Latest Study on Brains responses to Gambling
By Linda
Reuters reports that researchers have discovered that whether you lose five cents, or lose 25 cents, it's all the same to the brain, which moves so fast, it does not think things out fully.

And if the gambler loses, the brain seems hard-wired to make a riskier bet in the next few seconds, the researchers at the University of Michigan found.

'The findings suggest that in many situations our brains rush to judgement,' said psychologist William Gehring, who led the study.

'They rapidly evaluate whether events are good or bad,” in “black and white” terms. And this judgement further influences how we react.

'The assumption of economists has long been that people are pretty rational,” he said. “It's not the case.”

Gehring explained that the brain can respond very quickly to bad things, such as losing money. Unfortunately for gamblers on a losing streak, the brain can react 'before people have really had a chance to think about what just happened,' he said.

In the current study, Gehring and a colleague, Dr. Adrian W. Willoughby, tracked the brain activity of people while they played gambling games. In the experiment, the brain produced a response 'within a split second' after a loss, according to Gehring. The level of the brain activity, which occurred in a region of the brain called the medial frontal cortex, which is deep in the brain behind the upper part of the forehead, was related to loss.

'When people made risky choices and then lost money, they showed…loss-related activity,' Gehring said. This suggests, according to the researcher, that they really wanted to win and were distressed by the loss.

But it was the loss itself, not whether the person had made the better of two choices, that influenced the response of the brain, Gehring said. 'If someone made a choice that resulted in a gain, but at the same time failed to get a larger gain, this brain process didn't respond,' he said.

'We've known for a long time that people gamble more after they've just lost money,' Gehring said. 'Our study points to a reason why this might be the case.”

The study has implications for understanding all sorts of decision making, especially in people who have to make quick choices, such as pilots and firefighters. Gehring said a possibly troubling aspect is the tendency to take a bigger gamble after a mistake has been made.

'We are interested in what happens in real-life decisions,' he said.

Full details of the study can be found in the March 22nd issue of the journal Science.

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