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Winning and the Mind

A group of researchers at the Cambridge Health Alliance Division on Addiction recently published a study of how winning at gambling fosters irrational beliefs that can lead people to continue gambling to the point that some may develop gambling problems. The study, part of the group’s month-long Special Series on Addiction Myths and Misinformation, focused on 14 adults who reported they never gambled, in a simulated slot machine experience. Reactions to early big wins (first 30 spins) and late big wins (30 to 60 spins) were recorded, and the researchers noted “cognitive distortions” in their reactions, including anthropomorphism (thanking God or another deity), the “gambler’s fallacy” (the notion that a win was “due”), the illusion that they were controlling the outcome, the “near-miss effect” (a result one symbol off of a win) and other reactions. The most common reactions were the gambler’s fallacy, the illusion of control, and the near-miss effect.

Cognitive Distortions Experienced by Each Big Win Group