Gamblers with the highest levels of impulsivity appear to be more prone to errors in reasoning associated with gambling, such as superstitious behaviors (carrying a lucky charm) and blaming losses on poor luck or “cold” machines, according to a new study led by the University of Cambridge.
Researchers from Cambridge and Imperial College London observed and compared 30 compulsive gamblers who were seeking treatment at the National Problem Gambling Clinic with 30 non-gamblers from the general population.
“The link between impulsivity and gambling beliefs suggests to us that high impulsivity can predispose a range of more complex distortions — such as superstitions — that gamblers often experience. Our research helps fuse these two likely underlying causes of problem gambling, shedding light on why some people are prone to becoming pathological gamblers,” said researcher Luke Clark, Ph.D.
To test impulsivity, researchers asked participants several questions about trade-offs between smaller amounts of money available immediately versus larger amounts of money in the future. The gamblers were far more likely to choose the immediate money even though it was a smaller amount. (Psychologists define impulsivity as a preference for the immediate smaller rewards on this task.)
It was also found that gamblers were especially impulsive during high or low moods, considered factors that can trigger gambling sprees.
Similar to treatment-seeking gamblers elsewhere in the world, the group from the National Problem Gambling Clinic was mostly male, and experienced a moderate rate of other mental health issues including alcohol abuse and depression.
“There are promising developments in treatments for problem gambling such as psychological therapies and drug medications. We hope that our research will provide additional insight into the problem and inform future treatments,” said Clark.
The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and is published in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Source: University of Cambridge