Luck, come here! Automatic approach tendencies toward gambling cues in moderate- to high-risk gamblers

Abstract

Background and aims
Similar to substance addictions, reward-related cognitive motivational processes, such as selective attention and positive memory biases, have been found in disordered gambling. Despite findings that individuals with substance use problems are biased to approach substance-related cues automatically, no study has yet focused on automatic approach tendencies for motivationally salient gambling cues in problem gamblers. We tested if moderate- to high-risk gamblers show a gambling approach bias and whether this bias was related prospectively to gambling behaviour and problems.

Design
Cross-sectional assessment study evaluating the concurrent and longitudinal correlates of gambling approach bias in moderate- to high-risk gamblers compared with non-problem gamblers.

Setting
Online study throughout the Netherlands.

Participants
Twenty-six non-treatment-seeking moderate- to high-risk gamblers and 26 non-problem gamblers community-recruited via the internet.
Measurements
Two online assessment sessions 6 months apart, including self-report measures of gambling problems and behaviour (frequency, duration and expenditure) and the gambling approach avoidance task, with stimuli tailored to individual gambling habits.

Findings
Relative to non-problem gamblers, moderate- to high-risk gamblers revealed a stronger approach bias towards gambling-related stimuli than neutral stimuli (P = 0.03). Gambling approach bias was correlated positively with past-month gambling expenditure at baseline (P = 0.03) and with monthly frequency of gambling at follow-up (P = 0.02). In multiple hierarchical regressions, baseline gambling approach bias predicted monthly frequency positively (P = 0.03) and total duration of gambling episodes (P = 0.01) 6 months later, but not gambling problems or expenditure.

Conclusions
In the Netherlands, relative to non-problem gamblers, moderate- to high-risk gamblers appear to have a stronger tendency to approach rather than to avoid gambling-related pictures compared with neutral ones. This gambling approach bias is associated concurrently with past-month gambling expenditure and duration of gambling and has been found to predict persistence in gambling behaviour over time.

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