Can gambling affect your personality, or does your personality determine what kind of gambler you are? Don’t worry, we don’t claim that if you play free Wild Life slots, you will become a “wild one”. This question kept psychologists and sociologists busy for a long time, and it seems a clear answer is not available. There are many clinical trials on the subject, but the results are not sufficient to determine a real answer. Below we will talk about the results of the latest clinical studies on this topic and leave the decision to you, as scientists do not seem to agree on this issue.
Types of Gambling
Let’s start with what we mean when we say “gambling” because this term does not only mean sitting on a table with poker cards in a room filled with cigar smoke. When we say gambling, we are talking about three things:
- Sports Betting: This includes bets on all kinds of sports events (matches, tournaments, and races). Contrary to popular belief, it is not very common. For example, a study in Australia shows that 80% of the adult population gamble at least once a year, but only 20% prefer sports betting.
- Gaming: We mean games played in land-based and online casinos: slots, card games, table games, etc. All games that you can play in a casino fall into this category. We can say that it is the second most common type of gambling.
- Casual Betting: It includes lotto, lottery, keno, bingo, and other casual activities. Although some of them are casino games, they are accepted by society and can be played for the same reason without any permission. More than 80% of adults have tried their luck by buying lottery tickets at some point in their lives.
We have listed the options offered. So, is your personality decides which one to choose? Or does the type of gambling you choose starts to affect your personality after a while? Most importantly, when and how does problem gambling start?
Why Do We Gamble?
In order to answer all these questions, first, we have to answer the question of “why we gamble”. We cannot simply attribute this to social and economic reasons, because the causes of gambling vary both by personality and by gender. A study published in “Psychology Today” has found interesting results in this regard:
- Men prefer talent based games and women prefer chance-based games.
- Middle-aged people prefer games that do not require intensive concentration (bingo, keno, etc.).
- Women don’t like to admit that they lost. If they lose, they are ashamed of it. For men, this can be a sign of pride, and the larger the amount lost, is interpreted to mean that the man is financially strong. This is one of the reasons why men prefer poker and women prefer slot machines.
- For the same reason, women prefer games that they can play alone and do not need to communicate with other people. Men, on the other hand, see gambling as a socializing tool and prefer games they can play with other people.
- Both genders show the chance of getting rich with a small amount of investment as the reason for their gambling.
So different genders prefer different types of games, but the motivation is always the same: to achieve maximum results with minimal investment. The problem is that they should have understood by now, looking at the number of players who have lost, this is not possible. There is only one player winning, but millions are losing every day. So, what’s the real reason for gambling?
Research in Psychology Today claims that the reason for this is “ego”. The bigger your self-confidence problem, the more you need to prove your ego. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take unnecessary risks and challenge them. Playing high-risk games is one way to do this, and that’s why you keep playing even if you lose. Your ego cannot accept defeat and forces you to continue.
In this context, we can say that your personality is effective in choosing the game you will play. We know that casino games offer different risks and the potential gain increases as the number of risk increases. If the claim in this research is correct, people with ego and self-confidence problems focus on high-risk games (poker, baccarat, craps, etc.). These types of players will stay away from slot machines and simple games like keno and bingo.
How Gambling Affects Your Brain
However, there are studies claiming the opposite. Even if you are someone who has no ego problems and likes simple games, you can turn to high-risk games over time due to the “dopamine” habit. The reason drug addicts constantly raise the dose is that their brains develop “tolerance”. The dosage is constantly increased to get the same enjoyable experience every time. In this regard, casual gambling can be some kind of “gateway drug” and make you switch to higher risk games.
Simply put, your brain releases dopamine while you gamble. This is a “happy” chemical, and it is highly addictive by creating new neural networks in your brain. As you continue to take risks, your brain continues to secrete dopamine, and after a while, you develop tolerance. Taking the same risks is no longer enough. You are starting to increase the risk you take to be happy again. This happens either by placing a larger bet or switching to a high-risk game. This research says the opposite of the above, that games can shape your personality.
On the other hand, an article published in Scientific American claims that gambling has nothing to do with personality and is a purely chemical reaction. The basis for this claim is research conducted by Johns Hopkins University. Only rhesus monkeys were used in the research. The brain structures of these monkeys are very similar to ours. A simple game is provided for monkeys to get water. Do you want 3 millilitres of water with a probability of 80%, or do you prefer to get 10 millilitres of water with a probability of 20%? This is a risk game and offers the same chance of winning as an average slot machine. The monkeys continued to play the game even if they didn’t need water, and they all chose the 20% chance. And while playing the game, their brain regions are known as supplementary eye field (SEF) (which is effective in decision-making mechanisms) became very hot. The researchers saw that monkeys were no longer playing the game when they cooled this region with special pads. So gambling may be the result of a chemical reaction that is not under your control. And maybe, by manipulating the SEF region, it can be controlled – taking unnecessary risks may not be more than the result of a simple chemical reaction that can be prevented.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) today considers problem gambling as an addiction disorder and uses both medications and therapy in its treatment. However, once again, despite numerous clinical studies on the subject, there is no clear answer to the question we initially asked: It is not possible to choose a single cause and a single result. Gambling and personality traits affect each other mutually. Sometimes we pick games according to who we are, and sometimes games affect our choices. There is no clear winner. In any case, one thing is for certain: there are people out there who are prone to addiction, and for these people, gambling can become a nightmare.
Problem Gaming: When the Fun Ends
However, there is clearer data for problem gambling. For example, we clearly know what the symptoms of this problem are. The problem gambling affects 1% to 3% of the adult population and is more common with men. It occurs more often with people who already have an addiction (alcohol, smoking, drugs), and people who are depressed.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, there are 5.77 million problem gamblers in America alone. Symptoms of this problem include the need to constantly increase the amount of betting, to pursue losses, and to neglect both professional and family responsibilities for gambling. Scientists agree that problem gambling is more common with people who already have personality problems. So, at least we can say that gambling affects personality in this respect. Gambling can have extremely negative consequences if you are a person who is prone to depression or addiction.
Problem gambling is a much more serious problem than you think because people like this can even commit crimes to maintain their addiction. Suicide cases are quite common among problem gamblers too. Gambling for these people has the same chemical consequences as using drugs in their brains, and they may not be able to control themselves. If you feel that gambling has become an addiction, or if you know someone who has this problem, you need to seek professional help. Problem gambling is a treatable problem only if help is received.