Biological Explanation of Gambling

  • Created by: Reece
  • Created on: 09-02-14 13:21

Biological Explanation of Gambling


Evidence from family studies suggests people become addicted due to a genetic vulnerability.

Black at al found first degree relatives of patholoical gamblers were more likely to become gamblers themselves than more distant relatives.

Demonstrating a strong genetic link.

One suggestion for this genetic predisposition is that gamblers inherit personality traits that predispose them to risk taking behaviour.

For instance 'sensation seeking'

Pathological gamblers are seen as people who need intense stimulation and excitement

Blascznski found that poor tolerance of boredom may also contribute towards repetitive gambling behaviour. 

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Biological Explanation of Gambling


The biological explanation of the maintenance of gambling is linked to the physical response it generates in the body.

The physical dependency theory suggests that people maintain their gambling behaviour because doing without is so unpleasant.

For example a bet can be followed by a period of anticipation where the body prepares itself for the event with an increased heart rate and flow of adrenaline.

It's believed that the pulse rate of new gamblers increases when they place a bet.

It does so in seasoned gamblers too however it soon slows down again.

Therefore they must place bigger bets or play faster in order to maintain the +ve feeling it gives.

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Biological Explanation of Gambling


Wray & Dickerson reported that when gamblers are prevented from gambling they report withdrawal like symptoms.

Their bodies are craving the addictive adrenaline rush they get from gambling.

Over 60% of pathological gamblers reported physical side effects similar to drug withdrawal when not gambling.

Withdrawal symptoms include: increased heart rate, raised blood pressure, even tremors, sweating and insomnia.

Many gamblers relapse because the easiest way to stop the withdrawal symptoms is to engage in the gambling behaviour again.

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Biological Explanation of Gambling


Supporting research- support for the genetic explanation of gambling comes from Slutske et al.

She found in an analysis of patholical gambling that 64% of the variation in the risk for pathological gambling could be accounted for by genetic factors.

This suggests that environmental factors were less significant that heritability in their contribution to gambling behaviour.

This supports the genetic explantion of gambling addiction.

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Biological Explanation of Gambling

Support for physical dependency theory (maintenance)

Meyer compared a group of problem gamblers when gambling for real and when they were playing cards (but not for money.)

He found an increase in cortisol secretions and an increased heart rate in the gambling condition.

Furthermore EEG scans found heightened responses to images of gambling - similar to responses shown by drug addicts to images of drug paraphernalia.

This demonstrates how the physical dependency theory can explain the maintenance of gambling behaviour.

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Biological Explanation of Gambling

Alternative approach- Evolutionary theory.

Evolutionary psychologists suggest our motivational systems evolved during our hunter- gatherer past to support responses that aided survival.

Among our ancestors, those who were willing to take risks and move on in search of food were more likely to survive and reproduce.

Hence we are left with a legacy of risk taking that manifests itself in modern life as a gambling addiction.

However as with all evolutionary theories the lack of any empirical evidence makes it impossible to test this hypotheses and only assumptions can be made.

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Biological Explanation of Gambling


Ciarrochi noted gambling addiction is often co-morbid with other addictions 


- alcohol


Therefore even if the individual stops gambling they are vulnerable to relapse into other addictions as they have a genetic predisposition to addictive behaviours, not specifically gambling.

It has been reported that when giving up, gambling addicts may switch to other addictions in order to maintain the adrenaline rush they received from gambling.

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