Brains of gambling addicts demonstrate excessive risk-taking behavior

To some, money is the root of all evil, while to others, it is a prize worth sacrificing for. This disdain yet need for money in the modern world has driven those less fortunate to seek easy financial gains through gambling, often with mixed results. Easy money is something we all desire, and gambling provides the illusion of quick reward—however, it often leads to even quicker financial ruin. Yet those who suffer from gambling addictions continue to do so, getting themselves into even worse financial trouble. But gambling addictions may be somewhat neurological, as a recent study demonstrates that the brains of gambling addicts have functional variations predisposing them to not recognizing risk appropriately.

Gambling addiction is considered a mental disorder and is characterized by excessive risk-taking despite negative results. In a study conducted by Kyoto University, Japan, researchers used the aid of functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) to observe the activity of the brain. Flexibility in risk taking between addicts and non-addicts was determined through a series of gambling tasks, requiring those involved in the study to earn a certain amount of credits. When the research team looked at the brain of various gambling addicts, they concluded that they had higher levels of mood and anxiety disorders, and that they possess an inability to properly recognize risk and adapt accordingly, even if the choice was sub-optimal.

“We observed diminished activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in cognitive flexibility,” said lead author Hidehiko Takahashi. “This indicates that these subjects lack an ability to adapt their behavior to the risk level of the situation.”

They go on to discuss how this way of thinking generally differs from those who seldom gamble or don’t at all, as non-gamblers tend to evaluate the chances of success based on the level of tolerable risk, with adjustments made on depending on the circumstances presented.

Takahashi goes on to say, “For example, if you are losing in the first half of a soccer match, you will likely prefer a strong defense while pushing your attackers forward,” continues Takahashi, “However, if you are losing at the end of the second half, you may choose to forgo defense in favor of an all-out attack, because you would lose otherwise.”

These results do provide valuable insights into a mental disorder that often goes unrecognized and seldom remedied, leading to endless amounts of emotional and financial stress. The research team hopes that their findings will contribute to a better understanding, and the eventual development of new therapies to help treat these addicted individuals.


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https://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v7/n4/full/tp201755a.html

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