Hypersensitivity to Reward in Problem Gamblers

Published:December 31, 2009DOI:


      Recent research has begun to examine the neurophysiologic basis of pathological gambling. However, direct evidence of a behavioral deficit and an accompanying neurofunctional deviation in a realistic gambling context such as Black Jack has not yet been reported.


      Electroencephalogram was recorded while 20 problem gamblers and 21 control participants played a computerized version of Black Jack. Participants were asked to decide at point scores between 11 and 21 whether they wanted to take another card (“hit”) to arrive closer to 21 than the opponent (simulated by computer) or not to take another card (“sit”) to avoid going over 21 (“bust”).


      At a critical point score of 16, problem gamblers decided more often to hit despite losses due to a bust on the preceding trial, whereas control participants decided more often to sit under these conditions. Furthermore, problem gamblers showed more reward-related positive amplitudes in the event-related brain potential than control participants after successful hit decisions at 16.


      Here we provide experimental evidence for high-risk taking behavior in gamblers and its correlate in event-related brain potentials. Our results suggest that high-risk-taking behavior in problem gamblers is associated with an increased reward-related neural response to infrequent successes of this behavior.

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