Understanding how gambling behaviors develop into pathological gambling patterns is becoming more important as the opportunities to gamble have increased. There have been significant access changes because online gambling is readily available to those who possess a smartphone or a laptop.
Given that gambling can be done just about anytime and anywhere, there are many factors to consider when evaluating which ones lead to more risk-taking behaviors. A recent study evaluated the effects of mental fatigue on risk-taking, including an examination of not only cognitive depletion, but also how previous outcomes influenced gambling behaviors (Kostek & Ashrafioun, 2013).
The researchers examined gambling behaviors among 81 college students recruited at a large Midwestern university. The participants had an average age of 19.1 years and 53 percent were female.
The participants were split randomly into one of four groups: Cognitive depletion while winning, cognitive depletion while losing, control while winning, and control while losing.
The students in the two groups in which cognitive depletion was introduced were given a writing task in which they must avoid using the letters ‘a’ and ‘n’ while those in the control groups were given a writing task without the use of letter restrictions.
The outcomes of the following gambling games were manipulated, with those in the winning groups winning 75 percent of blackjack hands, while those in the losing groups winning only 25 percent of blackjack hands.
The participants were evaluated for risk-taking using the Domain-Specific Risk-Taking Scale. The students were also offered the opportunity to bet their $5 compensation for participating in the study. At $1 at a time, they had the chance to win 50 dollars, with odds at 1:200 for each wager.
The results showed that those who were in the control group who won at blackjack noted that they were more prone to take the financial risks than the others who were not winning. Those in the cognitively depleted losing group said that they were more likely to take risks than the ones who won.
The second major finding was that in the final bet to win $50, the members of the cognitive depletion group bet less than control participants, while those in the winning condition bet more than those in the losing condition.
The study’s findings are limited by its small sample size and should be considered preliminary results to be followed by a larger scale study. In addition, the authors note that the writing exercise could have additional effects besides cognitive depletion, such as boredom, which could have affected betting variations.
In addition, the scenarios examined included only 20 hands, which may not accurately depict real-life gambling situations. Further research may include longer periods of play.