Remember those TV commercials that tried to sway you away from taking drugs… ‘this is your brain; this is your brain on drugs” – and you saw the frying egg. Message = Your brain is messed up when you’re taking drugs. Well, your brain also functions differently if you’re a gambling addict.
Researchers came up with tests to look at how your brain functions if you’re a gambling addict. Here’s what they found:
1. Compared to non-addicted players, gambling addicts went for smaller, but immediate money rewards over larger, delayed ones. This suggests that addicts have problems appropriately balancing risks and rewards, and delaying rewards. These, obviously, are key skills if you’re playing poker.
2. Pathological gamblers have a harder time making sense of a lot of smaller bits of information. They lose site of the “big picture.”
3. Gambling addicts are slower to respond to irrelevant lights in the background while gambling, which suggests they can narrow their attention even more than the usual gambler. While initially this might seem good – who wouldn’t like to be super focused – this may also mean they have a harder time stepping back from gambling, and hence may contribute to their becoming addicted. And again, like #2, they lose the bigger context of what’s going on.
‘the DEVIL made me do it” rarely stands up in court, so while brain science is advancing, don’t count on the “My BRAIN made me do it” defense quite yet.