First and foremost, gambling is huge. This is something that is in just about every culture, and just about any place you go, you can find gambling. 76.1 million patrons visit commercial casinos each year. This is just the US casinos.
Not uh, and this is commercial casinos, so the numbers related to Native casinos, I don’t have those. Think about that that’s 32% of the US population is gonna visit a casino this year. When we looked around the room, we saw that just about everyone in here has interacted with gambling in some way.
86% of Americans will gamble in their lifetime, so most of us are going to interact with some kind of gambling. Commercial casinos net over $40 billion a year. This has been going up just about every year. It’s up 3.4% since 2016.
That’s a lot of money. Canadian online casinos have a fairly wide range of games available, which are adding to the popularity of online casinos in Canada. Casinos, in a general sense, are classified within our recreational economy. This is a lot of money. We’ll talk about how much money it is in a second. 2006, Americans lost $91 billion in all forms of gambling.
$91 billion, so if you’re thinking about the cost of education, you’re thinking about the costs that we talk about in terms of jobs lost, and the economy, this is huge. This is a huge amount of our wealth is being transferred through gambling venues. Let’s look at that and see how big of a number that really is the movie industry’s revenues are about $10.6 billion.
Who here has seen a movie in the last year? What about the record industry? They net about $8.7 billion.
I think we’d all agree, when we talk about recreation, these are two of our biggest recreational industries. They don’t even they’re less than one-fourth of what the gambling industry does, just the commercial casinos alone. Okay, what else do you guys do for fun? What other recreational things?
Anyone like sports? Yeah? Sports make a lot of money, right? How much does an average NFL player or NBA player make? Well, if you take all four of our major sports leagues I’m a soccer fan, I didn’t even bother to put it up there.
It doesn’t even enter into it. But the NFL itself only nets $8.2 billion. You can take all four of our sports leagues, take every sports fan in the US, it does still does not make as much money as the commercial casino industry. So those are big numbers. Very, very big numbers.
Okay, but we don’t all go to a casino, right? Raise your hands if you want, gone to a casino in the last year? That’s not many of us, right? You know, these numbers are coming from our commercial casinos. Well, where can you gamble? So we’re right here-ish, right?
I know you guys have a casino a little bit south of here… but no casinos within the town. So you can’t gamble anywhere, right? Well, you can gamble at every one of these locations. So it isn’t gambling isn’t just this thing that happens outside of town. The lottery is gambling.
Michigan spent uh, Michiganders spent $27.8 billion in 2015 on the lottery. How much do you think we spent on education? Lotteries aren’t that bad, though, right? They’re not as bad as casinos. Casinos everyone knows casinos do things to keep you in there, they got the free alcohol, they don’t have clocks, they’re confusing.
If you’ve ever been in a casino, you know they’re built to keep you in. If you gotta cash out with your chips, where’s the cashier? Do you guys know? Is it near the front?
No, you got to walk to the back, get your money, then walk back through all of the slot machines. But these aren’t so bad, but the lottery is you know, it’s a very, very prevalent form of gambling. You know, we think it’s not that bad. You’re not trapped in a casino. It only costs a dollar, right?
It’s run by the state, it funds education… my grandma plays scratch-offs and lottery, right? Does anyone’s grandma play the scratch-offs? Yeah, it’s not bad, right? You can get a lottery scratch-off anywhere. Virtually anywhere. I just did my PhD in Illinois.
We had actually have slot machines in any place that serves alcohol, including our bakeries, because they serve rum balls, yeah. So scratch-offs are absolutely everywhere. You gotta spend who here has bought a scratch-off in the last year?
How much was your scratch-off? Dollar? . $5? The black T-shirt you raised your hand. .
$5. It’s $5 bets, right? That’s no big deal. You don’t bet as much on lottery but who here has spent more than $5 when the Powerball gets big?
Yeah, I’ve seen people buy $20, $30 of tickets. This is a picture that I took in… I think I was just south of Chicago. I just happened to stop for gas. This is a picture that I took, it was just sitting out. Somebody came in and spent over $300 on scratch-offs, every one of them a loss.
I don’t know about you guys but $25 to me, especially as a grad student, that was, like, how much money I had to eat for a week. Scratch-offs can be just as you can end up spending just as much money. I think the most I’ve ever had in a casino on a craps table at any given time was maybe $25. But I’ve actually sat in a casino and watched people put down $2,000, $3,000 at a time. The largest I’ve ever seen I’ve seen a $40 scratch-off.
I can’t believe spending $40 on a scratch-off. Let’s take a moment to talk about the lottery, then. You have a 1 in a 176 million dollar er, million chance of winning the lottery. Is it still worth your dollar?
This is kind of a hard number to conceptualize, I think 1 in 176 million. Who here wants to be a millionaire? Wants to make million dollars?
All right, let’s figure out some let’s look at this number in context. Okay, you are you have a 1 in 25 million chance of being killed by a vending machine. Right? Almost six times more likely to be killed by a vending machine than winning the lottery.
You got a 1 in 11.5 million chance of getting killed by a shark. 1 in a 115,000 people will go to the hospital for a pogo stick injury. Way more likely to get a pogo stick injury than actually winning the lottery. You got a one in a 662,000 chance of being an Olympic athlete.
I don’t know about you guys but I’m not gonna be I’m not gonna make it to the Olympics this year. But I’ve a much better chance of doing that than actually going and winning the lottery. You got a 1 in 10 million chance of being the president. You’re much more likely to date a millionaire than actually win the lottery and become one. So if you’re looking for a life plan, this might be a quicker way to get to millionaire.
I would say education might be a little bit easier. Now, that’s all fun, but gambling can be an addiction. 2% to 4% of the US population suffers from problematic gambling, whether it’s gambling addiction or with what’s called “problematic gambling,” so kind of the precursor to it. It’s 2% to 4%. That’s a pretty big number.
I do a lot of work with children with autism that’s about 1%. Who here knows somebody who has a child with autism? So look around the room. Keep your hands high, please. This is how many people know somebody who has a child with autism that’s 1% of the population.
We’re looking at about four times that. So the chances that you guys know someone who has a gambling addiction is actually much higher than you might think. It can lead to some pretty, pretty big difficulties. Preoccupation with gambling is the nature of addiction, so always thinking about gambling. A need for increased wages to maintain excitement.
So gambling is an interesting addiction because it’s an addiction to physical stimuli. It’s very easy for us to conceptualize drug addiction as being a problem, right, because you have chemicals entering into your body that are disrupting the neurological workings. This is the same issue tolerance and withdrawal.
In order to keep enjoying the gambling, you gotta increase the wagers, you gotta keep increasing what you’re doing. Repeated unsuccessful attempts to control gambling. So kinda the hallmark of problematic gambling is that you’re having problems with it and that you can’t stop.
Restlessness and irritability when trying to stop. Has anyone ever been around someone who’s on withdrawal from caffeine? Yeah, what about withdrawal from cigarettes? I know I was pretty irritable. Withdrawal from cocaine, opioids?
It’s the same thing. You end up having the same kind of problems. Gambling to escape problems and dysthymic moods. So trying to escape sadness and escape your social problems. Attempting to regain losses through continued betting. Does anyone here not know that gambling is not the best way to make money?
Who wins in gambling? We have a saying for it. “The house,” right? What does that mean, “The house always wins”? It means they’re eventually going to win.
