Wired to Wager
From the choices
people make on Wall Street, to online gambling, human beings
make many choices each day that require us to take some kind of
risk in order to gain some kind of reward. While this is a
seemingly natural and popular human action, no scientific
studies have been able to understand how these basic
“subcortical” regions of our brain help humans to process risk
and reward as part of its information processing purpose.
However, for many in the online gambling and decision making
industries, scientific help is on the way.
The California Institute of Technology has a group of
scientists, led by Steven Quartz, trying to solve the question
asked by anti- online gambling and online gambling enthusiasts
across the globe. The group has put together a simple gambling
task, that participants in the study complete while undergoing
“functional magnetic resonance imaging” (fMRI). The fMRI then
finds the areas of the brain that are active during gambling,
and the groups findings hope to fish out the gambling function
of brain structures, and discovering how these brain activities
relate to other functions like learning, motivation and
assessment of stimuli.
The group then finished the report and published a research
article Thursday, August 3rd, which will not only help online
gambling companies know their competition, but also help online
gambling addicts become aware of their problems and know how to
seek treatment. In the article, published by Cell Press, the
research group also stated that more importantly than effects on
the online gambling industry, their findings should help gain an
understanding and even treatment of aberrant risk taking in a
variety of disorders. The experimental methods developed by the
research group should help doctors with disorders like bipolar
disorder, online gambling addiction and even schizophrenia.
Much like a simple version of online gambling, subjects were
asked to choose two cards from a deck numbered 1 – 10. The
subjects were asked to place a bet of $1 on which card they
thought would be higher. Although not exactly real online
gambling, subject's fMRI images during the online gambling tasks
showed the specific areas of the brain that were involved in the
Researchers focused their attention on what they called the,
“anticipatory period” between the display of the first card and
the second in their online gambling choice. It was during this
moment that the subjects could begin to judge their level or
risk, if the first card comes up with a high number, subjects
could worry that they have lost their mock online gambling game.
The anticipatory period that researchers studied with the online
gambling experiment was then divided into two subperiods.
Showing humans optimistic nature, the first subperiod lasts for
the one second after the first card is shown, and in this period
the subjects were expecting reward. However, for the remaining
six seconds before the second card is turned players assessed
the risk perceived by the value of the first card.
Researchers found it easy to identify areas of the brain
associated with either risk or reward, and that these places
increased activity with the levels of expected risk and reward.
Which explains the rush that many online gambling players feel
while taking risks at online casinos.