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A diction for addiction: A brief overview of our papers at the 2017 International Conference on Behavioral Addictions

This week I attended (and gave one of the keynote papers at) the fourth International Conference on Behavioral Addictions in Haifa (Israel). It was a great conference and I was accompanied by five of my colleagues from Nottingham Trent University all of who were also giving papers. All of the conference abstracts have just been published in the latest issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions (reprinted below in today’s blog) and if you would like copies of the presentations then do get in touch with me.

mark-haifa-keynote-2017

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Behavioural tracking in gambling: Implications for responsible gambling, player protection, and harm minimization. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 2.

  • Social responsibility, responsible gambling, player protection, and harm minimization in gambling have become major issues for both researchers in the gambling studies field and the gaming industry. This has been coupled with the rise of behavioural tracking technologies that allow companies to track every behavioural decision and action made by gamblers on online gambling sites, slot machines, and/or any type of gambling that utilizes player cards. This paper has a number of distinct but related aims including: (i) a brief overview of behavioural tracking technologies accompanied by a critique of both advantages and disadvantages of such technologies for both the gaming industry and researchers; (ii) results from a series of studies carried out using behavioural tracking (particularly in relation to data concerning the use of social responsibility initiatives such as limit setting, pop-up messaging, and behavioural feedback); and (c) a brief overview of the behavioural tracking tool mentor that provides detailed help and feedback to players based on their actual gambling behaviour.

Calado, F., Alexandre, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Youth problem gambling: A cross-cultural study between Portuguese and English youth. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 7.

  • Background and aims: In spite of age prohibitions, most re- search suggests that a large proportion of adolescents engage in gambling, with a rate of problem gambling significantly higher than adults. There is some evidence suggesting that there are some cultural variables that might explain the development of gambling behaviours among this age group. However, cross­cultural studies on this field are generally lacking. This study aimed to test a model in which individual and family variables are integrated into a single perspective as predictors of youth gambling behaviour, in two different contexts (i.e., Portugal and England). Methods: A total of 1,137 adolescents and young adults (552 Portuguese and 585 English) were surveyed on the measures of problem gambling, gambling frequency, sensation seeking, parental attachment, and cognitive distortions. Results: The results of this study revealed that in both Portuguese and English youth, the most played gambling activities were scratch cards, sports betting, and lotteries. With regard to problem gambling prevalence, English youth showed a higher prevalence of problem gambling. The findings of this study also revealed that sensation seeking was a common predictor in both samples. However, there were some differences on the other predictors be- tween the two samples. Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that youth problem gambling and its risk factors appear to be influenced by the cultural context and highlights the need to conduct more cross-cultural studies on this field.

Demetrovics, Z., Richman, M., Hende, B., Blum, K., Griffiths,
M.D, Magi, A., Király, O., Barta, C. & Urbán, R. (2017). Reward Deficiency Syndrome Questionnaire (RDSQ):
A new tool to assess the psychological features of reward deficiency. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 11.

  • ‘Reward Deficiency Syndrome’ (RDS) is a theory assuming that specific individuals do not reach a satisfactory state of reward due to the functioning of their hypodopaminergic reward system. For this reason, these people search for further rewarding stimuli in order to stimulate their central reward system (i.e., extreme sports, hypersexuality, substance use and/or other addictive behaviors such as gambling, gaming, etc.). Beside the growing genetic and neurobiological evidence regarding the existence of RDS little re- search has been done over the past two decades on the psychological processes behind this phenomenon. The aim of the present paper is to provide a psychological description of RDS as well as to present the development of the Reward Deficiency Syndrome Questionnaire (developed using a sample of 1,726 participants), a new four-factor instrument assessing the different aspects of reward deficiency. The results indicate that four specific factors contribute to RDS comprise “lack of satisfaction”, “risk seeking behaviors”, “need for being in action”, and “search for overstimulation”. The paper also provides psychological evidence of the association between reward deficiency and addictive disorders. The findings demonstrate that the concept of RDS provides a meaningful and theoretical useful context to the understanding of behavioral addictions.

Demetrovics, Z., Bothe, B., Diaz, J.R., Rahimi­Movaghar, A., Lukavska, K., Hrabec, O., Miovsky, M., Billieux, J., Deleuze,
J., Nuyens, P. Karila, L., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Király, O. (2017). Ten-Item Internet Gaming Disorder Test (IGDT-10): Psychometric properties across seven language-based samples. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 11.

  • Background and aims: The Ten-Item Internet Gaming Disorder Test (IGDT-10) is a brief instrument developed to assess Internet Gaming Disorder as proposed in the DSM­5. The first psychometric analyses carried out among a large sample of Hungarian online gamers demonstrated that the IGDT-10 is a valid and reliable instrument. The present study aimed to test the psychometric properties in a large cross-cultural sample. Methods: Data were collected among Hungarian (n = 5222), Iranian (n = 791), Norwegian (n = 195), Czech (n = 503), Peruvian (n = 804), French­speaking (n = 425) and English­ speaking (n = 769) online gamers through gaming­related websites and gaming-related social networking site groups. Results: Confirmatory factor analysis was applied to test the dimensionality of the IGDT-10. Results showed that the theoretically chosen one-factor structure yielded appropriate to the data in all language­based subsamples. In addition, results indicated measurement invariance across all language-based subgroups and across gen- der in the total sample. Reliability indicators (i.e., Cronbach’s alpha, Guttman’s Lambda-2, and composite reliability) were acceptable in all subgroups. The IGDT- 10 had a strong positive association with the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire and was positively and moderately related to psychopathological symptoms, impulsivity and weekly game time supporting the construct validity of the instrument. Conclusions: Due to its satisfactory psychometric characteristics, the IGDT-10 appears to be an adequate tool for the assessment of internet gam- ing disorder as proposed in the DSM-5.

Throuvala, M.A., Kuss, D.J., Rennoldson, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Delivering school-based prevention regarding digital use for adolescents: A systematic review in the UK. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 54.

  • Background: To date, the evidence base for school-delivered prevention programs for positive digital citizenship for adolescents is limited to internet safety programs. Despite the inclusion of Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) as a pro- visional disorder in the DSM-5, with arguable worrying prevalence rates for problematic gaming across countries, and a growing societal concern over adolescents’ digital use, no scientifically designed digital citizenship programs have been delivered yet, addressing positive internet use among adolescents. Methods: A systematic database search of quantitative and qualitative research evidence followed by a search for governmental initiatives and policies, as well as, non­profit organizations’ websites and reports was conducted to evaluate if any systematic needs assessment and/or evidence-based, school delivered prevention or intervention programs have been conducted in the UK, targeting positive internet use in adolescent populations. Results: Limited evidence was found for school-based digital citizenship awareness programs and those that were identified mainly focused on the areas of internet safety and cyber bullying. To the authors’ knowledge, no systematic needs assessment has been conducted to assess the needs of relevant stakeholders (e.g., students, parents, schools), and no prevention program has taken place within UK school context to address mindful and positive digital consumption, with the exception of few nascent efforts by non­profit organizations that require systematic evaluation. Conclusions: There is a lack of systematic research in the design and delivery of school-delivered, evidence-based prevention and intervention programs in the UK that endorse more mindful, reflective attitudes that will aid adolescents in adopting healthier internet use habits across their lifetime. Research suggests that adolescence is the highest risk group for the development of internet addictions, with the highest internet usage rates of all age groups. Additionally, the inclusion of IGD in the DSM-5 as provisional disorder, the debatable alarming prevalence rates for problematic gaming and the growing societal focus on adolescents’ internet misuse, renders the review of relevant grey and published research timely, contributing to the development of digital citizenship programs that might effectively promote healthy internet use amongst adolescents.

