Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Motivation/Gambling

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Motivation and gambling[edit source]

This page is part of the Motivation and emotion textbook. See also: Guidelines.
Completion status: this resource is considered to be complete.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Gambling chips

Gambling, the risking of something of financial value on uncertain outcomes, is a common activity in most cultures, and widely accepted in one form or another by these cultures. Gambling has recently been recognised as having the potential to lead to significant personal and societal harm. There are a range of behaviours associated with gambling however, and not all of these are harmful.

The motivation to gamble is not so easily identified. There are both intrinsically driven gamblers who cite a desire to have fun, be sociable or to exercise some sense of control and extrinsically motivated gamblers whose prime motivation is based on the act of gambling itself and the potential rewards. These externally motivated gamblers suffer from the traps of gambling, the intermittent positive reinforcement which creates a false motivation. This chapter will identify a different type of gambling motivation, emotional motivators. It has been well documented that emotions can act as a motivator, however the desire to suppress negative emotion is common in gamblers.

A series of focus questions will guide specific literature reviews to address key concerns such as which factors motivate people to gamble, whether intrinsic or extrinsic motivators are more important as motivators and what the role of reinforcement is in motivating people to gamble. Additional information relevant to electronic gambling and Australian gambling reform is also provided.

Glossary[edit | edit source]

Gambling[edit | edit source]

Gambling involves behaviours which wager something of value on the outcomes of events (Reber & Reber, 2001; Lam, 2007). This definition has traditionally taken into account daily decisions which can influence human outcomes and in this sense is considered an almost essential or unavoidable human behaviour. For example, gambling according to this broad definition could include any daily decision which could result in a reward or a loss, not necessarily financial. Such a definition is largely philosophical and is too broad to be used in a psychological sense. This chapter will focus on gambling behaviour as wagering of something of monetary value on the outcome of an event in an organised setting (e.g. Casino, Club, Pub, TAB).

This chapter will focus on gambling behaviour in an Australian setting where there are a wide variety of gambling services, legal frameworks are relatively relaxed, gambling is a socially acceptable activity, and the range of opportunities to gamble is large.

Motivation[edit | edit source]

Motivation is a combination of internal and external factors which initiate, direct and give strength to behaviour (Clarke, 2004). Intrinsic (internal) motivation is based on needs, cognitions and emotions (Reeve, 2009; Chantral, Vallerand and Vallieres, 1995); whereas extrinsic (external) motivation generally stems from the environment, and social and cultural factors (Reeve, 2009 p. 10).

The impact of motivation on behaviour highlights the importance of understanding several factors including what motivates certain behaviours, from where the motivations come, and how they can be manipulated. Motivators are factors which influence us to gamble, distinguish which types of gambling individuals choose to engage in and determine the amount they will play and bet.

Emotion[edit | edit source]

Defining emotion is quite a difficult task. There are a large number of deviations, imaginings and framings of this limited area and the result is a difficulty in finding an overarching statement (Kleinginna & Kleinginna, 1981). The review by Kleinginna and Kleinginna involved an attempt to come to a consensus. The authors reviewed 101 statements which could be understood as definitions of emotion. One of the major problems the article identifies is the inability of psychologists to agree on what constitutes emotional phenomena. The review resulted in 11 categories of motivational definition, one of which interestingly, highlights the importance of emotions as motivators. Of these definitions, 38 out of the 101 focused on, or mentioned, the motivational properties of emotions.

The research culminates in a working definition of emotion as a complex series of interrelationships among subjective and objective factors, which can (1) result in affective experiences such as arousal, pleasure and displeasure; (2) lead to cognitive processes such as perception, appraisal and labelling of emotional events, (3) result in physiological reactions to the arousing conditions and (4) create behavioural reactions that can be expressive, goal directed and adaptive (Kleinginna and Kleinginna, 1981).

This definition is valuable because of the holistic nature of its development and because it is representative of a large collection of research. It has some interesting implications for studies linking motivation and emotion, or claiming that emotions can be motivators, as this chapter does. The fourth section of the definition, relating to behavioural reactions is reflective of an understanding that emotional change can be the desired outcome of behaviour. Gambling can lead to positive emotion or can reduce negative emotions.

