A new study on the psychology of gamblers suggests frustration stimulates reward centers in the brain to continue gambling.
This ongoing behavior, in turn, may contribute to addictive gambling behavior.
“Our findings support the hypothesis that these types of near-misses are a particularly frustrating form of loss, and contradict the supposition that they are a mis-categorized win,” said Mike Dixon, Ph.D., from the University of Waterloo.
“Specifically, following these types of near-misses, participants may be driven to spin again as quickly as possible to remove themselves from a particularly frustrating state.”
Prior studies have shown that near-misses support persistent gambling and activate brain areas that reinforce certain behaviors.
If near-misses are seen as near-wins, then they should be pleasurable. If, however, near-misses are highly frustrating losses, then they should be unpleasant. In the new study, Dixon and colleagues investigated if the near losses are frustrating or pleasurable.
They measured the time between the result of a spin and the initiation of the next spin following losses, near-misses and wins of various sizes among 122 participants as they played a slot machine simulator.
Of the 122 gamblers, 22 were non-problem gamblers, 37 were at risk players and 23 were problem gamblers. The researchers also assessed the players’ frustration levels by measuring the rate at which electricity travels through the skin. Skin responses reflect psychophysical changes as a result of frustration.
Researches discovered that progressively larger wins led to longer pauses between spins and increased arousal levels.
Near-misses with jackpot symbols landing on the first two reels led to significantly larger skin responses than regular losses and other types of near-misses. In addition, the gamblers were compelled to repeat the spin as quickly as possible after this type of near miss.
Researchers theorize that the near-misses activate a primitive rewards circuit that helps a player develop a hopeful, subjective impression that the next win is imminent. The brain activity might ultimately play a key role in addictive behavior.