Neurological study finds proof that problem gambling may be innate

Gambling Study

For many years studies have been conducted to ascertain the reasons behind problem gambling behaviour. A recent study published in the medical journal Neuron has discovered a link between the structure of individual's brain and the inclination for risk taking in the area of finances.

The paper details a study wherein experts aimed to ascertain why some people exhibited extreme attraction to wagering on things that offered slim odds of winning noteworthy rewards. Their findings could lead to future treatments for problem gamblers.

Two areas of the brain, namely the anterior insula and the nucleus accumbens have been identified as representing opposing ends of the risk spectrum when it comes to our decision making processes. The size of the connection between these two regions which help us to identify risk and pleasure differ for each of us. Knowing this, researchers wondered if there was a link between this fact and an individual's propensity for risk taking.

Volunteers selected for the study were required to play a game of roulette with real money from within an MRI machine so that their brains could be continually monitored while they played the game in question. The test subjects were then presented with a number of choices and variable odds including wagers with even to high odds with the opportunity to win a small payoff, or lower odds of losing large amounts with every spin of the wheel and vice versa. Each participant received $10 to place bets with and were informed that they would be able to retain any profits made from wins at the end of the study.

Interestingly all of the volunteers placed the occasional risky bet and during this period the portion of the brain registering risk displayed lower activity levels than the pleasure region. However, activity levels in the pleasure region were considerably less prominent in those who exhibited a broader sheath of fatty tissue linking the two areas of the brain. From this, researchers were able to deduce that this physical structure increased the strength of the link between the two areas of the brain allowing the more restrained side to counteract the more impulsive area.

While the paper's authors hesitate to draw any broad conclusions from these preliminary results, they are hopeful that further studies of this nature may shed light on how to improve weak connections between these two areas of the brain in order to help individuals curb problem gambling and other precarious behaviours.

The study is based on the premise of prior research findings that indicate that problem gambling behaviours are innate. Studies have also shown that those exhibiting gambling addiction are more likely to have cognitive distortions with their brains producing lower levels of endorphins. There is also a generational link that suggests that these individual were likely to be related to others exhibiting problem gambling behaviour.

These findings help to explain why the ratio of problem gambling behaviour remains static or declines in spite of the increasing exposure to gambling options available in today's life. This is yet another win for the online and mobile gambling industry who have, to date, been the undeserving focus of blame for problem gambling behaviour by anti-online gambling proponents who will use any excuse to paint the industry in a negative light.