The “Zone”: a qualitative exploratory study of an altered state of awareness in electronic gaming machine problem gambling [subscription access article]

Oakes, J., Pols, R., Lawn, S. et al. (2018). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-018-9976-7

Abstract: This paper reports a state of mind described by electronic gaming machine (EGM) problem gamblers (PGs) as the “zone”. Twenty-nine PGs engaged in focus groups and in-depth interviews. Participants described an altered state of awareness: the zone, which was highly desirable providing relief from negative emotions. PGs had difficulty recalling experiences whilst in the zone but described a constriction of attention, awareness and impairment of cognitive functions. During this time, the PG could not think critically, exercise self-observation, realistically appraise the use of money, see the consequences of their actions, exercise the will to cease gambling or learn from harms. Memory was impaired, as was decision-making and the capacity to make rational choices. Understanding the zone may provide insight into treatment where the capacity to learn may be reduced. Further research is needed to determine what proportions of EGM gamblers experience the zone and if this occurs with non-EGM gamblers. Article and access details

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Trait Mindfulness, Problem-Gambling Severity, Altered State of Awareness and Urge to Gamble in Poker-Machine Gamblers

McKeith, C. F. A., Rock, A. J., & Clark, G. I.

In Australia, poker-machine gamblers represent a disproportionate number of problem gamblers. To cultivate a greater understanding of the psychological mechanisms involved in poker-machine gambling, a repeated measures cue-reactivity protocol was administered. A community sample of 38 poker-machine gamblers was assessed for problem-gambling severity and trait mindfulness. Participants were also assessed regarding altered state of awareness (ASA) and urge to gamble at baseline, following a neutral cue, and following a gambling cue. Results indicated that: (a) urge to gamble significantly increased from neutral cue to gambling cue, while controlling for baseline urge; (b) cue-reactive ASA did not significantly mediate the relationship between problem-gambling severity and cue-reactive urge (from neutral cue to gambling cue); (c) trait mindfulness was significantly negatively associated with both problem-gambling severity and cue-reactive urge (i.e., from neutral cue to gambling cue, while controlling for baseline urge); and (d) trait mindfulness did not significantly moderate the effect of problem-gambling severity on cue-reactive urge (from neutral cue to gambling cue). This is the first study to demonstrate a negative association between trait mindfulness and cue-reactive urge to gamble in a population of poker-machine gamblers. Thus, this association merits further evaluation both in relation to poker-machine gambling and other gambling modalities.