Gambling in Australia

Gambling in Australia is a widely accepted activity that cuts across social, cultural and economic barriers (Griffiths & Delfabbro, 2002). Such is the appeal and availability that it has been estimated that between 81% and 92% of Australian adults have gambled at some point in their lives (Griffiths & Delfabbro). An Australian Bureau of Statistics Report from 2005 noted 5,370 businesses involved in providing gambling services (ABS, 2005). Access to gambling services in Australia has increased in recent decades (Hing & Haw, 2009).

Types of Gambling available in Australia include:

  • Casino Gambling. Table Gambling – roulette, Card Gambling – poker
  • Sport Betting - Commonly in the form of Football, Horse and Dog Racing (The Melbourne Cup sees a large proportion of the Australian population participate in sports betting every year)
Horse racing
  • Betting Machines – Poker Machines, other variations e.g. rapid roulette
  • Scratchies - available from Newsagents, often considered more socially acceptable than most other forms of gambling
  • Club Keno – Generally only available in Clubs, Pubs and Casinos
  • Lotteries – Lottery tickets are also available from Newsagents, another very common form of Gambling
  • Online Gambling – takes many forms, will be explained in more detail below - Sports, Cards - most commonly Poker
  • Casual Gambling on outcomes of events with friends etc e.g. over a game of pool in a pub.

Focus Questions[edit | edit source]

What motivates people to gamble?[edit | edit source]

The Cardsharps, painting by Gerard van Honthorst (1590-1656), Museum Wiesbaden

This section overviews and discusses intrinsic and extrinsic motivations which influence gamblers.

Intrinsic Factors[edit | edit source]

Intrinsic factors are not conventionally thought of as motivators for risk taking or gambling behaviours, however on a list of the most important motivators to gamble, participants identified several intrinsic factors includomg sensation seeking, social recognition, personal accomplishment and learning something new (Clarke, Tse, Abbot, Townsend, Kingi & Manaia, 2007). These motivators identify Self Determination Theory as useful in explaining how gambling is intrinsically motivated (Chantral et al., 1995) . Self determination theory states that individuals need to be self motivated when interacting with the environment. This theoretical approach to gambling is expressed in a three way model of intrinsic motivation. The first factor represents those who are motivated by experience. These gamblers play for fun and excitement. The second factor, motivation to know, is exemplified by gamblers who desire to learn, explore and understand new things. Finally, the third factor involves the motivation to accomplish. Gambling to surpass previous best results illustrates this type of motivation.

Other intrinsic motivators include a distorted sense of control over the outcomes of uncertain events (Goodie, 2005; Lam, 2007). Based on cognitive theory and research, a study by Goodie (2005) used the South Oaks Gambling Screen and targeted tasks to assess frequent gamblers' sense of control and confidence. The results indicated that problem gamblers exhibit significantly greater confidence and a greater sense of control over the outcomes of gambling activities. This leads to a reduced perception of risk and a distorted perception of the likelihood of winning (Goodie, 2005; Joukhader, Blaszczynski & Maccallum, 2004; May, Whelan, Meyers & Steenbergh, 2005). Cognitive research studies appear to back up this link between gambling behaviour and sense of control and overconfidence (Lam, 2007). Lam reports that gamblers display a faulty sense of control over the outcomes of their gambling investments and feel as though the likelihood of winning is significantly greater than the reality of the situation.

Several other reports indicate that escape is a factor which motivates some people to gamble (Lee, Lee, Bernhard, & Yoon, 2006; Parke, Griffiths & Irwing, 2004; Wood & Griffiths, 2007). A study by Lee et al. (2006) found four factors in Korean gamblers, one of which was escape. The desire to escape from daily life, routines and life in general, suggests emotional dissatisfaction or need for emotional release. If an individual has gambled before and experienced the emotional escape they desire, they will learn a response based on negative reinforcement and this will lead to further motivation to gamble. Rockloff, Greer, Fay and Evans (2010) support this correlation in a study involving electronic gambling. They found that negative self reflection prompted increased gambling behaviour because of the increased desire for escape. It seems that some people use gambling as a means to escape negative emotion from work, interpersonal relationships, and emotion associated with drug abuse and mental illness (Rockloff et al.).

