New research appears to confirm the hypothesis that problem gamblers are more likely to enter a ‘zone’ when sitting at a slot machine.
This month, the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors journal published the results of a new study by the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Gambling Research. The study sought to determine if problem gamblers displayed more “attentional pathology” than subjects with no history of gambling problems.
The study involved two groups: one was composed of UBC undergrads with no history of problem gambling while the other group consisted of individuals for whom slots play was a familiar activity. This latter group included some self-identified problem gamblers.
The subjects were asked to play a real slot machine in the UBC lab. The machine had video panels mounted on each side that displayed moving shapes, including white circles. The subjects were asked to press a button whenever they noticed a white circle morph into a red square to measure their “peripheral target detection.”
The subjects were also hooked up to machines measuring their heart rates during slots play, and were asked following their play to report if at any point they’d felt like they were in a trance or lost track of time, aka “probe-caught mind wandering.”
Researchers determined that those subjects deemed to be at a higher risk of problem gambling reported greater levels of immersion and the experienced gamblers who’d identified as problem gamblers were also more apt to miss the white circles changing to red squares.
The study’s lead author, Spencer Murch, said his group had found that “a very strong predictor of a person’s risk of problem gambling is not remembering how long they’ve been playing.” Murch said slots are the type of gambling “most consistently linked to gambling addiction” and he hoped the study would help identify ways to “design slot machines that promote more responsible play.”
Centre director Luke Clark said the findings suggested that slots could be reconfigured to promote more responsible use by “disrupting the slot machine zone state … Since static signs and stickers on slot machines are unlikely to distract immersed players, [responsible gambling] messages should be eye-catching and as close as possible to the slots’ reels.”