Why are some games more addictive than others: The effects of timing and payoff on perseverance in a slot machine game

Abstract

Manipulating different behavioral characteristics of gambling games can potentially affect the extent to which individuals persevere at gambling, and their transition to problematic behaviors. This has potential impact for mobile gambling technologies and responsible gambling interventions. Two laboratory models pertinent to this are the partial reinforcement extinction effect (PREE) and the trial spacing effect. Both of these might speed up or delay the acquisition and extinction of conditioned behavior. We report an experiment that manipulated the rate of reinforcement and inter trial interval (ITI) on a simulated slot machine where participants were given the choice between gambling and skipping on each trial, before perseverative gambling was measured in extinction, followed by measurements of the illusion of control, depression and impulsivity. We hypothesized that longer ITI’s in conjunction with the low rates of reinforcement observed in gambling would lead to greater perseverance. We further hypothesized, given that timing is known to be important in displaying illusory control and potentially in persevering in gambling, that prior exposure to longer intervals might affect illusions of control. An interaction between ITI and rate of reinforcement was observed, as low reinforced gamblers with a long ITI gambled for longer. Respondents also displayed extinction and a PREE. Gamblers exposed to a higher rate of reinforcement gambled for longer in acquisition. Impulsivity was associated with extended perseverance in extinction, and more depressed gamblers in the high reinforcement short ITI group persevered for longer. Performance in the contingency judgment failed to support the second hypothesis: the only significant contrast observed was that participants became better calibrated as the task progressed.

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