Like many other things in our daily lives, gambling is something that has an effect on our brains. Depending on whether this is just a recreational hobby or you are seriously hooked, the impact of gambling can vary from person to person. While gambling can bring negative connotations, this type of activity is not necessarily bad for your brain.
If you can manage your gambling habits, it is possible to occasionally wager some real cash at a land-based casino or log into a virtual casino. In fact, recreational gambling can actually have a positive impact on your brain function and help you develop very useful skills. The trick to gaining all the positives from gambling is to learn how to control your gaming activities and simply use this experience as a source of fun.
Despite the possible positive effects of recreational gambling, this type of activity has the potential to be extremely harmful. With the numerous negative effects of the global pandemic, numbers of people seeking help with gambling addictions have surged. And while alcohol or drug addictions can be easier to spot as they often have physically noticeable symptoms, gambling addiction affects your brain in a different way.
The science behind the effects gambling can have on your brain will allow you to see the difference between recreational and compulsive gambling. Understanding the negative and positive sides of this type of activity can help you draw only the positives of gambling and learn how to maintain it as a simple hobby.
The Science Behind Gambling Effects
Gambling is among the favourite activities of numerous people and science has an explanation for the reason why many people get hooked on it. Whenever you play a classic table game or a favourite slot of yours and you end up winning, your brain releases the so-called “happiness hormone”, dopamine. This chemical is well known for helping people handle sadness, stress, or anger.
Naturally, the feel-good hormone that is first released when you are experiencing a win will make any person seek the same experience again and again. With online gambling becoming widely accessible, it has become even easier to gamble, with players having the chance to chase the dopamine thrill in the comfort of their homes. As virtual casino games offer players a myriad of options to play and enjoy instant gratification, it comes as no surprise that online gambling is a source of entertainment for numerous people.
Unfortunately, the positive effects of gambling can be experienced mostly by recreational players who are not investing a lot of their time playing online casino games. As some individuals start developing a gambling addiction, the chemicals in one’s brain start to change.
The rush of dopamine a player experiences every time they land a win can easily push someone towards repetitive gambling. Soon, this type of activity transforms into a habit and even an addiction. It has been discovered that people suffering from gambling addiction often drift into a state of “dark flow”. This type of behaviour will make players gamble for hours, getting fully immersed in the games, not realising how much time they are spending gambling or the amount of money they end up wagering.
Unfortunately, as players are seeking the same rush of dopamine by playing more casino games, their brains start building up a tolerance for the chemical. That means the same amount of gambling that used to bring players the needed dose of dopamine is no longer enough to experience the same type of feeling. Naturally, many people increase the amount of their gambling in hope of achieving the same dopamine high.
At this point, players develop a gambling addiction, being unable to stop betting with their money. The dopamine release during gambling can be compared to the same rush people experience while using drugs. That is why compulsive gamblers might also go through a withdrawal when they no longer engage in gambling. Once they reach that point, vulnerable individuals need support and professional help to combat their addiction.
Gambling’s Positive Effect on Brain Functions
We should not consider gambling simply a bad thing, as it can have a positive effect on your brain function. Of course, it should be noted that the good side of gambling can be experienced mostly by recreational players who are occasionally engaging in short gambling sessions. Gambling has the potential to improve your brain function, teaching you some very useful skills.
Developing Cognitive Functionality
One of the main components of a human’s central nervous system is grey matter. It is responsible for the proper function of different parts of our body, including our emotions, control, movement, navigation, and memory. As you may know, while you use your mind to do a certain activity, you are actually developing your grey matter.
While there are casino games that are simply reliant on luck, others like blackjack or poker will require using some skills. Such games will often force players to make quick decisions and contemplate the optimal move under different circumstances. While you are playing games that require fast decision-making and correct strategy use, you will be practising certain skills that will help your grey matter improve.
Developing Decision-Making Skills
The whole gambling experience includes plenty of decision-making. From choosing the place/website where you would like to play to the in-game risk assessment, your gambling time will include plenty of decisions. Some players choose to use strategies while playing certain casino games. Such strategies usually teach players what is the optimal decision under different conditions. As they play games, advantage players are practising their skill of always making the right decision.
The reason why making correct decisions in gambling is important is the chance to lower the house’s advantage and improve your long-term winning chances. While decision-making is extremely important when playing casino games, it is also a key skill you need to develop in your day-to-day activities. Being able to assess any situation rapidly and make the optimal decision is definitely a skill you would like to develop. Luckily, if you enjoy skill-based casino games, you have the potential to improve your decision-making ability.
Whenever you are trying to develop your cognitive functionality, you should not ignore the importance of your emotions. You have probably noticed that whenever you are feeling stressed or annoyed, you are not able to effectively complete your daily tasks. To be able to do your daily duties, you need to take care of your emotions and provide enough dose of happy moments to improve your mood.
It has been proven that participating in leisurely activities has a positive effect on our mood. As we have already discussed, whenever you are enjoying gambling occasionally as a recreational player, you will definitely boost your happiness hormone production, leading to a very positive experience.
Every time you end up winning your favourite casino games, dopamine is released, significantly improving your mood. If you are participating in gambling activities as a hobby, you will be able to combat stress and other negative emotions. That said, you should always keep in mind that you need to control the time you spend gambling and avoid chasing the constant dopamine high.
