Problem gamblers are hyposensitive to wins: An analysis of skin conductance responses during actual gambling on electronic gaming machines

Abstract

Physiological arousal is purportedly a key determinant in the development and maintenance of gambling behaviors, with problem gambling conceptualized in terms of abnormal autonomic responses. Theoretical conceptualizations of problem gambling are discordant regarding the nature of deficit in this disorder; some accounts posit that problem gamblers are hypersensitive to reward, and others that they are hyposensitive to reward and/or punishment. Previous research examining phasic electrodermal responses in gamblers has been limited to laboratory settings, and reactions to real gaming situations need to be examined. Skin conductance responses (SCRs) to losses, wins, and losses disguised as wins (LDWs) were recorded from 15 problem gamblers (PGs) and 15 nonproblem gamblers (NPGs) while they wagered their own money during electronic gaming machine play. PGs demonstrated significantly reduced SCRs to reward. SCRs to losses and LDWs did not differ for either PGs or NPGs. This hyposensitivity to wins may reflect abnormalities in incentive processing, and may represent a potential biological marker for problem gambling.

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