Blog Archives

A toning for reward and punishment: A brief look at the impact of colour on gambling behaviour

Researchers and those working in the gambling industry have been interested in the factors that lead to the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling. Aside from individual differences, the combination of the situational characteristics of the environment, and the structural characteristics of the actual game being played have been highlighted as critical ingredients in determining these behaviours in relation to gambling. This idea parallels with that of store designers who manipulate various features of the environment in shops to encourage purchase behaviour in consumers.

Situational characteristics are typically those features of the environment that may encourage people to gamble in the first place, and in some cases to keep on gambling. Examples of such characteristics could include accessibility (e.g., the number of outlets or opportunities to gamble, membership rules); sensory factors (e.g., atmospherics, light, colour and sound effects); the use of advertising; access to other things (e.g., cash machines, alcohol, food); physical comfort (e.g., seating, temperature); and social facilitation (the presence or absence of other people in the vicinity). These are often acquisition factors and are often important in the initial decision for an individual to gamble. Structural characteristics are features of the game itself that can contribute to the development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. These can be reinforcing to the player as they offer constant rewards. For instance, the ‘aura’ of a slot machine may offer excitement, arousal and tension in terms of its high event frequency, near misses, stake size, and the use of music, lights and colour.

One characteristic that can impact on both a situational and structural level in gambling is colour. For instance, this can be manipulated and/or adapted in terms of the design of a slot machine or scratchcard, an Internet gambling website, or the décor and ambience of a gambling environment. Research more specifically into the psychology of colour has been somewhat controversial in how it affects individual emotions. The majority of literature in the colour psychology field has come from advertising and marketing papers. This is because they are interested in colour selection in the way that it may facilitate the sale of their products. It has been speculated that learning about consumers’ emotional reactions to colour can be a useful predictor of purchase behaviour. This is because certain colours can provoke a particular positive or negative reaction. For instance, red has consistently been found to be stronger, more exciting, and more arousing than blue. This concept has been applied in a variety of situations in an attempt to manipulate people’s behaviours. However, a lot of this evidence is anecdotal, as it is not based on any sort of controlled experimental design.

Colour preference has been explained in terms of cultural significance and associative learning. It has been suggested that associations of colour that have been developed in the past have been forwarded as explanations of perceptions of colour today. For example, blue has been associated with night, dark and quiet. Warm colours, such as red, are used in order to attempt to arouse consumers such as in gambling environments. Across cultures, red has predominantly been found to be the most effective in influencing human emotions. Individual responses to colour have also been explained in relation to the arousal that they produce. It has been suggested that colours that are on the extreme ends of the colour spectrum (e.g., red and violet) generate greater arousal than those in-between. However, when red and blue have been compared in terms of their influences on arousal, differences have been found between them, with red producing greater cortical arousal.

With regards to the gambling literature in this field there has been minimal research conducted looking at the impact of colour on gambling. In an observational  study I published with Helen Swift back in 1992, we reported our findings about various situational characteristics of five English amusement arcades. We noted that the interiors were generally red or towards the red end of the colour spectrum. This observation appears to suggest that gaming venue designers make use of the principle of red light exciting whilst gambling. Light and colour effects have developed in their sophistication over recent years and the gaming and casino industry have taken advantage of this when designing machines, games, and gaming venue interiors.

An old 1982 study by Graham Stark and colleagues in the journal Current Psychological Research provides one of the few empirical contributions assessing the effects of coloured light on gambling behaviour. Their study found that compared to gambling under blue light, gambling under red light leads to more risks taken, higher stakes made, and more frequent bets. They suggested that because blue is less arousing it leads to slower performance, as their attention is not specially focused on the task. As red was highly arousing it caused participants to focus on the salient aspects resulting in faster bets. The arousing effects of red were speculated to increase overt behaviour.

Similar types of research study have also been carried out on computer gaming. For instance, a study led by Dr. Sandy Wolfson in a 2000 issue of Interacting With Computers examined the effects of music and lighting on computer game play. It was found that red lighting led to participants underperforming in the latter games played (compared to blue), although initially both groups improved continuously. The red group’s heart rate also decreased in line with their decline in performance. This was explained in terms of red initially being more arousing, which led to higher concentration and less error rates than blue, but as time went on they became desensitized to its arousal.

