Why We Can't Stop Gambling

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If you’ve ever gambled, you may have noticed that a near-miss makes you want to keep playing.

It’s just one example of the misconceptions of winning people often make in casinos. Another: if black is rolled five times in a row, red must be “due” — right? Wrong.

Now, researchers think they have identified the mechanism in the brain that leads problem gamblers to make such cognitive distortions more than others.

Why the Lottery Is So Seductive

They found that people whose insula – an area of the brain that plays a key role in emotions — was damaged didn’t get tempted to continue playing after near-misses or a string of red or black luck. All other groups of participants — including patients with injuries to other parts of the brain as well as healthy participants — did.

“Based on these results, we believe that the insula could be hyperactive in problem gamblers, making them more susceptible to these errors of thinking,” said Dr. Luke Clark of the University of Cambridge, lead researcher of the study published today in PNAS. “Future treatments for gambling addiction could seek to reduce this hyperactivity, either by drugs or by psychological techniques like mindfulness therapies.”

Are Fetishes Bad for You?

Other research has shown that problem gamblers are prone to these misconceptions known as “gamblers’ fallacy.”

Problem gamblers make up about 2.3 percent of the population in the United States. – Problem gambling is now classified as a behavioral addiction by the American Psychiatric Association.

Photo: iStockPhoto

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