Can’t Get No Satisfaction: Gambling and the Inevitable Remorse

By Kitty Stryker

So you’re in Vegas at the penny slots, and you promise yourself you’ll only play a dollar. That’s it! No more. Just enough to have the Vegas experience. If you win, you may regret not wagering a ten-spot to get a bigger jackpot. If you lose, you’ll probably regret sitting at the machine at all. But no matter what, you’re gonna be thinking: “Shoulda coulda woulda.” Or at least, that’s what recent findings out of Berkeley indicate.

For the study, published in Current Biology, UC Berkeley neuroscientists had subjects play a simple gambling game while researchers recorded the electrical activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with reward processing and decision-making. The results suggest that second-guessing is inevitable when gambling, win or lose.

“It turns out that the most prevalent information encoded in the orbitofrontal cortex was the regret subjects experienced from their previous decision,” Ignacio Saez, one of the study’s authors, told Berkeley News. For some people, however, this regret may not be as strong as the desire to try again.

Says Saez, “For some people the uncertainty or the thrill of an unexpected win can act as a very powerful motivator, and even lead to addiction. Individual differences in how our brains are built are likely to play an important role in these sensitivities and our susceptibility to developing addictive behaviors.” The insight could help scientists uncover new, biologically informed strategies for treating addicts.

From the Winter 2018 Play issue of California.
Image source: iStock Photos
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