They’re gonna take your money, right? But people who have problematic gambling, they believe often that they can get their money back. Attempts to conceal gambling is very common with problematic gambling you’re trying to hide it. Engaging in illegal acts in order to continue gambling.
This is a lot of times robbery, stealing from family members. Jeopardizing your job relationships and opportunities because of the gambling addiction, and relying on others for financial support in order to for problems caused by the gambling. So this is borrowing money, oftentimes stealing money… or having your significant other pay your rent because you don’t have any money.
Gambling and communities have a relationship, too. So around casinos, there is a higher likelihood of increased poverty and unemployment. Increased crime rates oftentimes go around places where gambling is very prevalent.
Again, these are difficult correlations sometimes ’cause casinos are not often built in the best neighborhoods ’cause they require large amounts of land. Decreased property value oftentimes is associated with high levels of gambling in the area. So what do we know?
We’ve established that gambling is prevalent. People play, right? Most people in the US at some point interact with gambling. We know that it’s widely available.
You can gamble anywhere. You’re unlikely to win big, and it can ruin your life. I will note that only 4% of the population does have problems with gambling even though most of us will gamble. So there are a lot more elements into it, so it’s not just the game.
But it does beg the question, “Why do people gamble?” Why would we actually interact with a casino? Why would we even go in there?
Well, from my side, I’m interested in behavior. I’m interested in connecting behaviors with the environment, with the stimuli that they interact with. And so, I approach this from a behavior analytic standpoint, trying to understand the variables that precede and follow the behavior. So from that end, we’re gonna I’m gonna give you some basic assumptions of that field of the things that are basic or are generally observed. We repeat behaviors that produce desirable consequences we call that “reinforcement.”
We avoid behaviors that cause discomfort or loss of desirable consequences we call that “punishment.” And we avoid effortful behaviors whenever possible. Because of this, we tend to match our effort to reinforcement. You tend to put your behavior into the things that pay off the most, and avoid the things that pay off the least.
Does this sound like some basic assumptions we can all get behind here? Yeah. All right, so… we then need to kind of figure out what’s actually going on with gambling. BF Skinner, one of the founders of behavior analysis, early behavior analyst presented this explanation. He said that gambling is a system of economic control in which the individual is induced to pay money for a reinforcement the value of which is too small to lead to exchange under any other schedule.
What he meant by this is that gambling is a behavioral control that exchanges reinforcement for effort… in a manner that you would not accept any other way. When you guys play scratch-offs a lot of people said they play scratch-offs on average, they’re about 1-to-3, 1-to-4 odds. If every dollar that you gave me, I’m only gonna give you back a dollar every four times, you would stop giving me dollars. Let’s put it in another context, a coke machine sorry, I’m from the South so every soda’s a coke. I don’t know what pop is. You go to a coke machine, you put in I guess you don’t do this anymore, but you put in a quarter.
If you had to put in if every four quarters, every $4, whatever it is that the coke cost, you get your coke, would you keep going to it? Probably not, right? You’re not gonna pay four times the amount of a coke to get one coke. But you do when you’re gambling.
So why… why does that happen? Well, one of the the example that Skinner gave is he said it’s kind of a dishonest salesman. If you pay for three packages, three units of whatever it is that he’s selling, and he only delivered one, you would fire him… right? I’m not gonna accept that. If Amazon only delivered three of the er, one of the packages that I ordered and I paid for three, I’m never gonna use them again. But what if you ordered three and you got four?
You’d probably go to your friend and say, “Hey, this is so awesome. “I got four, and I only paid for three.” It’s pretty exciting, right? I like getting more than I paid for.
Well, if the salesman is smart, he would do this to about every fifth customer. He would give out only give out every now and then an extra number of packages, and he could undercut everyone else. This is essentially what a casino does. So the way casinos make money is the games must pay out in an unequal ratio to make profit.
So if you were playing on a roulette wheel, betting on any single number pays out 35 times your bet. So bet $1, if you get the number, you make $35. But on average, you’re only gonna win 1 out of 38 times. So you’re gonna lose about 2.9% of your money, so about 3 cents every dollar that you bet over time, but when you win, it feels a big win. Now, the nice thing that casinos have is they don’t have to win against you. They have to win against 100 of you, right?
And statistically, that’s going to happen so, to the individual, this feels like a big win. When patrons enter into a business with this dishonest salesman, fully informed of his poor follow-through but random overcompensation, the product being bought is better considered chance to win. So the casino doesn’t sell you the reinforcer, they sell you the chance to win. Anyone who’s played the claw machine in a…? You know what I’m talking about where you yeah?
Do you all know you’re probably not gonna get the thing out? It’s the chance to win it that you’re really paying for. That’s essentially what gambling is from an economic standpoint. So how do we get there?
How do we have this insensitivity to consequences when we know that we’re losing, right? We know that you keep losing. So how do we do that? I’m gonna focus a little bit here on slot machines just because they’re the most typical type of game that’s played. We’ll talk about a couple other things as we go through but the I to think of gambling as an issue of sensitivity to consequences.
So starting with that, we have to accept the fact that gambling is inherently random. It has to be. When you look at basic behavior patterns, when reinforcement is continuous, meaning every time you were to play a slot machine, you would win, we could predict how you’re gonna play very, very cleanly. First of all, if you won every time, gambling would not exist, right? We said gambling in order in order to consider something gambling, they have to pay out an economic exchange that is not sustainable under a basic schedule. So what ends up happening with fixed ratio schedules, or that winning on every so many times is we see this very predictable pattern.
We call it “stair-stepping.” The individual won’t work until they start to feel motivated for, let’s just say, the money. For example, why do we pay people on the end of the week? Why do we like to pay people on Thursday, Friday?
When you get your paycheck, how motivated are you to work? No, you’re gonna do what’s called a “post-reinforcement pause.” You get your reinforcer, you’re gonna go, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna take a break.” I like call it the… moment. ‘Cause when you get your coke, you take a drink, you’re not gonna work for a little bit. So you get your moment of satisfaction, and then you’re gonna wait until you spend all your money over the weekend.
Come Monday, “Oh, man, I spent all of my weekend money, “now I got to start working again.” You start working, you start working. Towards the end of the week, especially if you work on things like commission, or an hourly wage, you start working more and more and more because you need to get to a certain amount of money. You hit the weekend, you pause again. This is very characteristic of fixed ratio schedules of reinforcement. It wouldn’t work in a gambling sense.
We don’t want that, and if I want to get as much money from you, I want you to keep playing, I need to get you to work harder. The other problem with that is that if you won every seven times on a slot machine, when would you bet big? . On the seventh spin, right? So again, the predictability cannot be there for gambling to work.
Variable ratios, however, were suggested as being kind of this element that drives gambling. A variable ratio is when the reinforcer is delivered on around an average amount of time. So when reinforcement is provided after an average number of occurrences, we call that a “variable ratio.”
And because you don’t know when it’s gonna pay off, you gotta keep playing. So let’s just think of a bag of marbles. You have 20 marbles only four were winning blue marbles. If you pull out all 20 marbles, you’re gonna win one blue marble on an average of about five marbles we call that a “VR5.” What that allows you to do, or what that does in terms of general behavior patterns, VR schedules produce this persistent and oftentimes elevated level of behavior… because you don’t know when you’re gonna win, so you just keep playing. If everyone works, I assume to some degree, right?
So you do some amount of work. If every hour that you worked, your boss came out and said, “Okay, you normally make $10 an hour,” and every now and then, they came out and said, “You make 20 this hour,” how excited would you be? Would you work a little bit more because maybe the next one might pay off?
