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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teenage pics: A brief look at ‘selfie addiction’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If phonely: Are you addicted to your mobile phone?

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by Debating Europe (DE) about smartphone addiction. I was asked four questions and my responses were transcribed, edited, and published on the DE website on July 11. Only the responses to two of the questions were published, so my blog today provides the full transcript of my interview. I have emboldened each of the four questions and my response follows each question.

Vicki worries about the impact of smartphones on children. She thinks that parents nowadays are too prone to buying the latest phones for their kids, without taking into consideration possible alternatives. What are the risks of children being addicted to their phones?

Well, first thing to say is that children and adults are no more addicted to their smartphones than alcoholics are addicted to a bottle. What we’re really talking about here is the application that people have on smartphones. Obviously, children now seem to getting smartphones at a younger and younger age. I’m often asked what is an appropriate age to give children smartphones. There is no right answer on this, but I certainly don’t advocate giving smartphones to children under the age of 11 years.

I think when children move to their secondary schools, most children in the class will have a smartphone, and to not give your child a smartphone can ostracise them from the class. The issue about smartphones in terms of excessive use is that sometimes parents do actually pathologise their children’s excessive smartphone use, particularly if they don’t use a smartphone much themselves. For me, the issue is whether their smartphone use interferes with the other important things in their lives?

There are typically four things I ask parents: One, is smartphone use affecting your child’s education and homework? Two, is their smartphone use affecting their physical education? Three. is their smartphone use affecting the chores you expect your children to do around the house? And, finally, does the smartphone use affect their face-to-face interaction with their friends? Typically, most parents, if they’ve answered honestly, will answer that the smartphone doesn’t affect any of those four domains. But if a parent does feel it’s affecting those four domains, then it is the parent’s responsibility to do something about it.

As a parent myself, I know that taking a smartphone off a child can be very difficult sometimes and can lead to negative reactions by the child. But at the end of the day, a parent is there to parent. They’re there to oversee their child’s development into – hopefully – a thriving adult who’s got all the capacities to go on in the world. Using smartphones, unfortunately or fortunately – depending upon your viewpoint – is now a natural thing and, particularly in teenage years, that is what children do. So I think it comes down to everything in moderation and parents absolutely have the right to restrict screen time and in extreme circumstances actually take the smartphones away.

smartphone-addiction

Stella thinks we’re being too negative about mobile phones. She thinks technology such as smartphones actually increases the sense of community and allows for expression of opinions. What would you say to her? Is she right to be so optimistic or should it be tempered?

It’s all about moderation. I personally think the advantages of smartphones far outweigh the disadvantages. I’m actually an unusual person. I actually gave using up my mobile phone a number of years ago, and I’ve now learned to live without one. But – to be honest – particularly for most teenagers, this is absolutely essential in their day-to-day social armoury. I don’t think there’s any argument that there should be a ban or a prohibition on smartphones because, as I said, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

The scientific research says that a very small minority seem to overuse their smartphones, particularly young people aged between 14-to-25 years. We’ve got teenagers, older adolescents and emerging adults who heavily use their smartphones. I think most of that use is what I call ‘habitual use’. It’s not ‘problematic use’, it’s just something that people get into a habit of doing, always looking at their mobile phones even when there hasn’t been a ‘ping’ or a beep to say there’s been a notification or a message. People still automatically look at their smartphone even if there’s no sound. It’s almost like a classically conditioned response.

I think more people pathologise use. For most people, their smartphone use is not pathological in any way, shape, or form. It’s just that, sometimes, excessive use is pathologised by people who don’t like mobile phones. I notice mobile phones when I’m in a restaurant or a pub, because I don’t have one myself. I’m actually very conscious when somebody else is looking at their mobile phone during mid-conversation, and that has led to this phrase ‘phubbing’, which is ‘phone snubbing’ and which goes on all the time. But that, in and of itself, is not an addiction and is not excessive.

