From Science Daily: Pathological gamblers have a stronger brain reaction to so-called near-miss events: losing events that come very close to a win. Neuroscientists of the Donders Institute at Radboud University show this in fMRI scans of twenty-two pathological gamblers and just as many healthy controls. The scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology published their results in an early view article last week.
Despite being objective losses, near-misses activate a particular reward-related area in the middle of our brain: the striatum. In the current study, neuroscientist Guillaume Sescousse and his colleagues show that this activity is amplified in pathological gamblers. When compared to healthy controls, pathological gamblers show more activity in the striatum after a near-miss event, than after a complete-miss event. This activity is thought to reinforce gambling behaviour, supposedly by fostering an illusion of control on the game.
To obtain these results, Sescousse compared fMRI scans of pathological gamblers and healthy adults while they were playing a slot machine game. 'We've made our gambling game as lifelike as possible by improving the visuals, adding more sounds and adapting the speed of the slot wheel compared to previous versions. In our game, the chance for a near-miss was 33%, compared to 17% for a win and 50% for a complete-miss.'