That’s the nature of variable ratios. And so, a great deal of research has shown with animals, with humans, variable ratios produce persistent behavior. If I wanted you to work hard, I would give a variable ratio. If I want you to work predictably and pause, then I give you a FR ratio. We use this in clinical applications.
Generally, problem behavior is presented on a VR schedule. The child every now and then gets attention for the problem behavior, every now and then the tantrum produces a toy or escape from work. And so, this is something we look for a lot. It’s very prevalent in terms of the way a gambling seems to occur. Gambling games are known to have statistical probabilities.
Most of them are published. You can actually get literature on slot machines. A pair of dice has six possible ways to amount to 7 out of 36 possibilities. If you’ve played craps, then you know 7 is really important in that game. On average, you’re gonna land 7 one out of six times 16%. This leads gamblers to believe that schedules of control are associated with the statistics, right?
It makes gamblers think that variable schedules seem to be at play. And so, we get what’s called the “gambler’s fallacy.” The gambler’s fallacy is when a gambler says, “I’ve lost on the last five scratch-offs, “which means a win is coming.” The statistics are 1 out of 5. So if I play four times and I lose, what’s the next scratch-off gonna be?
If you have gambling issues, “I’m gonna win.” Have you ever heard anyone say that? Right? So you get this issue with variable ratios versus random ratios. Gambling has independent assortment. In most states, it’s illegal to make it otherwise.
There’s a base I think the only ones that I know of is in Europe, slot machines or “fruit machines” as they call ’em they have to pay off a certain amount per hour. So there is a behavior called “skimming,” where people will watch for a slot machine to lose, and lose, and lose, and lose, and then they’ll attempt to jump on it. Guess how effective it is, by the way? Not terribly but it is what they do. Variable ratios are different than random ratios. A variable ratio are really never present in gambling.
Instead, the outcome is usually computed a random number generation. It has the same it has what we call “independent assortment.” It means every time the odds of you winning are exactly the same. This means that when we talk about your odds of winning, we’re talking about your odds of winning over thousands of plays.
So if you flip a coin and you’re betting heads, 50% of the time you’re gonna win. Right? But you could go 100 flips before you actually get a head uh, get it to land on heads. It’s random every single time it’s just as likely to land on tails as it as heads. Most gambling games are the same way. So in a VR schedule, in order to make sure the probability is 1 out of 20, we’d throw away each one of those marbles every time we take it out.
This means that betting higher on each successive loss will lead to eventually you making your money back. Have you ever met a gambler who does that? Somebody says, “Oh, I just bet a dollar and I lost it.
“I need to bet $3 on the next one “so I make my money back.” It’s a very common behavior. On a random ratio, it doesn’t matter. You could go 5 times without winning, you could go 100. You could win five times in a row.
It’s random. Independent assortment ensures that the gambling game is random. If we take a look at this, VR schedules make sense to continue gambling. If you’ve played and lost, the next one is more likely to win. If you play again and you lose, the next one is more likely to win.
And that percentage keeps growing and growing and growing. In a random ratio game, the percentage never goes up. It’s never worth continuing to play if you keep losing.
So when we compare them, reinforcement provided on a random number of behaviors, the actual schedule is definite and programmed on a variable ratio. It means if you if you happen to know the machine has a variable ratio and you want to guaranteed succeed, take your current bet, and add the number of losses to it, times your initial bet, you’ll always end up okay, as long as you have a big enough bankroll to keep playing. There is on a random ratio, that’s not true. So the question is, then, “Are we able to sense a random ratio?” Do you think you’d be able to figure it out?
Maybe we’re all smart, we can count. Well, Hurlburt and colleagues in 1980 did an experiment where they basically asked people they wanted to see if people could tell the difference. So they gave them two we had two different slot machines. They set them up in pairs. Each pair was programmed to pay out at either 6 or 20 trials. And for each pair, one slot machine was a VR schedule or random ratio, so basically, you could pick between the two slot machines, One where you had this guaranteed success if you can detect the VR schedule, one where it was random.
The difficulty is that there was no preference shown for either. People would play either one. You’d think they’d be able to figure out that one has a programmed way of rewarding and the other one’s purely random. Players prefer to win whichever one appeared to win more.
So if they happened to play on one that paid out a little bit quicker, that’s the one they picked. And the number of coins bet increased as a function of the number of trials since a win. Remember, I was saying with the VR schedule, the best thing you can do is keep betting more, more and more and more, basically just times 3 by whatever you bet before, keep doing that until you win, you’ll always make your money back. People did this regardless of what schedule they were on. So what did that show?
It shows that players can’t easily discriminate the difference between a VR schedule and a random ratio. It means that individuals wrongly tend to play that strategy that’s more effective on a on a VR schedule than when actually playing a random ratio schedule. And remember what I said, almost no game in casino gambling is a VR schedule.
So it means that we have this, what we call, a “negative recency effect.” It means that the more we lose, the more likely we are to keep playing that because we think that it’s gonna win. We’re gonna play it as though it’s a variable ratio schedule. We’re gonna keep betting more and more after a string of losses and that’s what that classic gambler’s fallacy is called. Players tend to follow which machine provides more wins.
So whatever game feels like they’re winning more, that’s the they’re gonna go with, regardless of the actual schedule. Because we’re not really good at detecting those schedules. I think slot machines are a fun example of this.
It’s “try and play slowly on a slot machine.” You’ll find that you get kinda mindless after a little while. Then, you start playing very, very fast. Does anyone know how quickly people play slot machines, by the way? Just a fun fact.
Most people play slot machines at 3 to 5 seconds a trial. So most slot machines there’s another name that people call them. They sometimes call ’em “penny machines.” Has anyone ever heard that? How much do you bet, on average, on a slot machine? It’s about a $1.15.
Now, think about that every 3 to 5 seconds, you bet a dollar. That’s not much of a penny machine to me. Remember, we were talking about scratch-offs.
You play a dollar or $5 whatever. If you play a slot machine at speed, most slot machines, you’ll lose $850 an hour. It’s quite a bit of money.
All right, so anyways, what we’ve established is that the more you lose, the more you play. The more you’re likely you are to keep playing, and that doesn’t quite sound like that economic mindset that we said where we try to optimize behaviors that pay out as much as possible. So something else must be going on. It’s not just the schedule. But it does lead us to say that basically when you’re gambling, you act like the mouse.
You are hitting that button, you’re hitting that lever on that variable schedule. So we treat slot machines, at least, and most gambling games as though they’re variable schedules even when they’re not. But something else is going on. And so, what we saw is that wins the more you win, the more you seem to play. So Dixon, MacLin, and Daugherty did a study in 2006 where they said, “Well, do you prefer to win a lot? “Or do you want to win one big win?”
And what they did is they actually they essentially had people, you had the two slot machines. One pays about every 10 times… uh, every 10 trials, you win about 10 cents. One paid every about every 50 trials, 50 cents.
It’s equal in terms of its utility. You’re gonna make back the same amount of money. Overwhelmingly, people wanted to play the 10 cent machine. So regardless of the amount of money you win back, winning seems to be important.
“If I win the one that I win more on, “more often, more frequently is the one that I want to play.” And this makes sense from a behavioral standpoint. It actually increases the ratio of wins to effort. And I’ll add that one of the neat things about this is that money is a conditioned reinforcer. It doesn’t it only has as much value as you happen to have for it but who here would accept money for just about anything?