I certainly think that in terms of the question asked, I do think there’s a lot of good things to say about mobile phones and I wouldn’t want to be in a position where they’re not around because for some people they’re life-savers and for some it’s part of their social armoury. I do think that the way social media operators use their psychological hooks to get people to look at their phones is something where the onus is on the social media operators rather than the individuals.    

Reader ‘Randomguy2017’ is sceptical of the benefits of technological progress. He argues that depression and anxiety are higher than ever, as our addiction to smartphones grow. Is there a link between the two?

As far as I’m aware – and I may be wrong – there is no scientific longitudinal study that has looked at the relationship between smartphone use, depression and anxiety. I certainly think it’s a case where it’s a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ thing. If you’re somebody that’s prone to anxiety or depression, you’re more likely to use smartphones or the Internet as a way masking depression and anxiety. There’s also some research that suggests excessive use of smartphones and the Internet can lead to social anxiety and depression. So, like I said before, there’s a bit of ‘chicken and the egg’ here. It may be also be that there is a bit of both.

Again, I would really stress that the number of people that would be genuinely addicted to applications on their smartphone are very few and far between. I think what we’ve got more now is that the excessive smartphone use sometimes leads to problematic behaviour. It could be that you’re looking at your smartphone while you’re driving, or you prefer to look at your smartphone rather than talk to somebody in front of you face-to-face. Those kind of things, they are what I would say are ‘problematic’ and annoying and, in the case of driving, could actually be fatal, but none of those are necessarily addictive or pathological.

However, I do think we have to put these things into perspective. The vast majority of people that use smartphone-based technologies, it’s something that’s life-affirming, life-enhancing, that adds to their life. But that doesn’t take away the fact that small minority out there that their use of smartphones takes away from other important things in their life. And in a tiny minority of cases the application that people are engaging in online whether its social networking, gaming, or gambling might be potentially addictive. But I take a holistic approach in this, in that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

Emil is concerned about the privacy implications of our reliance on phones. Is he correct in assuming hackers can easily access what we do on our phones?

This is not my research area as I don’t look at privacy issues in relation to Internet and smartphone use. However, I’ve got access to people’s data from gambling companies and we do research on that data. I think that people have got to realise that anything they do online, when you’ve signed up to do anything, whether it’s a gambling service, a gaming service, a social networking site, is that you are – in effect – giving your data away.

When my kids come to me and say to me, ‘Can I do this, it’s free?’ I have to educate my children when anything is free, via smartphone or the Internet, then you yourself are the product that’s actually being sold. It’s very hard to educate a 12 or 13-year-old about that, but I think you can say to adults that their data is being used and sold in ways that they never imagined.

But I do think that this ‘big data’ revolution that we’ve got now can result in very good potential uses of that data, particularly at an aggregate level. But I certainly know that on an individual level, I don’t like my own data being used. If I sign up and buy things from Amazon, I know they’re going to use my data. If I sign up to use Facebook, I know my data is being used some way. So it’s a bit of give and take. In Europe, we’ve just had new regulation regarding data privacy. Obviously governments are trying to get on top of this, but we now live in a digital world, we leave digital footprints, and our data is going to be used in ways we never thought it might be used in the first place. That is the trade-off between having all these advantages of new technologies versus those privacy issues.

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

Further reading

Balakrishnan, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2018). ‘Addictive’ smartphone games and their features: A largescale qualitative study using online reviews by videogame players. International Journal of Mental Health and Addictions, in press.

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

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

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

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

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

Lopez-Fernandez, O., Kuss, D.J., Pontes, H.M., Griffiths, M.D., Dawes, C., … Billieux, J. (2018). Measurement invariance of the short version of the Problematic Mobile Phone Use Questionnaire (PMPUQ-SV) across eight languages. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15, 1213. doi:10.3390/ijerph15061213

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

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

Tubular hells: A brief look at ‘addiction’ to watching YouTube videos

 

A few days ago, I unexpectedly found my research on internet addiction being cited in a news article by Paula Gaita on compulsive viewing of YouTube videos (‘Does compulsive YouTube viewing qualify as addiction?‘). The article was actually reporting a case study from a different news article published by PBS NewsHour by science correspondent Lesley McClurg (‘After compulsively watching YouTube, teenage girl lands in rehab for digital addiction’). As Gaita reported:

