The Psychology of Gambling – Understanding Your Mindset

The Psychology of Gambling – Understanding Your Mindset

September 27, 2023 0 By Buster Iles

People gamble for a variety of reasons. The majority of healthy players enjoy the entertainment and adrenaline rush that comes with betting on games like real money slots. Some even play to win a jackpot!

However, some people struggle with problem gambling. This article will explore the psychology behind the irrational thought processes that often lead to gambling addiction.


One of the biggest factors in gambling behavior is motivation. People can be motivated to gamble for a variety of reasons, including social interaction, entertainment, and escape from everyday life. However, gambling can be a dangerous activity if it isn’t done responsibly. In addition, it can cause a number of cognitive biases that can lead to irrational decisions. These include the gambler’s fallacy, whereby players believe that past outcomes influence future ones.

To examine these issues, a focus group study was conducted with undergraduates who met 2+ criteria on the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS). The researchers examined participants’ motivational orientations and gambling motives using self-determination theory (SDT). They found that autonomy was associated with less problem gambling through chasing and interest motives, while controlled and impersonal orientations were associated with more problems through escaping and avoiding motives.


Taking risks can be fun and exciting. However, if your risk-taking behavior becomes problematic, it can lead to severe financial losses and psychological distress. It can also affect your relationships and family life. Gambling disorder is a serious condition that requires treatment. Compulsive gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system and can cause impulsive behavior, including spending more than you have or running up debt. It can also lead to secretive and illegal activities, like stealing, to support your addiction.

People who engage in a lot of risky behavior are prone to gambling, especially teenagers. Studies show that the part of the brain that controls impulsivity and decision-making matures later in teenagers. This may explain why they tend to take more risks than older adults.

Illusion of control

One of the psychological ploys that the gambling industry uses to manipulate gamblers is the illusion of control. The illusion of control is the tendency to believe that you can influence uncontrollable events, like chance outcomes. It is believed to contribute to superstitions, gambling behavior and beliefs in the paranormal. It also explains why people keep lucky talismans and engage in rituals like prayer.

The illusion of control was named by Ellen Langer and is a cognitive bias that can affect people’s decision-making. It is believed to be caused by a confusion of skill and chance. Familiarity with a situation may also contribute to the illusion of control, as individuals assume that their expertise translates into greater control over outcomes. Another factor is the human tendency to search for patterns and causal relationships in order to make sense of a situation.

Cognitive biases

Cognitive biases are flaws or distortions in judgment and decision-making. These biases can affect your gambling behavior, causing you to gamble more than you should or to make irrational decisions about your finances. This is because of the illusion of control and other psychological factors.

For the study, participants complete a baseline assessment session with automated personalised feedback on their reported gambling motives and beliefs, followed by six training sessions. The training session consists of practice blocks with neutral stimuli and two repetitions of an experimental task. Participants must push pictures tilted to the left away and pull pictures tilted to the right closer.

The experiment aims to change the approach bias of participants by modifying their memory representations of monetary rewards and the perceived value of gambling cues. It also tests whether a mediating effect of cognitive biases and heuristics on GPG and psychological distress is established.


As gambling becomes more accepted and accessible, experts say it’s important to understand the psychological factors that can lead to a problem. They’re looking for ways to better treat and prevent addiction to gambling.

One reason why gambling is so addictive is that the uncertainty of a possible reward triggers the release of dopamine, which also occurs when people eat, take drugs, or have sex. In addition, many individuals who suffer from gambling disorder have other mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression, or impulsive personality traits.

This can lead to a series of problems such as financial hardship, relationship breakdown, unemployment, and even criminal acts. It’s also common for those with a gambling disorder to experience co-occurring substance use disorders. These require a different treatment protocol.