Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Thrill of the Game

"Gambling can be so rewarding and exciting to people with a problem that they have to learn to live their lives without that really exciting part of it, and that's related to dopamine." Researchers have also discovered that even when we lose while gambling by a narrow margin, our brain tends to release as much dopamine as when we win, which may explain why people continue to gamble while on losing streaks, Ellery says. This research supports much of the past work of behavioural psychologists that calls into question our concept of free will. They argue behaviour is largely guided by psychological and environmental factors beyond our control. If you think of VLT players as rats hitting a lever to get a food pellet repeatedly, even though the action hasn't resulted in a pellet in some time, you kind of get the idea. "That's called an intermittent reinforcement schedule, and the machines do exactly the same thing for people as the lever and pellet reward do for rats," Ellery says. "People will continue to play the machines, even though they don't win very often, just because that pattern of reinforcement produces that long-term play behaviour." He says behaviourists have taken a lot of criticism for questioning whether we are actually in control of our behaviour. "People get sensitive about that, but I don't have a problem with it." more

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