At this time of year, many of us are trying to rethink old habits and behaviors that aren't serving us so well. One of these, which seems to be increasingly common, is the excessive use of screens, in all its iterations. The end of last year brought some interesting revelations about the allure, and even the addictiveness, of screen time. And researchers, psychologists, and even tech developers are starting to acknowledge this reality more and more.
Last month alone brought two noteworthy developments: the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it will now recognize excessive gaming as a mental health disorder. And two researchers developed a psychometric measure for “selfitis”—the addiction to taking and posting selfies online. Excessive social media and smartphone use are others that have been gaining steam as bona fide addictions. Though there’s not a lot of consensus about how to conceptualize these behaviors, perhaps it will develop in the coming months or years. Here’s a bit more about the most recent developments.
Last week, the WHO announced that it will include gaming as an official mental health disorder in its 2018 update to the International Classification of Diseases. Previously, the only acknowledged behavioral (as opposed to substance) addiction was gambling, which is also the case as per U.S. guidelines. Here are some of the symptoms of excessive gaming, as the WHO defines it:
1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
Not everyone agrees that this move from the WHO was warranted, arguing that it’s fundamentally different from other types of addiction, which can wreak havoc on people’s lives in a way that they say gaming can’t. So some critics have said that the designation is too specific, and it would make more sense to keep it to a more general “behavioral addiction.” On the other hand, there have been reports of serious consequences, including deaths from days-long video game marathons—and some researchers who have studied gaming behavior for years say it certainly fits into addiction. Time will tell how this new designation changes how gaming is handled, clinically, socially and politically.
This is another brand new proposal—it’s not an acknowledged disorder by any organization, but there’s now a way to measure it. A team of researchers in India and the U.K. has developed a psychometric measure, the Selfitis Behavior Scale, to determine whether a person suffers from selfitis, or an addiction to taking and posting selfies on social media. The researchers had a group of college students rate a number of statements to test certain motivations for and consequences of taking selfies, like social competition, mood modification, and attention seeking. A few examples are:
“I feel I am lost when my friends get more likes and comments for selfies than me”
“I spend at least twenty minutes editing and grooming the picture before uploading it in social media”
“Sometimes taking selfies helps me to come out of any depressive thoughts”
“When people like and comment on my selfie postings, my self-confidence rises greatly”
“I feel detached from my group if I don’t take and pose frequent selfies”
Depending on a person’s score, he or she may be classified as having borderline, acute, or chronic selfitis. The team was able to test the scale’s validity and reliability as a diagnostic tool, and found it pretty accurate, though they say more studies are needed to verify it. Though many people would agree from anecdotal evidence that something along the lines of selfitis does exist, and carries certain psychological features with it, it’s not clear how it fits into our larger understanding of mental health issues. It may be more a symptom of an underlying problem than a diagnosis in itself. Again, time will tell.