Gambling is a popular activity, both globally and in the UK, with the majority of adults engaging in some degree of gambling behaviour. Contemporary views of gambling behaviour, addiction and behaviour change suggest that such behaviours move along a continuum and are subject to a variety of influences. Theories such as dual processing have highlighted the effects of implicit mechanisms on changing problem behaviours.
In a longitudinal mixed methods design, a group of sixty regular gamblers were interviewed and tested at three-month intervals for up to two years. Data was gathered via semi-structured interviews, explicit self-report questionnaires (PGSI, Fallacious Beliefs, Dissociation) and implicit tasks (Gambling Stroop Task, Roulette MouseTracker Task). From the first session data levels of problem gambling (PGSI) were predicted by elements of each type of data collected (Self-reported gambling behaviours, MouseTracker and interview content analysed by LIWC2007). The same measures were analysed as potential predictors of change in PGSI (N41), but found no significant relationships. A quantitative analysis of interview data revealed measurable change in gamblers’ narratives (N12) when comparing interviews from low scoring PGSI periods to interviews during high scoring PGSI periods. Further in-depth IPA analysis (N12) identified six main themes including; external influence, conflict, self-identity, organisation and change.
The findings support concepts of dual processing theory, demonstrating that a variety of methods are a stronger predictor of change than any one. Gambling behaviour as a multifaceted construct, which relies on individual self-concept alongside unconscious processes, held in place by gamblers’ narratives which adhere to a modern acceptance of gambling behaviour. The resulting conflict appears to sustain problem gambling for many regular gamblers, rather than allowing them either an acceptable gambling identity or a social view that assists their cessation.
Suggested applications of the findings require an equally multi-faceted approach, exploring the psychological processes involved and helping both the individual and the society around them to develop a new narrative for gamblers.