When You’re Sad and Play the Slot Machines

Feeling sad doesn’t always bring out the best in us when it comes to impulse control. From comfort eating to coping by drinking, people often find that their self-control slips when their mood is low.

And then, apparently, there’s comfort gambling. Psychologists have long known that there’s a connection between negative mood and gambling, but a new study has shed light on part of how that connection might work.

In particular, it appears that when they’re sad, recreational gamblers tend to gamble more persistently, even when those feelings are transient and not especially severe.

The researchers who ran the study discovered this by inviting 60 participants to play a simulated slot machine. Before hitting the slot machines, some participants completed a task that was designed to induce temporary feelings of sadness.

Then the participants started gambling. And they kept gambling. And some of them kept gambling after that.

Basically, the people in the experiment were given choice over how long they continued to bet money on the simulated slot machine. It turned out that the participants who had been prompted to feel sad were more persistent in their gambling. And, as we all know, being persistent in playing the slot machines often just translates into losing more money.

It’s worth noting that most of the participants were people without depression and without any type of problematic gambling behaviors, so this isn’t a study on depression and problematic gambling. Rather, it shows that people with typical mental health (whatever exactly that means) may be prone to gamble more persistently when they’re feeling a little down.

Still, these findings could have implications for treating problematic gambling. They show that negative changes in mood can directly make people more susceptible to engaging in gambling, suggesting that this immediate link from mood to gambling could be a promising target for therapeutic intervention.

Image: Flickr/makzhou