Money is one of our most powerful reinforces in our life so it’s interesting that we will take any little amount of money, despite the big amount of money. So now we know that more wins is more important. When you play a modern slot machine, they used to be that you would win on one line when the three things, three symbols show that they’re equal. Has anyone played a modern slot machine? They look more this.
I’ve seen ones where you can play on up to 2,000 lines. So you can bet when they call “penny machines,” what you’re really doing is when you’re betting a dollar, you’re betting on 100 different lines that you can win 100 bets all at once. What is the likelihood, then, that you’re gonna win something?
Right, you’re gonna win on a couple of pennies but not on all of them. Slot machines are really good at always making sure you win. The frequency of wins is very, very, very high. This leads to something we call a “loss disguised as a win,” or an “LDW.” Modern slot machines generally have five reels, three to five symbols each, and allow for betting across many, many lines.
Each line costs some amount of bet, usually a penny, and you win let’s just say if you win on one line, you’ll typically win about 3 cents for that line. But you’re betting 100 bets at a time. Right, so let’s just say you have a 10% chance of winning on any given line, you’re gonna win at least 10 times for every 100 pennies that you’re betting. It allows for you to win on a few lines while losing many more. What this ends up doing is if you win on one line for 3 cents on an overall bet of 40 lines, 40 cents, you have an overall loss of 37 cents.
How do you think people who are playing slot machines react? This is what that looks. You bet 30 lines for 1 cent, you get a total bet of 30. You win 10 cents. What does the slot machine say?
It says you won. What does the slot machine do? It flashes, it makes sounds, says in big letters, “You won.”
When you the sound of your coins going up. You know, ching, ching, ching, ching, ching! Slot machine acts like you won. You did win, you won 10 cents, but you really lost 30 cents, right?
This is how we react, though. Now, you might not react physically like that but your behavior and the neurobehavioral correlates all look like you won. We respond to any winning line as a win. It’s hypothesized that because we’re getting all these wins, we do not detect how often and how much we’re actually losing. It allows casinos to provide more frequent wins. And as we said, ratios matter.
How often you win while playing matters. If you if I were to say, “Okay, you work an hour “to get paid for an hour’s worth of work,” right? Sure. If I pay you at the end of the week, so I pay for five days of work, and I don’t pay you at the end of the week, how many weeks are you gonna keep working for me?
Not often. Would you rather me pay you every day? For every hour, that’s how we prefer to work. We like that, it’s predictable. But when we start taking that away, what it allows us to do is give lots and lots of wins. The machine can tell, “you won, you won, you won, you won.”
It makes it hard for us to detect how often we’re actually losing. We act to LDWs almost the same way as a normal win. Another aspect is we get something called the “big win effect.”
Gamblers also misattribute early magnitudes of wins and densities to the overall probability of the game, meaning if you win big when you first start, you will play longer. This is called the “big win effect.” This “Walking Dead” machine is the one of the first slot machines I ever played.
I happened to win, like, $200 or $300 on my very first play. I was so excited, right? It’s so cool. I think I bet, like, 50 cents, and I was a grad student, so this was a big deal to me. I went back to this same slot machine over, and over, and over, and over again. Guess how much money I walked away from that weekend?
I was down 50 bucks. But why did I keep going to it? I never won big again. I just kept losing, and losing, and losing, and losing.
But because that big win early on set the stage. It made me insensitive to the contingency that followed. Gamblers who win big early tend to play more persistently than those who do not, even when the slot machine stops paying off. Near-miss effects are another aspect that these games present. Outcomes that appear similar to a win may function similar to a reinforcer.
This makes a lot of sense from a general behavioral standpoint. We have something we call “stimulus generalization.” The more that something looks like formally looks like a reinforcer or formally looks like a stimulus that you were trained to respond to, the more likely you are to respond to it. Slot machines are real good at this.
They make things look wins a lot. You get three or four symbols in a row, with one just off. You almost winning the jackpot feels exciting. If you’ve ever played a slot machine where you can see the jackpot coming, or I think a good example maybe is what is it, “The Price is Right,” with the big wheel? How excited do you get when it’s almost, almost, almost, almost just barely a win? Do you guys ever feel that tension?
Right, you get super excited? That’s essentially what a near-miss is. It allows if we interpret these as nearly being a win as well, this would dramatically increase the number of perceptual wins, or these conditioned wins that you might be experiencing. But this is even better to the casinos because they don’t have to pay for it.
They don’t give back any money. Near-miss outcomes are associated with physiological and emotional responses as though they are a win. Those LDWs and near-misses, you physically act like you just won. The other thing is that they’re a little bit aversive.
And if you nearly win the jackpot, what do you normally do? You’re like… (grunting) and you hit the button again. Like, “I don’t want to look at that.”
So one study looked at what is that density that’s important? Can I just give you all near-misses and will you keep playing? And what they found is that essentially there’s a sweet spot you have to be kind of in the middle. You can’t nearly win all the time, and that makes sense as a conditioned reinforcer. If you almost nearly win each time, you’re gonna start identifying that as not winning, right?
So what slot machines do is they give this out at a proportion that helps to maintain that conditioned reinforcement. But an interesting thing is that near-misses aren’t simply formally similar. They don’t just look like a win.
They can also be psychologically like a win or verbally like a win. This has been seen in various other games. So for example, roulette and blackjack they deal in numbers. When you look at a roulette table, or roulette wheel… if you bet on 29 and it lands on 30, 29 and 30 are not next to each other on the wheel. They’re not physically close.
We treat them they are close. If you’re playing blackjack and you get a 19 and the dealer gets a 20, you’re like, “(groaning), I almost won.” No, you didn’t. You lost.
It just as randomly as any other card. It could have been a 6, it could have been a 24. It doesn’t matter you were just as you were just as much a loss as any other loss. But it feels more like a win. Scratch-offs are the same way.
This is just a study that I’ve been working on with some colleagues. We looked at how people rated how close they were to a win, based on whether or not they had this is modeled after a game that’s very common. In scratch-offs, if you get a 7 or a 14, you win.
And so, we just looked at how close does it matter? Does it matter that you’re really close? So in this case, having a being very close, number-wise, to the win. The closer the numerical bet to a win, the more likely you thought it was a win.
Getting a 6 or an 8 feels better. And I actually venture you guys, if you want to do a little experiment for yourself, go by scratch-offs. Scratch-offs aren’t regulated in terms of their near-miss outcomes the way slot machines are.
Slot machines have to have a number random generator. I guarantee you, you will always miss the win on a scratch-off by one. For anyone who’s done it, you almost always, almost always, almost won. Near-miss effects and LDWs have variously been studied and have shown a lot of similarity in terms of EEGs and fMRIs have all demonstrated that they look like a win. So the difference between winning and getting a near-miss or an LDW looks more a win to you. With people who are pathological gamblers, they look extremely identical.
Pathological gamblers have more difficulty distinguishing near-misses and LDWs from wins and losses. This is some of my current research. This was looking at slot machines. What you’re looking at here is the mean response latency. So what I was looking at here is how long do you pause after winning? How long do you pause after getting an LDW?
How long do you pause after getting nearly getting a jackpot or getting a jackpot? And what you see here is that winning and LDWs look almost identical. Near-misses are a little bit harder to detect now on these big complicated scratch-offs, and so, what this was showing is that LDWs play a lot bigger role in modern slot machines than they used to. And so, what we saw is that you are more likely to pause in a similar way as you would a win, when you get an LDW. Which means I can give you wins much more frequently, even though I’m not paying you back the money.