Bányai, F., Zsila, A., Király, O., Maraz, A., Elekes, Z., Griffiths, M.D., Andreassen, C.S. & Demetrovics, Z. (2017). Problematic social networking sites use among adolescents: A national representative study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 62.

  • Despite being one of the most popular activities among adolescents nowadays, robust measures of Social Media use and representative prevalence estimates are lacking in the field. N = 5961 adolescents (49.2% male; mean age 16.6 years) completed our survey. Results showed that the one-factor Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale (BSMAS) has appropriate psychometric properties. Based on latent pro le analysis, 4.5% of the adolescents belonged to the at-risk group, who reported low self-esteem, high level of depression and the elevated social media use (34+ hours a week). Conclusively, BSMAS is an adequate measure to identify those adolescents who are at risk of problematic Social Media use and should therefore be targeted by school-based prevention and intervention programs.

Bothe, B., Toth-Király, I. Zsila, A., Griffiths, M.D., Demetrovics, Z. & Orosz, G. (2017). The six-component problematic pornography consumption scale. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 6 (Supplement 1), 62.

  • Background and aims: To our best knowledge, no scale ex- ists with strong psychometric properties assessing problematic pornography consumption which is based on an over- arching theoretical background. The goal of the present study was to develop a short scale (Problematic Pornography Consumption Scale; PPCS) on the basis of Griffiths` (2005) six-component addiction model that can assess problematic pornography consumption. Methods: The sample comprised 772 respondents (390 females; Mage = 22.56, SD = 4.98 years). Items creation was based on the definitions of the components of Griffiths’ model. Results: A confirmatory factor analysis was carried out leading to an 18­item second­order factor structure. The reliability of the PPCS was good and measurement invariance was established. Considering the sensitivity and specificity values, we identified an optimal cut­off to distinguish between problematic and non-problematic pornography users. In the present sample, 3.6% of the pornography consumers be- longed to the at-risk group. Discussion and Conclusion: The PPCS is a multidimensional scale of problematic pornography consumption with strong theoretical background that also has strong psychometric properties.

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

The junkie generation? Teenage “addiction” to social media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pet projects: A brief look at domestic animals with social media accounts

Earlier today, I was interviewed by BBC radio about people that have set up social media accounts for their pets. In all honesty I am not a pet person but I am also well aware of the many psychological studies showing that pets hold a special place in the lives of many families and that many people treat pets as if they are one of the family. Professor John Archer has written many papers on the psychology of pet ownership and in a 1997 review paper (‘Why do people love their pets?”) in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior noted:

“People form strong attachments with their pets…[The owning of pets] enable pets to elicit caregiving from humans…in some circumstances…pet owners derive more satisfaction from their pet relationship than those with humans, because they supply a type of unconditional relationship that is usually absent from those with other human beings”.

In August 2014, the Daily Telegraph published the results of a survey they had done and reported that almost one in four dogs and cats now has their own social feed or webpage. In fact, their survey of 2,000 pet owners claimed that 9% of dogs had their own Twitter account and 13% of cats had their own Facebook page. It was also reported that 2% of dogs even had their own blog. The article then went on to list pets that had high numbers of followers and admirers. This included ‘Boo the Dog’ (the ‘world’s cutest dog’ according to pop star Ke$ha with 15 million Facebook ‘Likes’), ‘Grumpy Cat’ (‘famous for his unimpressed face’ with 6 million Facebook ‘Likes’), Graham The Kitten (singer Ed Sheeran’s cat with 99,500 followers), ‘Maggie May’ (tennis player Andy Murray’s dog with 27,000 followers), and ‘Meredith Swift’ (singer Taylor Swift’s cat with 10,000 followers).

As there is no academic research on pets with social media account I went looking online for information and came across an article on the Social Times website entitled ‘Your dog may be more popular than you – 20% have over 50 Facebook friends’. The article began:

“How many pets are online?  How many pet owners are tweeting and Facebooking for their cats and dogs? How many pets have a YouTube page? A new infographic from eBay Classifieds reveals that Fido and Fluffy are hitting the social web a lot more often than you may think! The ‘Social Savvy Critters’ infographic reveals that 14% of dog owners maintain a Facebook page for their pet, 6% tweet for their dogs on Twitter, and a whopping 27% have their own YouTube page! In addition to providing stats about how many pets are online, the infographic also offers up some advice for pet owners looking to get their furry friends online. They provide 8 Twitter tips for dogs, tips on creating a blog from your pet’s perspective, and a list of pet-related social networks”.

The data were collected for a survey carried out by DoggyLoot.com. I have no details on how the data were collected or how many dog owners participated in the survey but in the absence of empirical research it’s the best I could find. The same survey also reported that among the 14% that had set up Facebook accounts for their dogs, 42% of the dogs (I’m not making this up, honestly) had 1-25 Facebook friends, and 20% had 50-100 Facebook friends. The article also made reference to a number of online communities where pets online can get together including petzume.com and petizens.com.

During my research for the radio interview I was surprised to find that Facebook founder had set up a Facebook account for his Hungarian sheepdog (‘Beast’) posting messages such as “I just took a dump and made Mark Zuckerberg pick it up. It was glorious”. The Guardian newspaper did a profile piece on Zuckerberg and his dog after the online social media account had been set up that turned into an article about pets being online. The (2012) article noted that: 

“Pets on social networking sites are huge – high-profile Beast is liked by more than 42,000 people so far – and more and more of us are creating online lives for our companion animals, despite Facebook rules that state you must be over 13 to use the site (at just two months, even in dog years, Beast is only 16 months old) and, more importantly, you cannot create a profile for anyone other than yourself”.

