Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Problem Gamblers or Addicts?

How did I become addicted to pokies? How could this have happened to me, an intelligent woman, a psychologist and a former Member of Parliament? When I taught learning theory to psychology students I would use poker machines as an example of classical conditioning, just as Pavlov had taught his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, by pairing it with food, until they salivated when they heard the bell, without waiting for the food. The pokies are a good example of operant conditioning too, with a reward appearing intermittently when a lever or button is pressed, mirroring psychologist B.F. Skinner's demonstration in the 1950s and '60s that rewarding a behaviour increases it. Skinner's rats learnt that if they pressed a lever they would be rewarded with food – not every time though. The greatest increase in lever pressing took place when the rats couldn't predict when the reward would come, because anticipation is just as effective in stimulating the release of dopamine and opioids in the brain as is the actual reward. That's how poker machines work. more

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