We all what I was also able to show is that LDW frequency so how often I can give you an LDW changes how you play. So I had people have the option to play three different slot machines, and they can switch between them whenever they want. The more dense I made the LDWs, the more likely they were to play that game. Even though they’re losing and even though the slot machines paid back the exact same amount of money.
The more often you feel like the more often I put something that says “You won” in front of you, the more often you will pick that slot machine. So what do you think casino slot machines look like? They look you’re always winning.
Now, timing makes a big difference in terms of gambling behavior. It’s not just the amount of reinforcement, it’s not just the frequency, but it’s also how the delays work, how the timing of it works. There’s a phenomenon that we see in behavior that we call “discounting,” which means when will you trade a greater magnitude of reinforcement for a lesser, based on some variable aspect? And it can increase by time we call that “temporal discounting.” Or it can be based on probability of the payout we call that “probabilistic discounting.”
And so, there’s even something called “social discounting,” which I’m not gonna talk too much about, but that’s how likely are you to if I were to say, “Is $200 worth something to you?” Would you say that’s a good chunk of money 200 bucks? Would you give your roommate 200 bucks if they needed it for rent? No? What about your brother or sister?
Maybe. Guys, I can’t pay my rent can I have 200 bucks? Who’s gonna give me 200 bucks?
No so how close people are to you matter, as well. Timing and probability matter a lot in the context of gambling. So temporal discounting is when we have a value of a distant reinforcer, we start to devalue it in favor of immediate ones. This is very, very important in the kind of the behavioral concept of addictions, because you’re oftentimes trading something an immediate gratification for a longer, more valuable one, right? Does anyone think studying is important?
Studying is important, right? Helps you do better on a test, doing better on tests means you’re gonna graduate, eventually getting a good job, and it’s gonna pay off a lot, right? Do you ever struggle with, “Ehh, “but I could also just go to a party today?” Why can’t you just think about the degree and all the money you’re gonna make later?
Why is it a struggle? Has anyone ever been on a diet? And you have a hamburger in front of you and say, “I shouldn’t eat this because I want to get fit, “and I want to be healthy, “and all of the things that come along with that”?
And then, you’re halfway through that burger and you’re like, “Oh, what am I doing?” Immediate gratification is important. Reinforcement within 30 seconds is a one of the most strong and influential effects in our lives in terms of behavior. So discounting plays a big role in terms of that gambling behavior. Would you rather have $100 today or $1,000 in a year?
Would you rather have $1,000 today or $100 today or $1,000 in 10 years? We change how we’d answer those questions. For some reason, $1,000 becomes less valuable than the $100 today. Discounting can also be probabilistic, and so, when you value a reinforcers discount based on how likely you are to win.
Would you rather have $50 guaranteed or a 10% chance at $500? You should notice that doesn’t really matter they’re equal. Would you rather have $50 guaranteed or a 0.5% chance at winning $50,000? What would $50,000 do for you?
That’s more than the median income in Marquette. “I wouldn’t have to work for a year.” Why won’t I take $50 guaranteed? The chances the value of that $50, at least in terms of chance, is way better, but why is $50,000 so much more valuable? Even though the likelihood that I would get it is so low.
This is where probabilistic discounting comes in. And the thing is, is that individuals who gamble have extreme difficulty with this. Gambling pathological gamblers will take bigger and bigger risks, despite the lack of economic utility there.
So another aspect of this is what we call “sequential discounting.” It’s not taking into account the actual probability across multiple trials. Having taken and at various times taught statistics, this is such a hard concept to even teach in an academic standpoint, let alone remember when you’re drinking and out having fun, is that every time you play and lose, you have to take in the probability of winning basically twice in order to recapture that money, right? But if you’ve lost three times, what do you feel like is the likelihood of winning on the next one?
Well, what study shows is that we act as though it’s the same probability. If you have a flip of heads and tails, what’s the probability of winning on any given flip? 50%, right?
But if you play three times and you lose, and you need to make your money back, what’s the likelihood you’re gonna win three or four times in a row now? Is it 50%? It drops down exponentially.
Your chances go down, and down, and down. What does a gambler say? “Well, it’s 50%.” Here’s an example of this on a roulette table.
The first odds to win is about 47%. You need two wins. If you lose that first one, the real odds to get back up drop to 22%. You play a third time, they’re now 11%. You play again, it’s 5%.
By the time you’ve played five times, you’re down to about 1% chance of actually winning your money back. Has anyone played roulette? It’s kind of a fun game.
It’s actually a great if you’re gonna play something in a casino, you’ll lose the least amount of money the slowest. So if you want to sit around, that’s a good game to play. But if you lose just five times in a row, your chances of getting your money back is about 1%. We don’t think that, though we think 47%. We stick to that initial rating.
So discounting in gambling pathological gamblers and drug addicts have both been shown to be prone to monetary discounting, meaning they discount money more significantly than other people. Measures of discounting are also shown to predict severity of gambling problems, so the more likely you are to discount which essentially is a measurement of impulsivity the more you are willing to take a small outcome now for a larger more beneficial outcome later, it is highly indicative of the your risk to gambling and risk to drug addiction. Pathological gamblers, however, are much less susceptible to delayed discounting than you’d think but are significantly more susceptible to probabilistic gambling. Which it’s interesting because what’s kind of been reflected with that is that when you talk to a pathological gambler who has money at the moment, they will say, “No, that’s okay, I’ll take the bigger payoff “in a week because I won’t have money. “I’ll have spent the money I have now.”
So it’s just an interesting thing with pathological gamblers but they’re highly susceptible to the probabilistic discounting which is they will accept more risk than other people. Discounting is also contextual, which is an interesting phenomenon with gamblers, is that gamblers may discount more and more in certain contexts. And so, what this study did is they took gamblers, pathological gamblers, and they asked them to do delayed discounting and probabilistic discounting tasks in a shopping mart and in a racino, which is a casino that does horse racing. And they’re much, much more likely to discount heavily in the casino, where they were fine in the grocery store. So what does that suggest?
It suggests you’re more impulsive and more susceptible to problems with gambling, if you put yourself into a gambling context. It means that the environment around you is extremely influential in what you’re likely to do. It also suggests that it’s more of a state or stimulus-driven phenomenon than a trait.
Because one of the things that’s very prevalent in general mental health thinking is, “Your dad was a gambler, therefore you’re a gambler. “It’s just a physiological thing you are a gambler.” And this is kind of one approach to mental health counseling and treatment within gambling and addictions is the AA or GA approach where if you’re an alcoholic, you’re always an alcoholic. That’s part of your identity.
And what this suggests is a little bit more nuanced than that “you’re an alcoholic around an alcoholic situation.” Verbal functions can also influence discounting. So here, this is what this study basically did is they looked at connecting the colored backgrounds of the slot machines to words. So they said, “Red is better than, “green is worse than,” and then they started putting those backgrounds on different slot machines, and people would play the “better than” slot machine which means you’re less even though the slot machines pay out at the same amount, we’re very susceptible to what the images, colors, and all those things are connected to. Superstition plays into it.
Has anyone ever seen someone blowing on their dice? I really like craps it’s one of my favorite games to go watch because people have all these rituals. They’ll rub the table, they’ll pick out like, they offer you two of six dice, and people will be like, “Oh, I want these two.”
