Addiction Sameness

Alcohol, Opiates, Fat and Sugar are all Addictive Substances: this blog is about that "addiction sameness".

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why do gamblers keep going back for more?

Why do gamblers keep going back for more? - Science & Technology - News -

HOW much do you know about how you make decisions? Do you meticulously research every move before you make it, or do you trust in your "sixth sense" for the right call?

Northumbria University’s Kenny Coventry has spent years looking at what compels us to make choices from childhood to adulthood, and what factors may play a part. While he’s particularly interested in how this applies to gambling, it’s definitely something that strikes a chord in business.

He said: “If people are aware of how they make decisions, they may take a little more time when making them to reflect on what may be driving that process.”

Coventry is a professor of cognitive science and director of the Cognition and Communication Research Centre in Northumbria’s School of Life Sciences. He’ll be discussing his work as part of Newcastle Science City’s The Science of... Decision Making on Wednesday March 14, where he’s on the bill with Tony Blair’s former spokesperson Alastair Campbell at Newcastle’s City Library.

Coventry says that there’s a school of thought indicating that the brain has two competing decision-making approaches – one that makes quick decisions based on past experiences, and another that demands more measured evidence-based study.

“While there’s still debate about this, there has been research indicating two systems at work in the brain. There’s an older side that involves emotional processing, and a more frontal region that’s involved in logical decision making.”

Coventry studied psychology at Glasgow University, and went on to do a PhD in cognitive science and psychology at Edinburgh. He developed an interest in how the mind works when gambling, and studied punters at betting shops around Glasgow.

“My initial publications were looking at the rule of arousal, and asking if people do it because they get excited by it. But while there’s evidence that gambling is exciting, it’s not always the case that the gamblers that gamble more are getting more aroused than others who do it less frequently.”

There is a rise in excitement amongst gamblers, even if they don’t show it on the outside. During a horse race, Coventry said the heart would often hammer 30 to 40 beats a minute quicker than resting heart rate.

However, he believes past experience of gambling can also play a major role in continuing, even as far as addiction.

“There’s mounting evidence that early success is an important factor in the loss of control of gambling behaviour.

“It may seem perfectly rational that if someone has been successful in a game then they’d be stupid to stop, even if the logical side suggests they’ll lose eventually.

“If people’s decisions are based on the experiential side, they need to think about the types of experience they’re basing this on and whether they’re representative. They may just have had odd experiences in the past that have given them an unusual perspective on the world.”

Coventry also notes that the logical element of the brain may also try to create a narrative to force order on random events; to create what psychologist Ellen Langer called “the illusion of control”. He points to a study at Quebec’s Universit√© Laval, in which subjects were asked to gamble their participation fee on the toss of a coin.

“It was found that if you hid the past outcomes, people were actually prepared to pay some of their money to find out what they were. Although people might understand there’s an equal chance of a head or tail coming up, they still feel driven to use past information to make a decision.

“It’s not that gamblers are stupid. It’s that they may be using a system that may not be helping them.”
The research carried out by people such as Coventry is fed back into behavioural therapies for compulsive gamblers. But the process is also broadly interesting in raising awareness of what goes on in our heads.
“In gambling, there’s evidence that people have a narrowing field of attention. There’s a lack of awareness of other things happening.

“People such as Robert Ladouceur in Quebec have got people to talk through their decisions as they’re making them and record them. Some of the time, when they hear what they said, they think it sounds nuts.

“If people are taught to verbalize a decision, that can often help them to realise the steps they’re taking.”