Increased risk taking, not loss tolerance, drives adolescents’ propensity to gamble more under peer observation [open access research report]

Abstract: Relative to adults, adolescents make more welfare-decreasing decisions, especially in the presence of peers. The consequences of these decisions result in substantial individual and societal losses in terms of lives lost, injury, hospitalization costs, and foregone opportunities. In this paper, we used a laboratory experiment with 12- to 24-year-old participants to identify which economic preference is affected by peer observation in adolescence — risk attitudes in gains, risk attitudes in losses, and/or loss aversion. We found that older adolescents (18-24 years old) while observed by peers become more risk-tolerant both in gains and in losses but more loss averse. We discuss potential mechanisms driving the result and its implications for policy. Link to the report

Citation: Tymula, A., & Wang, X. (2020). Increased risk taking, not loss tolerance, drives adolescents’ propensity to gamble more under peer observation. Sydney: School of Economics, University of Sydney.

Heterogeneity in disordered gambling: Decision-making and impulsivity in gamblers grouped by preferred form [open-access article].

Background: Previous research has indicated that disordered gamblers display deficits in impulsivity and risky decision-making, compared to healthy control groups. However, disordered gamblers are not a homogenous group, and differences in performance on neurocognitive tasks may be related to the form of gambling in which an individual chooses to engage. The present study used neurocognitive tasks and questionnaire measures to ascertain group differences in gamblers grouped by preferred form of gambling.

Method: Treatment-seeking pathological gamblers from the National Problem Gambling Clinic, London (n = 101), completed a neurocognitive assessment comprising the Cambridge gamble task (CGT), the stop-signal task (SST), a probabilistic reversal learning task (PRL), and the Kirby Monetary Choice Questionnaire, as well as questionnaire measures of gambling severity, impulsivity, depression, and anxiety. Analyses compared gamblers who favored fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) (the modal form) to gamblers who preferred other forms of gambling (non-FOBT).

Results: The FOBT group showed impaired decision-making under risk on the CGT compared to the non-FOBT group, choosing the likely option less on more uncertain decisions. The FOBT group made fewer perseverative errors on the PRL task, had lower depression and anxiety scores, and were less likely to have a family history of problem gambling than the non-FOBT group.

Discussion: Decision-making and cognitive flexibility differences between gamblers grouped by gambling type supports preferred form as an important source of heterogeneity in gambling disorder. Decision-making strategies and risk attitudes should be considered when approaching cognition-focused treatment strategies, allowing interventions to be targeted at specific cognitive deficits. Link to the article

Citation: Sharman, S., Clark, L., Roberts, A., Michalczuk, R., Cocks, R., & Bowden-Jones, H. (2019). Heterogeneity in disordered gambling: Decision-making and impulsivity in gamblers grouped by preferred form. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10(588). DOI: doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00588

Win-concurrent sensory cues can promote riskier choice [open-access article].

Reward-related stimuli can potently influence behavior; for example, exposure to drug-paired cues can trigger drug use and relapse in people with addictions. Psychological mechanisms that generate such outcomes likely include cue-induced cravings and attentional biases. Recent animal data suggest another candidate mechanism: reward-paired cues can enhance risky decision making, yet whether this translates to humans is unknown. Here, we examined whether sensory reward-paired cues alter decision making under uncertainty and risk, as measured respectively by the Iowa Gambling Task and a two-choice lottery task. In the cued versions of both tasks, gain feedback was augmented with reward-concurrent audiovisual stimuli. Healthy human volunteers (53 males, 78 females) performed each task once, one with and the other without cues (cued Iowa Gambling Task/uncued Vancouver Gambling Task: n 63; uncued Iowa Gambling Task/cued Vancouver Gambling Task: n 68), with concurrent eye-tracking. Reward-paired cues did not affect choice on the Iowa Gambling Task. On the two-choice lottery task, the cued group displayed riskier choice and reduced sensitivity to probability information. The cued condition was associated with reduced eye fixations on probability information shown on the screen and greater pupil dilation related to decision and reward anticipation. This pupil effect was unrelated to the risk-promoting effects of cues: the degree of pupil dilation for risky versus risk-averse choices did not differ as a function of cues. Together, our data show that sensory reward cues can promote riskier decisions and have additional and distinct effects on arousal. Article available online

Citation: Cherkasova, M.V., Clark, L., Barton, J.S., Schulzer, M., Shafiee, M., Kingstone, A., Stoessl, A.J., & Winstanley, C.A. (2018). Win-concurrent sensory cues can promote riskier choice. Journal of Neuroscience, 38(48), 10362-10370. DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1171-18.2018

Debiasing strategies for problem gambling: Using decision science to inform clinical interventions [subscription access article].

Purpose of Review: This review seeks to increase awareness of the broad range of interventions for problem gambling that focus on mitigating biased beliefs and behaviors. A secondary goal of this review is to stimulate thinking surrounding the use of so-called debiasing strategies within the areas of responsible gambling, prevention, and treatment of gambling problems. This is accomplished by classifying gambling interventions according to a taxonomy of debiasing strategies which is used more broadly within the field of decision science.
Recent Findings: Many interventions use cognitive and process-driven (known as technological) debiasing strategies. Furthermore, advances in technology to include digital games and online programs have the power to increase both the efficacy and appeal of such approaches. Unfortunately, far fewer interventions have taken advantage of affective and motivational debiasing strategies.
Summary: There are potential insights to be had and new directions to be explored by incorporating debiasing strategies and decision science into investigations of problem gambling interventions. Possibilities include identifying and examining understudied areas, combining debiasing strategies with existing treatments for problem gambling, developing multimodal debiasing interventions, and focusing explicitly on process-driven approaches. Article details and access conditions

Citation: Broussard, J.D. & Wulfert, E. (2019). Debiasing strategies for problem gambling: Using decision science to inform clinical interventions. Current Addiction Reports. DOI:

The Iowa Gambling Task: A review of the historical evolution, scientific basis, and use in functional neuroimaging [open-access article].

