Impaired self-awareness in pathological gamblers


Lack of self-awareness of one’s decisions remains an understudied and elusive topic in the addiction literature. The present study aimed at taking a first step towards addressing this difficult subject through the use of a combination of behavioral procedures. Here, we explored the association between a metacognitive process (the ability to reflect and evaluate the awareness of one’s own decision) and poor performance on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) in a group of pathological gamblers (PG; n = 30), and in a comparison group (n = 35). This metacognitive process was assessed during the IGT with the post-decision wagering procedure, while a number of potential confounds (i.e., reward/loss sensitivity, dual-tasking) were controlled for. Results showed that: (1) Initial performance enhancement of the control group on IGT occurred without explicit knowledge of the task, thus confirming its implicit character; (2) compared to controls, performance of PG on the IGT failed to increase during the task; (3) taking into account increased reward sensitivity and decreased loss sensitivity as well as poorer dual-tasking in pathological gamblers, PG tended to exhibit a bias in evaluating their own performance on the IGT by maximizing their wagers independently of selecting advantageous decks. Our findings suggest that biased metacognition may affect pathological gamblers, leading to disadvantageous post-decision wagering, which is in turn linked to impaired decision making under ambiguity. Perhaps this deficit reflects the impaired insight and self-awareness that many addicts suffer from, thus providing a novel approach for capturing and measuring this impairment, and for investigating its possible causes.

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