Cambridge finds that Overactive Insula leads to Problem Gambling

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If you ever bet a little too much money in the casino, here’s the perfect excuse that you can tell your significant other: I’ve got an overactive insula.

Cambridge University researchers recently did a study that shows an overactive insula region of the brain may increase problem gambling. Their study involved several groups of people – those with healthy functioning brains and others with various brain injuries.

The groups were then asked to play online roulette and slots to see if there was some separating distinction in regard to gambling addiction. The slots game provided near wins and misses, while the roulette game required players to pick between red and black. What they discovered is that everybody, minus the group with damaged insulas, were more likely to chase losses after just missing a slots win.

In roulette, these groups were also susceptible to the “gambler’s fallacy,” where one fails to understand that each casino game result is independent of the last. A good example would be thinking that black is due to win because red has won 5 straight times. Dr. Luke Clark explains this phenomenon by saying that people sometimes have cognitive distortions, where they equate patterns or near misses to improved chances of winning in the future.

In the end, Cambridge researchers conclude that all groups, except for those with damaged insuals, fell victim to the gambler’s fallacy and chasing near misses. This led Clark and his team to assume that an overactive insula is what causes problem gambling.

While there is no doubt a lot more research needed on the subject of gambling addiction, this Cambridge study has definitely provided a big piece to the puzzle. And perhaps this breakthrough will help lead to a medical treatment for problem gamblers, assuming this is possible.

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