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Near-Miss Gambling

May 26, 2010

For problem gamblers, near misses are almost as exciting as hitting the jackpot.


Gambling’s deceptive high…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you’ve ever gotten 5 out of 6 correct numbers in a lottery drawing, you probably felt pretty lucky, even though you didn’t hit the jackpot. Cambridge University psychologists Henry Chase and Luke Clark believe that for problem gamblers, near misses like that can be nearly as rewarding to the brain as a real win. Clark explains.

LUKE CLARK (University of Cambridge):
Technically, you haven’t won anything, and you’ve lost your wager. But gamblers often don’t treat them like that, they find that the near misses are very significant, very special events and they seem to encourage them to carry on playing.

He and Chase scanned the brains of volunteers while they were gambling. An area of the brain’s reward center responded more strongly to near-miss outcomes in problem gamblers than in people who gamble just for fun. The findings could help develop treatments for gambling addiction. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.