Article Content
  1. Latest Studies
  2. Gambling Types
  3. Gambler's Fallacy & Gambling Psychology
  4. Gambling Superstitions
  5. Gambling Games' Design
  6. Emotion Affect
  7. Bandwagon Effect
  8. Gambling Addiction
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Psychology of Gambling

For most people, gambling is an entertaining pastime activity. Yet, for some people it can evolve into a compulsion, meaning that they cannot control an urge to gamble. These gamblers can develop an addiction to gambling.

Psychological addiction to gambling is caused by many factors. While gambling, our bodies produce endorphins and adrenaline, which make us happy. Besides, our brains release dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that makes us excited. The release of dopamine, also known as the feel-good neurotransmitter, makes us come back for more even when we lose.

Some casino games require more than one player, so gambling is also a social activity. This particularly applies to games available at brick-and-mortar casinos. Players visit casinos to meet new people who share their passion for gambling, trying to improve their social life.

Gambling is also related to the feeling of being successful. Some people who feel that they are not as successful as they should be can start gambling because winning at casino games make them feel more successful.

With the introduction of smartphones and tablets as handheld devices that make casino games accessible even on the go, some scientists have looked at the psychology of mobile gambling. Studies have shown that gamblers who use their mobile phones to gamble are at increased risk of developing gambling addiction when compared with those who visit land-based casinos.

Another way to understand the psychology of gambling is to understand the difference between professional and amateur gamblers. Professional gamblers are identified as players whose main source of income is gambling. They consider gambling as their occupation and rely on their skills while playing casino games. On the other hand, amateur gamblers who play casino games for fun mostly rely on luck. Because of the lack of discipline, some amateur gamblers become addicted to gambling.

A lottery is one of the games of chance which is legalised in most countries in the world. To play it, people do not have to join online or online casinos. All it takes to play a lottery is to buy tickets, which are available offline and online. Due to their accessibility, lotteries attract people from all walks of life, even the poor ones. Some of them tend to buy lottery tickets excessively and behave like gambling addicts.

Neuroscientists have been trying to understand the neural processes behind compulsive gambling. Gambling disorder is a progressive, behavioural addiction, which belongs to the same category as alcohol and drug addictions. Some studies have shown that the brain reward system of both drug and gambling addicts is underactive, which makes them vulnerable to compulsive gambling and substance abuse. Both types of addicts experience withdrawal effects and cannot control their habits despite the negative effect they have on their lives.


What are the latest studies for the Psychology of Gambling?

The latest studies on the psychology of gambling are listed below:

  1. Nassim Tabri, Silas Xuereb, Natalie Cringle and Luke Clark, researchers at the Carleton University Department of Psychology and the University of British Columbia, published a study in July 2021 which focuses on how financial gambling motives correlate with gambling frequency and the level of problem gambling. This research showed that the financial gambling motives were reliably and positively associated with the frequency of gambling and the level of problem gambling.
  2. A group of Italian researchers which includes Guyonne Rogier, the University of Genoa, Sara Beomonte Zobel and Patrizia Velotti, the Sapienza University of Rome, Andrea Marini, the University of L’Aquila and Jacopo Camponeschi, a clinical psychologist, conducted the study Gambling disorder and dissociative features in May 2021. The systematic review focuses on the relationship between gambling disorder and dissociation, a mental process where a person may feel disconnected from their feelings, thoughts, memories, sense of identity or even the world around them.
  3. Paul H. Delfabbro from the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology, and Daniel L. King from the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work, Flinders University, Adelaide, carried out the behaviour-attitude divide: understanding public attitudes towards gambling study in September 2020. The paper focuses on the disjuncture between the negative attitudes toward gambling and an increase in adult participation rates. The surveys the researchers conducted had shown that people’s right to gamble is supported as well as the regulatory models where gambling facilities are separated from other parts of daily life.
  4. Rory A. Pfund of the University of New Mexico, Samuel Peter of the University of Memphis, Meredith K Ginley of East Tennessee State University and Nicholas W. McAfee of the University of Mississippi conducted the study Dropout from face-to-face, multi-session psychological treatments for problem and disordered gambling in December 2020. The systematic review was carried out to examine the proportion of people who dropped out from psychological treatments for problem gambling and gambling disorder. It also focused on identifying the studies of various therapies, like cognitive and behavioural, and motivational interventions for gambling disorder and problem gambling. The study showed that a large proportion of individuals dropped out of treatment for gambling addiction.

The psychology of gambling, with a focus on gambling addiction, has been the subject of researchers from all four sides of the earth. Although the ones we have listed did not deal with different types of gambling, like sports betting or casino games, the researchers assessed the subject from different angles, thus trying to understand the motives, causes and consequences of problem gambling.


Is there a Psychological difference based on Gambling Types?

