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The Psychology of Gambling

It is important for gamblers to understand the cognitive and emotional responses that take place when they are in a casino. Most people gamble for recreational purposes, but if they don't fully comprehend the psychological aspects of what is occurring, gambling can turn from enjoyable to problematic.

A Scientific Experiment Related to Gambling

An interesting experiment that relates to the gamblers' mentality was conducted by scientists. In this experiment they used two mice. The first mouse was put into a cage with a lever. The mouse pushed the lever but nothing happened. It pushed the lever again and nothing happened. After a while, the mouse stopped pushing the lever. From that point forward, no matter how long the mouse was kept in this cage, it never pushed the lever again. The behavior was not reinforced; therefore, the behavior eventually became extinct.

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The Second Mouse Gets More Than a Reward

The second mouse was put into a cage with the same type of lever, however, when the mouse pushed the lever for the first time, it got a treat. The mouse ate and enjoyed the treat. It went back to the lever expecting another treat, but this time the mouse received an electric shock. After a short period of time, the mouse pushed the lever again and was rewarded with another treat. This same unpredictable pattern continued, but the mouse was shocked more and more often in order to get the treat. A very interesting thing happened. It did not matter how many times the mouse was shocked it would continue to push the lever as long as once in a while it got rewarded with a treat. In fact, this mouse continued to shock itself to the point of death. Its body could no longer endure being shocked, but yet it continued to push the lever in hopes of getting that treat (reward).

What Gamblers Can Learn From This Experiment

This experiment teaches us that mice will seek pleasure and reward even when the consequences are dire. Unfortunately, we see those same behaviors displayed by humans in a casino environment. The casinos use these psychological principles to get people to gamble more frequently.

Winning Keeps You Coming Back

From the perspective of the casino, winning is the best thing that can happen to a first time gambler. If they leave the casino as a winner, more than likely that person will return. They will continue to return in hopes of regaining that pleasurable feeling they experienced when they first won. Much like the mouse, they are willing to experience a lot of pain (money loss) as long as they are periodically rewarded. Most end up becoming casino customers for life. The casino knows that if a person perceives that they have no chance of winning, they won't play. Just like the first mouse stopped pulling the lever, gamblers who believe they have no chance of success will not continue to gamble. If they think there is a possibility that they could win, and that is periodically reinforced, they will continue to play regardless of the negative consequences. Just like the mouse that was shocked to death.

Responsible gamblers need to remain in complete control of their emotions when they gamble. Gamblers cannot allow an intermittent reward system to manipulate their actions. Our abilities to comprehend and reason should allow us to enjoy gambling without getting "shocked to death."