Negative Effects of Gambling
While gambling can bring you a number of positives like entertainment, interaction with other players, and money, it has also the potential to become a dangerous addiction. While most people know when to stop and take some time off casino games, others tend to lose control and fall into obsessive patterns of continuous gambling.
Increased Activity in Gambling-Associated Areas of the Brain
While moderate gambling can help you develop your cognitive functionality, excessive engagement in gambling can significantly increase activity rates in important zones of the brain. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is one such area, responsible for the decision-making memory and regulation of emotions. Other areas that are associated with gambling include the orbital frontal cortex, which allows the body to respond to different emotions, and the insula, which handles the autonomic nervous system. In cases of compulsive gambling, it has been noticed that those areas are experiencing unusual levels of activity.
Gambling Affecting Decision-Making Ability
As mentioned in the section about the positive effects of gambling, whenever you land a win on a casino game, your brain releases dopamine, which helps you boost your mood. According to studies, people suffering from gambling addiction experience higher activity in the reward system and lower levels of activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Due to the effects gambling has on the prefrontal cortex, it can be explained why often people showing signs of gambling addiction are easily irritated and have a difficult time keeping their impulses under control. When the same area of the brain is affected, gamblers are also having trouble assessing the risk of playing for immediate rewards versus rewards that can be enjoyed later in time. As instant gratification comes first for compulsive gamblers, they can easily end up with very serious gambling problems.
Reward Deficiency Model
Studies show that problem gamblers are also experiencing lowered activity in the ventral striatum area of their brains. The decreased activity in this brain section indicates that gambling addicts actually experience less fulfilment related to rewards. Considering the usual thrill gambling brings, this may seem a bit counterintuitive but it does make sense when we are considering the essence of the reward deficiency model.
The said model suggests that people who are suffering from some sort of addiction are experiencing lower activity in their brain reward systems. This forces addicts to seek more activities that can stimulate their reward systems and provide the high they have previously experienced. That is often the reason for substance abuse or developing a gambling addiction. Taking into consideration these discoveries, it can be concluded that people are often developing a gambling addiction as they are chasing rewarding activities rather than simply yearning for money.
Tricks Casinos May Use to Trick Your Brain to Gamble
Even though there are different physiological factors that may prompt players to continue gambling, there are also some tricks casinos use to make the whole activity more appealing to your brain. These tactics are used by casinos to temp gamblers to spend more money than they would usually do, ultimately bringing the house a bigger profit.
If you are simply enjoying recreational gambling but are scared not to fall into one of the many casino traps, it may be useful to learn the psychological trick casinos tend to use. That way you will be able to easily spot potentially dangerous situations and avoid them.
The design of casino games is probably the most innocent-looking trick gaming providers and operators use to maintain high engagement. In some cases, players might be aware of the boosted house advantage of games but still choose to play them due to their design. Colourful and flashing lights and immersive sound effects are just a few of the tricks gaming providers use to make casino games more attractive.
Another game design feature that may tempt players to bet more than they have initially anticipated wagering is using multiple paylines. That prompts players to make higher bets hoping to land bigger wins. In reality, placing a portion of your wager on more lines will most likely bring you a win on some of them while the rest of the betlines will be losing ones. This will ultimately make your profit smaller than your original stake.
With game design playing a major role in the time players spend gambling, the gambling regulator in the UK has decided to introduce a series of restrictions that would make slots safe in design.
Flashing lights and sounds
Of course, to engage all of your senses, gaming creators are also making sure that they can keep you interested in playing by providing immersive sound effects and flashy lights in their games. It is no secret that the more visually pleasing a game may seem, the more likely players are to spend time and money on the said game.
However, often casino games may use visual or sound effects that may give players the false impression of a win. In reality, the win is either equal to or even smaller than the amount they have wagered on the game. That is why such features have also been banned by the UK regulator, ensuring that slot players cannot be fooled by seemingly fun sound effects and flashy lights.
Using chips and coins instead of cash
Both land-based and virtual casinos will have you choose either chips or coins with different denominations for your bets. This is a trick that works especially well when you play at a brick-and-mortar casino facility. Since you are not using cash, you can easily lose a sense of reality and forget that you are actually betting real money on casino games.
Since tokens and chips seem as if they do not carry the same economical value as cash, players have an easier time spending their money. While many consider the chips and coins they have already purchased as spent money, in reality, they are yet to determine how much of their money they are willing to wager on casino games. However, playing with items substituting real money makes wagering bigger sums much easier.
Is Gambling Bad for Your Brain?
Like many other things in life, when consumed in moderation, gambling can be very entertaining and even useful for your brain function. If you are a recreational player, gambling activities can help you develop decision-making skills, improve your mood, and help train your brain. All the positive effects of gambling, however, can be enjoyed when players are well aware of when they should stop playing.
Unfortunately, with gambling giving players a certain high, many fall into the trap of continuously seeking stimulation of their reward systems. Chasing dopamine highs often leads to compulsive gambling, with players losing the fun factor of the entire experience. Unfortunately, gambling can also have negative effects, causing your brain to lose the skills you have previously mastered using the same type of activity.
While casinos have their own methods to trick players into spending more money on games, players who are able to spot such tactics can avoid potential gambling harm. As long as you are capable of keeping your gambling experience under control, you can draw many positives from this type of activity.