Extrinsic Factors[edit | edit source]

Extrinsic motivators are more traditionally associated with gambling because of the possibility for financial reward, and winning is still nominated as the primary motivation for people to gamble (Clarke, Tse, Abbot, Townsend, Kingi & Manaia, 2007). The irony of this desire for financial success is that gambling is a poor financial move and few gamblers are financially successful (Chantral et al., 1995). Lam (2007) summarises the monetary motivation to gamble, stating that it reflects the desire to ‘get rich quick’ and ‘get something for nothing’. The potential for monetary rewards appears to be the most highly reported motivation to gamble (Lam, 2007).

A five factor model (socialisation, amusement, excitement, avoidance and financial motives) for gambling motivation offers a holistic understanding of what motivates pathological gamblers (Lee, Chae, Lee & Kim, 2007). These motives were all identified by other studies. The model combines intrinsic and extrinsic factors and serves as a summary of the major factors which motivate individuals to gamble.

Are intrinsic or extrinsic motivators more important in influencing us to gamble?[edit | edit source]

Research suggests a mixing of both intrinsic and extrinsic forces combine to create the motivation to gamble (Clark et al., 2007; Thomas, Allen & Phillips, 2009).

Extrinsic motivators are reported to be more important to problem gamblers, that is, winning money (Thomas, Allen & Philips, 2009). Whereas the intrinsic motivators, socialising and having fun, are theorised to be the major motivators for non-problem gamblers (Thomas et al.).

A review of literature reveals many more intrinsic motivators than extrinsic, including social interaction, fun and excitement and a desire for personal accomplishment and achievement of a new skill (Clarke et al., 2007). Despite these research reports finding more intrinsic motivators, they do not indicate a greater influence for these factors.

Despite the assertion by many research participants that intrinsic factors are important motivators for them to gamble, early research into these areas challenges this. Deci (1972) suggests that once an individual is extrinsically motivated for something they find intrinsically motivating, the extrinsic motivator can become more important. Specifically, Deci states that money, which will be received at some stage during gambling, decreases intrinsic motivation. This claim could mean that despite being intrinsically driven to begin, extrinsic factors could be more important in motivating gambling behaviour.

What role does emotion play in motivating us to gamble?[edit | edit source]

Emotion can be a strong motivator for behaviour (Hills et al., 2001). The desire to achieve a positive emotional state, or to escape from negative emotions are both documented motivators for gambling. Lazarus (1991) reinforces this idea, stating that without some form of motivational context, emotions make little sense.

Emotions also act as the reward some people find in gambling. Hills et al. (2001) support the idea that emotions can motivate gambling. They propose depressive and excited emotional states as the reinforcers which maintain gambling behaviour. To explain further, some individuals gamble because they find positive emotional outcomes like happiness from gambling. Other individuals gamble because the dissociative state they experience offers an escape from negative emotions like sadness. Escape is the most common emotional motivator reported in research articles (Griffiths, 1995; Neighbours, Lostutter, Cronce & Larimer, 2002).

Mood, a prevailing emotional state, is closely linked to gambling behaviour (Gee, Coventry & Birkenhead, 2005). Individuals with a depressive mood are more likely to pursue individual, escapist types of gambling like poker machines or online gambling. These cases of depressive individuals have raised questions about a possible link between depressive illnesses and increased gambling behaviour (Gee, Coventry & Birkenhead, 2005; Hills et al., 2001) and evidence suggests that a relationship does exist. Conversely, some research has argued that rather than depressed individuals engaging in gambling to reduce their negative emotions, the gambling itself is causing the negative emotions, an interesting point which warrants further study (Hills et al, 2001).

What role does reinforcement play in the motivation to gamble?[edit | edit source]

Reinforcement appears to be the key to gambling behaviour. People are motivated to gamble for different reasons, such as a desire for excitement, socialisation, escape from negative emotion and for financial reasons (Clarke et al, 2007; Lee et al, 2006; Lam, 2007). Gambling, because of the range of possible situations and types of gambling, has the unique ability of being able to satisfy all of these desires and reinforcing all of these motivations.

