Cognitive Explanation of Gambling Addiction (10 Mark)

Outline and evaluate the cognitive explanation of gambling addiction (4 marks + 6 marks) The cognitive explanation of addiction focuses on the way humans’ process information, viewing addicts as people who have faulty thoughts/judgements. The faulty thinking that surrounds a gambling addiction, according to the cognitive approach, is the belief that we will win, or at least be able to control the odds of winning, for example, a gambling addict, using his/her ‘lucky numbers’ on the lottery gives them some control over the outcome of the gamble.
According to the cognitive model, a gambling addiction may be maintained by irrational or erroneous beliefs. For example, some gamblers may misjudge how much money they have won or lost, or they may over-estimate the extent to which they can predict/influence gambling outcomes. Griffiths held a study looking into these irrational biases, using fruit machine gamblers. His aim was to discover whether regular gamblers thought and behaved differently to non-regular gamblers.
He compared the verbalisations of 30 regular and 30 non-regular gamblers as they played a fruit machine. Griffiths found that regular gamblers believed they were more skilful than they really were, and that they were more likely to make irrational verbalisations during play, for example, regular players may say ‘putting only a quid in bluffs the machine’, or they would treat the machine as if it were a person, giving it emotions: ‘this fruity isn’t in a good mood’. Regular gamblers also explained away their losses be seeing ‘near misses’ as ‘near wins’, i. . they weren’t constantly losing but constantly ‘nearly winning’, something that justified their continuation. The cognitive model also uses heuristics as an explanation of addictive behaviour. Heuristics are used to simplify decisions and justify behaviour, for example, some gamblers will have ‘hindsight bias’, saying after a gambling session that they knew what was going to happen. This makes gamblers feel empowered as it suggests they have some control over their wins/losses. Other gamblers may use flexible attribution; this is where they ttribute any wins to their own skill and any losses to other influences. Others may solely concentrate on how much they won ignoring how much they lost to get it. This is called absolute frequency bias. The theories of the cognitive approach are strengthened by the substantial amount of evidence that supports its general principles, for example, it has been shown that alcoholics, smokers, over-eaters, gamblers and opiate addicts were particularly likely to lapse when they experienced negative emotional states.

A further strength of the model is that it has initiated implications for treatment, for example, the cognitive approach has made clear that the relapse prevention model must be tailored to each individual addict. However, the model is criticised as there have been claims that irrationality is an erratic predictor of addictive behaviour, irrationality does not appear to have a strong relationship with other observable assets of gambling, such as level of risk taking or reinforcement frequency.
Therefore cause and effect of cognitive bias cannot be established. Cognitive explanations may also be limited to particular addictions, for example, it may be less relevant to chemical addictions like heroin, but is useful and effective explanation for gambling or video game addiction. It is also difficult to establish cause and effect over skill perception and gambling – beliefs about skill in gambling vary across individuals, such beliefs are not necessarily irrational either.

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