Understanding within-session loss-chasing: An experimental investigation of the impact of stake size on cognitive control


Loss-chasing is a central feature of problematic gambling, yet it remains a poorly conceived and understood concept. Loss-chasing is believed to stem from an erosion of cognitive control when gambling. The opportunity to gamble at significantly disparate stake sizes on a gambling activity is considered to be a risk factor for loss-chasing. This study investigated the impact of gambling at disparate stake sizes on executive processes integral to maintaining cognitive control when gambling, namely response inhibition and reflection impulsivity. Frequent adult non-problem gamblers (n = 32) participated in a repeated measures experiment; and gambled at three disparate stake sizes (£20, £2 and no stake per bet) on a simulated gambling task. Participants’ response inhibition performance and reflection impulsivity levels after gambling at various stake sizes were compared via a go/no-go task and information sampling task, respectively. Quality of decision-making i.e. the evaluation of available information to make probability judgements was impaired after gambling at higher stakes in comparison to lower stakes, indicating an increase in reflection impulsivity. No effect on response inhibition was observed. Although exploratory, this suggests that the opportunity for participants to substantially increase stake size on a gambling activity may be a risk factor for impaired cognitive performance when gambling, and perhaps create vulnerability for within-session loss-chasing in some players.

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