New research has found an association between impulsivity and flawed reasoning in problem gamblers. Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London studied compulsive gamblers who were being treated at the National Problem Gambling Clinic, and found that gamblers with higher levels of impulsivity were significantly more susceptible to errors in reasoning such as superstitious rituals and “bad luck” or “cold machines.”
The National Problem Gambling Clinic opened in 2008 and is the only NHS-funded service for problem gambling in the United Kingdom. The findings were published June 29, 2011, in the journal Psychological Medicine.
Problem gambling affects about one percent of the UK population, and symptoms include a loss of control over gambling, withdrawal symptoms when not gambling, and a range of negative effects such as gambling debts and relationship problems.
Dr. Luke Clark, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Experimental Psychiatry, said that the link between impulsivity and gambling suggests that high impulsivity can predispose individuals to a range of more complex distortions, such as superstitions, that gamblers often experience. This could help explain why some people are more prone to becoming problem gamblers.
The researchers examined 30 patients seeking treatment for problem gambling, comparing them with 30 non-gamblers from the general population. The participants were asked a series of financial questions involving trade-offs between smaller amounts of money available immediately and larger amounts of money that would be available in the future. The gamblers were much more likely to choose the immediate reward, even though it was less money, suggesting higher impulsivity.
A questionnaire also showed the gamblers were especially impulsive during high or low moods, which are often cues that trigger compulsive gambling. The study found that gamblers with higher impulsivity were also more susceptible to errors in reasoning related to gambling, such as an increase in superstitious believes and blaming losses on bad luck.
The gambling patients were mostly male and had experienced other mental health problems such as depression and alcohol abuse. Dr. Clark said that there are promising developments in treatment for problem gambling, and that the researchers hope their findings will help inform future treatments.
Source: Science Daily, Impulsivity and Superstitions in Pathological Gamblers: Betting On Four-Leaf Clovers, June 29, 2011