillfully were not enjoyed more than lucky bargains. Thus, achievement motives could not explain why subjects enjoyed bargains when there was no associated financial gain. Instead, it seemed that acquiring a bargain was primarily considered a matter of luck”.

I was also interested in the claims that bargain hunting might be underpinned by genetic influences. These claims were made by Mark Ellwood in his 2013 book Bargain fever: How to shop in a discounted world. Ellwood summarized his book in an article for Time magazine and wrote:

“As it turns out, a passion for finding bargains is genetically preprogrammed in all humans, although it’s activated much more in some than others. Spotting special offers triggers a release of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter that I like to think of as ‘buyagra’. Dopamine is such a powerful chemical that our brains have developed a built-in system to clean it up as quickly as possible. One in four Caucasians has an otherwise harmless flaw in what’s known as the COMT gene. While the rest of us can flush our brains free of dopamine with the efficiency of a Dyson, those with an iffy COMT gene can brandish only a hand broom. It takes more time and effort to flush their brains clean of buyagra – and so they are physiologically more prone to splurge, especially on bargains”.

Ellwood claimed that as soon as “bargain addicts sees one ‘Sale’ sign – cue a jolt of dopamine – they’re hooked”. More specifically, he goes on to argue that:

“Of course, a propensity for bargain hunting isn’t purely genetic…Many hardcore coupon cutters I’ve interviewed cite hardscrabble childhoods or food-bank visits as the foundation of their frugality. Certainly, in the past decade, deal hunting has gone from a sign of indigence to one of intelligence; thanks to the roiling economy and an uncertain future, more people have migrated to the markdown section than ever before…Internet-equipped smartphones turned price comparison into a one-step process in your palm — the practice known as showrooming that’s so detested by retailers. But in our search for bargains, we would do well to ask ourselves whether we are really trying to economize or whether we’re being driven by an even stronger impulse: the chemical drive to get a good price”.

Given that I believe shopping can be an addiction in a minority of individuals, it doesn’t take too much of a leap to suggest bargain hunting could be an addiction (or even a sub-type of shopping addiction). However, as far as I am aware, there has never been any empirical research examining ‘bargain hunting addiction’ more specifically. Based on the few online articles that I read, it certainly appears that we are living in a time and an age where such research would be worth carrying out.

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

Further reading

BBC News (2015). The psychology of shopping for bargains. Located at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/consumer/23818336

Benson, A.L. (2000). I Shop Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self. Jason Aronson Inc. Publishers.

Consumer Reports (2014). America’s bargain-hunting habits. What shoppers will and won’t do to save a buck. April 30. Located at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/04/america-s-bargain-hunting-habits/index.htm

Darke, P. R., & Freedman, J. L. (1995). Nonfinancial Motives and Bargain Hunting1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25(18), 1597-1610.

Davenport, K., Houston, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Excessive eating and compulsive buying behaviours in women: An empirical pilot study examining reward sensitivity, anxiety, impulsivity, self-esteem and social desirability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 474-489.

Ellwood, M. (2013). The genetics of bargain hunting. Time, October 21. Located at: http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/21/the-genetics-of-bargain-hunting/

Ellwood, M. (2013). Bargain fever: How to shop in a discounted world. London: Portfolio.

Lebowitz, S. (2014). Extreme bargain hunters: How far would you go for a deal. LearnVest, May 2. Located at: http://www.learnvest.com/2014/05/extreme-bargain-hunters-how-far-would-you-go-for-a-deal-123/

Maraz, A., Eisinger, A., Hende, Urbán, R., Paksi, B., Kun, B., Kökönyei, G., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2015). Measuring compulsive buying behaviour: Psychometric validity of three different scales and prevalence in the general population and in shopping centres. Psychiatry Research, 225, 326–334.

Tesh Media Group (2015). Are you addicted to bargain hunting? Located at: http://www.tesh.com/story/money-and-finance-category/are-you-addicted-to-bargain-hunting/cc/12/id/9141

Williams, A. (2013). Bargain fever: The new secrets of shopping in a discounted world. The Week, November 5. Located at: http://theweek.com/articles/457383/bargain-fever-new-secrets-shopping-discounted-world