Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Gambling

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Do extrinsic and intrinsic motivations to gamble facilitate well-being?

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Old fashioned Tiddly-winks: Photograph by: Cyrille BERNIZET

It is conceivable that readers of this Chapter would know someone who is tormented by the negative effects of gambling, such as depression; some may know of breakdowns in relationships (including marriage) as a consequence of gambling. Others might tell of a decline in a person's general health and well- being due to a pre-occupation with gambling. These are often the intangible costs to society that tend to be swept under the carpet.

Risk taking is a part of day to day life. In humans this risk taking, or sensation seeking activity can manifest through gambling. By avoiding possible pitfalls, this form of risk taking can, in a seemingly ironic twist, help to satisfy physiological and psychological needs, depending on the motivation for the behaviour. There are a variety of instruments available to health care professionals which can help to predict the type of individuals who may be prone to dysfunctional gambling activity. For example, the Iowa gambling task (Bechara, Damasio, Damasio & Anderson, 1994) measures emotional, or lack of emotional, response during a task (said to mimic real life), or the South Oaks Gambling Screen (Lesuire & Blume, 1987), a 20 item questionnaire that can help to determine if an individual has a gambling problem - this screen can be self administered and is available here South Oaks Gambling Screen While those instruments help to define the type of person who may develop a gambling problem, or determine whether an individual has a gambling problem, neither explain why a person becomes involved in that form of risk taking activity in the first place. The purpose of this Chapter, then, is to introduce readers to the concepts of Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation and how they apply to gambling activities.

Perhaps in a display of Australian humour, there is an established joke that a capacity crowd of 90,000 people would attend the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch (and bet on) the grand-final of a Tiddly-winks competition! Most Australians of course know this to be untrue - at least half of that number would flock to the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch (and bet on) the final of the C.W.A. Crochet competition if that was scheduled on the same day!

A bit tongue in cheek, perhaps, but what this suggests is that people will gamble on the outcome of practically any event that pits one element against another element (Holtgraves, 2009). There is ample evidence to support this. Typically people who gamble tend to adhere to a particular type of gambling activity (Nower, Derevensky & Gupta, 2004) but they may engage in one or more of the following popular forms of gambling:

  • Electronic Gaming Machines (slot machines)
  • Lotteries/Scratchies (various types e.g. State or National lotteries)
  • Horse racing
  • Casino gambling (e.g. Craps, Black-jack)
  • Bingo
  • Sports betting (various)
  • Trading Online

The emergence of online bookmaking agencies, for example, Centrebet, Betstar (to name only two), enable people to wager on domestic and international sporting events, on the outcome of elections, or even on the date of birth for the first child of Prince William and Duchess Catherine. Some of those wagers can only be described as novel and they would fall in a category of low risk. Other forms of gambling however occupy a category of high risk, and have the potential to constitute problem gambling.

Extrinsic Motivation, Intrinsic Motivation and What's the Difference?

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Extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation are encapsulated in the Theory of Self -Determination (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

Extrinsic motivation can be defined simply as "an environmentally created reason (i.e. to get money or to end criticism) to initiate or persist in an action" (Reeve, 2009, p. 113.) Ryan and Deci (2000) state that extrinsic motivation "is a construct that pertains whenever an activity is done in order to attain some separable outcome" (p. 60). Extrinsically motivated people are principally acting on the basis that 'if I do this I will get that'; in other words they act out of a desire for some form of reward . The reward could be anything; for example it may be a prize, it might be financial; the reward could be avoidance of an adverse consequence. This suggests, perhaps, a sense of immediacy in their actions. At best, a sense of hedonic well-being may be achieved.

Ryan and Deci (2000) define Intrinsic motivation as "the doing of an activity for its inherent satisfactions rather than for some separable consequence" (p. 56). Reeve, (2009) notes that intrinsic motivation is "a natural motivation that emerges spontaneously out of peoples psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness" (p. 112). When people are intrinsically motivated, then, they can be said to be engaging in an activity out of interest or purely for the fun of doing so, and importantly, because they choose to. Intrinsically motivated individuals can achieve a sense of eudaimonic and hedonic well-being.