A group of Spanish researchers at the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Autonomous University of Barcelona have identified four types of compulsive gamblers:

  • Type I: a disorganised and emotionally unstable type. This type of compulsive gambler shows schizotypal personality traits, along with a high degree of impulsiveness and substance and alcohol abuse. This type is also characterised by early-onset age and psychopathological alterations.
  • Type II: a schizoid type. This type of compulsive gambler shows a high level of harm avoidance, alcohol abuse and social distancing.
  • Type III: a reward-sensitive type. Characterised by a high level of impulsiveness and sensation-seeking, but no psychopathological alterations.
  • Type IV: a high functioning type. It is a globally-adapted personality type that does not have disorders related to substance abuse or psychopathological alterations.

The study which examines the four types of compulsive gamblers included 1,171 persons and was published by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.


What are the unique sides of the Psychology of Betting?

Betting is an activity where we risk our money trying to predict the outcome of a future match, race or other events. The unique side of the psychology of betting is that some bettors can feel the beginner’s luck and start increasing their stakes hoping that they will earn more. Unlike gambling that relies on probability completely, betting is not entirely risky when the bettor is familiar with the event they want to wager on. Emotions and cognitive biases can make bettors make bad decisions, though. Some bettors can become compulsive gamblers who cannot control their urge to keep wagering money on future events. They do it to chase their losses, believing that they will predict the result correctly.

What are the unique sides of the Psychology of Sports Betting?

The unique side of the psychology of sports betting is that multiple factors can distort players’ betting decisions. One of the cognitive biases that can make players go for bad betting decisions is so-called confirmation bias. It happens when the bettor does not want to change their mind even if new, reliable information appears.

According to some studies, some bettors purposefully make bad betting decisions because their urge to wager money is stronger than their wish to win. A compulsive sports bettor can come up with various ways to obtain money for the next wager. Sometimes, they include illegal activities.

What are the unique sides of the Psychology of Casino?

The unique side of the psychology of casino gambling is the uncertainty of reward, which attracts people to this form of entertainment. In situations when the reward is uncertain, the brain releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that causes so-called gambling high and reinforces risk-taking.

Not being able to control emotions and an urge to gamble can lead to compulsive gambling and gambling addiction. Some casino games, like slots, are believed to put people in a state which resembles trance, so they cannot stop playing them. Besides, cognitive biases like an illusion of control can contribute to the development of a gambling disorder.

What are the unique sides of the Psychology of Tables Games?

The unique side of the psychology of table games is that they involve certain skills, which makes players believe that they are in charge. While not all casino table games are games of skill, some of them, like poker or blackjack, are. However, even players who play skill-based gambling games can suffer from cognitive biases, like confirmation bias for example, where we blame other gamblers for our failures.

When playing gambling table games, players can increase their stakes trying to chase their losses or take advantage of a winning streak. Not managing your bankroll is the first sign of not gambling responsibly, which can evolve into a gambling problem. While slot machines are considered the most addictive gambling games, compulsive gamblers can be found at tables offering casino classics as well, particularly when it comes to RNG and live dealer tables available at online casinos.


What is the relation between Gambling Psychology and Gambler’s Fallacy?

The gambler’s fallacy is a mistaken belief that one event affects the outcome of another event, although these two events are completely independent. For instance, if the ball in roulette has stopped several times on black, it must fall in a red pocket in the next round. It is one of the biases that affect the decision-making in gambling as a source of false hope.

Rachel Croson of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and James Sundali of the University of Nevada, Reno in May 2005 published the study The Gambler’s Fallacy and the Hot Hand: Empirical Data from Casinos in Journal of Risk and Uncertainty. The research focuses on the gambler’s fallacy and the hot hand and how intuitive ideas of randomness depart systematically from the laws of chance.

By videotaping gamblers in casinos, the researchers have found that small but significant biases exist among casino patrons, which confirmed the observations from the lab. The data they collected showed that gamblers place bets according to the gambler’s fallacy, meaning that they increase wagers against the streak. Also, gamblers acted in a way that is consistent with the hot hand, meaning that they wagered on more numbers after winning than after losing.

How does Gambler’s Fallacy affect Gambler’s Conceit in the scope of Gambling Psychology?

Gambler’s conceit is another fallacy, where a gambler believes that they can stop risky behaviour without going broke and be a net winner while still playing casino games. It was defined by David J. Ewing, a behavioural economist. The gambler’s fallacy as a source of false hope can fuel the gambler’s conceit and make the gambler continue playing the game. In this case, two mistaken beliefs are combined. They believe that finding a pattern in random events can help them win so that they can quit the game while still ahead in winnings by controlling their urge to gamble.


What are the Gambling Superstitions in a Gambler’s Psychology?

Some studies have shown that gamblers are more superstitious than the general population. It comes as no surprise knowing that gambling games are mostly based on luck. Gambling superstitions exist as long as gambling, with players from all around the world having various belief systems and good luck rituals they rely on.

Casino superstitions play a big role online and offline. Players have lucky charms, such as four-leaf clovers, horseshoes or rabbit feet. In Asia, gamblers believe that Maneki-Neko, the Japanese lucky cat, red colour and golden toads bring good luck, while in the Middle East, the Hamsa hand is the ultimate lucky charm. Besides, some days and numbers are considered unlucky, as well as crossing legs at a casino table. In the US, receiving a $50 bill is considered bad luck as well as lending money to other players. Although there is no evidence that gambling superstitions can improve their odds of winning, gamblers worldwide believe in them and hope that they can help them win big.