The Guardian reporter (Bim Adewumni) asked the obvious question of who befriends a dog on Facebook or follows a cat on Twitter? And (more importantly) why? To answer the questions, Adewumni interviewed people that had set up online accounts. She wrote:

“Yasmin Eshref set up a page for her cat Georgie Coalie, as a joke to cheer up a friend. ‘But then lots of friends started adding her and sending messages to her’ says Eshref. Georgie passed away last year, but lives on in Facebook. ‘I suppose I kept it up for sentimental reasons, like not wanting to throw away the possessions of a dead person. I know it sounds a bit naff, but it’s just hard to let go’ she says. One friend tells me she has befriended a dog belonging to a friend on Facebook. ‘He even posts updates. I love him’. But another follows a puppy she is less than enamoured with: ‘Truly, I think it is slightly ridiculous. I did it to avoid offending my friends. The dog is cute, but I’m not that into him’. Animals on social networking sites have enormous numbers of fans. Sockamillion, a grey-and-white cat belonging to computer administrator and historian Jason Scott, tweets under the alias Sockington and has more than 1.4 million followers on Twitter. His list of followers reveals hundreds of tweeting cats and dogs. There are also spoof accounts for Bo, the family dog of the Obamas, and, of course, Larry, the newly acquired Downing Street cat. Fictional animals are doing just as well. Scooby Doo, Gromit and even Aleksandr Orlov, the meerkat from the car insurance advertisements, have Facebook pages”.

As there is no research on why people set up social media accounts for their pets (or why people follow them on Twitter or ‘Like’ them on Facebook) we can only speculate about possible motivations for such actions. If pets are considered an equal member of some families or act as surrogate children for childless couples, it’s perhaps unsurprising if some set up online social media accounts in their name. As noted in the Guardian article, some may set the accounts up as a joke or for sentimental reasons. Others may find it harmless fun or do it simply because they can. As I have noted in much of my cyber-psychological research, many activities carried out online are usually done for similar reasons including amusement, boredom, and revenge.

Others may do things online to explore facets of their personality that they can’t do offline or as a way of feeling better about themselves. Is someone that writes online from the perspective of their pet psychologically any different from gamers who swap their gender or species within an online video game? Unlike some online activities connected with social media (online trolling, social media addiction, etc.), there appears to be little harm in posing as your pet. Given the unlikelihood of any problematic behaviour, I can’t see how such behaviour will ever become an area for serious scientific study.

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

Further reading

Adewunmi, B. (2011). Why has Mark Zuckerberg set up a Facebook page for his dog? The Guardian, March 9. http://www.theguardian.com/global/2011/mar/09/mark-zuckerberg-dog-facebook-page

Archer, J. (1997). Why do people love their pets? Evolution and Human Behavior, 18(4), 237-259.

Bryant, C. (2012). 7 ways to make your dog a social media superstar. Dogster, December 18. Located at: http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/make-your-dog-social-media-superstar-7-tips

eBay Classifieds Blogs (2012). Social savvy critters. January 16. Located at: http://blog.ebayclassifieds.com/2012/01/16/social-savvy-critters/

Fuster, H., Oberst, U., Griffiths, M.D., Carbonell, X., Chamarro, A. & Talarn, A. (2012). Psychological motivation in online role-playing games: A study of Spanish World of Warcraft players. Anales de Psicologia, 28, 274-280.

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

Kealey, H. (2014). The most popular pets on social media. The Daily Telegraph, August 26. Located at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/pets/11056619/The-most-popular-pets-on-social-media.html

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

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Motivating and inhibiting factors in online gambling behaviour: A grounded theory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 39-53.

O’Neill, M. (2012). Your dog may be more popular than you – 20% have over 50 Facebook friends. Social Times, January 18Located at: http://socialtimes.com/social-media-pets-infographic_b88001

Thacker, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory study of trolling in online video gaming. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 2(4), 17-33.

Press to play: Is gaming as addictive as heroin?

Please note: The following blog was first published earlier today on the GamaSutra website. The original article can be found here.

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Last week I appeared in loads of news stories following a double page spread in The Sun newspaper under the headline “Gaming as addictive as heroin”. Before the story went to press, I was asked by The Sun’s gaming editor – Lee Price – if I would provide a set of questions to help readers determine if they had a possible gaming addiction. (I’ve reproduced the ten questions at the end of this blog). I’ve written a number of articles for The Sun over the years and have always been happy to contribute to education concerning gaming issues. In fact, my previous article with The Sun was one published last year under the headline Video games make us better people”. The gaming editor shared some of the text he was planning to publish and I was asked if I would like to add anything to his main article. The text I submitted for inclusion in the article read:

“Gaming addiction has become a real issue for the psychologists and medics over the last decade. The good news is that playing excessively doesn’t necessarily mean someone is addicted – the difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life whereas addiction takes away from it”.

This quote I provided did not appear anywhere on the double-page spread (probably because it didn’t fit the main thrust of the article). The headline “Gaming as addictive as heroin” (almost certainly provided by someone other than the Gaming Editor) was arguably more sensationalist that the article itself. Any regular readers of my blog will know that I believe gaming addictions exist but that the number of gamers that are genuinely addicted comprises a small minority. The Sun’s story began by claiming that: “Britain is in the grip of a gaming addiction which poses as big a health risk as alcohol and drug abuse”. The article also alleged that a London-based clinic claimed it was receiving 5,000 calls a year from parents seeking help for their child’s gaming addiction (I myself get around 2-3 calls or emails a month). It also featured a number of case studies claiming they were addicted to social networking games (like Candy Crush) and online multiplayer games (like League of Legends). There were also a number of references to alleged gaming-related deaths including the recent story that a coroner had linked three male suicides to playing the game Call of Duty.

On the day The Sun article was published, I was contacted by a journalist from Eurogamer for my comments on the piece. The resulting article was basically my interview with the journalist (which then formed the basis of countless stories that appeared in the online gaming press including the Tech Times, The FixDigital Spy, Polygon, Kotaku, etc.). I was asked if I thought gaming was as addictive as heroin. I responded by saying:

“It depends how you define addiction in the first place. I’ve spent my whole career trying to say if you’re going to call something an addiction it has to be similar right across the board. The criteria I use for video game addiction would be exactly the same as in heroin addiction in the sense that this is an activity that becomes the most important thing in your life, it compromises everything else in your life including your relationship, work and hobbies. It’s something you use as a way of modifying your mood. It’s something that builds up tolerance over time, so you need more and more. It’s something where you get withdrawal symptoms if you’re unable to engage in it. And it’s something that if you do manage to give up for a short time when you do the activity again you relapse. The good news from my perspective is on those particular criteria, the number of genuine video game addicts is few and far between. If we’re talking about genuine video game addiction, it doesn’t matter what the activity is if we’re using the same criteria. It’s a bit like that trick question my physics teacher used to give us, which was, if you’ve got a ton of feathers and a ton of lead, which weighs heavier? Most kids put down a ton of feathers, but the whole point is it’s a ton. It’s quite clear that some, whether it’s kids or young adults, have some problems around the fact they seem to be unable to control the amount of time they spend gaming, and maybe it’s impacting other areas of their life. But just because there are some addictive-like components there it doesn’t mean they’re genuinely addicted”.