“The story profiles a middle school student whose obsessive viewing of YouTube content led to extreme behavior changes and eventually, depression and a suicide attempt. The student finds support through therapy at an addiction recovery center…The student in question is a young girl named Olivia who felt at odds with the ‘popular’ kids at her Oakland area school. She began watching YouTube videos after hearing that it was a socially acceptable thing to do… Her viewing habits soon took the place of sleep, which impacted her energy and mood. Her grades began to falter, and external problems within her house – arguments between her parents and the death of her grandmother – led to depression and an admission of wanting to hang herself. Her parents took her to a psychiatric hospital, where she stayed for a week under suicide watch, but her self-harming compulsion continued after her release. She began viewing videos about how to commit suicide, which led to an attempt to overdose on Tylenol[Note: The name of the woman – Olivia – was a pseudonym].

McClurg interviewed Olivia’s mother for the PBS article and it was reported that Olivia went from being a “bubbly daughter…hanging out with a few close friends after school” to “isolating in her room for hours at a time”. Olivia’s mother also claimed that her daughter had always been kind of a nerd, a straight. A student who sang in a competitive choir. But she desperately wanted to be popular, and the cool kids talked a lot about their latest YouTube favorites”. According to news reports, all Olivia would do was to watch video after video for hours and hours on end and developed sleeping problems. Over time, the videos being watched focused on fighting girls and other videos featuring violence.

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The news story claimed that Olivia was “diagnosed with depression that led to compulsive internet use”. When Olivia went back home she was still feeling suicidal and then spent hours watching YouTube videos on how to commit suicide (and it’s where she got the idea for overdosing on Tylenol tablets).

After a couple of spells in hospital, Olivia’s parents took her to a Californian centre specialising in addiction recovery (called ‘Paradigm’ in San Rafael). The psychologist running the Paradigm clinic (Jeff Nalin) claimed Olivia’s problem was “not uncommon” among clients attending the clinic. Nalin believes (as I do and have pointed out in my own writings) that treating online addictions is not about abstinence but about getting the behaviour under control but developing skills to deal with the problematic behaviour. He was quoted as saying:

“I describe a lot of the kids that we see as having just stuck a cork in the volcano. Underneath there’s this rumbling going on, but it just rumbles and rumbles until it blows. And it blows with the emergence of a depression or it emerges with a suicide attempt…The best analogy is when you have something like an eating disorder. You cannot be clean and sober from food. So, you have to learn the skills to deal with it”.

The story by Gaita asked the question of whether compulsive use of watching YouTube could be called a genuine addiction (and that’s where my views based on my own research were used). I noted that addiction to the internet may be a symptom of another addiction, rather than an addiction unto itself. For instance, people addicted to online gambling are gambling addicts, not internet addicts. An individual addicted to online gaming or online shopping are addicted to gaming or shopping not to the internet.

An individual may be addicted to the activities one can do online and is not unlike saying that an alcoholic is not addicted to a bottle, but to what’s in it. I have gone on record many times saying that I believe anything can be addictive as long there are continuous rewards in place (i.e., constant reinforcement). Therefore, it’s not impossible for someone to become addicted to watching YouTube videos but the number of genuine cases of addiction are likely to be few and far between. Watching video after video is conceptually no different from binge watching specific television series or television addiction itself (topics that I have examined in previous blogs).

I ought to end by saying that some of my own research studies on internet addiction (particularly those co-written with Dr. Attila Szabo and Dr. Halley Pontes and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions and Addictive Behaviors Reports – see ‘Further reading’ below) have examined the preferred applications by those addicted to the internet, and that the watching of videos online is one of the activities that has a high association with internet addiction (along with such activities such as social networking and online gaming). Although we never asked participants to specify which channel they watched the videos, it’s fair to assume that many of our participants will have watched them on YouTube), and (as the Camelot lottery advert once said) maybe, just maybe, a few of those participants may have had an addiction to watching YouTube videos.