A more recent experimental investigation by Jenny Spenwyn, Dr. Doug Barrett and myself in a 2010 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction reported what we believe was the first ever empirical study into the combined effects of both music and lighting colour on gambling behaviour. While playing an online version of roulette, participants took part in one of four experimental conditions; (1) gambling with fast tempo music under normal (white) light, (2) gambling with fast tempo music under red light, (3) gambling with slow tempo music under normal (white) light, and (4) gambling with slow tempo music under red light. We reported a significant interaction between light and music for betting speed, and that the speed at which participants gambled was increased while playing under red light and fast tempo music.

It is clear that situational characteristics of gambling environments (including colour) appear to have the potential to play a role in the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. The success of the gambling establishment’s situational and structural characteristics (where success is defined as an increase in gambling due to the situational or structural characteristic) depends upon the psycho-situational and/or psychostructural interaction. The importance of a characteristic approach to gambling is the possibility of pinpointing more accurately where an individual’s psychological constitution is influencing gambling behaviour. Such an approach also allows for psychologically context specific explanations of gambling behaviour rather than explanations that focus solely on personality and individual differences.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Babin, B.J., Hardesty, D.M., & Suter, T.A. (2003). Colour and shopping intentions: The intervening effect of price fairness and perceived affect. Journal of Business Research, 56, 541-551.

Bellizi, J., Crowley, A.E., & Hasty, R.W. (1983). The effects of colour in store design. Journal of Retailing, 59, 21-45.

Bellizi, J. A. & Hite, R.E. (1992). Environmental colour, consumer feelings and purchase likelihood. Psychological Marketing, 9 (5), 347-363.

Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed), Gambling: Who wins? Who looses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Swift, G. (1992). The use of light and colour in gambling arcades: A pilot study. Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter, 21, 16-22.

Grossman, R. P., & Wisenblit, J. Z. (1999). What we know about consumers colour choices. Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, 5 (3), 78-88.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics re-visited. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.

Stark, G.M., Saunders, D.M, & Wookey, P.E. (1982). Differential effects of red and blue coloured lighting on gambling behaviour. Current Psychological Research, 2, 95-99.

Valdez, P. & Mehrabian, A. (1994). Effects of colour on emotion. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 123 (4), 394-409.

Wolfson, S., & Case, G. (2000). The effects of sound and colour on responses to a computer game. Interacting With Computers, 13, 183-192.

Yoto, A., Katsuura, T., Iwanaga, K. & Shimomura, Y. (2007). Effects of object colour stimuli on human brain activities in perception and attention referred to EEG alpha band response. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 26, 373-379.

Way up the cost: Will the increased price of National Lottery tickets affect sales?

The following blog is based on a short article that I wrote for Nottingham Trent University’s Expert Opinion column published earlier this year (January 29, 2013) and is a written version of many of the comments I made in national and local  BBC radio interviews yesterday.

This week Camelot Plc increased  the price of a Lotto ticket from £1 to £2 – but will this 100% price increase have any effect on whether people play the bi-weekly game? My own view is that although there may be a dip in overall sales when the price of the tickets first increases, over time, sales are likely to return to pre-price increase levels.

The price of buying a lottery ticket is just one of many inter-connected structural characteristics that help determine whether potential players will play the lottery. Other structural characteristics in gambling activities include the size of the jackpot, the number of smaller prizes, the probability of winning the jackpot and / or smaller prizes, the speed of the game, how quickly players receive their winnings, the ease of playing the game, whether the game is chance-based or requires some skill, the number of chances to gamble on a single event, etc.

The chance of winning the bi-weekly lottery is an incredible one in 14 million. But is playing Lotto a tribute to public innumeracy and totally irrational? Not necessarily. Lotto offers a low-cost chance of winning a very large life-changing amount of money. Many psychologists would argue that playing Lotto is entirely rational behaviour given the small cost involved. Basically, it’s a small cost for millions of people buying hope. More importantly, we know that most players don’t think about the actual probability of winning but concentrate on the amount that could be won (i.e., the jackpot size). Players may also rationalize that the cost of a ticket is still cheaper than buying a pint of lager in a pub or a coffee atStarbucks.

Jackpot size is one of the most important factors in whether people play the lotto. The fact that the ticket price is doubling doesn’t take away the fact that there will still be an enormous jackpot. Additionally, to soften the blow of the increased price, the amount that can be won for matching three numbers will increase from £10 to £25. This again is likely to help sales maintenance. And if people do feel that £2 is too much for a single ticket, there are plenty of other games in the national lottery portfolio to choose from.

