Casinos everywhere are packed- with gamblers ranging from newly legal young adults to middle aged women out for a ladies’ night to senior citizens with eyes reflecting the lights of the penny slots. Amongst a sea of others. What could they possibly have in common? Dopamine (DA) receptors, of course! A recent study by Tremblay et al investigated the magnitude of effect DA has on reinforcing gambling tendencies.
When playing a slot machine, players’ tendencies lean towards a pattern of instrumental conditioning. In this way, when a trial returns a sizable payoff, participants are more likely to make a risky bet in the succeeding one. However, when haloperidol (a D2 antagonist) was applied, the correlation between payoff and bet declined. Tremblay cites a previous study (Pessiglione et al. 2006) in which haloperidol was associated with a loss of striatal activation in response to reward related versus non-reward-related stimuli. Redish et al. (2007) proposes that persistent betting involves reactivation of a learned expectancy, the reward, a behavior modulated by DA. It is interesting to note though, that participants in Pessiglione’s experiments reported enhanced pleasurable effects of the game under haloperidol, even while their tendency to bet large sums was decreased.
So, how will this information make you money? Well, directly, maybe it won’t. But the next time you make that fateful trip to Atlantic City, keep your dopamine in check.