Problem gamblers provoked by 'near misses' to gamble more

May 04, 2010
The slot machine task presents two wheels, each with six icons, and a horizontal line across the center of the screen. If the right wheel stopped on the selected icon (i.e., matching icons were aligned), the subject was awarded £0.50 (approximately 75 cents). All other outcomes won nothing. When the wheels stopped within one icon of a match, the outcome was considered a "near miss." Credit: Courtesy, with permission: Chase and Clark. The Journal of Neuroscience 2010.

The brains of problem gamblers react more intensely to "near misses" than casual gamblers, possibly spurring them on to play more, according to new research in the May 5 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The researchers found the brain region that responds to rewards by delivering a dose of the chemical dopamine was especially active in these individuals.

Studies have shown that pathological gambling is an addiction, similar in many ways to . Now, U.K. researchers Luke Clark, PhD, of the University of Cambridge, and Henry Chase, PhD, of the University of Nottingham find that the degree to which a person's brain responds to near misses may indicate the severity of addiction. In a given year, more than two million U.S. adults feel an uncontrollable urge to gamble despite negative consequences.

In this study, the researchers used (fMRI) to scan the brains of 20 gamblers. The participants' gambling habits ranged from buying the occasional lottery ticket to compulsive sports betting.

During the experiment, volunteers used an onscreen slot machine with two spinning wheels of icons. When the two icons matched, the volunteer won about 75 cents, and the brain's reward pathways became active. An icon mismatch was a loss. However, when the wheels stopped within one icon of a match, the outcome was considered a near miss. Clark and his team found that near misses activated the same brain pathways that wins did, even though no reward was given.

"These findings are exciting because they suggest that near-miss outcomes may elicit a dopamine response in the more severe gamblers, despite the fact that no actual reward is delivered," Clark said. "If these bursts of dopamine are driving addictive behavior, this may help to explain why find it so difficult to quit."

In particular, the authors detected strong responses in the midbrain, an area associated with addiction that is packed with dopamine-releasing brain cells. They also found the near misses were linked with increased activity in brain regions called the ventral striatum and the anterior insula, areas tied with reward and learning.

Studies have shown that people who play games of chance, such as slot machines or the lottery, often mistakenly believe some level of skill is required to win. This illusion of control often pushes players to continue. Matthew Roesch, PhD, an expert in reward and behavior at the University of Maryland College Park who was unaffiliated with the study, said the increased levels of dopamine during near misses may be critical in driving pathological gambling and supporting the misconception that games of chance involve any skill.

"Future work will be necessary to determine if this response is causal or if this abnormality is a preexisting trait of pathological gamblers — and whether or not it is common across addictions," Roesch said.

Explore further: Neurobiology online course to attempt world's largest memory experiment

Related Stories

Addiction: Insights from Parkinson's disease

Feb 25, 2009

A new comprehensive review by researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), McGill University and the University of Cambridge, England provides vital insights into the neurological basis of addiction by investigating ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

bottomlesssoul
not rated yet May 04, 2010
Applying the same near miss strategy in the "real world" is an extremely important problem solving behavior. I guess it's deleterious when applied to fantasies like money or other artificial constructs.
antialias
not rated yet May 04, 2010
Near misses elicit a dopamin response in everybody, as near misses are important for learn something. E.g. _almost_ winning a game is the best possible situation to learn from. (You don't learn much by winning a game nor by being beaten badly which is more likely to frustrate you)

But in the case of gambling no learning is possible as it's purely a game of chance so here that feeling of 'getting closer to success' is an illusion.
jonnyboy
3 / 5 (2) May 04, 2010
and again, like so many of the articles posted here lately, duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

More news stories

Rising role seen for health education specialists

(HealthDay)—A health education specialist can help family practices implement quality improvement projects with limited additional financial resources, according to an article published in the March/April ...

FDA proposes first regulations for e-cigarettes

The federal government wants to prohibit sales of electronic cigarettes to minors and require approval for new products and health warning labels under regulations being proposed by the Food and Drug Administration.

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.

Brazil enacts Internet 'Bill of Rights'

Brazil's president signed into law on Wednesday a "Bill of Rights" for the digital age that aims to protect online privacy and promote the Internet as a public utility by barring telecommunications companies ...