Abstract: The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) provides a framework to evaluate an individual decision-making process through a simulated card game where the risks and rewards vary by the decks chosen. Participants are expected to understand the logic behind the allocation of gains and losses over the course of the test and adapt their pattern of choices accordingly. This review explores the scientific work on studying problem gambling via the IGT while employing neuroimaging techniques. We first concentrate on the historical evolution of the IGT as a mechanism for studying gamblers’ behavioral patterns. Our research will also discuss the prefrontal cortex as this region of the brain is most affected by changes in behavioral patterns. In this review, we describe a number of features that may be useful in investigating decision-making patterns that lead to gambling addiction. We discuss the evidence base to date including experiments involving gambling behavior in different groups of participants (e.g., males and females, adults and minors, patients and controls) and alterations to experiment conditions that provide more thorough understanding of thought patterns in potential gamblers. We conclude that psychological testing combined with functional imaging provide powerful tools to further examine the relationships between functional impairment of the brain and a person’s ability to objectively anticipate the end results of their decisions. Article available online

Reference: Aram, S., Levy, L., Patel, J.B., Anderson, A.A., Zaragoza, R., Dashtestani, H., Chowdhry, F.A., Gandjbakhche, A., & Tracy, J. K. (2019). The Iowa Gambling Task: A review of the historical evolution, scientific basis, and use in functional neuroimaging. SAGE Open.

Excessive social media users demonstrate impaired decision making in the Iowa Gambling Task [open access article]

Background and aims: Online social networking sites (SNSs) like Facebook provide users with myriad social rewards. These social rewards bring users back to SNSs repeatedly, with some users displaying maladaptive, excessive SNS use. Symptoms of this excessive SNS use are similar to symptoms of substance use and behavioral addictive disorders. Importantly, individuals with substance use and behavioral addictive disorders have difficulty making value-based decisions, as demonstrated with paradigms like the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT); however, it is currently unknown if excessive SNS users display the same decision-making deficits. Therefore, in this study, we aimed to investigate the relationship between excessive SNS use and IGT performance.

Methods: We administered the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS) to 71 participants to assess their maladaptive use of the Facebook SNS. We next had them perform 100 trials of the IGT to assess their value-based decision making. Results: We found a negative correlation between BFAS score and performance in the IGT across participants, specifically over the last block of 20 trials. There were no correlations between BFAS score and IGT performance in earlier blocks of trials.

Discussion: Our results demonstrate that more severe, excessive SNS use is associated with more deficient value based decision making. In particular, our results indicate that excessive SNS users may make more risky decisions during the IGT task. Conclusion: This result further supports a parallel between individuals with problematic, excessive SNS use, and individuals with substance use and behavioral addictive disorders. Access full article

Citation: Meshi, D., Elizarova, A., Bender, A., & Verdejo-Garcia, A. (2018). Journal of Behavioral Addictions. DOI: 10.1556/2006.7.2018.138

The Case for Using Personally Relevant and Emotionally Stimulating Gambling Messages as a Gambling Harm-Minimisation Strategy (open access)

Harris, A., Parke, A., & Griffiths, M. D.
Emotions typically exert powerful, enduring, and often predictable influences over decision-making. However, emotion-based decision-making is seen as a mediator of impulsive and reckless gambling behaviour, where emotion may be seen as the antithesis of controlled and rational decision-making, a proposition supported by recent neuroimaging evidence. The present paper argues that the same emotional mechanisms can be used to influence a gambler to cease gambling, by focusing their emotional decision-making on positive external and personally relevant factors, such as familial impact or longer term financial factors. Emotionally stimulating messages may also have the advantage of capturing attention above and beyond traditionally responsible gambling messaging. This is important given the highly emotionally aroused states often experienced by both gamblers and problem gamblers, where attentional activation thresholds for external stimuli such as messages may be increased.

Games in the Brain: Neural Substrates of Gambling Addiction. – PubMed – NCBI

As a popular form of recreational risk taking, gambling games offer a paradigm for decision neuroscience research. As an individual behavior, gambling becomes dysfunctional in a subset of the population, with debilitating consequences. Gambling disorder has been recently reconceptualized as a “behavioral addiction” in the DSM-5, based on emerging parallels with substance use disorders. Why do some individuals undergo this transition from recreational to disordered gambling? The biomedical model of problem gambling is a “brain disorder” account that posits an underlying neurobiological abnormality. This article first delineates the neural circuitry that underpins gambling-related decision making, comprising ventral striatum, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, dopaminergic midbrain, and insula, and presents evidence for pathophysiology in this circuitry in gambling disorder. These biological dispositions become translated into clinical disorder through the effects of gambling games…

via Games in the Brain: Neural Substrates of Gambling Addiction. – PubMed – NCBI.