The distinction between these two types of motivation is not quite as clear cut as one first surmises. Clearly intrinsic motivation emanates from simply enjoying the engagement with a task. Extrinsic motivation clearly emanates from incentive and consequence (Reeve, 2009). For example an intrinsically motivated individual may see a reward as recognition of his or her competence at a particular task. An extrinsically motivated student may do his or her homework to avoid punishment (External regulation). On the other hand the same student might attend to their homework without pressure, not to avoid punishment, nor because of interest, but because they quietly believe it will benefit them in the future. In the later scenario the student appears to be demonstrating competence - the reality is that despite the apparent autonomy, the student still is demonstrating the 'if I do this, I'll get that' notion found in extrinsic motivation. Further, in the later scenario, the individual is possibly floating between the Identification and Integration sub-types of extrinsic motivation which is drawing the individual closer to intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation, Intrinsic Motivation and Gambling

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Recreational Gambling

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Most people who gamble are recreational gamblers. Recreational gambling typically occurs with friends or colleagues and lasts for a limited period of time, with predetermined acceptable losses (APA, 2008, p. 673). Recreational gambling can be associated with both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. For example, a person may participate in workplace sweepstakes for the Melbourne Cup horse race purely because work colleagues are doing so. In that scenario the individual is engaging in the activity to be part of the crowd, in other words the individual is likely to rate highly on

Melbourne Cup, 1881

the need for affiliation or even assimilation (Tiedens & Jimenez, 2003, p.1049). Conversely, an intrinsically motivated individual is more likely to choose which sweepstakes they want to be involved with, are likely to derive more pleasure from discussing the horse(s) they have drawn (and the chances of success) with colleagues they are friendly with, rather than satisfying some compulsion to impress people - as the extrinsically motivated person is prone to do.

Recreational gamblers do not, generally speaking, engage in the gambling activity with the same level of frequency as pathological gamblers. For that reason, recreational gamblers are less likely to acquire the level of delusional thinking found in problem gamblers - they do not have the win/loss history or experience to reflect upon. Recreational gamblers gamble as a matter of choice, a property of intrinsic motivation. Recreational gambling therefore appears more about having fun with friends rather than, necessarily, the pursuit of financial gain. This activity provides the individual with the opportunity to satisfy the psychological needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. The key to achieving this is through an awareness of one's social identity (incorporating self determination theory) (Amiot & Sansfaçon, 2011) and common sense.

Intrinsically motivated people may be achievement or results oriented and, depending on the circumstances, say going to the race track and placing a bet on the Melbourne Cup, the aim is to have fun and to engage in intimate relationships i.e. shared experience with close friends. The goal then is more achievable as the individuals have a greater measure of control over the outcome, whereas, were the goal set to achieving financial benefit, chance plays a major part and the individuals lose the element of control over the situation and, hence, the outcome. As far as this aspect of their lives is concerned, successfully satisfying the psychological needs mentioned (autonomy, competence and relatedness) places the individual on the path to achieving hedonic and eudaimonic well-being (Ryan & Deci, 2001).

Pathological Gambling

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Pathological gambling is associated more with extrinsic motivation. The urge to gamble typically stems from external triggers such as the person's gambling experiences and memories of wins and losses; cultural factors may also act as cues (Raylu & Oie, 2004). Of particular interest, people have reported that the desire to win money is not the paramount reason for gambling, rather that it is the excitement of the venue, or the 'rush' they receive following certain outcomes (Wolfert, Franco, Williams, Roland & Maxson, 2008). Despite that, money and the fixation with the acquisition of money, are strongly associated with pathological gambling and is a source of concern. Pathological gambling has created significant debate in Australia, partly due to the prevalence of the activity. Australia has a prevalence rate for pathological gambling reported to be as high as 7% of the population – this includes those under the legal age for gambling, presently 18 years old. Globally, prevalence is reported as being 0.4% to 3.4%. Reports for adolescents and college students (not Australia specific) suggest a range between 2.8% to 8% (APA, 2008, p. 673).

"Should I, or shouldn't I?" Girl's Portrait by Erzsébet Korb, c. 1925

The APA (2008) reports that ‘pathological gambling begins in early adolescence for males and later in life for females’ (p. 673). A study by Desai, Maciejewski, Pantalon, and Potenza (2006) reported that, in the USA, approximately two thirds of adults had gambled in the year preceding the study, but that approximately only 5% of the population were considered to be problem gamblers. To some extent this was due to increased availability of gambling. Research on differences between the genders for pathological gambling is equivocal. Ladd and Petry (2002) reported that '[...] relatively little is known about gender differences' (p. 302).