Reinforcement can solidify gambling motivations, especially in the form of financial reward. A study of gamblers in Thailand found that the near miss is a different type of failure, close to a significant win or loss but perceived differently because of very close proximity. It is noted that near wins motivate people to play for longer, but near losses motivate them to bet more on subsequent occasions (Ariyabuddhiphongs & Phengphol, 2008). This is a type of reinforcement common in many forms of gambling, particularly near wins, where nearly all the necessary symbols, numbers or cards will result, but no reward will occur. This persuades the gambler that they can still win, and is often followed by a feeling of ‘next time’ or ‘one more’, basically that the more times they lose the greater become the chances of winning (Ariyabuddhiphongs & Phengphol).

Delfabbro and Winefield (1999), in a study on poker machine gambling, mention that reinforcement can become dependent on external influences. They claim that when this happens, gamblers may find it difficult to stop. This is indicative of the reinforcing power of gambling, and electronic forms of gambling in particular.

Risk Taking[edit | edit source]

Risk, specifically the desire to take risks or experience feelings of uncertainty, was identified as one of 16 categories which motivated American college students to gamble (Neighbors et al., 2002). This desire to take risks is indicative of an ingrained human tendency to seek excitement.

Gambling involves constant risk (Peck, 1986). Financial risk is inherent in gambling because of the necessity to speculate money on unknown outcomes. Cotte (1997) contends that gambling is symbolic of risk taking behaviour, giving similar sensations to significant risk taking behaviours that individuals crave. As such, gambling is an outlet for a desire to take risk. The difference with gambling is the nature of the risk, there is no potential harm other than financial loss.

Risk taking behaviours are commonly associated with young males. This association is warranted, as research does link young males with many risky behaviours (e.g. sexually risky behaviour, alcohol abuse; Martins et al., 2004). However, this same article did not find any conclusive evidence of a gender relationship to gambling behaviour. This result is not concurrent with many other studies. A meta analysis of 150 other studies found that there is a general tendency for males to take more risks and be involved in a broader range of risky behaviours (Byrnes, Miller & Schafer, 1999).

There are several freely available Sensation Seeking/Risk Taking Scales available online. The following links represent two of the available tests - RTA Sensation Seeking Scale, BBC Sensation Seeking Scale.

Electronic Gambling[edit | edit source]

Slot machines on the Norwegian "Kronprinz Harald"

This section highlights specific motivational factors relating to electronic gambling. Electronic Gaming Machines (EGM’s) are commonly known as Poker Machines but also include other gambling machines such as "Rapid Roulette"[1] (an electronic version of the table game), and online gambling, which commonly takes the form of card or table games in electronic form. Poker Machines in particular are very common in Australia, with the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics stating that there are close to 200,000 poker machines in use (ABS, 2005). As a consequence, accessibility to this form of gambling is high.

Electronic Gambling Machines (EGMs) are known to be one of the riskiest types of gambling (Thomas et al., 2009). That is, electronic gambling is considered one of the most likely to cause gambling losses and gambling addiction, and associated personal and social problems (Trevorrow & Moore, 1998). A 2009 study by Thomas et al. (2009) used factor analysis to extract motivational factors from data collected from gamblers. They found three factors: escape, accessibility and social environment. These three factors highlight why gambling on these machines is so dangerous. They are used as an escape from negative states, and to interact socially, and are highly available.

Thomas et al. (2009) make the point that different motivations can lead to different types of gambling. They cite other researchers to reinforce their claim that a gambling activity can offer cognitive distraction from negative emotional affect. Also, conversely they claim that poker machine environments can also be conducive to social interaction, another major motivator highlighted above. This study led to the development of a pool of motivators specific to electronic gaming on poker machines. The pool of items includes cognitive distraction from emotions and problems, an undisturbed retreat, adult company, constant activity, high accessibility and an attractive and welcoming environment.

There is a suggestion within some research literature that EGM's are able to satisfy motivational needs and reinforce gambling behaviours through powerful intermittent reinforcement (Delfabbro & Winefield, 1999). The intermittent reinforcement indulges those individuals motivated by sensation seeking and monetary reward, and in particular, clouds the perception of those gamblers who have a distorted sense of control, creating significant repeat gambling behaviour from most of these individuals (Delfabbro & Winefield). Rockloff (2010) also claims that those interested in social interaction will suffer gambling increases, often as a consequence of the number of people present in the gambling venue and as a result of venue size.