How does Gambling Games’ Design Affect Gamblers’ Psychology?

Slots are the most popular casino games, which generate most of the revenue of both land-based and online casinos. The fact that they require no skills or previous experience is not the only reason why it is so. Slot games are designed to hook the players, with teams of mathematicians, audio and video designers, psychologists and other experts developing them. Still, slots are not the only type of casino games that are designed to make players come back for more.

Here are some of the elements that make gambling games addictive:

  • Colours: The graphics of casino games, especially slots, are rendered in colours that can affect players’ emotions and make them play longer. The use of red and yellow, especially when it comes to winnings and strong contrasts get us hooked.
  • Music and sound effects: Some scientists have researched the influence of music in gambling environments and particularly how it affects the behaviour of slot players. The study has shown that music and sound effects play a decisive role in developing compulsive gambling behaviour.
  • Immersive atmosphere: Live dealer games have taken the online gambling industry by storm, with more and more gamblers playing them. The main reason for their popularity is the realistic, immersive atmosphere they provide players with.

Besides the elements of gambling games that stimulate our senses, other factors influence our gambling behaviour. All casino games offer settings that allow players to adjust their stakes and choose other options. These features provide gamblers with an illusion of control, along with other misconceptions like gambling superstitions and the gambler’s fallacy.

A group of biological and clinical brain scientists from the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute of the University of Cambridge examined how gambling near-misses enhance motivation to gamble and recruit win-related brain circuitry. The study published in Neuron, one of the most influential scientific journals, in 2009, explained that the consequence of near-misses was the gambler may feel that they were constantly nearly winning instead of constantly losing by recruiting brain reward circuitry although monetary prizes were not involved.

The same paper showed that gamblers had an illusion of control in games of sheer chance when they were allowed to perform some actions, like throwing the dice or choosing a lottery ticket themselves instead of getting a random one. The presence of personal control was seen as a core factor that caused the gambler to mistake a luck-based game for a game based on skill. The scientist concluded that near-miss outcomes that fostered an illusion of control would be more efficient in the games where the gambler could make a personal choice than in games where the gameplay was arranged by the computer.


How does Mood (Emotion) Regulation affect Gambling Frequency?

Recent studies have shown that deficits in emotion regulation are associated with pathological gambling. Some people play slots and other gambling games as a way to cope with stress, anxiety or other mood disorders.

An online study carried out by a group of UK scientists in 2010 examined how psychological symptoms were related to different motivations for gambling. It recruited more than 4,000 internet gamblers and showed that persons at increased risk of problem gambling gambled to regulate mood, achieve monetary goals and for enjoyment. The paper concludes that different forms of emotional disturbance are associated with motivations that can lead to a gambling disorder.

Biological determinants of gambling addiction as a psychiatric diagnosis include altered levels of dopamine as well as genetic traits.


What is the Bandwagon Effect for Gamblers?

The bandwagon effect is a cognitive bias where people do certain things because most people do the same or to put it simply, follow the crowd. When it comes to gambling, the example of the bandwagon effect would be buying a lottery ticket when the jackpot reaches record levels although you have never played the lottery. It is commonly present in sports betting, where jumping on the bandwagon can result in bookmakers reducing the odds on popular markets.

Does the Operant Conditioning Chamber (a.k.a. the Skinner box) explain the Psychology of Gambling?

Operant conditioning is a method of learning where the probability of repeating behaviour is determined by its consequences, reinforcement or punishment. An operant conditioning chamber, also known as or the Skinner box, is named after B.F. Skinner, the American behavioural psychologist who invented it. It is a laboratory apparatus that is used to study the behaviour of animals included in an experiment.

Studies that examined the psychology of gambling compare slot machines with operant conditioning chambers because of the positive reinforcement achieved by the repetition. The positive reinforcement here comes in two forms, monetary rewards and psychological rewards, which is the release of dopamine. Like the Skinner box, slot games use visual and sound effects that program our senses. All these elements aim at conditioning behaviour, so gambling devices have a similar effect on gamblers as the Skinner box on animals.


What is the psychological description of gambling addiction?

Gambling addiction is a behavioural mental disorder. It is a progressive addiction, also classed as an impulse-control disorder. Persons who experience any signs of gambling addiction should seek support from organisations like National Gambling Helpline and GamCare and get professional help.

Is there a predisposing (genetic) characteristic for the Psychology of Gambling?

Some studies have shown that close relatives of pathological gamblers are eight times more likely to develop gambling addiction, thus confirming that there is a genetic predisposition for pathological gambling. The relatives of pathological gamblers also had higher rates of other behavioural and psychiatric disorders, like major depression, social anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders, antisocial personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other studies have shown that pathological gambling may be caused by adverse childhood experiences.

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