Gambling is supposed to be fun. However, for some people, it goes beyond that and they become addicted. Locations like the Bicycle Hotel and Casino, who cater to those who enjoy gambling and try to avoid those who are addicted to it, are growingly concerned about this. Hence, they have come together to commission a study to determine what it is that makes gambling so attractive to some. The result of the study showed that when someone nearly wins, the brain’s win-related circuitry gets used, and this gives people more motivation to keep going.
The study was completed by a range of neurological experts, and it has been picked up by many others in the industry who try to understand why some people become compulsive gamblers, whereas others can take it or leave it. Everybody who gambles knows that “the house always wins”, yet this does not deter people from taking part. What the study has shown is that, when people have near miss (like hitting two number 7s on a slot machine), and the fact that people feel as if they are control (being the one pressing the button on the slot machine), activates certain processes in the brain that can be highly addictive. Yet, the study was not able to identify exactly which mechanisms are involved in this.
For the study, a number of experiments were developed to make people experience near misses in a controlled environment. This happened while they were hooked to fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tools. This allowed them to look inside the brain to determine what happens on a cognitive level. The focus was strongly on the medial frontal cortex and on the ventral striatum, which have been identified in the past as being responsible for processing rewards. Those parts of the brain are activated in drug abusers as well. At the same time, the study looked at whether there was a link between subjective propensity levels of gambling and circuitry activation.
When someone experienced a near miss, the ventral striatum would light up, as did the anterior insula. When someone had an unpredictable win of money, the same areas would become activated. This led the researchers to concluded that there is a positive correlation between near misses and insula activity. Additionally, questionnaires that were conducted revealed that these feelings were further heightened in those with a gambling problem. Interestingly, these results are exactly the same in drug abusers.
At the same time, subjects said that they disliked a near miss more than a full miss. Yet, at the same time, t made them want to play the game more. This was particularly true if there was an element of personal control, such as being allowed to throw the dice. The research concluded that, for a gambler, as unpleasant as a near miss may be, it is also perceived as special. This is what encourages them to keep going. If someone also has an addictive personality, this spells a recipe for disaster.