Psychology and Gambling

This article seeks to give an objective view of gambling, while putting forth the two major schools of thought regarding the issue. The first school of thought views gambling as an anti-social and abnormal behavior, which will be explored further in this article. The second school of thought on the other hand views gambling, as an extension of normal behavior; and as part of a healthy and self gratifying lifestyle. By seriously looking at the two separate schools of thought, one can be able to clearly look at gambling; in the realm of cognitive and behavioral human psychology.

First School Of Thought

There are plenty of people that are in the view that gambling is atypical behavior, and that it is detrimental to the well being of the individual. This school of thought views gambling as overly romanticized, and quickly leads the gambler to the road of self destruction. One of the arguments that are put forth by this school of thought is the common instances where gamblers use underhand and often illegal means to procure money to fund their ‘antisocial’ activities.

This school of thought also claims that gamblers often have a skewed interpretation of calculated risk. According to the believers in this school of thought; if the ultimate goal of gambling is financial gain, then other more ‘sensible’ or ‘viable’ ways to achieve profits can be found in investments such as real estate and the stock market where the risks are perceived to be inherently lower than those of gambling in casinos or sports.

This school of thought further explains that regular gamblers often have a biased view of gambling and the risks that come with it. Experts in this area claim that gamblers are often unreasonable when it comes to risk management, and often do not use scientific or mathematical evidence and data to calculate the level of risk that they are engaging in.

It would therefore seem that in place of scientific and mathematical data, a decision made, even though risky is not considered as a gamble, but rather as socially acceptable. A prime example is the way in which insurance companies work and perform their functions.

A good example has to do with the insurance of the Twin Towers (New York). The ‘powers that be’ determined that it was virtually impossible for both towers to be damaged or destroyed at the same time. Using this model of thought, they found it reasonable to insure only one of the towers as it would be ultimately less expensive but still allow them to be insured from risk. Pre 911, anyone would have considered this to be normal behavior on the part of the insurers. The fact however, that it did happen that both towers were destroyed at the same time brings into sharp focus the decisions that were made in regards to insuring the towers from risk. This therefore can be viewed (and rightly so) as a gamble that failed to materialize.

Behaviorists have also had their say in the issue of gambling, and are often aligned to this very school of thought. Their belief is that gambling is a neurotic personality expression and a form of maladaptive behavior, and is a result of deep seated issues in the gamblers psyche. Their recommendation for problem gamblers is a psychological analysis and therapy, and preferably; Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

There is no doubt that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been extremely successful in helping people considered to have antisocial behavioral problems. The main focus if CBT is to induce new and more socially acceptable adaptive behavior. This kind of therapy has also been seen to be very effective in helping problem gamblers deal with their addiction.

The problem with this CBT however; is that it addresses problem gamblers behavior, but does not shed any new light on the issue of gambling in itself. It still does not explain whether gambling is maladaptive in itself, or that it is so for only a small group of people who lack impulse control among other things.

Biological psychologists also weigh in on the debate, many proposing medical treatment such as the use of anti-depressants to suppress the impulse of problem gambling. Some of the medication that has been prescribed in this case includes Prozac. The main focus here is to manage the levels of serotonin in the brain, which has been seen to have a direct impact to antisocial behavior.

Psychoanalysts (with the most famous being Dr. Freud) also have something to say about gambling, and specifically problem gamblers. Most in this field of psychology agree that problem gamblers have an internal need to punish themselves for their ‘sins’, whether real or imagined, and do so by losing. According to this specific view, such gamblers get some sort of satisfaction in losing as they see it a form of punishment for their unsettled conflicts often in their subliminal minds. This also includes undertaking in self destructive behavior as a way to punish themselves for mistakes that they made in the past that either no one knows about or that they went unpunished for. This is a controversial argument to say the least, and has often been discredited by others in the field of psychology. Psychoanalysts can however not be entirely dismissed.

Second School Of Thought

The second school of thought perceives gambling as normal, and as a form of typical adaptive human behavior. This view also sees gambling as having an instinctive and rational basis. This school of thought sees gambling as simply a leisure activity. This is how most gamblers view their activities, and this includes problem gamblers. Leisure is an important part of everyday life, and brings a balance and a sense of well being. In this case, gambling is simply an extension of normal behavior, where the gamblers seek some form of leisure and self gratification.

Experts in the field agree that the risk in gambling is what makes it so exciting in the first place. Rather than completely avoid gambling, it should be embraced as a form of leisure, but as with any other potentially addictive pastime, should be kept under control.

This view also further argues that in a world devoid of risk such as in gambling, the society would turn into a dogmatic, stagnant and totalitarian society. Some also point out that that is the risk takers of the past that have allowed to the world to progress, some even gambling with their own lives. Risk taking therefore can be seen as serving an evolutionary purpose in bringing the human race forward in terms of technology and other forms of development.

Most gamblers have also been seen to gamble even when the odds are stacked against them. This is an attempt to recover money that they have lost, and can therefore be seen as trying to win rather than seeking some perverse satisfaction in losing. One of the biggest rules of gambling is to know when to quit, and to avoid chasing your losses at all cost.

Gambling in this school of thought is seen as a normal, pleasure seeking endeavor. Although it costs money other leisure activities such as going on holiday or going to a movie or restaurant can be equally expensive. The old view that casinos were simply there to swindle gamblers of their money is no longer held today. There are strict regulations governing gambling as a whole to ensure that the gambler is well protected. People are now more aware than ever of gambling, and any casino that seeks to use underhand methods to get money will soon be put out of business once the word spreads around.

Rather than viewing gambling as destructive behavior, it would seem that there are a small number of individuals that are unable to control their gambling. It would also seem that gambling in itself is not antisocial, but rather it is the effects of it to certain people that is. Most people are able to control their gambling and thoroughly enjoy the activity. Gambling can also be compared to alcohol as a form of self gratification. Most people are able to drink alcohol strictly for leisure, and do not interfere with their everyday life. On the other hand however, there is a small group of people that falls into addiction and becomes a big problem in their life.

Rather than place all gamblers in one proverbial basket, it is more important to look at individual behaviors and motivations that leads to problem gambling. These are the issues that need to be addressed, as contrary to popular belief, most gamblers are able to keep control of their gambling, and function normally in society.

By looking at both schools of thought, one can be able to clearly see the issue of gambling from an informed perspective. Gambling has long been a part of human development, and can be traced back thousands of years. It is also clear that this is a pass time that is not likely to lose its appeal any time soon.