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The Psychology of Gambling – Understanding the Player’s Mind

As gambling taps further into an already addictive brain and gains more of a foothold, psychologists are increasingly worried about its destructive powers. Thankfully, as research shows, science is ready to help.

Using these behavioural and neurological methods, researchers are isolating and tagging the cognitive factors that are important to problem gambling. This will eventually help revolutionise the way this disorder is treated.


Gambling is a risky activity where someone can financially loss and emotionally harm others. They depend on why people gamble in the first place. People may gamble just to gain financial profits or take a risk. Besides, Gambling can be emotionally enjoy doing so, and challenging themselves, and can be fun and successful. On the other hand, it has the potential to make people feel anxiety and overwhelmed.

Luke Clark of the Department of Experimental Psychology is looking at how different features of gambling games create an illusion of control and influence their odds of winning. He finds that near misses produce dopamine surges almost as strong as a loss — possibly, he writes, increasing subsequent motivation to play.

An abundance of research into pathological gambling has established its similarities with substance use disorders and its classification as an impulse control disorder (Blaszczynski Nower, 2002). To effectively facilitate change for problem gamblers’ wellbeing, understanding how the individual changes is crucial.

Illusion of control

This cognitive bias, associated with overconfidence, is also known as the illusion of control – people may have the sensation of having control over events or outcomes when, in reality, it is just chance, and can lead to overestimating one’s capabilities, as well as their control over them. From gambling, the risk to take emerges; players expect that their choice of a slot machine or the throw of the dice had a large impact on the outcome of the game or had larger impact than chance alone.

And since part of the folly of gambling stems from misconceptions of someone affected by the addiction, errors of one sort – the mistaken decisions – would feed into other varieties of harm – social and financial.

Moreover, the psychological damage from an illusion of control can take the form of depression, anxiety and suicidality because one feels that they have more of a grasp on things than they truly do, and often distractions from other problems in one’s life, and even paths that will never pay off in achieving full control, ensue. Added to this could be feelings of denial and loss of control that increasingly become harder to resolve.


Gambling is one type of activity that provides a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment, but it can be habit-forming as well as causing financial loss and more. So, it is imperative for people to know why gambling and how they can control when they gamble, so they don’t suffer financial damage or other problems this activity can cause.

Gambling for the risk itself, associated with dopamine release in the pathway involved in reward uncertainty, is amplified by the expectation of winning.

Cognitive biases, such as illusion of control, gambler’s fallacy or loss aversion, are underlying factors in gambling-related decision-making and behaviour. These biases can lead an individual to make irrational bets or chase losses due to nonsensical logic, followed by frustration or disappointment.


People gamble for a variety of purposes; some just enjoy taking risks and waging their bets for recreational purposes while others may desire to make easy money or are just a materialistic person.
Whatever may be the reasons behind gambling one may end up losing money apart from other serious difficulties.

Gambling presents an emotional experience heightened by uncertainty about outcomes, based on principles of probability – just as dopamine is released during pleasurable activities such as eating, sex, drugs and more – and increased expectation of reward.

Sometimes they become outwardly addictive and potentially life-threatening, and must be addressed medically in order to be broken. Gambling addiction: a profoundly private disease, hard to detect and even harder to treat; its cardinal symptoms include preoccupation with gambling, frequent gambling urges and continued gambling despite adverse consequences; many researchers liken its features to drug dependence; it was only recently granted an entry in the DSM-V (the American Psychiatric Association’s authoritative diagnostic manual).


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