Why People Play Slot Machines

Regular readers of the healthymemory blog should know that its author believes that it is foolish to play casino games.  Casino games are structured such that the odds always favor the casino, so although there might be winnings in the short run, there is no way there will be winnings in the long run.  In the case of slot machines, they’re usually set up to for a 10% share of the play.  So if you spend $100 on a slot machine, you are likely to lose $10.
So I was quite pleased to come upon an article in The Economist1  that addressed this topic.  Slot machines are tweaked within the realm of randomness  such that “near wins” of two out of three symbols appear quite often.  The notion is that players are so pepped by “almost” winning that they are stimulated to carry on playing.
Brain imaging techniques were used by Dymond of Swansea University in Britain and his colleagues to try to determine why this is the case.  functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) , which show which part of the brain are especially active at any given moment was one technique.  A second technique was magnetoencephalography (MEG) measure the electrical nature of that activity.   These two techniques enabled the building of a map for each research participant’s brain as she played on a simulated slot machine.
The focus was on the theta response, the electrical activity in the 4-7 Hz range.  Previous research has identified this response to be related to the processing of experiences of winning and losing.  There were two groups in the experiment.  One group consisted of participants addicted to playing slot machines.  A second group consisted of non-gamblers.  All research participants showed high theta responses to wins and low ones to loses.  The responses to near wins showed similar responses with the exception of the right orbitofrontal cortex.  The theta activity in the right orbitofrontal cortex of the gamblers showed spikes of about 32% and 27% in their theta waves for wins and near wins respectively.  Non-gamblers showed similar responses for wins, but only a 13% increase in theta wave activity for near wins.
This provides a good example of where your mind needs to control your brain.  Compulsive gamblers should realize that they are compulsive due to their brain responses and adjust their behaviors accordingly.  They need to realize that they are competing against a machine that has been cleverly designed go make them believe they are going to win, when in reality, they will lose in the end.  In other words, their minds need to overrule their brains.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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