Our most recent run of luck influences our high-risk choices at the poker table or in our everyday lives, a new study suggests.
The decision to “up the ante” even against long odds, or to be conservative, can result from an internal predisposition that those recent results form, the researchers report. That predisposition involves a “push-pull” dynamic between the brain’s two hemispheres, the team says.
“What we learned is that there is a bias that develops over time that may make people view risk differently,” says senior author Sridevi Sarma, a professor at the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Insights from the research have the potential to shed light on how soldiers in high-risk combat situations make decisions and to facilitate more effective brain training to change or “rewire” long-term behavior or habits, the researchers suggest.
Sarma’s group sought to understand why people tend to take risks even when the odds are against them or avoid risk even when the odds are favorable. They asked patients at the Cleveland Clinic’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit to play a simple card game involving risk.
The patients had multiple deep-seated electrodes implanted in their brains; the implantation allowed doctors to locate the source of seizures for future surgical treatment. Each electrode had 10 to 16 channels that recorded voltage signals from neurons surrounding it. The electrodes also allowed Sarma and her team an intimate look at the patients’ brains in real time, as they made decisions while gambling against a computer in a card game.
The game was simple: The computer had an infinite deck of cards with only five different values: 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. Each value card was equally likely to be dealt in any round. Following every round, the cards went back into the deck, leaving odds unchanged.
“…the players are accumulating all the past card values and all the past outcomes, but with a fading memory…”
Participants were shown two cards on a computer screen, one faceup and the other facedown. (The faceup card was the player’s, and the facedown card was the computer’s.) Participants were asked to bet low ($5) or high ($20) that their card had a higher value than the computer’s facedown one.
When dealt a 2, 4, 8, or 10, participants bet quickly and instinctively, the research team found. When dealt a 6, however, they wavered and were nudged into betting higher or lower depending on their bias—even though the chances of picking a higher or lower card were the same as before.
In other words, participants’ betting behavior was based on how they fared on past bets even though those results had no bearing on the outcome of the new bets.
Push and pull
Examining neural signals recorded during the game, Sarma’s team found a predominance of high-frequency gamma brain waves. They were even able to localize these signals to particular structures in the brain. It turns out that these regions—excluding any implicated in drug-resistant epilepsy—were associated positively or negatively with risk-taking behavior.
“When your right brain has high-frequency activity and you get a gamble, you’re pushed to take more of a risk,” says postdoctoral fellow Pierre Sacré. “But if the left side has high-frequency activity, it’s pulling you away from taking a risk. We call this a push-pull system.”
To assess that internal bias, the researchers developed a mathematical equation to calculate each patient’s bias using only his or her past wagers.
“We found that if you actually solve for what this looks like over time, the players are accumulating all the past card values and all the past outcomes, but with a fading memory,” Sarma says. “In other words, what happened most recently weighs on a person more than older events do. This means that based on the history of a participant’s bets, we can predict how that person is feeling as they gamble.”
The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Additional study coauthors are from Johns Hopkins, the Cleveland Clinic, Boston University, and Emory University. The National Science Foundation and the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at Johns Hopkins paid for the study.
Source: Johns Hopkins University
- Steve Jacobson
Studio: Central Recovery Press
Label: Central Recovery Press
Publisher: Central Recovery Press
Manufacturer: Central Recovery Press
Arnie Wexler's life as a gambler began on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, flipping cards, shooting marbles, and playing pinball machines. At age fourteen he found the racetrack, a bookie, and started playing the stock market. His obsession with gambling accelerated until a fateful day in 1968 when it all came crashing down.
Wexler's gripping narrative leads us through the dungeon of a compulsive gambler's world—chasing the big win and coming up with empty pockets—and how his addiction drove him and his wife, Sheila, to the edge of life. With help, they managed to escape, and together they have devoted themselves to helping others with the problem they know so well.
Arnie and Sheila Wexler have provided extensive training on compulsive, problem, and underage gambling to more than 40,000 gaming employees and have written Responsible Gaming Programs for major gaming companies. In addition to running the toll-free, national helpline 888-LAST-BET, Sheila and Arnie are consultants to Recovery Road in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, a Sunspire Health private residential treatment facility for adults with chemical dependency and problem gambling.
Steve Jacobson was a sports reporter and columnist for Newsday for more than forty years with a great interest in all aspects of sports. He co-authored a number of books with notable sports personalities. He was named by Associated Press among the top sports columnists and twice was nominated by Newsday for the Pulitzer Prize.
Studio: Independently published
Label: Independently published
Publisher: Independently published
Manufacturer: Independently published
The Gambling Addiction Workbook has helped many understand and overcome their gambling addiction. In this unique self-help book for recovery, you will find uplifting answers and honest words of peace. The author C.W.V Straaten struggled himself with the hypnotic demons of addiction until he finally discovered how to free himself of his addictive behavior. In The Gambling Addiction Workbook, he shares his 5-step plan to recovery.
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A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
More people than ever before see themselves as addicted to, or recovering from, addiction, whether it be alcohol or drugs, prescription meds, sex, gambling, porn, or the internet. But despite the unprecedented attention, our understanding of addiction is trapped in unfounded 20th century ideas, addiction as a crime or as brain disease, and in equally outdated treatment.
Challenging both the idea of the addict's “broken brain” and the notion of a simple “addictive personality,” Unbroken Brain offers a radical and groundbreaking new perspective, arguing that addictions are learning disorders and shows how seeing the condition this way can untangle our current debates over treatment, prevention and policy. Like autistic traits, addictive behaviors fall on a spectrum -- and they can be a normal response to an extreme situation. By illustrating what addiction is, and is not, the book illustrates how timing, history, family, peers, culture and chemicals come together to create both illness and recovery- and why there is no “addictive personality” or single treatment that works for all.
Combining Maia Szalavitz’s personal story with a distillation of more than 25 years of science and research, Unbroken Brain provides a paradigm-shifting approach to thinking about addiction.