In casinos, blinking lights and exciting jingles may encourage risky decision-making and promote an addiction towards that behavior, finds a new study. The results of this study are published in the JNeurosci: The Journal of Neuroscience.
‘Using new technology, the researchers observed that people were less likely to pay attention to the information about the odds of winning when money imagery and casino jingles are accompanied by the win’
“We found that an individual’s choices were less guided by the odds of winning when the casino-like audiovisual features were present in our laboratory gambling game,” said UBC postdoctoral research fellow and the study’s lead author Mariya Cherkasova. “Overall, people took more risks when playing the more casino-like games, regardless of the odds.”
The latest study was prompted by earlier UBC research that found rats were more willing to take risks when their food rewards were accompanied by flashing lights and jingles.
To determine if this would also be the case for humans, researchers had more than 100 adults play laboratory gambling games that featured sensory feedback modeled after the “bells and whistles” used to signal winning in real slot machines. They found money imagery, and slot machine sounds can directly influence an individual’s decisions.
“Using eye-tracker technology, we were able to see that people were paying less attention to information about the odds of winning on a particular gamble when money imagery and casino jingles accompanied the wins,” said the study’s senior author Catharine Winstanley, professor in the UBC department of psychology and investigator at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. “We also noted that participants showed greater pupil dilation, suggesting that individuals were more aroused or engaged when winning outcomes were paired with sensory cues.”
In the absence of sensory cues, the researchers found that participants demonstrated more restraint in their decision-making.
These findings provide context for why it can be hard for those with a tendency toward gambling addiction to resist the lure of the casino.
“Together, these results provide new insight into the role played by audiovisual cues in promoting risky choice, and could in part explain why some people persist in gambling despite unfavorable odds of winning,” said Cherkasova.
“These results form an important piece of the puzzle in terms of our understanding of how gambling addiction forms and persists,” added Winstanley. “While sound and light stimuli may seem harmless, we’re now understanding that these cues may bias attention and encourage risky decision-making.”