The Psychology of Gambling

Discussion in 'Lets Talk about gambling and more...' started by Marina, Apr 5, 2015.

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  1. Marina

    Marina Administrator Staff Member

    Psychology of Gambling Part 1

    Presumably, you’re here because you enjoy gambling. You know that the house has an edge, that it’s a lot of work to get good at gambling, and that you might walk out with less money
    than you came in with. So why do we love it so much? The answer runs much deeper than “it’s fun to win money.” It is attached at the most base levels of how we function.


    Gambling in Primates

    Did you know that we’re not the only species that gambles or takes an enjoyment from gambling?
    In fact, many primates engage in some form of gambling and even engage in some of the same fallacies that humans do.

    It may not be surprising to most that Rhesus monkeys take a liking to gambling in much the same way as humans. What is surprising is that they engage in it in the same ways that humans do. In an
    experiment done by Tommy Blanchard, Andreas Wilke, and Benjamin Y. Hayden at the University of Rochester in New York, three monkeys were tested by having them control a computer display with
    their eye movement.They each had two options to chose from. In each instance, the winning option was randomly selected. Unsurprisingly, the monkeys loved winning treats and continued to play due.
    Surprisingly, they engaged in the hot hand fallacy, where they continued to pick the option they perceived as winning more often.

    Contrary to what we might believe, the hot hand fallacy doesn’t come from our knowledge of statistics like its opposite, the gambler’s fallacy, does. It may come from the fact that our caveman ancestors
    needed to survive and survival meant finding food and water. They may be lucky and stumble upon a tree with a large amount of fruit on it, or a watering hole with plenty of animals to hunt, so they would
    continue going back to the same spot, even after a day or two when they didn’t find food. Why? Because in this instance, it really wasn’t random. It was luck that they found the place, but not luck that it
    continued. Quite simply, our brains aren’t quite wired to truly understand luck.

    Gambling in Pigeons

    Some avian animals also gamble much like humans. Pigeons, of all creatures, gamble almost just like someone at a slot machine or roulette table. While some people make the safe bets
    (all black, all red, choosing slots that spin a low number of wheels) most people will eventually graduate to betting on double-zero or going for the big win on the extremely unlikely slots.

    One study put pigeons in front of buttons that had different statistical probabilities of payout. One gave out a relatively consistent and somewhat frequent payout of a small number of food pellets.
    Another button gave out a rare, but large, payout of a lot of pellets. Unsurprisingly, the pigeons pecked away at the larger button over and over again once they found out that the bigger button gave
    out bigger rewards some of the time. In fact, the pigeons chose the lower chance but higher reward button 82% of the time even though in the long run they’d get significantly more food by picking the
    frequent, but lower payout, button.

    It’s fairly obvious why we would want to bet on the larger win, even if it has a lower chance to pay out. We love the idea of competing against the house and winning, the idea of a million dollars, and doing
    a lot of the things we’ve dreamed of doing but haven’t been able to due to financial constraints. One added feature is that people and animals almost always love really great surprises. From the simple and
    mundane surprise of finding a few dollars in a pair of jeans you just washed to the larger surprise of finding your new favorite restaurant, we’re willing to bet to get a pretty sweet windfall.

    You may be wondering what would happen if a pigeon could lose. You may be thinking that, unlike pigeons, we actually bet real money that we can really lose and that, if all we had to do was put a dollar on
    double-zero without risking that dollar, we would put it on double-zero every time. There are two problems with that. Again, putting money on double-zero (even if you won’t lose that money) means you’d
    almost certainly net less money than you would if you simply put money on red or black. The other consideration is that birds in the wild do risk quite a bit by going for the uncertain bets that pay out a lot
    when they do. Namely, they risk hunger.

    Now we know that both humans and animals love gambling and will sometimes choose the wrong choice when given one.
    But what exactly goes on in the brain to make us love the gambling experience as a whole?
    queenmap, Ellis and Mike like this.
  2. Ellis

    Ellis Well-Known Member

    Another great article Marina!
    Mike and queenmap like this.
  3. SuperNova

    SuperNova Well-Known Member

    Really interesting article. I like it.
    Mike and queenmap like this.
  4. queenmap

    queenmap Well-Known Member

    Very interesting to read. I too will sometimes choose to go for the bigger bet.
    Mike likes this.
  5. Mike

    Mike Administrator Staff Member

    I love to read Articles like this! Thank you for the read indeed!
    queenmap and SuperNova like this.
  6. Marina

    Marina Administrator Staff Member

    The Psychology of Gambling Part 2

    We’ve seen how gambling tends to work in the animal kingdom, but why does it work in humans? After all, we are able to understand the statistics of gambling,
    the house edge, and the potential for significant material losses. So, what exactly is going on that makes gambling so enjoyable?

