Drive warps Trekkies

June 13, 1997

IT'S ADDICTION - but not as we know it, claims a researcher who has spent the last four years studying people hooked on Star Trek.

Sandy Wolfson, principal lecturer in psychology at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, has become a firm fan of the cult sci-fi series herself, after questioning more than 1,000 "trekkies".

She is now working on a book on "philosophical issues raised in Star Trek", examining the trekkie phenomenon to see whether normal criteria of addiction applies. Her findings suggest trekkies share many of the characteristics of addicts to chemical substances.

"Some of these people are totally immersed in the activity," she said. "It pervades their lives and there are instances of withdrawal, where if they miss their normal amount of Star Trek they feel agitated or show physiological symptoms.

"One 40-year-old career woman I interviewed couldn't relax on holiday because she was constantly worried she had not set the video properly to record the episodes she was missing."

Others reported complaints from their family about the amount of time and money they were spending on their hobby. One person had blown more than Pounds 6,000 on Star Trek merchandise in a single year. They also had to cope with a poor media image.

But Dr Wolfson said what marked trekkies out from other addicts was that they saw no need to resist their addiction. "They don't think any of these pressures are nearly enough to stop them engaging in the activity," she said. Unlike junkies or alcoholics they never relapsed because they did not give up in the first place.

"They see so many positive benefits psychologically from being a Star Trek fan," she said. "Loads have met friends and even spouses through Star Trek. People who are normally a bit tongue-tied find it a good source of conversation. People also feel they get a lot of intellectual benefits. It's a very moral kind of show. Each episode has some kind of ethical dilemma which gives people a lot to think about."

She said that, in spite of the image, people enjoyed labelling themselves a Star Trek fan because they saw themselves in good company. "I would use the term positive addiction for addictions where people feel they have a positive effect," said Dr Wolfson, who is now extending her researches via email to Germany and South America.

"Star Trek does seem to be something people feel has a positive influence on them and society. It makes them happy."

In other words, addiction to Star Trek could help you live long and prosper.

* See research papers.

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