I also told the journalist that to be genuinely addicted to a behaviour (like gaming) that I would expect to see conflict in every area of the person’s life – their relationships, their work and/or education, their other social activities. The Sun also claimed that: “Britain is in the grip of a gaming addiction”. I was asked by Eurogamer whether I thought this to be the case and I said that in my view this was “incorrect”. I then went on to say:

“I’ve spent well over 25 years studying video game addiction. If we’re going to use the word ‘addiction’ we have to use the same concepts, signs and symptoms we find in other more traditional addictions, like withdrawal and tolerance. By doing that the number of people who end up being addicted by my criteria are actually few and far between. The [ten questions] I did for The Sun is actually based on real criteria I use in my research. The number of people who would score seven out of 10 of those items I put in The Sun today, I’d find it very hard to believe there would be more than a handful of people out there that would score high on all those things. You’d probably get a lot of people who might endorse three or four of them, but that doesn’t mean they’re addicted. That might be somebody who has problems with it. Most kids can afford to play three hours a day without it impacting on their education, their physical education and their social networks. Yes, I believe video game addiction exists, and if it is a genuine addiction it may well be as addictive as other more traditional things in terms of signs, symptoms and components. But the good news is it is a very tiny minority who are genuinely addicted to video games…There is no evidence the country is in ‘the grip of addiction’. Yes, we have various studies showing a small minority have problematic gaming. But problematic gaming doesn’t necessarily mean gaming addiction. They’re two very separate things. Yet the media seem to put them as the same…Every time I do a piece of research, if it’s something that’s negative, 90 per cent of the press cover it. If it’s something positive, 10 per cent of the press cover it. Bad news stories sell”.

Speaking to the press (and writing journalistic articles for the press) is something that I do on an almost daily basis and I will not stop doing it as I believe that we as academics have a public duty to disseminate our research findings outside of academia and to the general public. As I noted in a previous blog, I’ve had a few horror stories when what I’ve said is taken out of context but a few bad experiences are never going to be enough to put me off sharing my work with the mass media.

Finally – and as promised above – here are ten simple ‘yes/no’ questions about gaming that I had published in The Sun. If you answer ‘yes’ to seven or more of them, in my view, you may have a gaming addiction.

  • Do you think gaming has become the most important thing in your daily life?
  • Have you jeopardised your job or education because of your gaming activity?
  • Have you experienced relationship problems (with your partner, children or friends) because of your gaming?
  • Do you feel irritable, anxious or sad when you try to cut down or stop gaming?
  • Do you play games as a way of making your mood feel better?
  • Have you lost interests in other hobbies and leisure activities because of gaming?
  • When trying to cut down or stop your gaming, do you feel that you can’t?
  • Do you feel totally preoccupied with gaming (for example, even if you are not actually gaming you are thinking about it)?
  • Have you lied to anyone because the amount of time you spend gaming?
  • Have you spent an increasing amount of time gaming every day over the last six months?

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

Further reading

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Video games make us better people. The Sun, February 1, p.8.

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

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

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). The psychological study of video game players: Methodological challenges and practical advice. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7, 555-562.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of structural characteristics in problem video game playing: A review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace. Located at: http://www.cyberpsychology.eu/view.php?cisloclanku=2010041401&article=6.

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

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Cognitive behavioural therapy for problematic video game players: Conceptual considerations and practice issues. Journal of CyberTherapy and Rehabilitstion, 3, 261-273.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Clinical interventions for technology-based problems: Excessive Internet and video game use. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26, 43-56.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Griffiths, M.D. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-behavioural approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 68, 1185-1195.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H.,Gradisar, M.S. &, Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Psychometric assessment of pathological video-gaming:A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Net losses: Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace

The following article is a much extended version of an article that was originally published by The Conversation under the title ‘Tweets and cybersex: Workplace web use is a minefield’

A number of market research reports have indicated that many office employees in the UK spend at least one hour of their day at work on various non-work activities (e.g., booking holidays, shopping online, posting messages on social networking sites, playing online games, etc.) and costs businesses millions of pounds a year. These findings highlight that internet abuse is a serious cause for concern – particularly to employers. Furthermore, the long-term effects of internet abuse may have more far-reaching effects for the company that internet abusers work for than the individuals themselves. Abuse also suggests that there may not necessarily be any negative effects for the user other than a decrease in work productivity.

Back in the early 2000s (and using some of Kimberley Young’s work on types of internet addiction) I developed a typology of internet abusers. This included cybersexual Internet abuse, online friendship/relationship abuse, internet activity abuse, online information abuse, criminal internet abuse, and miscellaneous Internet abuse:

  • Cybersexual Internet abuse: This involves the abuse of adult websites for cybersex and cyberporn during work hours. Such behaviours include the reading of online pornographic magazines, the watching of pornographic videos and/or webcams, or the participating in online sexual discussion groups, forums or instant chat facilities
  • Online friendship/relationship abuse: This involves the conducting of an online friendship and/or relationship during work hours. Such a category could also include the use of e-mailing friends, posting messages to friends on social networking sites (e.g., on Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and/or engaging in discussion groups, as well as maintenance of online emotional relationships. Such people may also abuse the Internet by using it to explore gender and identity roles by swapping gender or creating other personas and forming online relationships or engaging in cybersex.
  • Internet activity abuse: This involves the use of the internet during work hours in which other non-work related activities are done (e.g., online gambling, online shopping, online travel booking, online video gaming in massively multiplier games, online day-trading, online casual gaming via social network sites, etc.). This appears to be one of the most common forms of Internet abuse in the workplace.
  • Online information abuse: This involves the abuse of internet search engines and databases (e.g., Googling online for hours, constantly checking Twitter account, etc.). Typically, this involves individuals who search for work-related information on databases etc. but who end up wasting hours of time with little relevant information gathered. This may be deliberate work-avoidance but may also be accidental and/or non-intentional. It may also involve people who seek out general educational information, information for self-help/diagnosis (including online therapy) and/or scientific research for non-work purposes.
  • Criminal Internet abuse: This involves the seeking out individuals who then become victims of sexually-related Internet crime (e.g., online sexual harassment, online trolling, cyberstalking, paedophilic “grooming” of children). The fact that these types of abuse involve criminal acts may have severe implications for employers.
  • Miscellaneous Internet abuse: This involves any activity not found in the above categories such as the digital manipulation of images on the Internet for entertainment and/or masturbatory purposes (e.g., creating celebrity fake photographs where heads of famous people are superimposed onto someone else’s naked body).

