The hypotheses that automatic, non-volitional, attentional and memory biases for addiction-related constructs exist is tested with compulsive gamblers.
An independent groups design was employed. Processing of gambling, compared to neutral and drug-related information was examined in 15 gamblers recruited from new members of Gamblers Anonymous. Comparisons were made with the performance of their spouses (N = 15) to help distinguish addiction mechanisms from more non-specific emotional experiences with gambling, and an independent control group (N = 15), recruited from the staff and students of a university department.
A modified Stroop procedure was first employed. Automative cognitive interference was assessed relatively, by comparing colour-naming times on the gambling, drug and neutral Stroops. A subsequent word-stem completion task of implicit memory was then used to assess selective and automatic priming of the gambling constructs in memory.
Only the gamblers showed selective and automatic interference for gambling-related constructs on the Stroop task. Spouses behaved like the control group on this task. An implicit memory bias for gambling-related words was statistically detected only in the gamblers compared to the control group, although the trend was similar in the comparison with spouses. Further evidence for the specificity of these effects was obtained in subgroup comparisons involving fruit-machine with racing gamblers.
Results are generally consistent with an automaticity in the cognitive biases gamblers show for gambling-related information. Implications for cognitive understanding and treatments are highlighted.