Do you think it matters? They’re dice they’re all gonna work. People bring lucky rabbit’s feet. All of these things that people do they’ll even say things.
They’ll talk to the dice, they’ll ask the gods in the air. Like, “I need a 7,” and roll the dice. Does any of that influence it?
No. Now, there’s a couple of reasons we think this happens. One is something we call “adventitious reinforcement.”
If you happen to win when you happen to do something, it’s likely that you are going to continue doing that other behavior just because of this chance reinforcement. Or maybe it happened once or twice. This is how most superstitions start. Does anyone have a superstition they want to share, that they happen to have? Anyone not walk under ladders? It only takes a couple of chance occurrences for a superstition to start.
Does anyone like to sit in the same seat? They think they’re unlucky if they sit in a different seat in class? Those are oftentimes powered by success, in that particular situation but we’re attributing it to the wrong environmental contingency.
Magical requests are fun because asking for things is helpful. When you ask someone to help you, and they say, “Hey, can you pass me the water?” and they pass you the water, that gets reinforced over time. Has anyone ever asked their car to start? Have you ever been, “Come on, start!”
What are you who are you talking to, right? (audience laughing) But talking and receiving reinforcement based on request is a common behavior that pays off in most of our lives. So we engage in these behaviors as though they have some kind of control. We call this the “illusion of control.”
Many games have illusions to them. Any number in roulette is just as likely to come up as any other number. Does it matter if you pick the number?
Who here plays the lottery? We had some hands do you pick your numbers? No? You can either have it randomly select your numbers or you can put in your birthday, or your kid’s birthday, or whatever it is. Do you put in does anyone use their lucky numbers? Yeah, I see some nodding of the head lucky numbers.
Does it matter? No. So why do you do it? Why do you spend the extra time typing in the number? It really doesn’t matter but the fact that we engage in that behavior suggests that we care. Most gambling games have some kind of illusion of control.
You could I don’t know if you’ve ever played scratch-offs, you can just scratch off the barcode and hand it right back to the cashier, and they’ll tell you if you won or not. But I want to scratch it off. I actually delight in scratching it off, like it’s a ritual, something I enjoy. It means nothing.
Me scratching it off or my sister scratching it it doesn’t matter. I could have the cashier do it. This study essentially what we’re looking at is we had we had people come in and play craps, and we either said, “Okay, I’m gonna pick the number “that you win on,” or er, “I’m gonna pick your number, or you pick your number.”
And then, we had people have the option of doing it. Did they let me pick their number? No, they always want to pick their number. People will play more, and pay more, and play more persistently when they have control in the game.
Slot machines, you get to pick the number of lines you have. You get to pick when you spin. You get to pick how much you bet. Roulette, you can pick the numbers.
Blackjack, you can hit or you can pass. All these games have control in them, none of it matters. It doesn’t matter it’s random.
Roulette players are not only susceptible to false rules or sorry, the rule aspect is that we can also then influence how you do it by telling you. When the croupier for the craps game was or roulette game was saying, “I’m gonna pick a number “and I’m gonna make you lose,” versus “I’m gonna pick a number where you win on.” Can the roulette croupier actually control anything?
No, it’s a ball, right? It’s just going around in a circle it’s very random. But if I told you, “I’m gonna help you win,” you’re more likely to keep letting me help you bet. Rule-governed behavior is a big part of how we operate. We engage in a lot of behaviors based on rules. We don’t like to experience or rather, we don’t experience all the consequences that exist in our lives.
I don’t know about you guys, I’ve never murdered anyone. But I continue to not murder anyone because of rules. Rule-governed behavior plays a big part in terms of how gambling is perpetuated. Has anyone ever heard “Never change your bet “or it’ll hit on the next round”? Does anyone feel like that?
If you’re betting on red, you’re betting on red, you’re losing, you’re losing. What’s gonna happen if you bet on black? Red’s gonna come up, right, obviously? No, it doesn’t it’s random.
But the rule helps us continue to play. A history of following rules predominates observed consequences when in studies where you give a player a rule, and that rule seems to be true, when the rule stops being true meaning, if I say, “80% of the time, it’s gonna land on black,” and you bet on black and it feels about right, 80%, if I switch it to winning on red 80% of the time, you will play more you will play longer and more persistently on black than any other people. If instead, if you come in with no rules, you’re much more sensitive to when contingencies change. Such as, if you come in and you are experiencing losses, you will stop playing. Casinos don’t have “You lose!” on every other bet.
You don’t say those things. You come in with lots of rules and things that are set out you know, billboards and things, it’s like, “Bet on red, always win!” “Never change your bet!” All those sort of things.
Just hang out at a casino, you’ll hear a lot of them. Rules also imply consequences that may or may not be existing. This is what a lot of casino advertisements look like. What’s the rule here?
“If you gamble, you get attention.” Right? You can applying rules helps to change how people bet. This is kinda where I was talking about the accurate rules. If you have people come in and you give them an accurate rule versus an inaccurate rule, people are less susceptible. If you give an inaccurate rule, people play longer.
Particularly if you start them off with something that seems real. Transformations of stimulus functions are also important. Gambling there’s a lot of imagery, a lot of different meaning that’s attributed to gambling. This, a lot of times, has sexual images. If you’ve ever played slot machines, they’re you go into a casino, there’s thousands of slot machines all with different images, right, different themes.
They usually have something in common with either sexual images, vacation pictures, movie images. You notice half of them are, like, shirtless adventurer guys or princesses and things like that, or something to do with being in Hawaii or being in Vegas. A lot of them have to do with movies. Ellen has a slot machine.
I don’t why would you play Ellen’s slot machine? I don’t know. But it has to do with what that verbal content means to you.
By virtue of verbal associations or what we call relational frames between the slot machine and your particular history with other stimuli, you are more likely to discriminate a slot machine as having a better probability. What is Robin Hood known for? What does Robin Hood do? . Yeah, he robs from the rich, gives to the poor. “Casinos are rich, I am poor.
“Robin Hood is gonna give me the money.” There is no reason to play the Robin Hood slot machine over any other slot machine. First slot machine I ever played was a husky it was wild huskies. I have two huskies, I said, “That’s my machine.” I picked that one out of everything else.
So I feel like I have some control in that situation. I mean, “This machine favors me.” I don’t know anything about the probability of wild huskies.
I can tell you I lost on it. But I picked that one out of all the others. Why? It’s because the verbal content had some reinforcement history in my life.
I like hanging out with my huskies, I get to sit near huskies, it feels reinforcing. So the verbal content matters a lot in how we bet. If you were gonna bet on horse racing, do you want to go with Slowpokemagoo or Speedy Dan?
Yeah, I feel like people are gonna be contrary here. But obviously, Slowpokemagoo is not who you’re gonna go with. That could be Slowpokemagoo, that can be Speedy Dan.
We’re gonna ignore that stimuli, though, because of the verbal content to the name. Have you ever looked at the names of horses in horse racing? What are they? Quicksilver and, you know, Lightning.
They’re not Frumpy or Left Foot or something. They’re always something that has to do with being fast. Those things confuse us from the actual probabilities. This has been shown in a number of different places. One study that I helped to do, we essentially trained we had people pick out we had a virtual horse racing image with different colored horses. We let people bet on them.
They bet on whichever color they happened to like, or whatever was random. Then, we taught them that certain colors indicated that they needed to tap quickly or tap slowly on a button. Then we’d put them back in the horse race game and they would pick the color that we associated with the speed of the horse.