There are many factors that make Internet abuse in the workplace seductive. It is clear from research in the area of computer-mediated communication that virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement, and/or distraction. These provide compelling reasons as to why employees may engage in non-work related internet use. There are also other reasons (opportunity, access, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, disinhibition, social acceptance, and longer working hours):

  • Opportunity and access: Obvious pre-cursors to potential Internet abuse includes both opportunity and access to the Internet. Clearly, the internet is now commonplace and widespread, and is almost integral to almost all office workplace environments. Given that prevalence of undesirable behaviours is strongly correlated with increased access to the activity, it is not surprising that the development of internet abuse appears to be increasing across the population. Research into other socially acceptable but potentially problematic behaviours (drinking alcohol, gambling etc.) has demonstrated that increased accessibility leads to increased uptake (i.e., regular use) and that this eventually leads to an increase in problems – although the increase may not be proportional.
  • Affordability: Given the wide accessibility of the internet, it is now becoming cheaper and cheaper to use the online services on offer. Furthermore, for almost all employees, Internet access is totally free of charge and the only costs will be time and the financial costs of some particular activities (e.g., online sexual services, online gambling etc.).
  • Anonymity: The anonymity of the Internet allows users to privately engage in their behaviours of choice in the belief that the fear of being caught by their employer is minimal. This anonymity may also provide the user with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of their online experiences. The anonymity of the Internet often facilitates more honest and open communication with other users and can be an important factor in the development of online relationships that may begin in the workplace. Anonymity may also 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.
  • Convenience: Interactive online applications such as e-mail, social media, chat rooms, online forums, or role-playing games provide convenient mediums to meet others without having to leave one’s work desk. Online abuse will usually occur in the familiar and comfortable environment of home or workplace thus reducing the feeling of risk and allowing even more adventurous behaviours.
  • Escape: For some, the primary reinforcement of particular kinds of internet abuse (e.g., to engage in an online affair and/or cybersex) is the sexual gratification they experience online. In the case of behaviours like cybersex and online gambling, the experiences online may be reinforced through a subjectively and/or objectively experienced ‘high’. The pursuit of mood-modifying experiences is characteristic of addictions. The mood-modifying experience has the potential to provide an emotional or mental escape and further serves to reinforce the behaviour. Abusive and/or excessive involvement in this escapist activity may lead to problems (e.g., online addictions). Online behaviour can provide a potent escape from the stresses and strains of real life. These activities fall on the continuum from life enhancing to pathological and addictive.
  • Disinhibition: Disinhibition is clearly one of the internet’s key appeals as there is little doubt that the Internet makes people less inhibited. Online users appear to open up more quickly online and reveal themselves emotionally much faster than in the offline world. What might take months or years in an offline relationship may only takes days or weeks online. As a number of researchers have pointed out, the perception of trust, intimacy and acceptance has the potential to encourage online users to use these relationships as a primary source of companionship and comfort.
  • Social acceptability:The social acceptability of online interaction is another factor to consider in this context. What is really interesting is how the perception of online activity has changed over the last 15 years (e.g., the ‘nerdish’ image of the Internet is almost obsolete). It may also be a sign of increased acceptance as young children and adolescents are exposed to technology earlier and so become used to socializing using computers as tools. For instance, laying the foundations for an online relationship in this way has become far more socially acceptable and will continue to be so. Most of these people are not societal misfits as is often claimed – they are simply using the technology as another tool in their social armory.
  • Longer working hours: All over the world, people are working longer hours and it is perhaps unsurprising that many of life’s activities can be performed from the workplace Internet. Take, for example, the case of a single individual looking for a relationship. For these people, the Internet at work may be ideal. Dating via the desktop may be a sensible option for workaholic professionals. It is effectively a whole new electronic “singles bar” which because of its text-based nature breaks down physical prejudices. For others, internet interaction takes away the social isolation that we can all sometimes feel. There are no boundaries of geography, class or nationality. It opens up a whole new sphere of relationship-forming.

Being able to spot someone who is an Internet abuser can be very difficult. However, there are some practical steps that employers can be taken to help minimize the potential problem.

  • Take the issue of internet abuse seriously. Internet abuse and addiction in all their varieties are only just being considered as potentially serious occupational issues. Managers, in conjunction with Personnel Departments need to ensure they are aware of the issues involved and the potential risks it can bring to both their employees and the whole organization. They also need to be aware that for employees who deal with finances, some forms of Internet abuse (e.g., Internet gambling), the consequences for the company can be very great.
  • Raise awareness of internet abuse issues at work. This can be done through e-mail circulation, leaflets, and posters on general notice boards. Some countries will have national and/or local agencies (e.g., technology councils, health and safety organizations etc.) that can supply useful educational literature (including posters). Telephone numbers for these organizations can usually be found in most telephone directories.
  • Ask employees to be vigilant. Internet abuse at work can have serious repercussions not only for the individual but also for those employees who befriend Internet abusers, and the organization itself. Fellow staff members need to know the basic signs and symptoms of Internet abuse. Employee behaviours such as continual use the Internet for non-work purposes might be indicative of an Internet abuse problem.
  • Monitor internet use of staff that may be having problems. Those staff members with an internet-related problem are likely to spend great amounts of time engaged in non-work activities on the Internet. Should an employer suspect such a person, they should get the company’s I.T. specialists to look at their Internet surfing history as the computer’s hard disc will have information about everything they have ever accessed.
  • Check internet “bookmarks” of staff. In some jurisdictions across the world, employers can legally access the e-mails and Internet content of their employees. One of the simplest checks is to simply look at an employee’s list of “bookmarked” websites. If they are spending a lot of employment time engaged in non-work activities, many bookmarks will be completely non-work related (e.g., online dating agencies, gambling sites).
  • Develop an “Internet Abuse At Work” policy. Many organizations have policies for behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol. Employers should develop their own internet abuse policies via liaison between Personnel Services and local technology councils and/or health and safety executives.
  • Give support to identified problem users. Most large organizations have counselling services and other forms of support for employees who find themselves in difficulties. In some (but not all) situations, problems associated with internet use need to be treated sympathetically (and like other more bona fide problems such as alcoholism). Employee support services must also be educated about the potential problems of internet abuse in the workplace.

Internet abuse can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet facilities in the workplace is making it easier for abuse to occur in lots of different forms. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people internet abuse is not a serious individual problem although for large companies, small levels of internet abuse multiplied across the workforce raises serious issues about work productivity. For those whose internet abuse starts to become more of a problem, it can affect many levels including the individual, their work colleagues, and the organization itself.

Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the work force. Furthermore, employers need to let employees know exactly which behaviours on the Internet are reasonable (e.g., the occasional e-mail to a friend) and those that are unacceptable (e.g., online gaming, cybersex etc.). Internet abuse has the potential to be a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue and needs to be taken seriously by all those employers who utilize the Internet in their day-to-day business.

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

Further reading

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Internet gambling in the workplace. In M. Anandarajan & C. Simmers (Eds.). Managing Web Usage in the Workplace: A Social, Ethical and Legal Perspective (pp. 148-167). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet abuse in the workplace – Issues and concerns for employers and employment counselors. Journal of Employment Counseling, 40, 87-96.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace – Issues and concerns for employers. In M. Anandarajan (Eds.). Personal Web Usage in the Workplace: A Guide to Effective Human Resource Management (pp. 230-245).Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The hidden addiction: Gambling in the workplace. Counselling at Work, 70, 20-23.