Another factor that is important in lottery profitability for the operators is that we tend to overestimate positive outcomes and underestimate negative ones. If someone is told they have a one in 14 million chance of being killed that day they would hardly give it a second thought because the chances are tiny. Given the same probability of winning Lotto people suddenly become over-optimistic (“It could be you!”).

The media also plays a part. By providing widespread coverage for the few huge winners, it helps us forget the millions of people who lost! Finally, for regular players who choose the same numbers every week, they become ‘entrapped’ fearing that the one week they don’t play will be the week their numbers will come up. Players who have picked the same numbers for years are still likely to play despite the price increase for the same reason.

The bottom line is that Camelot will have done lots of market research to determine whether players will be prepared to pay more money to play Lotto. Major decisions about pricing are key to future success and increased profits. If people stop playing Lotto in their masses, a return to a lower price will be inevitable. However, my guess is that most current Lotto players will continue to play a game as the thought of winning millions of pounds outweighs the price increase.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Arkes, H.R. & Blumer, C. (1985). The psychology of sunk cost.  Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 35, 124-140.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). The National Lottery and instant scratchcards: A psychological perspective. The Psychologist: The Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 10, 26-29.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Selling hope: The psychology of the National Lottery. Psychology Review, 4, 26-30..

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Problem gambling and European lotteries. In M. Viren (Ed.), Gaming in New Market Environment. pp. 126-159. New York: Macmillan Palgrave.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The effect of winning large jackpots on human behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 6(4), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gambling, luck and superstition: A brief psychological overview. Casino and Gaming International, 7(2), 75-80.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207-233.

Langer, E.J. (1975). The illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 311-328.

Langer, E.J. & Roth, J. (1975). The effect of sequence outcome in a chance task on the illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 951-955.

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1971). Belief in the law of small numbers. Psychological Bulletin, 76, 105-110.

Walker, M.B. (1992). The Psychology of Gambling. Pergamon, Oxford.

Wagenaar, W. (1988). Paradoxes of Gambling Behaviour. Erlbaum, London.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Adolescent lottery and scratchcard players: Do their attitudes influence their gambling behaviour? Journal of Adolescence, 27, 467-475.

Play’s cool? Is the type of game played important in the development of gambling addictions?

Earlier today, I (and my research colleague Michael Auer) had a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology arguing that the type of game that people gamble on is irrelevant in the acquisition, development, and maintenance of pathological gambling. We noted that anyone coming into the gambling studies field from a psychological perspective would probably conclude from reading the literature that problem and pathological gambling is associated with particular game types. More specifically, there appears to be a line of thinking in the gambling studies field that casino-type games (and particularly slot machines) are more likely to be associated with problem gambling than lottery-type games.

We argued that the most important factors along with individual susceptibility and risk factors of the individual gambler are the structural characteristics relating to the speed and frequency of the game (and more specifically event frequency, bet frequency, event duration and payout interval) rather than the type of game. Event frequency refers to the number of events that are available for betting and gambling within any given time period. For example, a lottery draw may occur once a week but a slot machine may allow 15 chances to gamble inside one minute. In this example, slot machine gambling has a higher event frequency than lottery gambling. Bet frequency refers to the number of bets or gambles placed in any given time period. Using lottery playing as example, Dr. Jonathan Parke and I noted in a 2007 book chapter on structural characteristics, that multiple tickets (e.g., 10 tickets) can usually be purchased as frequently as desired before any single lottery draw. In this instance, bet frequency would be equal to 10 but event frequency would be equal to 1. Therefore, event frequency can often be much lower than bet frequency and it is possible for players to spend more than they can afford even with a low event frequency.

Dr. Parke and I have stated that further empirical research is needed into the relationship between event frequency and bet frequency. This is because researchers often assume that event frequency and bet frequency have a strong relationship (i.e., the higher number of betting/gambling events – the higher the frequency of betting/gambling). However, this may not be the case.

Another important gaming parameter is event duration. This refers to how fast the event in question is (e.g., a reel spin on a slot machine might last three seconds). Here, it is important to note that duration of the betting/gambling event is different from event frequency (although they may be inextricably linked in so much as the length of a betting event will obviously limit the frequency with which they can take place). Again, Dr Parke and I noted that a betting event lasting two hours (e.g., a soccer game) could not have an event frequency greater than one in any 2-hour period but could have a betting frequency of over 100 with the advent of in-play betting.

