The Psychology of Gambling


Though many participate in gambling as a form of recreation or even as a means to gain an income, gambling, like any behavior which involves variation in brain chemistry, can become a psychologically addictive and harmful behavior in some people. Reinforcement phenomena may also make gamblers persist in gambling even after repeated losses. Because of the negative connotations of the word "gambling", casinos and race tracks often use the euphemism "gaming" to describe the recreational gambling activities they offer.

The Russian writer Dostoevsky portrays in his novella The Gambler the psychological implications of gambling and how gambling can affect gamblers. He also associates gambling and the idea of "getting rich quick", suggesting that Russians may have a particular affinity for gambling. Dostoevsky shows the effect of betting money for the chance of gaining more in 19th-century Europe. The association between Russians and gambling has fed legends of the origins of Russian roulette.



Generally there are two socially accepted views on what gambling means to our psychological makeup. In one view, gambling is a form of deviant behavior which is akin to a disease or sickness and the other view is that gambling is an extension of our normal behavior and if used in moderation, is healthy and enjoyable.

Some people have suggested that gambling is abnormal or detrimental to ones self interest. Those who sponsor these ideas usually focus their concern on unconventional and bizarre modes of gambling, such as the nefarious criminal rings that use the revenue from gambling to support their illegal activities. These people often question, due to their predisposition, the practice of risking money on uncertainties, such as the regularly practiced trading on the stock market. These people do not seem to understand the concept of making speculations about the economy, and in taking calculated risks with investments. As to their definition of gambling, there is a difficulty in pinpointing what they consider it to be - Whether it is as conventionally defined, or, whether it is what they consider to be "unreasonable" risk taking. Their differentiation between what they consider to be reasonable and unreasonable often sits on the notions whether work is productive or not, whether forfeitures resulting from bad decisions can be regained, whether the decision making process is based on tangible and sound evidence, and whether investment practices are voluntary or are demanded by normal phenomenon.

Psychologists and behavioral scientists have some interesting ideas about the methods of clinically diagnosing gamblers. There are some who claim that gambling is an expression of a pathological and/or neurotic individual, which can only be treated by psychological reformation. This reformation includes an encouragement of the gambler to use introspection to look at their childhood, current fears and past hardships - sometimes accompanied by the use of prescribed drugs. There are some psychologists who believe that "Lady Luck" symbolically replaces a gamblers mother, and/or, represents the motherhood state in general. The reason why behavioral scientists say gamblers cannot quit while they are winning is because they desire to actually lose their money, so as to be punished for unresolved tensions and internal conflicts in their lives. In other words, on a deep psychological level, these "true" gamblers want to lose all their money so that they can reach a state of nothingness and despair - All initiated by a past action that the gambler has not resolved in the subconscious, resulting in an overwhelming sense of guilt.

When gambling is looked upon as a natural extension of a person's enjoyment, rather than a form of misguided behavior, motives for gambling are believed to be more instinctual and rational. In other words, in this light gambling can be looked upon as a leisure activity; and most psychologists agree that leisure is essential in living a well balanced life. The simple fact that gambling games are frivolous to a certain degree is precisely what makes them enjoyable to a gambler. The idea of betting money is tempting and exhilarating; however, this feeling is not exclusive to all gamblers. More often than not, after losing money on a poorly decided wager (as opposed to a pathological decision), a gambler will continue to keep betting in hopes of recouping their losses. Therefore, it is not a matter of wanting to lose. Gambling is also popular for the entertainment value it offers. Although online gamblers are not so much concerned with this aspect, many Vegas casino goers find this to be an essential atmosphere in their gambling ventures. Those who defend against governmental attacks on gambling state that the main reason gambling is associated with crime is because many governments use propaganda tactics to give gambling a criminal definition, rather than one befitting a simple, everyday activity proper for a normal life.

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