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

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, in press.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? (Revisited). In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (2nd Edition), (pp.141-163). New York: Academic Press.

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

Face[book]ing the future: A brief look at social networking addiction

In many areas of behavioural addiction, there has been debate about whether some excessive behaviours should even be considered as genuine addictions (e.g., video game playing, internet use, sex, exercise, etc.) and the same debate holds for addiction to social networking. I recently published an editorial in the Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy examining the empirical research on the topic.

I have has operationally defined addictive behaviour as any behaviour that features what I believe to be the six core components of addiction (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse). I have also argued that any behaviour (including social networking) that fulfils these six criteria can be operationally defined as an addiction.

Researchers have suggested that the excessive use of new technologies (and especially online social networking) may be particularly problematic to young people. In accordance with the biopsychosocial framework for the etiology of addictions, and the syndrome model of addiction (put forward by Dr. Howard Shaffer and colleagues in a 2004 issue of the Harvard Review of Psychiatry), it is claimed that those people addicted to using SNSs experience symptoms similar to those experienced by individuals who suffer from addictions to substances or other behaviours. This has significant implications for clinical practice because unlike other addictions, the goal of SNS addiction treatment cannot be total abstinence from using the internet per se it is an integral element of today’s professional and leisure culture. Instead, the ultimate therapy aim is controlled use of the internet and its respective functions, particularly social networking applications, and relapse prevention using strategies developed within cognitive-behavioural therapies.

To explain the formation of SNS addiction, Dr. Ofir Turel and Dr. Alexander Serenko recently summarized three overarching theoretical perspectives in a 2012 issue European Journal of Information Systems that may not be mutually exclusive:

  • Cognitive-behavioral model: This model emphasizes that ‘abnormal’ social networking arises from maladaptive cognitions and is amplified by various environmental factors, and eventually leads to compulsive and/or addictive social networking.
  • Social skill model: This model emphasizes that ‘abnormal’ social networking arises because people lack self-presentational skills and prefer virtual communication to face-to-face interactions, and it eventually leads to compulsive and/or addictive use of social networking.
  • Socio-cognitive model: This model emphasises that ‘abnormal’ social networking arises due to the expectation of positive outcomes, combined with internet self-efficacy and deficient internet self-regulation eventually leads to compulsive and/or addictive social networking behavior.

Based on these three models, Dr. Haifeng Xu and Dr. Bernard Tan (in a 2012 paper presented at the Thirty Third International Conference on Information Systems) suggest that the transition from normal to problematic social networking use occurs when social networking is viewed by the individual as an important (or even exclusive) mechanism to relieve stress, loneliness, or depression. They contend that those who frequently engage in social networking are poor at socializing in real life. For these people, social media use provides such people continuous rewards (e.g. self-efficacy, satisfaction) and they end up engaging in the activity more and more, eventually leading to many problems (e.g., ignoring real life relationships, work/educational conflicts, etc.). The resulting problems may then exacerbate individuals’ undesirable moods. This then leads such individuals to engage in the social networking behaviour even more as a way of relieving dysphoric mood states. Consequently, when social network users repeat this cyclical pattern of relieving undesirable moods with social media use, the level of psychological dependency on social networking increases.

A behavioural addiction such as SNS addiction may thus be seen from a biopsychosocial perspective. Just like substance-related addictions, it would appear that in some individuals, SNS addiction incorporates the experience of the ‘classic’ addiction symptoms, namely mood modification (i.e., engagement in SNSs leads to a favourable change in emotional states), salience (i.e., behavioural, cognitive, and emotional preoccupation with the SNS usage), tolerance (i.e., ever increasing use of SNSs over time), withdrawal symptoms (i.e., experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when SNS use is restricted or stopped), conflict (i.e., interpersonal and intrapsychic problems ensue because of SNS usage), and relapse (i.e., addicts quickly revert back to their excessive SNS usage after an abstinence period).

It is generally accepted that a combination of biological, psychological and social factors contributes to the etiology of addictions that may also hold true for SNS addiction. From this it follows that SNS addiction shares a common underlying etiological framework with other substance-related and behavioural addictions. However, due to the fact that the engagement in SNSs is different in terms of the actual expression of (internet) addiction (i.e., pathological use of SNSs rather than other internet applications), the phenomenon may be worthy of individual consideration, particularly when considering the potentially detrimental effects of both substance-related and behavioural addictions on individuals who experience a variety of negative consequences because of their addiction.

Research into social networking addiction has been relatively sparse. According to a recent book chapter that I published with Dr. Daria Kuss and Dr. Zsolt Demetrovics, the twenty or so empirical studies examining SNS addiction fall into one of four types: (i) self-perception studies of social networking addiction, (ii) studies of social networking addiction utilizing a social networking addiction scale, (iii) studies examining the relationship between social networking and other online addictions, and (iv) studies examining social networking addiction and interpersonal relationships. Our review noted that all the studies suffered from a variety of methodological limitations. Many of the studies attempted to assess SNS addiction, but mere assessment of addiction tendencies does not suffice to demarcate real pathology. Most of the study samples were generally small, specific, self-selected, convenient, and skewed with regards to young adults and female gender. This may have led to the very high addiction prevalence rates (up to 34%) reported in some studies as individuals from these socio-demographic groups are likely to be more heavy social networking users. Consequently, empirical studies need to ensure that they are assessing addiction rather than excessive use and/or preoccupation.

I have also published a couple of papers noting that for many researchers, Facebook addiction has become almost synonymous with social networking addiction. However, Facebook is just one of many websites where social networking can take place. Most of the scales that have been developed have specifically examined excessive Facebook use such as the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, the Facebook Addiction Scale, and the Facebook Intrusion Questionnaire, i.e., addiction to one particular commercial company’s service (i.e., Facebook) rather than the whole activity itself (i.e., social networking). The real issue here concerns what people are actually addicted to and what the new Facebook addiction tools are measuring.

For instance, Facebook users can play games like Farmville, can gamble on games like poker, can watch videos and films, and can engage in activities such as swapping photos or constantly updating their profile and/or messaging friends on the minutiae of their life. Therefore, ‘Facebook addiction’ is not synonymous with ‘social networking addiction’ – they are two fundamentally different things as Facebook has become a specific website where many different online activities can take place – and may serve different purposes to various users. What this suggests is that the field needs a psychometrically validated scale that specifically assesses ‘social networking addiction’ rather than Facebook use. In the aforementioned scales, social networking as an activity is not mentioned, therefore the scale does not differentiate between someone potentially addicted to Farmville or someone potentially addicted to constantly messaging Facebook friends.

Whether social networking addiction exists is debatable depending upon the definition of addiction used, but there is clearly emerging evidence that a minority of social network users experience addiction-like symptoms as a consequence of their excessive use. Studies endorsing only a few potential addiction criteria are not sufficient for establishing clinically significant addiction status. Similarly, significant impairment and negative consequences that discriminate addiction from mere abuse have (to date) generally not been assessed in published studies. Thus, future studies have great potential in addressing the emergent phenomenon of SNS addiction by means of applying better methodological designs, including more representative samples, and using more reliable and valid addiction scales so that current gaps in empirical knowledge can be filled.