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

Further reading

Gaita, P. (2017). Does compulsive YouTube viewing qualify as addiction? The Fix, May 19. Located at: https://www.thefix.com/does-compulsive-youtube-viewing-qualify-addiction

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. & 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.

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

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Internet Addiction in Psychotherapy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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.

McClurg, L. (2017). After compulsively watching YouTube, teenage girl lands in rehab for ‘digital addiction’. PBS Newshour, May 16. Located at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/compulsively-watching-youtube-teenage-girl-lands-rehab-digital-addiction/

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

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

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

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

More term warfare: Is the concept of ‘internet addiction’ a misnomer?

A recent study by Professor Phil Reed and his colleagues published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry provided some experimental evidence that internet addicts may be conditioned by what they view on the screen. Given that I was the first person in the world to publish an academic paper on internet addiction back in November 1996 it’s good to see that the number of studies into internet addiction has grown substantially over the last 20 years and that there are now hundreds of studies that have investigated the disorder worldwide in many different ways.

This newly published study is one of the few in the field that has investigated internet addiction from an experimental perspective (as opposed the majority that use self-report survey methods and the increasing number of neuroimaging studies examining what happens inside the brains of those who spend excessive amounts of time online).

Professor Reed’s study involved 100 adult volunteers who were deprived of internet access for four hours. The research team then asked the participants to name a colour (the first one that they could think of) and then gave them 15 minutes to access any websites that they wanted to on the internet. The research team monitored all the sites that the participants visited and after the 15-minute period they were again asked to think of the first colour that came to mind. The participants were also asked to complete various psychometric questionnaires including the Internet Addiction Test (IAT). The IAT is a 20-item test where each item is scored from 0 [not applicable] or 1 [rarely] up to 5 [always]. An example item is How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you need to do?” Those scoring 80 or above (out of 100) are typically defined as having a probable addiction to the internet by those who have used the IAT in previous studies.

Those classed as “high problem [internet] users” on the basis of IAT scores (and who were deprived internet access) were more likely to choose a colour that was prominent on the websites they visited during the 15-minute period after internet deprivation. This wasn’t found in those not classed as internet addicts. Professor Reed said:

“The internet addicts chose a colour associated with the websites they had just visited [and] suggests that aspects of the websites viewed after a period without the net became positively valued. Similar findings have been seen with people who misuse substances, with previous studies showing that a cue associated with any drug that relieves withdrawal becomes positively valued itself. This is the first time though that such an effect has been seen for a behavioural addiction like problematic internet usage”.

While this is an interesting finding there are some major shortcomings both from a methodological standpoint and from a more conceptual angle. Firstly, the number of high problem internet users that were deprived internet access for four hours comprised just 12 individuals so the sample size was incredibly low. Secondly, the individuals classed as high problem internet users had IAT scores ranging from 40 to 72. In short, it is highly unlikely that any of the participants were actually addicted to the internet. Thirdly, although the IAT is arguably the most used screen in the field, it has questionable reliability and validity and is now very out-dated (having been devised in 1998) and does not use the criteria suggested for Internet Disorder in the latest (fifth) edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Using more recently developed instruments such as our own Internet Disorder Scale would have perhaps overcome some of these problems.

There are also much wider problems with the use of the term ‘internet addiction’ as most studies in the field have really investigated addictions on the internet rather than to the internet. For instance, individuals addicted to online gaming, online gambling or online shopping are not internet addicts. They are gambling addicts, gaming addicts or shopping addicts that are using the medium of the internet to engage in their addictive behaviour. There are of course some activities – such as social networking – that could be argued to be a genuine type of internet addiction as such activities only take place online. However, the addiction is to an application rather than the internet itself and this should be termed social networking addiction rather than internet addiction. In short, the overwhelming majority of so-called internet addicts are no more addicted to the internet than alcoholics are addicted to the bottle.

