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Slot Machine Gamblers Get Hooked in Trance-Like State

Slot machine

Las Vegas, Nevada (A. Kotok)

21 February 2017. Findings from a recent study show gamblers who get immersed in playing slot machines are more at risk to develop gambling problems as a result. A team from University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada report their results in the 2 February issue of the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors (paid subscription required). The findings will also be presented at the New Horizons in Responsible Gambling conference in Vancouver, now underway.

Researchers from the university’s Centre for Gambling Research sought to test an hypothesis that some slot machine players become so immersed in their games they lose track of other events and activities going on. Most reports of this trance-like state, however, were previously revealed in subjective inquiries after playing on the machines. The team led by Centre for Gambling Research director Luke Clark aimed to discover if this state occurs while individuals actually play the slots.

Clark and colleagues asked two groups of participants in the study — undergraduates who had not played slot machines before, and experienced slots players — to play machines in the lab for 30 minutes. The machines were fitted with panels on each side with moving shapes. Participants were asked while they played to press a special button on the machine when they found a white circle on the panels change into a red square.  Researchers also measured participants’ heart rates with electrocardiograms while playing.

The ability to notice the shapes of objects on the panels off to the side of the machines served as a measure of immersion in the games. The team also queried participants after the gaming sessions on measures of problem gambling risks, and if they recall being immersed in state like a trance while playing.

The researchers found participants who self-report more immersion in their games also score higher on risks for developing gambling problems. In addition, experienced slot machine players who become more immersed in their games — those who missed the changing shapes off to the side — are likewise at more risk of developing gambling problems.

These results, say the researchers, support the idea of a “gambling zone” that grabs the attention of some slot machine players. “This confirms there is indeed a link between gambling addiction and the so-called slot machine zone,” says Clark in a university statement. “When the experienced slot machine gamblers played, we found they not only felt that they lost track of time and their surroundings, but they often failed to notice the shapes on the periphery of the machine.”

The team now wants to discover which aspects of slot machines are the most engrossing, to offer design changes in the machines. “There is potential for slot machines to be designed in a way that promotes more responsible use by disrupting the slot machine zone state,” notes Clark. “Since static signs and stickers on slot machines are unlikely to distract immersed players, the messages should be eye-catching and as close as possible to the slots’ reels.”

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