Background and aims: Slot machines are a very popular form of gambling. In this study, we look at two different routes to enjoying slots play. One route involves the degree to which players react to rewards. The other route involves what we call dark flow – a pleasurable, but maladaptive state where players become completely engrossed in slots play, providing an escape from the depressing thoughts that characterize their everyday lives.
Methods: One hundred and twenty-nine high-frequency slots players were tested on slot-machine simulators set up in the lobby of a casino. We measured reward reactivity using post-reinforcement pauses (PRPs) and the force with which players pressed the spin button following different slot-machine outcomes. For each player, we calculated the slopes of PRPs and force as a function of credit gains. We also assessed players’ slots game enjoyment and their experience of dark flow, depression, and problem gambling.
Results: Both the PRP and the force measures of reward reactivity were significantly correlated with players’ enjoyment of the slots session, but neither measure was correlated with either problem gambling or depression. Ratings of dark flow were strongly correlated with slots enjoyment (which accounted for far more positive affect variance than the reward reactivity measures) and were correlated with both problem gambling scores and depression.
Discussion and conclusions: Our results suggest that of these two routes to enjoying slot-machine play, the dark flow route is especially problematic. We contend that the dark flow state may be enjoyable because it provides escape from the negative thoughts linked to depression. Article available online
Citation: Dixon, M.J., Gutierrez, J., Larche, C.J., Stange, M., Graydon, C., Kruger, T.B., & Smith, S.D. (2019). Reward reactivity and dark flow in slot-machine gambling: “Light” and “dark” routes to enjoyment. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. doi: 10.1556/2006.8.2019.38