A shorter version of this article was first published in The Conversation

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. & Kuss, D.J. (2015). Online addictions: The case of gambling, video gaming, and social networking. In Sundar, S.S. (Ed.), Handbook of the Psychology of Communication Technology (pp.384-403). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

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

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. (2015). Internet Addiction in Psychotherapy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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.

Osborne, L. A., Romano, M., Re, F., Roaro, A., Truzoli, R., & Reed, P. (2016). Evidence for an internet addiction disorder: internet exposure reinforces color preference in withdrawn problem users. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 77(2), 269-274.

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

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

Net gains: A brief overview of our recent papers on Internet addiction

Following my recent blogs where I outlined some of the papers that I and my colleagues have published on mindfulness, I got a couple of emails asking if I could do the same thing on other areas that we have been researching into. So, here it is.

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

  • Introduction: Recent research has examined the context in which preference for specific online activities arises, leading researchers to suggest that excessive Internet users are engaged in specific activities rather than ‘generalized’ Internet use. The present study aimed to partially replicate and expand these findings by addressing four research questions regarding (i) participants’ preferred online activities, (i) possible expected changes in online behavior in light of hypothetical scenarios, (iii) perceived quality of life when access to Internet was not possible, and (iv) how participants with self-diagnosed Internet addiction relate to intensity and frequency of Internet use. Methods: A cross-sectional design was adopted using convenience and snowball sampling to recruit participants. A total of 1057 Internet users with ages ranging from 16 to 70 years (Mean age= 30 years, SD = 10.84) were recruited online via several English-speaking online forums. Results: Most participants indicated that their preferred activities were (i) accessing general information and news, (ii) social networking, and (iii) using e-mail and/or online chatting. Participants also reported that there would be a significant decrease of their Internet use if access to their preferred activities was restricted. The study also found that 51% of the total sample perceived themselves as being addicted to the Internet, while 14.1% reported that without the Internet their life would be improved. Conclusions: The context in which the Internet is used appears to determine the intensity and the lengths that individuals will go to use this tool. The implications of these findings are further discussed.

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

  • Research into Internet addiction (IA) has grown rapidly over the last decade. The topic has generated a great deal of debate, particularly in relation to how IA can be defined conceptually as well as the many methodological limitations. The present review aims to further elaborate and clarify issues that are relevant to IA research in a number of areas including: definition and characterization, incidence and prevalence rates, associated neuronal processes, and implications for treatment, prevention, and patient-specific considerations. It is concluded that there is no consensual definition for IA. Prevalence rates among nationally representative samples across several countries vary greatly (from 1% to 18.7%), most likely reflecting the lack of methodological consistency and conceptual rigor of the studies. The overlaps between IA and other more traditional substance-based addictions and the possible neural substrates implicated in IA are also highlighted. In terms of treatment and prevention, both psychological and pharmacological treatments are examined in light of existing evidence alongside particular aspects inherent to the patient perspective. Based on the evidence analyzed, it is concluded that IA may pose a serious health hazard to a minority of people.

Lai, C-L., Mak, K-K., Cheng, C., Watanabe, H., Nomachi, S., Bahar, N., Young, K.S., Ko, H-C., Kim, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measurement invariance of Internet Addiction Test among Hong Kong, Japanese, and Malaysian adolescents: An item response analysis. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 18, 609-617.

  • There has been increased research examining the psychometric properties on the Internet Addiction Test (IAT) in different populations. This population-based study examined the psychometric properties and measurement invariance of the IAT in adolescents from three Asian countries. In the Asian Adolescent Risk Behavior Survey (AARBS), 2,535 secondary school students (55.9% girls) aged 12-18 years from Hong Kong (n=844), Japan (n=744), and Malaysia (n=947) completed a survey in 2012-2013 school year. A nested hierarchy of hypotheses concerning the IAT cross-country invariance was tested using multigroup confirmatory factor analyses. Replicating past findings in Hong Kong adolescents, the construct of the IAT is best represented by a second-order three-factor structure in Malaysian and Japanese adolescents. Configural, metric, scalar, and partial strict factorial invariance was established across the three samples. No cross-country differences on Internet addiction were detected at the latent mean level. This study provided empirical support for the IAT as a reliable and factorially stable instrument, and valid to be used across Asian adolescent populations.

