Background: Attentional biases have been recognized as factors responsible for the maintenance of gambling problems. To date, no study has ever assessed the attentional biases among problem gamblers that have discontinued gambling (e.g., abstinent gamblers in treatment).
Methods: The sample consisted of 75 participants comprising three groups: non-problem gamblers, problem gamblers, and abstinent pathological gamblers undergoing treatment. The groups were discriminated using South Oaks Gambling Screen scores, with the exception of the abstinent pathological gamblers that already had a DSM-5 diagnosis for gambling disorder. Participants carried out a modified Posner Task for the assessment of attentional bias for gambling stimuli and completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale and the Gambling Craving Scale.
Results: Abstinent pathological gamblers showed an avoidance bias in the maintenance of attention, whereas problem gamblers exhibited a facilitation in detecting gambling stimuli. No biases were detected in non-problem gamblers. The results also demonstrated that compared to the other groups, abstinent pathological gamblers showed high emotional stress and problem gamblers reported a higher level of craving.
Limitations: The sample size limits the generalizability of results.
Conclusions: The present study demonstrated that attentional biases affect the maintenance and the discontinuation of gambling activities, and that the subjective feeling of craving for gambling may facilitate problem gamblers' attention towards gambling stimuli.