Improved access to gambling has encouraged changes in gambling patterns by the genders, and while men still appear to gamble more than women, the gap between the two is decreasing. The researchers also noted that studies on gambling "have included predominantly or exclusively men as participants, leading to a deficiency in our knowledge about gambling behaviors in women and the health impacts of all types of gambling, including recreational gambling, among women" (p.145). Potenza, Steinberg, McLaughlin, Wu, Rounsaville and O'Malley (2001) concluded that women succumb to pathological gambling faster than men and that they engage in the activity for different reasons than men (notably escapism). Further, women are more likely to gamble on EGM than other types of gambling, except Bingo (p. 1550).

In both male and female problem gambling, individuals tend to gamble alone (for example playing poker machines); male gamblers are more likely to gamble with others in strategic games, for example poker, than females (Potenza et al. 2001). When they do engage in gambling activity with others, pathological gamblers tend to display a need to pursue the activity beyond the level acceptable or agreed to by those others. Also, involving other people in their gambling activity is likely to stem from a desire to ensure inclusion with, and a need to avoid rejection of, the others in the group. In that respect the pathological gambler comes across as being overly needy, pushy or even intrusive. When gambling alone, pathological gamblers succumb to delusional, grandiose thoughts and believe that money will solve any problems they are experiencing - hence the need to increase the frequency of gambling and the level of each wager (Ledgerwood & Petry, 2010). Pathological gamblers are prone to be less physically healthy than recreational gamblers and depression is relatively common - leading to poor mental health functioning and suicide ideation (Potenza et al. 2001). Attempts at diagnosing pathological gambling under laboratory conditions have not been entirely fruitful. However in those males vulnerable to pathological gambling, physiological abnormalities (in neurotransmitter systems such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine systems) have been reported (APA, 2008, p. 672).

The indicators of pathological gambling ascribed by the American Psychiatric Association are shown below.

Gambling in older adults

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According to research by Desai, Desai and Potenza (2007) there are grounds to believe that recreational gambling has positive effects on the health and well-being of older people. Older adults demonstrated better 'physical and mental functioning' but on the down side, obesity was cited as a problem among some of the participants. While the results from Desai, et al. (2007) reflect outcomes in the USA, similar results can be expected in Australia. Indeed, Australian studies, when they occur, could show even better outcomes as Australia has an aging population which may have better access to superannuation or pensions, and possibly access to better health facilities via Medicare. A social dynamic exists in the types of gambling engaged in by older people - notably during Bingo (Desai et al. 2007) - which may suggest an intrinsic motivation towards gambling. This is a relatively new area of research. Limited research suggests that potential exists for older gamblers to become pathological gamblers (Nower & Blaszczynski, 2008), however further research in the area is required to fully establish the veracity of this.

Gambling in adolescents

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A Canadian study (Hardoon, Gupta, & Derevensky, 2004) reported that, from a sample consisting of 2,336 adolescents (981 males and 1,326 females; 29 did not report their gender) in Grades 7 through 13 (age range:12–19; M = 14.76, SD = 1.91), 4.9% met the criteria for pathological gambling. The study also found that 8% of participants belonged in a category (the researchers) referred to as probable pathological gamblers (p. 170). Several important messages arise from that study; firstly, the adolescent's introduction to gambling was with family members (reporting that '25% - 40% of the parents of pathological gamblers were pathological gamblers themselves'); secondly, 6% - 10% of the participants met the criteria for alcohol/ chemical substance abuse (though there was a large number of casual 'users'); thirdly, there was some evidence to support a history of anti-social and/or deviant behaviour among the pathological gambling cohort. Obviously, these are areas where intervention and prevention is urgently required. In a report to the Department of Family and Community Services by the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies at Flinders University (2003), the researchers found that in samples from adolescents in Years 10, 11 and 12 (757 participants) and university students (250 participants) in an age range between 14 - 25 years old, 3% met the criteria for pathological gambling. This was not a study, per se, of gambling behaviour, but the report highlighted similar concerns as those expressed in Hardoon et. al (2004).

As humans we embrace risk (i.e. we accept risk and thrill seeking to one extent or another, as opposed to the more aversive phenomenon of risk taking (Reeve, 2009, pp. 380). This appears to hold true for gambling activity.

