The brain center connected to gambling addiction


Brain damage affecting the insula, an area with a key role in emotions, disrupts errors of thinking associated with gambling addiction. The study was published in PNAS.

Cognitive distortions make people think they will win

People often have a skewed perception of their chances of winning when gambling. These errors of thinking are called ‘cognitive distortions’. So, a near miss might make the player feel like they are getting closer to a win and be encouraged to play more. Then there’s the ‘gambler’s fantasy” where after a run of one number, the gambler believes the opposite will occur next. This happens frequently with coin tosses.

Studying people with brain injuries for clues

More and more studies are showing that gambling addicts have a strong incidence of these types of erroneous beliefs. Researchers, led by Dr. Luke Clark from the University of Cambridge, examined the neurological basis of these beliefs in patients with injuries in different parts of the brain. “While neuroimaging studies can tell us great deal about the brain’s response to complex events, it’s only by studying patients with brain injury that we can see if a brain region is actually needed to perform that task,” explained Dr. Clark.

One part of the brain showed hyperactivity

For the study, they recruited people with injuries to the amygdala, ventromedial prefrontal cortex or insula. Researchers set up slot machines to provide near misses and a roulette game rigged to encourage the gambler’s fallacy reaction. “Based on results, we believe that the insula could be hyperactive in problem gamblers, making them more susceptible to these errors of thinking. Future treatments for gambling addiction could seek to reduce this hyperactivity, either by drugs or by psychological techniques like mindfulness therapies.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, PNAS


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