Psychophysiological determinants and concomitants of deficient decision making in pathological gamblers


Psychophysiological responses are considered to be a mediating factor in the development of pathological gambling (PG) and PG has been associated with differential arousal levels during gambling. Yet little is known about the specific psychophysiological responses to wins and losses in PG. This study investigated heart rate (HR) and skin conductance responses (SCRs) during the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) in an adult PG group (n = 46) and a normal control (NC) group (n = 47). Anticipatory psychophysiological reactions to disadvantageous and advantageous choices during the IGT and psychophysiological responses to wins and losses were measured. The PG group performed worse than the NC group on the IGT and exhibited lower anticipatory SCRs and HR decreases when pondering choices of disadvantageous card decks during the IGT. The PG group showed a decrease in HR after losses and wins, whereas the NC group showed a decrease in HR after losses, but an increase in HR after wins. Reward and punishment sensitivity as measured by the self-report BIS/BAS scale influenced IGT performance and psychophysiological responses, but in general these effects were similar for the PG group and the NC group. Lower anticipatory psychophysiological responses to disadvantageous choices in PG suggest impaired risk assessment in this group. Absence of a HR increase after wins possibly implies that reward sensitivity is decreased in PG. Because levels of reward and punishment sensitivity were associated with differential anticipatory HR responses to advantageous and disadvantageous decks, itwould be advisable to include this taxonomy in studies on psychophysiological responses to rewards and losses.

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