Given the nature of recreational gambling minimal risk is associated with this activity, except for the loss of a, usually pre-determined, amount of money. That does not mean that there is zero risk however. If recreational gamblers are indeed intrinsically motivated, the possibility exists for them to be overly optimistic regarding the likelihood of successful outcomes when engaging in risky behaviour. For example a recreational gambler may, on occasion, 'chase' his or her losses but this will not happen to the degree seen in pathological gambling. According to Dislich, Zinkernagel, Ortner & Schmitt (2010), human attitudes towards risky behaviour are based on 'expectations about the consequences of risk taking and the value we place on those consequences' (p.20). Atkinson's Theory of Achievement Motivation (1964) is predicated on approach behaviour versus avoidance behaviour i.e. probability of success versus fear of failure. This is important as people may not take risks and therefore may miss opportunities, for example in relationship building.

Regarding pathological gambling, the difficulty in discussing risk, apart from those risks mentioned earlier, is that there appears to be underlying issues that manifest in the act of gambling. The major risk is that where those possible issues are un-recognised, and hence un-resolved, the individual cannot escape either of the dysfunctional conditions. Substance abuse (including alcohol abuse) is often co-morbid with pathological gambling in both adults and adolescents for instance (Hardoon et. al 2004). Of particular concern for the pathological gambling cohort is un-recognised depression and potential for suicide (Cronce & Corbin, 2010). Further, pathological gamblers are more likely to perceive an external locus of control as the root cause for their problems and will not cope well in risky situations (Reeve, 2009, p.384).

Pitfalls, and the treatment of pathological gambling.

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Diagnostic criteria for 312.31 Pathological Gambling

A. Persistent and recurrent maladaptive gambling behaviour as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Is preoccupied with gambling (e.g. preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, handicapping or planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)
  2. Needs to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement
  3. Has repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling
  4. Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
  5. Gambles as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g. feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)
  6. After losing money gambling, often returns another day to get even (“chasing one’s losses)
  7. Lies to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling
  8. Has committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance gambling
  9. Has jeopardised or lost a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling
  10. Relies on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling

B. The gambling behaviour is not better accounted for by a Manic Episode. (APA, 2008, p. 674).

Identifying the pitfalls associated with gambling activity can be something of a hit and miss affair without access to psychometric instruments, e.g. the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It is not a simple matter of assuming that a person who gambles alone

The Gambler by Vasiliy Pukirev, 1865

is a pathological gambler or that the individual has some other psychological condition. Indeed the reverse may be true; engagement in isolated activities may be an indicator that an individual is secure in their relationships and is comfortable within the self (Chua & Koestner, 2008). Older people may have access to greater funds and might appear to gamble a lot, but again this is not, necessarily, an indication of problem gambling. Common sense would dictate that over indulging in either alcohol or other substances should be avoided when gambling, (Potenza, et al. 2001), or perhaps more importantly, prior to gambling!

In a somewhat related study on Internet gaming, Han, Hwang and Renshaw (2010) found that the sustained release of Bupropion, over a six weeks period, reduced cravings for video game play and cue induced brain activity in Internet video game addicted individuals. Given the similarities between Internet gaming and EGM there may be some scope for the pharmacological treatment of pathological gambling.

Successful treatment for pathological gambling is possible but the individual must acknowledge that assistance is necessary. Psychologists can introduce Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and group therapy is available through organisations such as Gamblers Anonymous. Helplines of the type discussed in Potenza et al. (2001) are also available in Australia. As a first step however, individuals who recognise in themselves some elements of the diagnostic criteria above, could, perhaps, re-assess their attitudes towards personal gambling activities.


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Gambling is a favourite past-time for many people. For some people however gambling represents a problem they have difficulty controlling. Those in that unfortunate situation are generally extrinsically motivated and, while they may consider they are enjoying themselves are unlikely to perform well in their day to day lives, and are more likely to experience depression and ill health than others. Thankfully, these people can receive help, and assistance is available from the resources linked below. Generally speaking, most men and women have achieved an elevated level of self-identity and self-determination. When they do gamble, they are intrinsically motivated, they do so for fun and for the enjoyment of spending time in good company and in sociable environments. This facilitates good health, happiness and well-being.

