Gambling and Its Effects on the Brain


Gambling is when people risk something of value – usually money – on an event with a chance of winning something else of value. It can be fun and exciting, but it can also be dangerous. People gamble for many reasons, including socialising with friends, escaping from stress or anxiety and the thrill of winning money. But it can be difficult to stop gambling and it is important to seek help if you are concerned about your gambling habits.

It is estimated that worldwide, legal gambling revenue is over $10 trillion per year (although illegal betting may exceed this figure). The world’s most popular form of gambling is lotteries and organized football pools, both of which are available in most European countries, Australia and some South American nations. In addition to these popular forms of gambling, casino gaming and horse racing are also common activities that involve wagering.

Psychologist Shane Kraus, who studies gambling, says: ‘People who bet frequently and/or spend more than they can afford to lose are particularly vulnerable to developing gambling disorders. Vulnerability is higher for young people and men, who have more to gain from a big win.’ His research uses brain imaging to study the flow of blood and electrical activity in people as they play virtual casino games or tasks that test their impulse control.

Longitudinal studies of gambling are becoming more common but remain challenging to conduct. The cost of such studies is enormous and it is not always possible to avoid the problem of sample attrition over a long period of time. In addition, longitudinal data can confound aging effects and period effects (e.g., a change in gambling behavior due to a new casino opening in an area).