Flashing Lights, Loud Noises in Casinos Might Encourage Problem Gambling, British Columbia University Research Suggests

Posted on: November 4, 2018, 10:00h. 

Last updated on: November 2, 2018, 07:00h.

New research out of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada suggests that all the blinking lights and dinging bell-like noises in casinos may be as problematic as they are stimulating. A study from UBC researchers indicates that these time-honored basics of casinos everywhere could play a key role in promoting risky gambling behavior.

gambling study
Flashing lights and loud noises are common place among casinos around the world. (Image: Online Slots Vegas)

The findings were recently detailed in the neuroscience journal JNeurosci, and indicate that the visual and sonic overload people experience when walking through a casino could be a significant factor in  promoting problem gambling.

We found that an individual’s choices were less guided by the odds of winning when the casino-like audiovisual features were present in our laboratory gambling game,” researcher Mariya Cherkasova told Science Daily.

Risky Business

The study was prompted by previous research at UBC which found that rats were more prone to risky decision-making when flashing lights were added to the equation. Scientists wanted to see if the same behavior held true in humans.

A portion of the 131 participants were given a video game to play in a quiet environment. The rest played the same game, but with all the bells and whistles you’d find while playing a slot machine in a real casino.

“Using eye-tracker technology, we were able to see that people were paying less attention to information about the odds of winning on a particular gamble when money imagery and casino jingles accompanied the wins,” senior author of the Catharine Winstanley said to Science Daily.

Eye-tracking also revealed increased pupil dilatation, a strong indication that those subjects were more “aroused or engaged.”

Those playing without the audiovisual stimulation were observed to be more reserved in their decision making, losing less money and showing less compulsive behavior.

Another Piece of the Puzzle

It’s the latest data point for a scientific community trying to pin down the factors that go into compulsive gambling.

Earlier this year, researchers had a something of a breakthrough when they were able to identify the specific arena of the brain responsible for risky activity in primates. Not only that, but by suppressing that area of the brain, they found they were able to curtail that activity by 30 to 40 percent.

Another study shed light on the differences in men and women when it came to gambling addiction.

Scientists say that this most recent research sheds light on why some people continue to gamble, even when they know the odds are stacked against them.

“While sound and light stimuli may seem harmless,” added Winstanley, “we’re now understanding that these cues may bias attention and encourage risky decision-making.”

She says they’ve already received funding for a new study which will allow them to scan the brain of gamblers to further determine what drives them to take such risks.