    There are many reasons that humans are attracted to gambling, whether it is games of chance to skill. Many of these draws can be cultural and dependent on how much importance a culture places
    on things like money or visibility, but there are many reasons that seem to be ingrained in the human psyche and are common no matter which culture you are in.


    Adrenaline Junkies

    One of the most important factors when addressing the appeal of gambling is, quite simply, an adrenaline high. When something excites the brain enough, it triggers the hypothalamus (one of the most basal
    parts of our brain that, essentially, controls many of our instincts) to turn on the adrenal glands. This causes a number of things that are directly related to the reward pathway in humans. Fat and sugar usage
    are used, rather than protein, making you want more of each. And, as we all know, fats and sugars are quite rewarding in the short term. Also, part of the synthesis of adrenaline involves dopamine, which is the
    actual master of the reward pathway and what many drugs rely on to make a person feel high.

    Also, adrenaline gives you quite a few mini-superpowers for a short period of time. Your strength increases, you don’t feel pain, you have heightened senses, and you feel more energetic. Even if you’re not
    being pumped full of adrenaline right now, you can easily imagine why that might feel quite good.

    Your Future Self Isn’t You

    Think about yourself five years from now. Now ten. Now twenty. Chances are good that you think of yourself as largely having the same interests, looks, and feelings about the world. While this might be true
    of some things that are truly ingrained in you, it is not necessarily true of many of your attributes. This is one of the reasons that it’s hard to plan for the future outside of the necessities.

    One of the quirks of the human brain is that we have a very difficult time seeing our future selves as us. We either think of us right now or we think of, literally, a different person. This means that, while we’re
    rolling dice or pulling the handle of a slot machine, we’re not really thinking about our future selves but us in the moment and in the extremely short term, imagining what we’d be like with $100,000 extra dollars.

    The Jackpot Isn’t About the Jackpot

    Speaking of $100,000 extra dollars, what would you do with it? If you’re like many people, that’s about two years of work all at once. In your mind, you’re free to be your “true self.” You’d be able to take a real
    break from having to do something you wouldn’t normally do for eight to ten hours a day. You’d be able to take your dream vacation, write a book, or any number of things you want to do but felt held back from
    by the shackles of financial obligation. At least, that’s what your brain thinks.

    Gambling With Friends or Enemies

    There aren’t a whole lot of us that go to the casinos alone. Of course a few do, but we’ll get to them in a second. For right now, we’ll talk about the friend group. Whether it’s a birthday party or just a Saturday
    night to do something interesting, going out to the casino is a social activity. Just like a party gives you the adrenaline to stay up until three in the morning, the casino, with all of its lights and sounds, gives
    you that same feeling. This is especially true when you add your friends into the mix. Another thing that’s true of humans, we cave to peer pressure easily. You might think it’s just about smoking or drinking
    when you’re a teenager, but it’s not. If you see a friend at the blackjack table, you’re more likely to sit by them and partake in a few hands. Why? Social acceptance. If you’re not playing, you’re egging each other
    on and that leads directly to more playing. Personally, the only time I felt really comfortable leaving the casino floor with friends was when we all decided at the same time that we were each going to play one
    last $20 bet on roulette before we went back to our hotel rooms.

    As far as people that go it alone to the casino, you end up around like-minded people. It’s the same reason that is so popular. We’d prefer to be around people with the same interests, even if
    they’re people we don’t know. And, what’s more, if those people see you winning it’s even sweeter. We tend to imagine ourselves winning and being popular, getting the most attractive girl or guy to hang out
    with us and be impressive to everyone around us, if even for a few moments.

    In the final section of the analysis of what makes humans tick like the Wheel of Fortune, we’ll take a look at the heart of the industry: the casino.
    Because, spoiler alert, they’re designed to get into your head and get into your wallet.
    Ellis and Mike like this.
  7. SuperNova

    SuperNova Well-Known Member

    Great article, really interesting. I like it.
    Mike and Marina like this.
  8. Marina

    Marina Administrator Staff Member

    Psychology of Gambling, Part 3: Casinos

    Although, as we’ve discovered, gambling is inherently appealing to humans and animals alike and is derived from something deeply instinctual that crosses the boundaries of many species, there are also
    other factors that make us want to gamble. Some of these things are manmade and cater directly to our deepest inner-workings. The allure of the casino is one of the biggest things that stimulates our senses,
    excites us, and enthralls us in the thrill of gambling. Even bringing up the word “gambling” often brings up images of flashing lights; loud, cheerful alarms; and the glitz and glamor of the casino.
    They’ve become inexorably paired in our minds, and for good reason.

