The psychology of extreme birders : parallels to other extreme behaviors, anorexia nervosa, addiction, and autism spectrum disorder

Essayli, Jamal Hussein
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [May 2013]
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Anecdotal accounts and sparse empirical data indicate that extreme birders present with striking characteristics, including an intense interest in birding and the exertion of immense effort directed toward the pursuit. The overvalued and effortful nature of extreme birding appears to lead to the emergence of prominent characteristics that are also evident in individuals who pursue other extreme behaviors such as highaltitude mountain climbing, ultrarunning, and severe calorie restriction. These features include: euphoria, identification with the pursuit, pride, a sense of superiority, and competitiveness related to the pursuit; a concern for the purity of the pursuit; and valuing the pursuit in part because it facilitates predictable judgments, stability, simplicity, and structure. Extreme birding may also be associated with specific benefits and costs. Additionally, anecdotal accounts indicate the presence of facets suggestive of an "addictive" pattern of behavior in some extreme birders. Finally, extreme birders may also have a drive to "systemize," a feature that is linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder. A total of 400 birders recruited from the Internet completed an online battery of measures. Following exploratory statistical procedures, a score representing degree of birding involvement was generated for each participant. Regression analyses were conducted to assess the extent to which birding involvement predicted the endorsement of a number of items addressing features of extreme birding, with the hypothesis that higher levels of involvement would predict higher scores on these items. Secondary analyses separated participants into three birder groups and compared mean scores on continuous items. The percentages of birders who endorsed each categorical item within these three groups were also calculated and compared. As hypothesized, birding involvement significantly predicted higher scores on the majority of items measuring: birding-related benefits; physical, financial, and interpersonal costs; features of extreme behaviors such as euphoria, identity, and competitiveness; characteristics that overlap with "addiction" such as a pattern of escalation; and a tendency to "systemize" as measured by the adapted Systemizing Quotient-Revised. The present study is the first to provide empirical support for the presence of these features. These results help advance knowledge of extreme birders and may have implications for populations who pursue other extreme behaviors, including both variants of normal behavior such as ultrarunning and high-altitude mountain climbing and pathological patterns similar to those seen in Anorexia Nervosa and substance abuse.
M.A. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2013.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Theses for the degree of Master of Arts (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Psychology.
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