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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

BRAIN: How Gamblers Think?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The brains of gamblers respond similarly to the brains of lab animals after being given euphoria-inducing drugs or when being tempted by good food, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Results of tests conducted by researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and two other institutions suggest that the same mental circuitry is involved in the highs and lows of winning money, abusing drugs, or anticipating a tasty meal.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers mapped the neural responses of 12 male subjects while they played a simple game of chance in which they could either win or lose money. Each subject was give a $50 stake and told that they might lose some or all of the money, keep it (break even), or even increase it. The subjects then played a game similar to the "wheel-of-fortune" game found in most casinos. The trials were divided into two phases — expectancy and outcome. During the expectancy phase, the subjects were shown how much money they might win depending upon where the arrow stopped on a spinning disk. During the outcome phase, the arrow stopped on a designated monetary value, and the subjects found out whether they had won or lost money on that spin.

Data produced while the players watched the spinner showed:
•The incentive of money produced blood flow changes in the brain similar to those seen in response to other forms of rewards, such as euphoria-producing drugs;
•Blood flow in three areas of the brain rich in dopamine receptors, the NAc, SLEA, and hypothalamus, roughly paralleled findings in monkeys during anticipation and experience of reward;
•The right side of the brain responded predominantly to winning or the prospect of winning, while the left side of the brain responded to losing.
According to the researchers, the response patterns observed suggested that dysfunction of neural mechanisms and psychological processes crucial to decision-making and behavior may contribute to a broad range of impulse disorders such as drug abuse and compulsive gambling.