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Wed, 27 Jun 2018

Researchers take aim at problem gambling

Scientists believe they have found ways to minimise problem gambling by focusing on people’s impulsive behaviours.

Dr Beryl Buckby is a James Cook University lecturer and clinical psychologist. Along with colleague Dr Mal Flack from Charles Darwin University, they tested nearly 500 people for the trait of impulsivity - as well as asking them about their gambling behaviour and beliefs about the emotional rewards they got from gambling.

“We know that greater impulsivity in children and adolescents is associated with subsequent alcohol and drug abuse and many other studies have shown it to have a very clear link with problem gambling too,” said Dr Buckby.

But exactly how impulsivity shapes gambling behaviour is less well understood.

“We wanted to find out if feelings of escapism and excitement played a part in the relationship between impulsivity and problem gambling. One current theory is that if you have an impulsive nature, then you are more likely to focus on the escapism and/or excitement aspects of gambling and are at increased risk of having problems with gambling,” she said.

The results were a little different than expected.

“We didn’t find a significant relationship between impulsivity, a feeling of excitement and problem gambling. But we found the relationship between impulsivity and problem gambling strengthened when the escapism ‘payoff’ was higher.

When impulsive people didn’t think of gambling as an escape, that link was no longer there.”

The researchers said the findings pointed to a clear strategy to fight problem gambling. “For people who are impulsive, it might be useful to attack the idea that gambling is an effective and cost-free form of escapism – a way to manage or avoid unpleasant emotions. It might also be helpful to teach them to manage those unpleasant emotions in a more positive way,” said Dr Buckby.


Dr Beryl Buckby

Dr Mal Flack
E: mal.flack@my.jcu.edu.au