Gambling Addiction: Enter the ‘Zone’ Where Winning is a Distraction

Our brains are naturally configured to get pleasure out of some of the things we do. That’s why we survive.

Pleasure drives us to hit some crucial day-to-day goals, such as finding and eating food.

Gambling addiction: Enter the 'zone' where winning is a distraction
Photo: article supplied

But the system as a whole is more complicated than that; it’s not all about tangible rewards.

We can spend an awful lot of time pursuing a pleasurable experience that is far from “mission critical” — like discovering how a piece of machinery is assembled, or nutting out the pattern to a sequence of symbols.

This kind of puzzle can be frustrating, but the pleasure of eventually solving it spurs us on — and crucially, our brains process the anticipation of that understanding as a form of pleasure.

Chemically, even though we’ve done nothing useful, this is the same reward we get for achieving a survival goal.

And it’s that anticipatory pleasure pathway which goes into overdrive when we gamble. It can lead us to a place that addicts call “the zone”, where even winning the jackpot is a distraction from the game.

A well studied, very ingrained system

Dr Charles Livingstone, a gambling researcher from Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, says the brain’s method of producing these rewards has a lot to do with two well-known forms of psychological conditioning.

The first is operant conditioning — made famous by psychologist BF Skinner in the 1950s.

Skinner experimented with pigeons, and noted that they would readily peck at a spot if they were rewarded with food. Crucially, the reward was not given at every peck; that allowed Skinner to investigate what he called the “schedule of reinforcement”.

“If you give them a predictable set of rewards, then they lose interest quite quickly; if it’s unpredictable, they tend to establish behaviour which is very hard to extinguish.”

The second manipulation is called classical conditioning — discovered way back in the 19th century by Anton Pavlov. He found that feeding a dog, and associating that food with a sound, meant that the dog would eventually salivate at the sound alone.

According to Dr Livingstone, gambling machines wrap together both types of conditioning: they offer rewards at unpredictable intervals, and they pair those rewards with encouraging noises and lights.

This was originally published by ABC.net.au.

Click here to read the entire article.

SHARE THIS

RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE COMMENT