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

  • Kimberly Young’s initial work on Internet addiction (IA) was pioneering and her early writings on the topic in- spired many others to carry out research in the area. Young’s (2015) recent paper on the ‘evolution of Internet addiction’ featured very little European research, and did not consider the main international evidence that has contributed to our current knowledge about the conceptualization, epidemiology, etiology, and course of Internet-related disorders. This short commentary paper elaborates on important literature omitted by Young that the present authors believe may be of use to researchers. We also address statements made in Young’s (2015) commentary that are incorrect (and therefore misleading) and not systematically substantiated by empirical evidence.

Stavropoulos, V., Kuss, D.K., Griffiths, M.D. & Motti-Stafanidi, F. (2016). A longitudinal study of adolescent internet addiction: The role of conscientiousness and classroom hostility. Journal of Adolescent Research, in press.

  • Over the last decade, research on Internet addiction (IA) has increased. However, almost all studies in the area are cross-sectional and do not examine the context in which Internet use takes place. Therefore, a longitudinal study examined the role of conscientiousness (as a personality trait) and classroom hostility (as a contextual factor) in the development of IA. The participants comprised 648 adolescents and were assessed over a 2-year period (while aged 16-18 years). A three-level hierarchical linear model was carried out on the data collected. Findings revealed that (a) lower conscientiousness was associated with IA and this did not change over time and (b) although being in a more hostile classroom did not initially have a significant effect, it increased girls’ IA vulnerability over time and functioned protectively for boys. Results indicated that the contribution of individual and contextual IA factors may differ across genders and over time. More specifically, although the protective effect of conscientiousness appeared to hold, the over-time effect of classroom hostility increased the risk of IA for girls. These findings are discussed in relation to the psychological literature. The study’s limitations and implications are also discussed.

Ostovar, S., Allahyar, N., Aminpoor, H. Moafian, F., Nor, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2016). Internet addiction and its psychosocial risks (depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness) among Iranian adolescents and young adults: A structural equation model in a cross-sectional study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, in press.

  • Internet addiction has become an increasingly researched area in many Westernized countries. However, there has been little research in developing countries such as Iran, and when research has been conducted, it has typically utilized small samples. This study investigated the relationship of Internet addiction with stress, depression, anxiety, and loneliness in 1052 Iranian adolescents and young adults. The participants were randomly selected to complete a battery of psychometrically validated instruments including the Internet Addiction Test, Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, and the Loneliness Scale. Structural equation modeling and Pearson correlation coefficients were used to determine the relationship between Internet addiction and psychological impairments (depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness). Pearson correlation, path analysis, multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), and t-tests were used to analyze the data. Results showed that Internet addiction is a predictor of stress, depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Findings further indicated that addictive Internet use is gender sensitive and that the risk of Internet addiction is higher in males than in females. The results showed that male Internet addicts differed significantly from females in terms of depression, anxiety, stress, and loneliness. The implications of these results are discussed.

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

Further reading

Billieux, J., Deleuze, J., Griffiths, M.D., & Kuss, D.J. (2015). Internet addiction: The case of massively multiplayer online role playing games. In N. El-Guebaly, M. Galanter, & G. Carra (Eds.), The Textbook of Addiction Treatment: International Perspectives (pp.1516-1525). New York: Springer.

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

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.

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. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-behavioural approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68, 1185-1195.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Internet Addiction in Psychotherapy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

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., Shorter, G.W., van Rooij, A.J., Griffiths, M.D., & Schoenmakers, T.M. (2014). Assessing Internet addiction using the parsimonious Internet addiction components model – A preliminary study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 351-366.

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.

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.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Unravelling the Web: Adolescents and Internet Addiction. In Virtual Communities: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools and Applications (pp. 2433-2453). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.