Interview with Dr. John McAlane, Bournemouth University, on crypto addiction

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This Q&A is the full interview with Dr John McAlane. For our deep dive into cryptocurrency trading addiction, with contribution from the full panel of experts, please see this article. 

Below is an interview with Dr. John McAlaney – Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Scientist and Professor of Psychology at Bournemouth University. This is the full transcript of our interview, quotes from which were published in our main article on the topic here. 

For an in-depth deep dive into the topic of cryptocurrency trading addiction, and its links to gambling, please follow that link. As for Dr John McAlane’s full interview, please see below.

CoinJournal (CJ): Do you think there are similarities between crypto trading addiction and gambling addiction? If so, could you please name the most notable ones?

Both cryptocurrency and gambling share a degree of risk. This is something that people can find exciting and can draw them into the behaviour. In addition, both gambling and cryptocurrency can involve a degree of skill, and in turn can result in profit. 

For example, a skilled, professional poker player can make enough money from poker that it becomes the main source of their income. Similarly, someone who has expertise in cryptocurrency may be able to make a living from trading – but in both cases it is only a minority of people who are successful.   


CJ: In your opinion, what is it that makes activities such as trading so addictive? 

As humans we have evolved to be motivated by rewards. This is one of the ways in which we learn how to function in society. It is also one of the reasons that behavioural addictions exist – we do something and get rewarded for it in some way, which motivates us to do it again. We are also driven to be curious, and to take some risks. This helps us explore or social world. Trading combines both of these processes. 

CJ: What are your thoughts on influencers who, in return for a fee from the founders, promote obscure cryptocurrencies to their followers with little knowledge of how it works – do you think this is problematic? 

We are all social creatures, although we often underestimate how much we are influenced by those around us. This is especially so in many cultures, where we take pride in being individuals. We also tend to assume that others know more than we do, if those others act in a confident and knowledgeable way. 

This means that people may pay attention to influencers based on how that influencer presents themselves; rather than basing their judgment on how much that influencer objectively knows about trading.

CJ: In your opinion, would the daily volatility of crypto prices impact mental health, as people see their investments go up and down so widely each day? 

Although a degree of risk can be enjoyable we also like to have some consistency in our lives – in others we can cope with a degree of unpredictability, but only up to a predictable level. Continually going through periods of volatility and uncertainty may cause feelings of anxiety in individuals, which could impact on their mental health.  

CJ: Research on crypto trading addiction is still limited, do you think the need for this is likely to grow in future? 

This is very likely. Crypto trading is a new behaviour, and new behaviours always capture the attention of researchers. This is especially the case if there is any suggestion that the behaviour in question is one that may cause harm to either the individual or others.


CJ: Do you believe the cryptocurrency industry should be doing more to promote safe investing and addressing the problem of addiction?

In other industries such as the gambling industry or the alcohol industry it is expected that companies will engage in what is called corporate social responsibility, in which they promote the safe use of their products, albeit there are often debates about whether these industries are doing as much as they could do. This is sometimes reinforced through legislation. 

The cryptocurrency industry potentially has an advantage in this as, in theory, it is easier to track online behaviour than it is to track offline behaviour such as alcohol use. This means there is potential to more quickly identify people who are experiencing problems and also to deliver personalised support. 

However, this does require a coordinated effort by the industry. If an individual with an addiction believes that one crypto company is restricting their actions then they can go to another company. 

CJ: Conventional gambling is restricted in many territories to consumers 18 and over. Do you believe there should be a similar rule within cryptocurrency, in order to protect younger, more impressionable minds from potential addiction?  

Yes, I believe trading should be limited to those aged 18 and over. However, we have to acknowledge that this is extremely difficult to regulate. I would also say that the type of person who becomes interested in crypto currency is quite often the kind of person who understands and knows how to circumvent computer systems.

CJ: If I can push you for a yes or no answer, do you believe the world would be a happier place without gambling?  

I don’t believe so. The majority of people who gamble do so in a way that is safe, responsible, and enjoyable Those who develop gambling addictions are often experiencing issues in their lives that underlie their addictions. If it weren’t gambling, their would likely demonstrate addiction to something else. 


CJ: Similar to the above question, would the world be a better place without cryptocurrency investing? 

I doubt it. Cryptocurrency arose from individuals looking to find new ways to deliver financial transactions. This curiosity about how systems work and how they can be changed is a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human. The world would be very dull if people always accepted the status quo.

CJ: What advice can you give people who are interested in trading crypto, who may be predisposed to gambling-related addictions? 

Anyone who is aware they may have a gambling problem probably already knows that they should avoid activities such as crypto trading. If they do decide to get involved then they should be mindful of their own behaviours and thoughts, and look out for red flags such as chasing losses, lying about their behaviour to others, or experiencing guilt or remorse over their actions.

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