Research shows that training people to become less impulsive may reduce risk-taking behavior during gambling. These insights could help provide guidance for new addiction treatment programs.
Recently published in Psychological Science, the study assessed whether asking people to stop making simple movements while in a simulated gambling situation affected how risky or cautious they were when betting.
Participants were asked to place their bets in a repeated gambling task. They were presented with safe options (low gain, high probability) and more risky options (high gain, low probability), and were asked to indicate their choice by pressing a key on a computer keyboard. The researchers examined the preference for the safer options.
When participants occasionally had to stop their choice response, they slowed down and became more cautious in the amount of money they bet each time. This suggests that becoming more cautious about simple movements reduces the tendency to make risky monetary decisions.
Researchers then examined whether training people to stop hand responses to arbitrary stimuli presented on a computer screen would also have longer-term effects on gambling. They found that a short period of inhibition training reduced gambling by ten to fifteen per cent, a small but statistically significant reduction, and that this effect lasted at least two hours.
Lead researcher, Dr Frederick Verbruggen of the University of Exeter said in the press release: “Our research shows that by training themselves to stop simple hand movements, people can also learn to control their decision-making processes to avoid placing risky bets.
“This work could have important practical implications for the treatment of behavioral addictions, such as pathological gambling, which have previously been associated with impaired impulse control, and more specifically, deficits in stopping actions. We are now exploring the relevance of our findings to other addictions, such as smoking or overeating, which we did not look at in this study. Addictions are very complex and individual, and our approach would only target one aspect of the problem. However, we are very excited about the potential of helping a proportion of people whose lives are affected by gambling and other addictions.”
Dr Chris Chambers of Cardiff University’s School of Psychology added: “These results suggest that our impulses are controlled by highly connected brain systems, reaching from the most basic motor actions to more complicated risky decisions. Our study shows that inhibition training reduces risk-taking during gambling in healthy volunteers but it does not show that inhibition training reduces gambling addiction. More studies are now needed to discover whether training people to boost a low-level ‘inhibitory muscle’ could help treat addictions, but these initial findings are promising.”