Problem gamblers are impulsive, believe they live charmed life

Compulsive gamblers are usually also very impulsive and superstitious people, according to research led by the University of Cambridge. "The link between impulsivity and gambling beliefs suggests to us that high impulsivity can predispose a range of more complex distortions--such as superstitions--that gamblers often experience," researcher Luke Clark says in Science Blog. "Our research helps fuse these two likely underlying causes of problem gambling, shedding light on why some people are prone to becoming pathological gamblers."

First a few words to clarify what it is Clark and his team were studying. Gambling is simply entertainment for most people. However, at least in the United Kingdom, about 1 percent of the total population has a formal diagnosis of problem or "pathological" gambling. Those are the people Clark studied and wrote about in the journal Psychological Medicine.

In previous studies, problem gamblers were also found to have aspects of "addictive personality," but what makes this recent study new is that it found that those gamblers who made more decisions on impulse are also susceptible to other breakdowns in reason that occur during gambling, including superstitious rituals. They can include carrying a good-luck charm or explaining away losses on "cold machines."

In other words, those who are addicted to gambling also make impulsive decisions and are more prone to believe in magic or charms as explanation for success or failure in their gambling.

"There are promising developments in treatments for problem gambling such as psychological therapies and drug medications," Clark says in Science Blog. "We hope that our research will provide additional insight into the problem and inform future treatments."

- read more about the study on Science Blog
- or take a look at the abstract in Psychological Medicine