How flashing lights and catchy tunes make gamblers take more risks October 30, 2018

Lights and sounds coming from electronic gambling machines – also known as EGMs, pokies or slots – contribute to their addictive potential according to new research published today.

Scientists from the University of British Columbia, Canada, set up experiments with human subjects using gambling tasks and "sensory cues" such as flashing lights and catchy tunes.

They found that people made riskier decisions and were less able to interpret information about their probability of winning when exposed to cues associated with previous wins.

It was known from earlier animal studies that sensory cues, such as flashing lights or sounds, when paired with a reward, lead to "riskier" decision making. Prior to the new study, this had not previously been demonstrated in humans. However, it is not unexpected, given what we know of Pavlovian, or classical, conditioning.

Classical conditioning has been understood for over a century as the mechanism for training animals (including humans). Thus, training a dog to sit becomes easier if the reward (food, or some other pleasurable event) and the command (the cue) are associated.

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