People should be aware of the symptoms of addiction if they find themselves spending a lot of money on claw machines, Tainan Municipal An-Nan Hospital psychiatrist Chang Chun-hung (張俊鴻) warned.
Most people can enjoy claw machines as an occasional activity, but those with tendencies toward addiction might find that they are unable to pull themselves away, even if they win prizes, Chang said.
Chang, who is also director of the hospital’s psychiatry department, cited the case of a 35-year-old man surnamed Lin (林), who he treated for severe addiction to claw machines.
Photo: Tsai Ya-hua, Taipei Times
Lin, who worked as an elevator repairman, spent all his money on the machines and even took out a loan to continue using them, Chang said.
Lin turned to theft to fuel his habit — for which he was arrested and charged, costing him his job, Chang said.
In a separate case, a 40-year-old construction worker surnamed Chang (張) spent all of his salary of about NT$20,000 on claw machines, Chang Chun-hung said.
However, after his money was gone and he still did not have the Bluetooth speaker he was after, the construction worker used a strong magnet to maneuver the gadget out of the machine, Chang Chun-hung said, adding that the owner of the arcade reported the incident to the police.
An explanation for the popularity of claw machines could be the psychological effects of the “cute” figurines they often contain, the psychiatrist said.
People are also drawn to bright and colorful objects, he said, citing research involving newborns.
The upbeat music that claw machine parlors usually play also motivates people to spend, he said.
Research has uncovered new triggers for pleasure centers in the brain, and there is speculation that claw machines trigger these, releasing dopamine, he said.
As with other addictions, those who become hooked on claw machines might find that they are drawn to more expensive or challenging machines, he said.
Furthermore, people might experience withdrawal symptoms or a sense of helplessness over their perceived irrationality, Chang Chun-hung said.
It is common for people with an addiction to have other conditions, he said. More than half of young people with addictions also show signs of depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Both conditions must be addressed at the same time for treatment to be effective, he said, adding that it did not necessarily require medication.
Those who find themselves unable to stop using claw machines — or stop other behaviors — should consult a psychiatrist, such as those at his hospital, he said.
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