Problem Gambling: The Mediating Role of Impulsivity and Cognitive Bias


StudentChad Graves, University of Manitoba
Research PriorityExplore what risk and protective factors (individual, social, environmental) influence the movement back and forth between no risk and problem gambling risk levels.
FundingM.A. Studentship ($15,000)
Project StatusCompleted


Project Summary

Electronic gambling machines (EGM) are a very popular form of gambling and are found across many settings including bars and casinos. Slot machines, video poker, pachinko, and video lottery terminals are all kinds of EGMs. The fact that EGMs are easy to find and preferred by many gamblers makes them an important form of gambling to study. Much of the research on EGMs has focused on the characteristics of the machines (like how they reward players, their appearance, and availability) and how they influence people’s behavior. Other gambling research has begun to examine the role of influences outside the machine, such as the characteristics of the people playing the machines. This study aims to add to gambling research by improving our understanding of how factors outside the gambling machine, like personality characteristics, influence EGM play.

Some people develop severe gambling problems which can be diagnosed as pathological gambling (PG).  Pathological gambling is currently described by the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) (APA, 2000) as an impulse control disorder where people continue to gamble despite experiencing serious harms as a result. Impulse control is an important part of the concept of pathological gambling. Impulsivity has multiple definitions which include being unable to stop a behavior; being unable to anticipate the consequences of actions; being sensitive to rewards that happen right away (like winning); or being insensitive to punishment (like losing). By any of these definitions, impulsivity could lead to gambling for more time or more money, which can lead to gambling problems.

The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) also links faulty thinking to pathological gambling.  Faulty thinking, or erroneous cognitions, can take the form of denial, superstitions, overconfidence, or a sense of control.  They can vary and are usually related to the idea that the gambler can somehow influence or control the result of a bet. Research has generally shown a connection between faulty thinking and the severity of gambling problems.

The proposed study will examine whether impulsivity or faulty thinking better explains how non-problem gamblers and problem gamblers gamble differently. First year students at the University of Manitoba will be studied because research shows that this age group gambles frequently and tends to have gambling problems more than other age groups. These students will fill out questionnaires asking about gambling behaviors, beliefs, impulsivity, and EGM play. A statistical test called a mediation analysis will be used to discover whether impulsivity or faulty thinking better explains the relationship between gambling problems and gambling behaviours.

This study is important because it contributes to a growing body of gambling research designed to better understand the nature of pathological gambling. The better we understand pathological gambling, the better we can help prevent and treat gambling problems.

American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical
          Manual of Mental Disorders (4th revised edition). Washington D.C.