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Rats Used to Study Gambling Addiction

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Jul/02/2009

It's a pretty old joke about "rats" infiltrating the online gambling sector.  The term is applied to those who cooperate with federal and local authorities in taking down all those dastardly bookies. 

But we can learn a lot from rats...the four legged kind that is.

Researchers at the University of B.C. have created the world's first animal laboratory experiment that successfully models human gambling.

The study consisted of 32 rats playing casino games in an effort to develop new treatments for gambling addiction. 

"For most people, gambling is a harmless recreational activity, but for some it becomes a maladaptive obsession similar to drug addiction. We hope to find treatments to offer people who have this problem," said Catharine Winstanley, an assistant professor in UBC's Department of Psychology, in an interview with the Canadian newspaper, the Province.

Her study was published last week in Neuropsychopharmacology, a popular journal read by Gambling911.com's very own Payton O'Brien. 

"This study is the first in hopefully many studies that looks at the biological basis of gambling."

So did the rats win any money?

No, but some made out with a whole bunch of sweet pellets.

Each rat was placed in a chamber for an hour every day.  They would poke their noses into four holes, each connected to a different amount of rewarding sweet pellets.  The test mirrored a 1994 study on gambling addiction where gamblers were given a choice of four decks of cards, some of which offered more gain but higher losses while other decks had smaller wins but lower losses.

The subjects with pathological gambling continually chose decks with higher risks and so too did the rats in this most recent study. 

"It turned out that most rats just like humans can suppress the temptation to go for the larger reward options and to choose safer, more conservative options," Winstanley said.

The rats were also provided with drugs that manipulated their decision making. 

When the rodents reduced their level of serotonin, associated with impulse control, they dramatically lowered their ability to play the odds.  A lower level of dopamine, associated with pleasure in humans, resulted in the choice of holes with smaller gains and smaller losses. 

This study will help in the future to treat those with gambling addictions.

Gambling911.com Staff

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