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Psychology offers new way of assessing who is at risk of gambling problems

01 May 2019

Problem gamblers assess chance differently from other people and that may make it possible to identify those at risk.

That was the finding being presented to our annual conference this week by Dr Mark Moss and Dom Gallon from Northumbria University.

The researchers believe a particular style of game could be developed and used by gambling operators to assess a gambler’s level of risk.

Past research has shown that most people do not have a wholly logical attitude towards risk in gambling. They prefer a certain gain to even a good chance of a larger gain, but are happy to accept that level of chance when trying to avoid a loss,

So people prefer a certain gain of £3000 to an 80 per cent chance of gaining £4000, but prefer an 80 per cent chance of losing £4000 to a certain loss of £3000. This finding is known in psychology as prospect theory.

Dr Moss, who is a chartered member of the BPS, and Dom Gallon recruited 120 people online and then ranked them using a measure designed to show how at risk they were of gambling problems. The middle 40 were discarded, leaving a high-risk and a low-risk group.

The two groups were presented with a number of different betting scenarios with differing levels of risk involved.

Both groups confirmed existing research by being unwilling to run much risk when faced with the prospect of a certain gain, but the picture on scenarios that avoided loss was different.

The members of the high-risk group were prepared to run much higher risks in an attempt to avoid losses. So their behaviour showed the imbalance suggested by prospect theory to an exaggerated extent.

Dr Moss said:

“Existing measures of whether people are at risk of gambling problems tend to make it obvious which answer will put you in that group, so people who wish to can defeat them.

We suggest a simple ‘what’s your style?’ game could be developed using our scenarios and deployed by gambling operators to give an indicator of a gambler’s at-risk status before money changes hands.

Because prospect theory has shown people are unable to identify where the risks are equal and choose the most logical option, it would be much harder to defeat the measure by hiding your attitude to gambling.”

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