It had nothing to do with the probability of actually winning. Just simply some history of verbal content. So those are little things about the game but it’s still one of the difficulties is understanding, “Well, why do you still gamble?
“Why are you even in the casino to begin with?” Now, in terms of behavioral treatment, behavior analysts tend to focus on function or what you get out of the behavior. Applied behavior analysis usually seeks to influence those behaviors by identifying what is different in the environment after you engage in the behavior, and then we use that to create behavior support plans.
The shape of the behavior is less important. And so, in this case, we’d say gambling is an outcome, not the cause. Do you have problems with gambling because you gamble, or because there’s something that leads to gambling? Gambling is just an indicator, an outcome. So we start looking at what you actually get out of it, and what we call the “function.”
Do you gamble to gain money and free drinks? Do you gamble because of the social event and the friends and the attention you get with this? Do you gamble because it distracts you, it helps you escape from your life? Maybe you just like all the pretty lights and sound.
What do you guys think? If you are a problem gambler, if you have pathological gambling, why do you gamble? . Distraction? .
Escape. Research is using something called the “gambling functional assessment.” It’s a survey. Attempted to build a questionnaire around this and see, “Do you play “do you seem to be attracted to the games “for their sensory components? “Do you seem to do it for escape, attention, tangibles?” And what’s been found kind of over, and over, and over is that pathological gamblers are more likely to indicate gambling for escape.
What’s kinda been the pathway that’s been observed is, many times, people begin to gamble first for the positive reinforcement. It’s for gaining access to the sensory and the tangible aspects of it. But inevitably, if you are becoming a pathological gambler, it is to escape the context in which uh, of your life. Difficulties at home, difficulties socially, difficulties in terms of your work. Very often, that’s the aspect. It’s trying to escape the dreariness of your life.
This is very consistent with the substance abuse addictions they almost invariably have that same pathway, starting with kind of a positive reinforcement, initially doing drugs in order to feel good, and eventually just to not feel bad. So what do we know then? Gambling seems to be maintained by weak control of the actual contingencies. So when you play a gambling game, it’s not being controlled by the probability of winning, but by these other effects that present win-like outcomes. High rates of small wins seem to be important, and high rates of conditioned reinforcers that look like wins seem to control gambling much more than actually winning. So you can’t say to a gambler, “But you don’t win very often.
“You’re losing money.” They’ll say, “No, I come back winning.” This is an interesting thing if you just ask people about their gambling experience, people who gamble. They never say, “Oh, I went and I lost.” Right?
Almost every person who has gambling issues seems to think they win more often than they don’t. Nobody does, unless you play parimutuel games like poker, where you’re only playing other people, then that’s a scenario where you can win. It’s a little bit different, though. Immediate outcomes are generally more stronger than those that are distant.
So being able to gain money right now versus waiting and working seemed to be important. And we follow developed rules that can be inaccurate and contain information about contingencies that keep us from detecting what’s actually happening here and now. Then, if gambling is a behavior, and if we look at it as a behavior instead of the outcome so if we say, “You gamble “because of these other functions,” rather than “Gambling is your problem,” then it allows us to start talking about what are the contingencies for different people, why does an individual gamble? So, then, that leads us to talking about treatment. So I’m going to talk about one particular treatment approach that comes from behavior analytics, conceptualizations, because it helps us to address these issues. This is something called “Acceptance “and Commitment Therapy.”
It’s actually a broad approach to cognitive behavior therapy or training, and it focuses on a number of aspects within that with those issues that I talked about with gambling here. So in a nutshell, the overall goal of ACT is to create psychological flexibility, and the ability to engage with your environment in a manner in which you are observational rather than reactive. And I’m gonna go through these a little bit more in detail with how we deal with them in gambling but what I mean there is that one of the problems when you’re gambling is that you are not paying attention to the consequences. You’re not paying attention to how often you lose.
If you were, you would walk away. Because you lose more often than you win, by the nature of gambling. Accepting rather than avoiding. And so, here, we’re talking about individuals who are trying to escape a situation, escaping discomfort in their life, and trying to avoid it.
We need to get them to accept the discomfort. That doesn’t mean that it’s gonna feel good, but it means that you don’t need to react to that. You can just sit with being uncomfortable for a minute and allow yourself to get to the other side of it. Considerate of both the formal and the psychological functions in the environment. And so, what I mean by that is when you walk in and you see a slot machine that says “Robin Hood,” that you say, “I understand that that has Robin Hood, “and Robin Hood gives to the rich and” or sorry, “steals from the rich and gives to the poor.
“But that doesn’t have anything to do “with this physical stimulus that’s in front of me.” I’m not on a hot hand… or a cool hand, as they would say, too. None of those things matter. The probability of the game is still the same. And then, engaging in behaviors that are consistent with people with their own values, and then engaging in behaviors with goals that are associated with those values.
So what we try to do is we help gamblers to be in contact with the present moment. If you’ve heard of mindfulness, this is a similar concept. What we’re trying to do is to help people take a moment, step back from the urge and the feeling of what’s going on, and instead, experience what’s happening.
When you think about stimuli within your environment, we only really pay attention to the things that we feel like have consequence. I don’t know about you guys, but if you noticed this little thing on the wall? It has not been important but it’s been here the whole time. It’s not been important for you to respond to. Gambling games create a context where you only are paying attention to the win.
Instead, we try to get people to pay attention to everything else that’s going on. You guys been in a casino? They smell like cigarettes, they’re not comfortable, they’re kind of gross, they make you anxious. Similar context I think is… has anyone eaten a McDonald’s sandwich recently? Are they gourmet? Not really.
If you slow down and you eat a McDonald’s sandwich very slowly, I guarantee you, you’ll start to be like, “This is really salty, “and the texture is kind of gross. “I don’t know why I’m eating it.” But if you eat it mindlessly, you just quickly eat, you don’t realize all the things that are going on with it. And so, we try to get people to slow down and be mindful. Try to pay attention to what they’re feeling, what they’re seeing, what they’re sensing, and this helps people to step back from the urge. It’s like, “I have to play.”
This is why I challenge people, “Go sit in front of a slot machine and NOT play. “Play once every 30 seconds.” It’s hard it induces a sense of mindlessness, and we have to teach people to slow down and step back.
We try to help people take a moment to observe what’s going on in their environment and, in doing so, make contact with the actual consequences. As part of my dissertation, I sat with people and I helped them to identify what the outcomes of the actual slot the slot outcome was. Where they’d say I’d say, “Hey, what was your outcome?” They’d be like, “I won 10 cents!”
I’d be like, “No, you lost 30. “Say ‘I lost 30.'” Step back, take a moment, and get out of the cycle of the urge. By taking contact with the better moment, it helps us step back from that autopilot and to make better decisions, as well as actually notice the consequences and contingencies as they occur. Acceptance refers to being able to sit with the discomfort. So we try to help people learn not to run away from negative feelings and urges associated with gambling.
So for example, when you feel like, “I need to gamble,” we say, “No, you don’t. “Just sit with that that’s just a thought. “Watch that thought come, watch that thought go.
“You don’t have to react to it. “Let’s sit and watch it for a second. “I need to gamble, I need to gamble. “Did you burst into flames?” No, it’s uncomfortable but the more you can sit with it, the easier it becomes to let those things pass.
