Study finds that gambling can physically alter the brain

A study published in the scientific journal Neruon has found that regular gambling can physically alter the structure of the brain, which can make people more prone to bouts of depression and anxiety.

A laptop and Stethoscope

Researchers hope the study could lead to new drugs or methods to treat problem gambling. © Pexels.

The study – conducted on 108 individuals with varying degrees of financial and economic risk aversion – used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to measure connections between different parts of the participants’ brains, along with measuring the sizes of the amygdala, when asked questions about scenarios involving gambling or making decisions based on risk assessment.

A key finding of the study has shown that gambling can affect how an individual understands and processes financial risk.

Participants were asked multiple questions revolving round financial decisions related to gambling, with the questions featuring different risk or reward levels.

The subjects were given over 120 different questions and scenarios, with the researchers aiming to assess each individuals aversion to risk by comparing the responses to the questions with brain activity and connectivity.

Speaking about the aim of the study, the leader of the study, professor Joseph Kable, said:

Perhaps we can get a better assessment for someone’s economic risk tolerance to provide the best advice possible for that particular individual. The idea of using these brain markers and pairing them with some questionnaire or other assessments may help determine a better, more well-rounded sense of your tolerance for risk.Joseph Kable, Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania

Throughout the programme, the researchers discovered that those participants who expressed a greater tolerance of risk had a larger amygdala and more grey matter in the brain, along with greater connections between areas in the brain linked to known mental conditions.

Speaking about the results of the study, Professor Kable said:

We assessed how willing individuals were of accepting the risk of getting nothing for the chance of getting a higher amount of money. The three measurements – structural and functional connections and the volume of amygdala grey matter – reinforce each other to suggest there is something important about the function of this system related to differences in how tolerant people are to taking risk. Just by looking at these features of your brain, we could have a reasonable idea if you are someone who will take lots of risk or not.Joseph Kable, Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania

There has long been a link between problem gambling and depression and the researchers hope that the results of the study could help lead to new treatments for problem gambling and gambling addiction, through the development of different drugs or psychological approaches.

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