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

Further reading

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Gambling on Facebook? A cause for concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(9), 10-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Social gambling via Facebook: Further observations and concerns. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 104-106.

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

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

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

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

Shaffer, H.J., LaPlante, D.A., LaBrie, R.A., Kidman, R.C., Donato, A.N., & Stanton, M.V. (2004). Toward a syndrome model of addiction: Multiple expressions, common etiology. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 12, 367-374.

Turel, O. & Serenko, A. (2012). The benefits and dangers of enjoyment with social networking websites. European Journal of Information Systems, 21, 512-528.

Xu, H. & Tan, B.C.Y. (2012). Why Do I Keep Checking Facebook: Effects of Message Characteristics On the Formation of Social Network Services Addiction (http://elibrary.aisnet.org/Default.aspx?url=http://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1216&context=icis2012)

No time for the crime: Excessive adolescent video game playing, social networking and crime reduction

On Sunday February 9, 1964, The Beatles made their debut on US television. Their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show drew an estimated audience of 73 million people. One of the most quoted consequences associated with this particular show was that between 8pm and 9pm when the show was aired, a number of news reports claimed that there was no reported incidence of juvenile crime across America during the time of the broadcast.  The editor of Newsweek, B.F. Henry, went as far as to claim that “there wasn’t so much as a hubcap stolen” during the hour that The Beatles were on the show.

This apocryphal tale, at the very least, shows the apparent compelling logic in the argument that when an activity is so engrossing it has the capacity to stop people engaging in other types of activity such as crime. Inspired by a speculative blog post on the topic, my friend and research colleague Dr. Mike Sutton failed to disconfirm what Dr. Sutton and I have called the Crime Substitution Hypothesis. We recently published a small paper in the journal Education and Health that examined the extent to which popular youth activity (namely video gaming and social networking) may be having an effect on youth offending and victimization.

Young people’s use of technology (the so called ‘screenagers’ and ‘digital natives’) has increased greatly over the last two decades and a significant proportion of daily time is spent in front of various screen interfaces most notably videogames, mobile phones (e.g., SMS) and the internet (e.g., social networking sites like Bebo, Facebook). These ‘digital natives’ have never known a world without the internet, mobile phones and interactive television, and are therefore tech-savvy, have no techno-phobia, and very trusting of these new technologies.

One of the most empirically researched areas is in the area of adolescent video gaming. Negative consequences of gaming have included addiction, increased aggression, and a variety of medical consequences, such as repetitive strain injuries, obesity, and photosensitive epilepsy. There is certainly evidence that when taken to excess, videogame playing can in some cases be addictive, especially online videogame playing where the game never pauses or ends, and has the potential to be a 24/7 activity. However, there are many reported benefits that adolescents can get from playing videogames. These can be educational, social and/or therapeutic.

Another positive benefit of playing video games along with activities like social networking may be the capacity to reduce youth crime. The reason why videogames may have implications for crime reduction is their use as ‘distractors’ (such as in the role of pain management). The reasoning is that ‘distractor tasks’ consume some degree of the attentional capacity that would otherwise be devoted to pain perception. I have noted in a number of my academic papers that the main reasons that videogames make good distractors are because they:

  • Are likely to engage much of a person’s individual active attention because of the cognitive and motor activity required.
  • Allow the possibility to achieve sustained achievement because of the level of difficulty (i.e. challenge) of most games during extended play.
  • Appear to appeal most to adolescents

For instance, one study reported the case of an eight-year-old boy with neurodermatitis being given a handheld videogame to prevent him from picking at his face. Where previous treatments had failed, the use of the game kept his hands occupied and within two weeks the affected area had healed. A number of studies have demonstrated that videogames can provide cognitive distraction for children undergoing chemotherapy. All these studies have reported that distracted child patients report less nausea after treatment (when compared with control groups), and that playing videogames reduced the amount of painkillers the children needed during treatment. The very reasons why video games may be of benefit therapeutically may also be applied to video games in a crime reduction context (i.e., the playing of video games is so cognitively distracting that that there is little time to do or think about anything else).

Consequently, there is a developing school of thought arguing that peoples’ participation (especially excessive use) in video gaming and social networking may be contributory factors that may partly explain the fall in crime rates in recent years. For instance, the economist Larry Katz was quoted in a 2010 issue of The Economist suggesting that the playing of video games may be playing a role in crime reduction. Katz’ reasoning is simple – keeping people busy keeps them out of trouble. There appears to be some statistical support for such a hypothesis as the decrease in US crime rates appears to show an inverse correlational relationship with increased sales of video game consoles and video games. Clearly this correlational evidence should be treated with caution as it says nothing about causation. However, it does provide a hypothesis that could be the subject of future empirical testing.

Could the rise in video game playing and social networking be a major cause of what criminologists claim is an unfathomable drop in crime, and if not, then why not? Routine Activity Theory predicts that if a substantial numbers of young people are not on the streets either as victims or offenders then overall high volume ‘crime opportunities’ would diminish, resulting in an overall drop in high volume crime rates. We have no idea yet whether what we might call the ‘crime substitution hypothesis’ is plausible. Therefore, in our recent paper, Dr. Sutton and I set out some ideas that support it as something possibly worthy of further exploration.

As highlighted above, research suggests some young people are spending many hours playing video games or social networking. Research also suggests that video games can be engrossing, addictive and in some cases compulsive. Additionally, research has failed to establish that violent media is either a necessary or sufficient condition for causing crime. Therefore, taking a Routine Activity Approach, it would seem that an increase in video gaming might feasibly lead to a rise in the illicit market for stolen computers and games consoles. However, there might be fewer thieves to supply it if:

  • Fewer potential offenders are getting addicted to opiates and other drugs, and/or misusing alcohol out of boredom because they have escaped boredom in the real world by entering the more exciting world of cyberspace to play and interact with others.
  • Potential offenders and victims are gaming excessively and/or compulsively checking Facebook and/or other social networking sites.
  • The game players and other ‘netizens’ are playing at home so (a) fewer potential offenders on the streets and fewer potential victims, and (b) houses are occupied for longer and so less susceptible to burglary.
  • Immersion and gaming prowess and reputation may be sufficient substitutes for the same things in the offline (real) world
  • The Internet allows more people to work from home so teleworking may reduce the pool of “available” victims on the street and also ensure fewer homes are empty during the day.