Support Networks for Problem Gamblers

There are various support networks available for people suffering from gambling impulse control who wish to reduce the amount they gamble or who have a family member with a gambling related problem. The list below will present a few of the available support networks and helplines.

Gamblers Anonymous - Well known support network for problem gamblers. (02) 9628 5065. Gamblers Anonymous provide a series of twenty questions to help gamblers distinguish whether or not they have a problem.[2]

Lifeline - 24/7 Phone Counsellors 13 11 14 Gambler's Help Line - 24/7 advice, information, referral and counselling. 1800 858 858

G-Line - 24/7 Telephone network. 1800 633 635

Gambling Reform

Andrew Wilkie speaking at the Greens federal election launch 2007 in Hobart

Gambling in Australia is freely available to individuals over 18 years of age and is a popular activity. This is evidenced by the large number of gambling providers in Australia. However, there has been a shift in the perception of gambling in Australia. What was once a totally socially acceptable leisure activity is now being recognised as having the potential to cause personal, familial and societal harm (Amies, 1999). In the last Australian Federal Election, Andrew Wilkie, a Tasmanian Independent was elected. A policy issue of personal interest to him is Poker Machine Reform (Kelly, 2010). And as one of the independents holding the balance of power, he has the ability to significantly influence the development and application of policy relating to gambling. This could be potentially damaging to the gambling industry as reform will almost certainly reduce access to gambling. However, this reduction in access would also reduce the rates of problem gambling in Australia and increase awareness of the problems associated with addicted gambling.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter discussed the general motivators to gamble, with specific mention of emotional motivators and electronic gambling. General motivators were considered to be either intrinsic or extrinsic. The most commonly reported intrinsic motivators were sensation seeking, social interaction, and personal accomplishment. These intrinsic factors appear to be reported more by non-problem gamblers. Other interesting intrinsic motivators include an inflated sense of control over outcomes and a distorted perception of the likelihood of positive results. These secondary intrinsic factors are reported more frequently by frequent gamblers, and those with gambling disorders.

Reported extrinsic factors mostly focused on monetary rewards from gambling. In studies which focused on a range of motivators, the possibility of winning money was reported most often. Reinforcement from external sources is shown to have the potential to also motivate gambling behaviour. Electronic Gaming Machine's (EGM's) are reported by many sources to directly impact motivation by offering intermittent positive reinforcement with small amounts of financial reward.

Emotions can be a major factor in gambling motivation. Some gamblers pursue the positive emotional outcomes that come about as a result of winning or satisfying another motivation. A significant proportion of gamblers reported that one of their motivators was to escape negative emotions. This escape is provided by a dissociative state, often associated with some forms of electronic gaming.

Gambling has the unique quality of being able to satisfy many individual desires and therefore reinforcement is key to the maintenance of gambling behaviour. In basic terms, gambling is able to give individuals what they want from it and gambling reinforces the behaviour intermittently. The type of reinforcement is dependent on the type of gambling (e.g. an individual wanting fun and excitement is likely to play a casino table game with lots of others, whereas someone craving escape is more likely to play a poker machine alone). Electronic Gambling offers small monetary rewards at consistent points, which constitutes intermittent reinforcement. This is one of the major reasons why poker machines are considered one of the most likely types of gambling to lead to addiction.


This section will offer a series of questions to aid in learning the content and offer directions for future study and investigation.


1 What is more important in motivating gambling, intrinsic or extrinsic motivators?

Neither, it depends on the individual and the type of gambling activity.
Neither of them are important
Intrinsic motivators

2 Approximately how many Australian's have engaged in gambling behaviour?

81 to 92%
50 to 60%

3 Gambling is always positive

Of course, gambling is great
Not always, gambling sometimes has negative personal and social effects

4 In what two ways can emotion motivate gambling behaviour? (2 Answers)

Escape from negative emotion
Positive emotional reward

5 What is the model of gambling motivation specifically mentioned in the text above?

Self Determination Theory
The five factor model
Intrinsic Motivators
Extrinsic Motivators

6 Which type of gambling is noted as being the most likely to cause addictive behaviour?

Sports Betting
Table games in casinos
Electronic Gaming Machines/Poker Machines
Lottery Tickets

See also

These links redirect to sites within the Motivation and Emotion textbook or within Wikipedia which are relevant to the content on this page.

References[edit | edit source]

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