And the answer to the question on everyone's lips.... play BINGO!!

What have we learned?

1 Risk taking is part of every day life for humans.


2 Extrinsically motivated people do not seek/expect rewards.


3 The gap in the prevalence of gambling between males and females is shrinking .


4 Intrinsic motivation does not facilitate well-being.


See also

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American Psychiatric Association (2008). Pathological Gambling, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (4th ed., Text Revision). Arlington, Va: APA Publishing.

Amiot, C. E., & Sansfaçon, S. (2011). Motivations to identify with social groups: A look at their positive and negative consequences. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, 15, 2, 105-127.

Atkinson, J. W. (1964). An introduction to motivation. Princeton, NJ: Van Norstrand.

Bechara, A., Damasio, A. R., Damasio, H., & Anderson, S. W. (1994). Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex. Cognition, 50, 7-15.

Chua, S. N., & Koestner, R. (2008). A self-determination theory perspective on the role of autonomy in solitary behavior. The Journal of Social Psychology, 148, 5, 645-647.

Cronce, J. M., & Corbin, W. R. (2010). Effects of alcohol and initial gambling outcomes on within-session gambling behaviour. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 18, 2, 145-157.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determinaton in human behaviour. New York, NY: Plenum. Cited in Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67.

Desai, R. A., Desai, M. M., & Potenza, M. N. (2007). Gambling, health, and age: Data from the national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. Psychology of Addictive Behaviours, 21, 4, 431-440.

Desai, R. A., Maciejewski, P. K., Pantalon, M. V., & Potenza, M. N. (2006). Gender differences among recreational gamblers: Association with the frequency of Alcohol use. Psychology of Addictive Behaviours, 20, 2, 145-153.

Dislich, F. X. R., Zinkernagel, A., Ortner, T. M., & Schmitt, M. (2010). Convergence of direct, indirect, and objective risk-taking measures in gambling: The moderating role of impulsiveness and self control. Zeitschrift für Psychologie/ Journal of Psychology, 218, 1, 20-27.

Han, D. H., Hwang, J. W., & Renshaw, P. F. (2010). Bupropion sustained release treatment decreases craving for video games and cue-induced brain activity in patients with internet video game addiction. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 18, 4, 297-304.

Hardoon, K. K., Gupta, R., & Derevensky, J. L. (2004). Psychosocial variables associated with adolescent ganbling. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 2, 170-179.

Holtgraves, T. (2009). Gambling, gambling activities, and problem gambling. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23, 2, 295-302.

Ladd, G. T., & Petry, N. M. (2002). Gender differences among pathological gamblers seeking treatment. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 10, 3, 302-309.

Ledgerwood, D. M., & Petry, N. M. (2010). Subtyping pathological gamblers based on impulsivity, depression and anxiety. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24, 4, 680-688.

Lesieur, H. R., & Blume, S. B. (1987). The South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS): A new instrument for the identification of pathological gamblers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 9, 1184-1188.

Nower, L., & Blaszczynski, A. (2008). Characteristics of problem gamblers 56 years of age or older: A statewide study of Casino self-excluders. Psychology and Aging, 23, 3, 577-584.

Nower, L., Derevensky, J. L. &, Gupta, R. (2004). The relationship of impulsivity, sensation seeking, coping, and substance use in youth gamblers.Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 1, 49-55.

Potenza, M. N., Steinberg, M. A., McLaughlin, S. D., Wu, R., Rounsaville, B. J., & O'Malley, S. S. (2001). Gender-related differences in the characteristics of problem gamblers using a gambling helpline. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 9, 1500-1505.

Raylu, N., & Oei, T. P. S. (2004). The gambling urge scale: Development, confirmatory factor validation, and psychometric properties. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 18, 2, 100-105.

Reeve, J. (2009). Understanding motivation and emotion (5th ed.). Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 141-166.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67.

South Australian Centre for Economic studies (2003). Measurement of prevalence of youth problem gambling in Australia: Report on review of literature. Retrieved from:

Tiedens, L. Z., & Jimenez, M. C. (2003). Assimilation for affiliation and contrast for control: Complimentary self-construals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 6, 1049-1061.

Wulfert, E., Franco, C., Williams, K., Roland, B., & Maxson, J. H. (2008). The role of money in the excitement of gambling. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22, 3, 380-390.

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