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How a small part of your brain can make you more likely to gamble

Apr 08, 2014

How a small part of your brain can make you more likely to gambleNew research identifies a part of the brain that might make people believe they can beat the odds.

One reason that people find it difficult to stop gambling even when they keep losing is that psychological effects make them feel like a win is just around the corner. New research into the role of the brain in gambling looks at two examples of this: the 'gambler's fallacy' and the 'near-miss effect'. The gambler's fallacy is the idea that, for example, if a coin has come up heads a few times then it's more likely to come up tails the next time to make up for it. The near-miss effect is when coming close to winning - for example, matching almost enough numbers on a lottery ticket - makes you want to keep playing, even though it doesn't mean you're more likely to win next time.

To better understand these effects, researchers asked people with injuries to particular parts of their brains and people with healthy brains to play gambling games. Almost everyone they tested wanted to gamble more when they had a near miss or thought that a certain outcome was 'due'. However, people with an injury to a certain part of the brain, known as the insula, weren't affected. The discovery suggests that the insula plays an important role in the desire to keep gambling, and could help to develop better treatments for people who have problems with gambling.

Find out where to get help and advice if you're worried about gambling.

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