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UBC Researchers Find Connection between Catchy Audiovisual Features of EGMs and Gambling Addiction

A new research published on Monday revealed that flashing lights and electronic sounds coming from electronic gambling machines (EGMs), which are also known as slot machines or poker machines/pokies, could make players take more risks while playing, which on the other hand boosts the machines’ addictive potential.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, have revealed that the research results showed that people are more inclined to make riskier decisions while being less able to properly interpret information about their chances of winning when exposed to so-called “sensory cues” such as catchy electronic sounds and bright flashing lights. The situation gets even more complicated when the sensory cues are associated with previous wins.

“We found that an individual’s choices were less guided by the odds of winning when the casino-like audiovisual features were present in our laboratory gambling game.” – Maria Cherkasova, study’s lead author, said

Prior to this study, there were some animal studies which proved that blinking lights or specific sounds which are paired with a certain reward, lead to riskier decision making. Now, the new study carried out by experts working at the University of British Columbia (UBC) demonstrated that so-called “classical conditioning” is also applicable to humans, and not only to animals through mechanisms such as sensory cues.

Over 100 adults took part in the study, playing laboratory gambling games which featured flashing lights and catchy tunes to enhance their desire to play. As revealed in the results, these audiovisual features could have a direct influence on the decisions made by users of so-called electronic gambling machines.

Losses Disguised as Wins Are Also Dangerous to Players

Electronic gambling machines, which are also known as slots or pokies, combine sensory cues and rewards. Throughout their study, the researchers have developed a model which combines the main principles of two types of conditioning.

On one hand, there was the classical type of conditioning, which is associated with observing the so-called cues. On the other hand, there was the operant type of conditioning, which focuses on the reward structure offered by a certain game. Then, the results of these two principles’ analysis were considered along with the principles of operation of the brain’s reward system.

Apart from the sensory cues analysis, the study of the University of British Columbia (UBC) also paid attention to the so-called “losses disguised as wins” problem. As revealed by the lead authors of the research Mariya Cherkasova and Catharine Winstanley, losses disguised as wins occur when an EGM user bets on multiple lines on a certain machine. This provides the player with the chance to get a reward which, however, is smaller than the amount wagered.

According to the results of the study, a stimulus such as the losses disguised as wins could create a wrong impression in players, making them overestimate their winnings and continue to place wagers on the machine.