Neuroscience of gambling

This week on Quirks and Quarks, the national science radio program on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, there a fantastic segment on the neurology of gambling -- sticking the heads of gamblers in fMRIs and having them play games of chance illuminates an awful lot about why our brains make us gamble. It turns out that the reward system that lights up when we get a near-miss in a game of skill (which makes sense) gives us the same reward when we have a near-miss in a game of chance (but only if we get to make a choice in the game, such as picking our lotto numbers, even though this has no influence over the outcome of the game).
One of the mysteries of gambling is that even when we should know we're going to lose, we somehow think we're going to win. Dr. Luke Clark, from the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge, may have discovered one of the reasons why. Using MRI, he studied brain activity in people gambling, looking particularly at "near misses" in which a loss seems close to a win. He found that the brain activated the same reward system that is activated in a real win, despite the fact that people report that these near misses are unpleasant.
Losers With Winners' Brains

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  1. this matches what I’ve always observed on people’s faces at the gambling table. Wonder what the brain of a resolute non-gambler looks like?

  2. Unscientifically: I’m a craps player and to me the peak buzz is always the last moment before the dice stop rolling.

  3. #6 We do indeed, This puts Biologics into the payoff. Back before people gave up on Brain Maintenance we had the mystery of the payoff for . ” Would of, Could of. And should Of” Now we know.

  4. One response I have used is the story of the time I had a chance to bed down my teenage heart throb , Kim Novac. She was crawling into bed naked in Bel Air and I was in Ohio with an erection. Close miss.

  5. Yeah I think gambling is really a form of psychosis — generally a mild form — but to say that studying gamblers tells us something about how the average person behaves is really rather silly.

  6. # 9 . There is no such thing as an average person . The word average may work for a Chicken Rancher . Among us proto- humans everyone is unique and alive. If you ain’t looking to have fun saving our drained Planet, think about pod-ding in . Become an implant and trust the future you too scared to look at.

  7. Using MRI, he studied brain activity in people gambling, looking particularly at “near misses” in which a loss seems close to a win. He found that the brain activated the same reward system that is activated in a real win, despite the fact that people report that these near misses are unpleasant.

    The gambling industry knows full well about near misses. Video slot machines and poker machines,first determine by random number what whether a person has won. If a person hasn’t won the then are programed to create what appear to be near misses, triggering the perceived reward activity noted above.

    Slot machines are very highly developed. They are skinner boxes for people.

  8. Sure, you can look at an fMRI during task performance and show some activation in the reward centre, but psychologists have known for years that intermittant reinforcment is the driving force of all types of gambling, especially slot machines. I bet there are some evil psychologists designing those machines too. So much MRI research now finds things we have known for decades. It just confirms, surprise surprise, that these things happen in the brain.

  9. You learn this when studying the psychology of video-games. People keep playing in part because their decision-making is under the different emotional impacts of “near-misses” versus “not even close” (i.e. the feeling of “If only I’d done something slightly differently, I would have succeeded” makes you feel anxious and want to take any opportunity to try again… and again, and again). People also keep playing in part because of “unpredictable reinforcement”; Even if you do the right thing, sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t, and each time you don’t get a reward, you think you’re closer to a win (which is a fallacy if the events are non-dependent as in a slot machine, but not so much when it comes to how close you are to a save point in a game). Loftus and Loftus have a wonderful paper about this, which I have not been able to find online for free. It’s back from the time of Pac Man and Space Invaders, but describes exactly my motivations to keep at Metal Gear Solid deep into the night.

  10. The neuroscience of gambling seems to be the same as addictions to drugs or alcohol. It’s an impulse disorder. People who have it can’t or won’t stop, even if not stopping causes them pain. I’ve just finished making a film about my father who is a compulsive gambler and getting to the roots of why he gambles and will not stop has been a mystifying experience. At times he even gambled with his life. Other times he’s a little more in control.

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