Almost Counts: Near Wins Fuel Gambling Fire


Problem gamblers shown to have an intense response in the brain's reward pathways when they experience a near-win.

The Study

A recent British study examined how 20 people's brains responded to playing a slot machine in order to gain deeper insight into problem gambling behavior. The 20 study participants' gambling habits ranged from purchasing an occasional lottery ticket to participating in compulsive sports betting. Participants played a slot machine while researchers monitored their brain activity with a functional MRI scan.

Brain reward pathways were found to light up when the participants won on the slot machine but not when they lost. The interesting finding, however, was that near-wins also triggered activity in the brain's reward center despite the absence of any actual reward.

Why Is This Important?

Any gambling addict knows how hard it is to quit, and this study may provide some evidence why. If almost winning triggers a reward response in the brains of problem gamblers, it could explain why they continue to gamble even when they aren't winning. Apparently coming close is enough to trigger a chemical response and brain activity in areas associated with addiction, reward, and learning.


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