The same with negative feelings. We said a lot of people gamble because they’re trying to escape an uncomfortable situation in life their girlfriend, husband, wife, partner is not happy with them, they have a bad relationship with their kids. Maybe they don’t have those things anymore, and they feel depressed.
And so, what we’re trying to do with them is teach them, “That’s okay to have those feelings. “You don’t have to run away from them. “Having them is part of normal life.” Sit with them. If you can learn to sit with them that doesn’t mean be okay with the outcomes of those things, but to be able to accept that, “I do not have to act “because of these things and I can be uncomfortable “for a little while,” helps people to get past the urges.
At the same time, the gambler must learn that it’s okay to feel bad. This is difficult for people in Western society. How does all of our stories end? “Happily ever after.” Do you feel like you should be happy?
Do you feel like your job should satisfy you? Do you feel like you should get home at the end of the day and you should be happy to see your kids? We put a lot of investment in being happy but the reality is, how often do you feel frustrated with work?
What is being frustrated with work urge you on to do? It’ll help you change things, right? Being uncomfortable is important.
It’s important and it helps us be motivated. If you were not fearful or anxious about the test that you guys are gonna take, would you study? No, we need to feel a little bit of those things.
Those are part of our normal behavioral systems, and so, we need to help people to be okay with it instead of running away from it. If you get too anxious because of a test that’s coming, do you study? Most of the time, you don’t. You get too anxious and you start avoiding it, you start engaging in procrastination.
So we need to help people be like, “It’s okay “that I’m uncomfortable right now, I don’t need to gamble “in order to escape this feeling of my kids don’t love me.” We help to do something what we call “cognitive diffusion,” or diffusion in general, it’s a process in which we help people to disassociate the functions, the verbal stimuli, and the rules. And so, it’ll help we try to help people see different ways to respond more contextually and flexibly to situations. “I don’t have any money for rent. “I need to gamble so I can make rent.” Okay, that’s one way.
What you’re saying is, “I don’t have any rent “and I could gamble.” Right? “I’m feeling distressed, I need to escape.”
No, you’re feeling distressed and you want to escape. Changing that context can help people to make better decisions. The rules that we get stuck in, particularly with respect to ourselves, can really be detrimental to what our actual life context is. I was a competitive athlete in college and I hurt my back, and I couldn’t play. I was a martial artist and I kept saying, “But I’m a martial artist, “I can keep eating the way that I was.
“I can keep doing all the things that I did, “even though I’m not engaging in any of the behaviors of it.” It led to me gaining weight and being very unhappy with my athletic ability. Every time I’d go out to run or do whatever it was, I couldn’t run at the same speed, I couldn’t do all the things at the same speed. But I kept telling myself, “But I’m an athlete.” It ended up making me not want to workout ever.
Has anyone ever experienced that? I always think of this this is the high school football player syndrome. Like, they keep saying you know, I was the quarterback throughout their lives but they have no connection to that anymore, but they act as though they are. We need to help people see beyond that. We have to help them to break some of the rules that they’re stuck in.
“If I’m on a hot hand, I can’t give up.” Yeah, you can. What’s interesting, by the way, is it speaks to the fallacies of gambling is we talked about the hot or the “cold hand,” right? So the gambler’s fallacy “I’ve lost, I’ve lost, “I need to keep playing to win.” Gamblers will turn that around and do the same thing they call that the “hot hand.”
Should you walk away from the to blackjack table when you’re doing well… right? If you’ve won three times in a row, you’re gonna win the next time, right? So the fallacies go either way. We work on something we call “self as context,” so we help people to learn to notice thoughts and feelings and urges not as themselves, but as something that you do.
There is no difference between your thoughts and your attitudes and your feelings from any other behavior. When you have thoughts, you are responding to something. There’s nothing special about your thought versus you jumping up and down. And why that’s important is to help people say that when they are thinking that they need to gamble, that we can help them say, “That’s just you thinking that. “That’s you doing a thing, “it’s not something that’s higher than you. “It’s not intrinsically part of you.
“It’s just simply you are reacting to the environment “in a particular way, and you can or cannot do that behavior. “You have a choice there.” And this again comes back to we help people to sit in the presence of their feelings.
A lot of this psychotherapy is done in the context of metaphor and talk, and so we’ll play games where we’ll have people describe what they are thinking, and help them to start to see their own thought process as simply behavior that they’re engaging in. It helps people to step back and to sit with uncomfortable thoughts. It’s kind of similar to the way people journal… like, why you have people journal, so that they can look back at their own thoughts. It’s however, the goal here is to get you disconnected from feeling that if you say, “I’m stupid, “no one loves me,” that you understand that you are just the one saying those things. They’re not connected to the environment.
They’re not connected to the consequences in terms of being true but it’s rather just the behavior you’re engaging in. Now, I think here is where we get into the most important part of acceptance commitment training, is to focus on values, and so, what that is is we help people to focus on how they’re going to evaluate their behavior rather than being overly goal-oriented. And so, I’ll sit with people and I’ll say things like, “So you know it sounds like you “you know, you’ve said that you’re gambling “because you’re trying to earn money “so that your family can go on vacation. “That sounds like you really care about your family. “You really value the happiness of your family.”
“Yeah that’s I really do. “I really care that my kids are happy.” Okay. “When you look at your behavior today, “would you say that that lives up to the value “of making your family happy?”
“Well, no, I gambled $4,000.” “Okay, what are you planning to do tomorrow?” “Well, I’m planning to do this and this.” How would you evaluate that?
A game that I like to play with people is called the “eulogy metaphor.” I usually turn it around to, “If you won the lottery,” but that’s not good in the gambling context. But I say, “If you disappeared tomorrow, “you passed away or you got a new job, you moved away, “what would people say about you?” Would they say you were really friendly?
You were a good you were a loyal person, you were a trustworthy person? Usually what people say what they want to be, that’s kind of their value. Then, what we do is we start to turn that around and say, “Have you lived up to your value this week? “Have you lived up to your value this day?”
And start getting people to plan around their value rather than outcomes that are not always possible, because we said reinforcement needs to occur quickly. Delays to reinforcement make us engage in impulsive behavior, so if we can get the reinforcers more quickly, then we can help people to live a little bit more satisfied life. And part of what and in order to do that, we have to get them to evaluate their own behavior in the moment. This leads us to committed action, which is essentially helping people to make a plan. So this is where contingency management comes in and we start coming up with, “What are you gonna do tomorrow? “Let’s write it down.”
if you can get those things done, then we’re gonna build a reinforcement system around it. So we build goals for people to do that are based on their values, and then help them manage their own reinforcement around it. So that’s the end of my talk. I think we have time for questions now unless I burned up all the time talking.
This is a hotline for NC uh, the National Commission on Problem Gambling. If you have issues, please call them. If you do gamble, gamble responsibly.
And if you’re interested in just reading more about the things that I talked about today, here’s a book chapter that I helped author, that goes in these things more detailed. So thanks, guys, for listening. I know several of you that have to get to class, or to work, or maybe try out the casino. It’s a bit of a drive. (audience chuckling) But we do have two faculty member here from Northern.
If you have any interest about making your next journey up to the UP and spending the next couple years at a truly good university, I’m certain they’d be happy to talk to you a moment about what it’s like being a student up there. I know that they do have a plane to catch in a little bit here, but got a couple of minutes. Have a great semester. You’ve got one week of classes next week and then study for those exams.
Big part of finishing out strong, so have a great end of your school year!