    There are two main ideas behind casino design, one of them is called the “Gaming Design” and was developed by Bill Friedman and laid out in his book Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition.
    For many years, this held sway. Later, Roger Thomas and Steve Wynn came along with what is known as the “Playground Design,” which in many ways is the opposite of Friedman’s ideas.

    Gaming Design

    In essence, Gaming Design is what many people think of when they think of the ways that casinos try to make you spend more and stay longer. Friedman asserted that placing gambling equipment immediately
    inside the entrances, rather than lavish décor, was the way to get people to stay and play longer. It was a way to use gambling as the theme rather than have another theme (think Cesar’s Palace, think The Venetian). What’s more, the games would be on the way in… and out. After cashing in your chips after a long night, you’d still have to walk past those machines on the way out and think “maybe just one more pull on the slots.”

    The labyrinthine layout of the casinos that always leads back to the central gambling area was his idea as well. This is largely similar to the idea of putting machines by the entrance. If it’s too difficult to get out,
    you may as well stay a while and wile away the time at the slot machines for a bit.


    The primary things that people think of when they think of the casino’s psychological grasp on people is the whole idea of low ceilings, no clocks, and no outside light. This is somewhat disorienting and distorts
    a person’s ability to determine the time. After all, time flies when you’re having fun. You may feel like you’ve only spent an hour at the machines when, in reality, you’ve spent four hours. Knowing the time means knowing obligations or putting a cap on your time there. Not knowing the time means that you just stay until you’re bored and, if you’re not bored and don’t have a schedule, you stay and spend.

    Playground Design

    The Playground Design threw all that out of the window. Thomas and Wynn felt that using the machines as décor and putting them immediately inside was ludicrous.
    On the contrary, they felt that the grandeur of the fountains, the opulent architecture, and the magnificence exuding from the casino would put people into the mindset of being a high roller,
    being a billionaire playboy, and being willing to spend more money.

    They also felt that making the casino a maze and putting the ceilings low made people feel trapped, confused, and scared. They believe that people don’t want to make bets when they feel apprehensive
    or on the defense. The belief is that with high ceilings and easy access to accommodations, people feel safe and like they’re in control and that they can play or leave when they want to.

    Another thing they did away with was the distortion of time. They said that a casino should put up the time with themed clocks and open up the room with skylights, giving the casino a feeling of warmth
    rather than confusion.

    The Science

    The University of Guelph did a few studies on which approach was better. In one experiment they had 48 participants go to four casinos in a row. They were given money to gamble and told to rank the casinos.
    One of the main things they were looking for was how “restorative” a casino was. By “restorative” they simply meant a state where mental fatigue and the feeling of being drained by daily minutia was offset.
    When rated, the casinos that adhered to the Playground Design rated higher for being more restorative.

    In another experiment, done by Harvey H.C. Marmurek, Karen Finlay, Vinay Kanetkar, and Jane Londerville, participants were told to gamble while in a simulated casino where the lighting, color, crowding,
    symmetry, and spatial clustering were modified several times. What they found, again, was that the Playground Design encouraged people to gamble more than the Gaming Design, no matter what choices they
    made in regards to the other variables.

    One particularly interesting experiment, and somewhat unrelated, was an experiment done by Alan R. Hirsch. He placed several odors at slot machines with one as a control. The amount gambled at each
    slot machine was measured for a few weekends (with rotating scents). He found that certain scents actually encouraged more gambling.

    Other experiments have found optimal layout and machine choices as well. Red, flashing lights excite our brains. The sounds of winning make us feel like we’re next (notice you don’t ever hear a sad
    “wah-wah” trombone blaring out through the casino). Music with high BPM (beats per minute) keeps us awake and alert to gamble more. Having the accommodations near the center of the casino keep
    people walking by the machines afterwards (something Freidman was somewhat correct on).

    Even the little things are taken into account. Slot machines make you feel like you “almost won” by displaying two cherries or two sevens more often than not. Casinos give you chips because they don’t
    seem like money. And they keep you happy and sloppy at the tables with refreshing alcohol.

    Hopefully these past three entries in the “Psychology of Gambling” series have taught you a little
    bit about what makes us gamble and how casinos keep us coming back for more. Happy gaming!
    queenmap, Ellis and Mike like this.
  9. Ellis

    Ellis Well-Known Member

    Thank you for part 3 Marina! Great set of articles
    Marina likes this.

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