Testing an Incentive-Sensitisation Approach to Understanding Problem Slot-Machine Gambling Using an Online Slot-Machine Simulation

By Davey, B., & Cummins, R.

Abstract: This study aims to test the application of the incentive-sensitisation theory to slot-machine gambling behaviour. The theory posits that for problem gamblers (PGs), gambling strengthens the response of motivational pathways in the mid-brain to gambling cues, eliciting strong wanting, independent of liking. Non-problem gamblers (NPGs) experience weaker changes to motivational pathways so liking and wanting remain associated. Hence, it is predicted that wanting to gamble will be greater than liking for PGs but there will be no difference for NPGs; wanting will be greater for PGs than for NPGs; and, wanting but not liking will predict whether PGs continue gambling, whereas both will predict this for NPGs. During gambling on an online simulated slot-machine, 39 PGs and 87 NPGs rated “liking” and “wanting”. Participants played at least 3 blocks of 10–20 spins, and then had the option of playing up to 4 additional blocks; to continue playing they had to complete an effortful task, so that “number of blocks played” acted as an additional indirect measure of wanting. Results supported hypotheses except on the indirect measure of wanting (the number of blocks played).

Davey, B., & Cummins, R. (2017). Testing an Incentive-Sensitisation Approach to Understanding Problem Slot-Machine Gambling Using an Online Slot-Machine Simulation. Journal of Gambling Studies, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10899-017-9718-y