Bet on it: New lab studies gambling addiction

Sophmore David Lewchuck Jr. uses the slot machines that can be found in the gambling lab. The lab occasionally opens up the public, allowing students to participate in the research.

by Christian McCarvilleB

Whether it be betting on a sports game or playing slot machines at a casino, gambling is becoming a more normalized part of peoples’ lives. While it may seem like an entertaining pastime, it can have serious consequences, even leading to addictive behaviors.

The high-risk and high-reward scenarios of gambling can quickly get a person hooked, leading them to spend more of their money. Certain types of people can even develop a gambling disorder in which they form an addiction.

“Gambling games all operate on particular schedules of reinforcement that tend to maintain behavior,” said Mack Costello, a professor of the Department of Psychology. “Additionally, gambling settings are designed to be enticing.” 

“Gambling is a popular leisure activity, but unfortunately, it is also a prevalent and undertreated problem for many people,” said Chairwoman of the Department of Psychology Elaine Scorpio. “Laboratory research has a long history of contributing to preventative and intervention efforts in psychological and other scientific fields of study.”

Costello recently opened a lab designed to study the effects of gambling. The Gambling Research Lab is located on the third floor of the Science and Technology Center. The entire floor was renovated last summer and the lab is certainly a highlight of the renovations. The lab itself is entirely soundproof and contains several slot machines.

“I’ve been conducting gambling research for several years, since before I came to Rider,” said Costello. “Every question we tried to answer kept leading us to more laboratory work. At one point we were conducting laboratory studies with gambling games programmed onto [computers]. We found some interesting effects, including how social variables can influence gambling. But all these lines of work kept leading us toward the need for a more effective laboratory with real gambling stimuli to dig into some of the ideas we were having.”

Costello explained that having a laboratory dedicated to gambling was imperative to continue his research. This is mainly due to his inability to control the environment in an open venue setting.  

“In the lab studies we were doing, we were finding interesting things, but needed a way to take the next step,” Costello explained. “A great next step is to dedicate a laboratory to being a more valid gambling setting, so with the help of Dr. Scorpio and others, we were able to set up the Gambling Laboratory.”

“With the gambling laboratory, we are working to understand gambling behavior in a more precise and controlled way than field research allows. We hope to contribute to the research with ways to help people enjoy gambling without problems, and ways to help people who have gambling problems stop or minimize the harm from such problems,” said Scorpio.

Problem gambling is an important issue that many believe does not get enough acknowledgement. The majority of those affected by it suffer in silence and may not even consider themselves as victims, Costello said. 

“As it stands now, despite resources being available, problem gambling is undertreated, and people’s reluctance to get treatment also has an effect on what we know about what works,” said Costello. 

Costello plans to find methods of helping those affected by problem gambling. “There are many approaches to dealing with problem gambling, part of what we want to do is take what makes sense from those approaches for us and test them in our own controlled setting to see how they might be adapted and used in particular ways,” he said. 

There are also various opportunities for Rider students to contribute to Costello’s research. “When we can, we open it up for walk-in hours where people from the University can come in and participate in some of our research. We usually post about it in the science building with some flyers a few days before,” said Costello. 

All students, whether they are interested in psychology or not, are welcomed to be involved in this intensive research experiment, according to Costello. 

Published in the 10/23/19 edition

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