The evidence provided for the ‘crime substitution hypothesis’ in our paper was anecdotal and/or correlational in nature but we would argue that this would provide a fruitful avenue for further research. Such research into ‘crime substitution’ and gaming/social networking might involve: (i) measuring time spent gaming and social networking by groups that empirical research predicts are at greater risk of becoming offenders, (ii) conducting ethnographic studies with young people to gauge whether, and if so to what extent, gaming and social networking are used as a substitute for risky activities in the offline (real) world, and do this in relation to both potential offending and victimization, (iii) examining issues of offline and online peer status and how this may impact on consequent behaviour (including criminal activity), and (iv) further examining the correlation between console and game sales – and any data on playing time and type of games – with the general crime trend over the past 20 years.

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

Further reading

Cole, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Social interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing gamers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 575-583.

De Freitas, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2008). The convergence of gaming practices with other media forms: what potential for learning? A review of the literature. Learning, Media and Technology, 33, 11-20.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Video games and health. British Medical Journal, 331, 122-123.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005b). The therapeutic value of videogames. In Goldstein J. & Raessens J. (eds.) Handbook of Computer Game Studies (pp. 161-171). Boston: MIT Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Internet and video-game addiction. In C. Essau (Ed.), Adolescent Addiction: Epidemiology, Assessment and Treatment (pp.231-267).  San Diego: Elselvier.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. & Sutton, M. (2013). Proposing the Crime Substitution Hypothesis: Exploring the possible causal relationship between excessive adolescent video game playing, social networking and crime reduction. Education and Health, 31, 17-21.

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

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.

Sutton, M (2010) Routine Activities Theory, the Internet and the 15-Year crime drop. Criminology: The Blog of Mike Sutton. Best Thinking: http://www.bestthinking.com/thinkers/science/social_sciences/sociology/mike-sutton?tab=blog&blogpostid=9634,9634

Pressing ahead: Gambling with people’s reputations

I’m not sure who first said it but I’ve always been told that ‘reputation can take a lifetime to get but a minute to destroy’ which is one of the reasons that any interview with the national press can be a tightrope walk in reputation management. For me personally, this morning was one of those tightrope walks.

The front page of today’s Daily Mail screamed ‘Fury at Facebook online casinos’. The story included approximately 10-15 seconds of quotes from a 15-minute interview I did with them yesterday evening. I explained at the start of the interview that I was not anti-gambling or anti-Facebook gambling, and that my main interests in relation to gambling via Facebook are player protection, harm minimization, and the protection of vulnerable and susceptible individuals (most notably children and adolescents). I’ve done three interviews with the Daily Mail on the topic of gambling via social networking sites in the last few months and although they usually report the gist or paraphrase what I say, they rarely add in all the caveats and nuances surrounding the views I put forward. I am the only person quoted in today’s article (quotes that were also repeated in today’s Daily Telegraph), so there is an implicit assumption that it is me that is experiencing the “fury” yet I feel no such thing. Obviously the headline does not really reflect the story or my comments but it may make people read the story. A headline that says ‘Professor of Gambling Studies has concerns about teenage gambling on Facebook’ is not likely to make front page news or sell many newspapers. The story reported that:

“Facebook has been accused of creating ‘tomorrow’s generation of problem gamblers’ by rolling out real money casino games. Under a lucrative deal with online gaming company 888, the social networking giant will offer Las Vegas-style slot machines and games such as roulette and blackjack….Gamers will be able to place up to £500 on bets using a credit or debit card with promises of jackpots worth tens of thousands of pounds.These will only be available in the UK, where gaming laws are more relaxed than in the US. Both Facebook and 888 insist they have safeguards to prevent minors from accessing the games…But there is nothing to stop children logging on to parents’ accounts and using card details already stored on the family computer. Already, Facebook users as young as 13 can use virtual slot machines on the website to win ‘credits’ – which have no monetary value.But as soon as they turn 18, millions of children who use the social networking site will be bombarded with adverts for real money gambling games.Facebook has three million UK users aged between 13 and 17. But a further one million are thought to be under 13 and pretending to be older”

I’d briefly like to address what I said and contextualize the comments attributed to me. The first quote published and attributed to me was: “You win virtually every time you play one of the free games”. What I was referring to here was that there are gambling-type games on Facebook (most notably slot machine games) where the payout rates can be more than 100%. All of these gambling-type games rely on people spending real money to buy virtual currency to play the on games like poker, bingo and slot machines. One of my research colleagues who I have published a lot of papers on gambling with had bought virtual currency and showed us that the pay out rates tend to increase with the more real money spent in buying virtual currency. My real bone of contention here is my belief that any games played for points should have the same probability of winning as you would find in a real game otherwise it sets up unrealistic expectations when people then play for real money (particularly where adolescents are concerned).

The second quote attributed to me was: ‘Research has shown again and again that one of the biggest factors in developing problem gambling is playing free games online first. These children and teenagers today are the problem gamblers of tomorrow”. I never said “again and again”, what I actually said was that there had been some secondary analysis of three national adolescent gambling studies done in the UK that (using regression analyses) had shown that among teenagers (aged 11 to 15 years) one of the major factors that appeared to predict (a) gambling with real money, and (b) problem gambling, was the playing of free games. All of these secondary analyses suggest there is a correlation (not necessarily causation) between the playing of free gambling-type games, and the amount of real gambling adolescents engage in, and problem gambling. Personally, I am of the opinion that even free gambling-type games (i.e., poker, slot machines, bingo, etc.) should have age verification checks and that free games should be behind the registration process.

Finally, a third quote was attributed to me that the deal that Facebook have with 888 could cause “the floodgates to open” along with the journalist’s text that “as gambling companies dive into the social media frenzy to make money”.  I was asked by the Daily Mail if I thought the ‘floodgates’ would open following 888’s move into the Facebook gambling market. I then proceeded to talk about the fact that all social gaming operators are looking to see what happens with Bingo Friendzy (the only gambling-for-money game on Facebook at present that was launched in August 2012). I said that if this game starts to make money for the game’s operator, then other companies would quickly follow suit. Whether this means ‘the floodgates will open’ depends on people’s definition of ‘floodgates’ as it is (what we call in psychological terms) as ‘fuzzy quantifier’ (along with words like ‘some’ or ‘many’) as it means different things to different people.

So, again, for the record: (i) I am not anti-gambling, I am pro-responsible gambling, (ii) I am not anti-Facebook gambling, I am pro-responsible Facebook-gambling, and (iii) I am anti-adolescent gambling even if it is on games that are played for points rather than money.

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

Further reading

Forrest, D.K., McHale, I., & Parke, J.(2009). Appendix 5: Full report of statistical regression analysis. In: Ipsos MORI, British Survey of Children, the National Lottery and Gambling 2008-09: Report of a quantitative survey. London, National Lottery Commission.

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

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

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. (2012). Gambling on Facebook? A cause for concern? World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(9), 10-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The psychology of social gaming. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, August/September, 26-27.

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., Derevensky, J. & Parke, J. (2012). Online gambling in youth. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.183-199). London: Routledge.

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

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

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Derevensky, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). A review of Australian classification practices for commercial video games featuring simulated gambling. International Gambling Studies, 12, 231-242.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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