Gambling and addiction

Lottery Balls

73% of the British population (35.5 million) gamble annually. This amount is roughly £3.50 per week, 80p more than the cost of fruit (The Guardian, 2007).

Problem gamblers – have an inability to resist urges

Responsible gamblers– make a rational/ sensible choice

Cognitive distortions may be able to explain gambling, as the misperceived probability of winning. The person overestimates the probability of their own bet, losing a sense of reality. in this state chance is confused with skill (illusion of control).  Wins and near misses reinforce beliefs.

Studies have found that heart rate increases during casino play, though such data does is not always supported by strong ecological validity. Anderson and Brown (1984) found higher arousal during gambling, with distinct physiological symptoms such as higher heart rate, skin conductance and endogenous opioids such as cortisol. This physiological excitement corresponds with that of a psychological nature, acting as a gambler’s cue (Boyd, 2002). Gambling, in this way, also helps to avoid negative feelings such as stress and boredom, which, from a behaviourist perspective, subsequently avoids negative reinforcement. A reward deficiency has been met with reduces dopamine receptors due to the underactive rewards system.

The ‘think aloud’ technique is used by gamblers to vocalise their thoughts. Thoughts are coded as either sensible (‘this is just chance’) or erroneous (‘the machines want to pay out’). This erroneous pattern has been found to be increased by 87% in problem gamblers.

The gambler’s fallacy states that when a binary choice is present, a person is less likely to choose the same as their previous losing choice in the long run (negative recency). The hot hand fallacy – Ayton and Fischer (2004) found that confidence increases on a winning streak, despite the fact that there has been no increases in the probability of success. This is met with behaviours typical of the illusion of control, i.e.blowing and throwing dice. Fast et al (2009) found that people prefer to throw dice themselves, feeling as if they are in more control.

Additional research

  • the Guardian 20th April 2014: a survey last year… showed that as many as 20% of university students had gambled in an attempt to make money… One ex-student gambled […his] student loan, culminating in a loss of £8000 in just one hour.
  • 28th Febuary 2014: England’s poorest bet £13bn on gambling machines – Amount gambled on high-speed machines in deprived boroughs is double that staked in richest areas, reports claim.
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