|According to a report in the New York Times, neuroscientists have discovered that the brain systems which process risk versus reward are largely unconscious. The report links Compulsive gambling with attendance at sporting events, vulnerability to telephone scams and reckless stock market investing. |
Such behaviours, according to the report, arise from brain circuits that evolved to help animals assess rewards important to survival, such as food and sex. Researchers found that the same circuits are used by the human brain to assess social rewards, which can include stock market speculation or sporting odds.
These brain systems, apparently, operate outside of conscious awareness – which will be news to those of us who labour over form guides, stats and trends. But the findings are becoming accepted by many neuroscientists – who say that much of what happens in the brain is outside of conscious awareness.
The release of dopamine in the brain is linked to the way these circuits work – dopamine being best explained as the chemical responsible for a “high”. What happens, according to the report, is that we only learn when something unexpected happens and dopamine levels increase or decrease – i.e., either winning much bigger than you expect, or losing unexpectedly. The report says that some people – compulsive gamblers for instance – have vulnerable dopamine systems that are susceptible to rewards.
According to Dr. Gregory Berns, a psychiatrist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, compulsive gamblers get a huge dopamine rush that becomes embedded in their memory. This overrides their conscious calculations of winning/losing over the long run, so they keep gambling.