Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Distorted thinking in gambling addiction: What are the cognitive and neural mechanisms?

Date:
April 8, 2013
Source:
British Neuroscience Association
Summary:
Fascinating new studies into brain activity and behavioral responses have highlighted the overlap between pathological gambling and drug addiction. The research has implications for both the treatment and prevention of problem gambling.

Fascinating new studies into brain activity and behavioural responses have highlighted the overlap between pathological gambling and drug addiction. The research, which is presented at the British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience (BNA2013) has implications for both the treatment and prevention of problem gambling.

Dr Luke Clark, a senior lecturer at the University of Cambridge (UK), told the meeting that neurocognitive tests of impulsivity and compulsivity, and also positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of the brain have started to show how gambling becomes addictive in pathological gamblers -- people whose gambling habit has spiralled out of control and become a problem.

"Around 70% of the British population will gamble occasionally, but for some of these people, it will become a problem," he said. "Our work has been seeking to understand the changes in decision-making that happen in people with gambling problems. It represents the first large scale study of individuals seeking treatment for gambling problems in the UK, at a time when this disorder is being re-classified alongside drug addiction as the first 'behavioural addiction'. Given the unique legislation around gambling from country to country, it is vital that we understand gambling at a national level. For example, 40% of the problem gamblers at the National Problem Gambling Clinic report that the game they have a problem with is roulette on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals; this kind of gambling machine is peculiar to the British gambling landscape."

In collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the UK's only specialist gambling clinic in the Central and North West London NHS Trust, Dr Clark and his colleagues compared the brains and behaviours of 86 male, pathological gamblers with those of 45 healthy men without a gambling problem.

"We approach gambling within the framework of addiction, where we think that problematic gambling arises from a combination of individual risk factors, such as genetics, and features of the games themselves. To study individual factors, we have been testing gamblers at the National Problem Gambling Clinic on neurocognitive tests of impulsivity and compulsivity, and we have also measured their dopamine levels using PET imaging," said Dr Clark.

The tests showed that problem gamblers had increased impulsivity, similar to people with alcohol and drug addictions, but there was less evidence of compulsivity. Levels of dopamine -- a neurotransmitter involved in signalling between nerve cells and which is implicated in drug addiction -- showed differences in the more impulsive gamblers.

"Previous PET research has shown that people with drug addiction have reduced dopamine receptors. We predicted the same effect in pathological gamblers, but we did not see any group differences between the pathological gamblers and healthy men. Nevertheless, the problem gamblers do show some individual differences in their dopamine function, related to their levels of impulsivity: more impulsive gamblers showed fewer dopamine receptors," said Dr Clark. "These studies highlight the overlap between pathological gambling and drug addiction.

"To study the properties of the games themselves and how they relate to problem gambling, we have focussed on two psychological distortions that occur across many forms of gambling: 'near-miss' outcomes (where a loss looks similar or 'close' to a jackpot win) and the 'gambler's fallacy' (for example, believing that a run of heads means that a tail is 'due', in a game of chance). In one important discovery, we were the first lab to show that gambling 'near-misses' recruit brain regions that overlap with those recruited in gambling 'wins'. These responses may cause 'near-misses' to maintain gambling play despite their objective status as losses."

Dr Clark said that these findings had implications for both prevention and treatment. "Gambling distortions like the 'near-miss' effect may be amenable to both psychological therapies for problem gambling, and also by drug treatments that may act on the underlying brain systems. By understanding the styles of thinking that characterise the problem gambler, we may also be able to improve education about gambling in teenagers and young adults, to reduce the number of people developing a gambling problem."

The researchers also found a striking demonstration of the underlying brain regions that are involved in gambling when they studied the gambling behaviour of patients who had experienced brain injury due to a tumour or stroke.

"We have seen that two gambling distortions -- the 'gambler's fallacy' and the 'near-miss' effect -- that are evident in the general population, and which appear to be increased in problem gamblers, are actually abolished in patients with damage to the insula region of the brain," he said. "This suggests that in the healthy brain, the insula may be a critical area in generating these distorted expectancies during gambling play, and that interventions to reduce insula activity may have treatment potential.

"The insula is quite a mysterious part of the brain, tucked deep inside the lateral fissure. It is important in processing pain and, more broadly, in representing the state of the body in the brain, and it is striking that gambling is a very visceral, exciting activity. Our ongoing neuroimaging work will look at the relationship between responses in the insula and the body during our gambling tests."

Future work will investigate the styles of thinking that are in evidence when the problem gamblers at the National Problem Gambling Clinic play the simplified games the researchers have developed. "This is the first study to directly look at whether these biases are more pronounced in problem gamblers. We are also starting to recruit the siblings of problem gamblers (those who do not have a gambling problem themselves) in order to look at underlying vulnerability factors," concluded Dr Clark.

This research is funded by grants from the UK's Medical Research Council, and involves further collaboration with researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by British Neuroscience Association. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

British Neuroscience Association. "Distorted thinking in gambling addiction: What are the cognitive and neural mechanisms?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408085046.htm>.
British Neuroscience Association. (2013, April 8). Distorted thinking in gambling addiction: What are the cognitive and neural mechanisms?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408085046.htm
British Neuroscience Association. "Distorted thinking in gambling addiction: What are the cognitive and neural mechanisms?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408085046.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Friday, August 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Researchers say women who diet at a young age are at greater risk of developing harmful health habits, including eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins