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Casino Rats

January 25, 2016

Studying how rats respond to the same cues that encourage people to make unwise bets could lead to better treatments for problem gambling.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Casino rats. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

One reason gamblers keep coming back for more is that they’ve learned to associate the potential rewards with the bright lights and sounds of casinos. These cues also encourage risk-taking behavior in rats, according to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience. University of British Columbia researcher Catharine Winstanley and her team had the rodents complete a gambling-like task with food rewards.

CATHARINE WINSTANLEY (University of British Columbia):

Rather than playing it safe when the cues were present, the animals really increased, dramatically, their choice of risky options.

HIRSHON:

But she says when given a drug that blocks the brain’s dopamine 3 receptor, they stopped responding to the lights and sounds with increasingly poor choices. Since humans respond to similar cues, the researchers think the receptor could be a good target for treating gambling addictions. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

by Susanne Bard

Video Credit: University of British Columbia