Gambling games

Several studies using gambling games have been conducted investigating the effect of ATD on impulsive behavior and gambling. In the following a brief overview over the latest research in this field will be given.

One important factor in human cooperation may be the willingness of an individual to accept personal cost in order to punish non-cooperators. How this ‘altruistic punishment’ could be explained in psychological terms is not fully understood; several theories are being discussed, including an impulsive act driven primarily by emotion or a deliberate act as a way of norm enforcement. Crockett et al (2010, Emotion) addressed this question by examining the relationship between impulsive choice and altruistic punishment in the ultimatum game. Since serotonin seems to play a role in both impulsive choice and altruistic punishment, ATD was used to investigate the effect of serotonin on both measures. Across individuals, impulsive choice and altruistic punishment were correlated and increased following ATD, i.e. serotonin depletion. These findings allow for the conclusion that altruistic punishment seems to reflect the absence of self control, and suggest that impulsive choice and altruistic punishment share common neural mechanisms.

A prominent feature of social and pathological gambling is continued gambling to recover losses or ‘loss chasing’, which could be described as an aversively motivated escape behavior which is partly controlled by the marginal value of continued gambling relative to the value of already accumulated losses. There is however little knowledge as to which mechanisms influence this behavior. Campbell-Meiklejohn et al (2010, Neuropsychopharmacology) investigated, amongst other aspects, the role of serotonin activity in loss chasing. Participants consumed ATD or a balanced control mixture and subsequently completed a computerized loss-chasing game. Mood and heart rate were assessed at baseline and following treatment. ATD caused a significant decrease in the number of decisions made to chase losses and the number of consecutive decisions to chase. However no marked mood changes were observed. Serotonin, amongst others, appears to play a great role in individuals trying to gamble to recover previous losses and seems to offer up the option of loss chasing as a behavioral choice.