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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 10:33 EDT

Why We Roll the Dice

February 16, 2009

Ever wonder why people who lose at the poker table don’t stop gambling? New research on how the brain works explains why “almost winning” drives someone to gamble even more.  Past studies have shown that near misses, like two cherries on a slot machine or a chance to throw the dice, promote gambling tendencies, but little is known about the brain mechanisms involved.

“We devised a series of experiments to elicit near-miss and control phenomena in the laboratory and used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the brain mechanisms underlying these cognitive distortions,” senior study author Dr. Luke Clark from the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge was quoted as saying.

Although near-misses were rated by subjects as more unpleasant than full-misses, they also increased the desire to play the game. These subjective effects were only observed when the subject had control over arranging the gamble. The interaction between near misses and personal control was also reflected in the fMRI data in the medial and frontal cortex.

“Gamblers often interpret near-misses as special events, which encourage them to continue to gamble. Our findings show that the brain responds to near-misses as if a win has been delivered, even though the result is technically a loss,” said Dr. Clark.

SOURCE: Neuron, February 2009

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