In-play betting and gambling (which I examined in a previous blog) refers to the wagering on an event that has started but has not yet finished. This means gamblers can continue to bet on an event (e.g., a soccer or cricket match) and perhaps more importantly, adapt their bets according to how the event is progressing.  For instance, in the UK, during the playing of almost any soccer match, a gambler can bet on everything from who is going to score the first goal, what the score will be after 30 minutes of play, how many yellow cards will be given during the game and/or in what minute of the second half will the first free kick be awarded. What I argued in a previous blog is that ‘in-play’ gambling activities have taken what was traditionally a discontinuous form of gambling – where a gambler made one bet every weekend on the result of the game – to one where a player can gamble continuously again and again. In short, the same game has been turned from what was a low event frequency gambling activity into a potentially high frequency one (and gone from an activity that had little association with problem gambling to one where problem gambling is far more likely among excessive in-play gamblers).

Another important (and related) structural characteristic is payout interval. This is the time between the end of the betting event (i.e., the outcome of the gamble) and the winning payment (if there is one). The frequency of playing when linked with two other factors – the result of the gamble (win or loss) and the actual time until winnings are received – exploits the psychological principles of learning. This process of operant conditioning conditions habits by rewarding (i.e., reinforcing) behaviour (i.e., through presentation of a reward such as money). To produce high rates of response, those schedules which present rewards intermittently (random and variable ratio schedules) have shown to be most effective. Since a number of gambling activities (most notable slot machines) operate on random and variable ratio schedules it is unsurprising that excessive gambling can occur.

To highlight the irrelevance of game type, consider the following two examples that demonstrate that it is the structural characteristics rather than the game type that is critical in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem and pathological gambling for those who are vulnerable and/or susceptible. A “safe” slot machine could be designed in which no-one would ever develop a gambling problem. The simplest way to do this would be to ensure that whoever was playing the machine could not press the ‘play button’ or pull the lever more than once a week. An enforced structural characteristic of an event frequency of once a week would almost guarantee that players could not develop a gambling problem. Alternatively, a problematic form of lottery could be designed where instead of the draw taking place weekly, bi-weekly or daily, it would be designed to take place once every few minutes. Such an example is not hypothetical and resembles lottery games that already exist in the form of rapid-draw lottery games like keno.

The general rule is that the higher the event frequency, the more likely it is that the gambling activity will cause problems for the individual (particularly if the individual is susceptible and vulnerable). Problem and pathological gambling are essentially about rewards, and the speed and frequency of those rewards. Almost any game could be designed to either have high event frequencies or low event frequencies. Therefore, the more potential rewards there are, the more problematic and addictive an activity is likely to be and this is irrespective of game type as games such as diverse as lotteries and slot machines could have identical event frequencies and event durations.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). The psychology of the near miss (revisited): A comment on Delfabbro and Winefield. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 441-445.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Impact of high stake, high prize gaming machines on problem gaming. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Mind games (A brief psychosocial overview of in-play betting. i-Gaming Business Affiliate, June/July, 44.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2013). The irrelevancy of game-type in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem gambling. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 621. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00621.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Design of the times: How does venue design influence gambling behaviour (revisited)?

In a previous blog I briefly examined how gaming venue design affects gambling behaviour, particularly in relation to casino atmospherics. Over the last century, the gaming industry has used various inducements and ploys to entice people to gamble. The psychology of marketing has become big business. Casinos – like any other business with a product to sell – has had to keep up with times and spend huge amounts of money in an effort to get even more of your money. As a psychologist, I have always been very interested in the design features of gambling venues. Put more simply, to what extent is psychology used in design features as a way of taking more money from you?

I have spent many years studying the situational characteristics of many gambling venues to examine this question. Situational characteristics are primarily features of the environment (such as the location of the casino, the number of casinos in a specified area, membership requirements, etc.) but can also include internal features of the casino itself (such as décor, heating, lighting). These features can be very important in both the initial decision to gamble and continued gambling once you are in the casino.

Most casinos around the world try to fill up as much floor space as they can with slot machines. This is because slots are the most profitable form of gambling for operators. The profitability of slot machines can depend on simple factors such as floor location, coin denomination and pay off schedules. Floor layout is also important in other areas. For instance, restaurants are often positioned in the centre or back of the casino so that customers have to pass the gaming areas before and after they have eaten. Another strategy is to use deliberate circuitous paths to keep customers in the casino longer, the psychology being that if the patrons are in the casino longer they will spend more money. In many US casinos the management will provide free alcoholic drinks – all in the hope that you may spend a little more while under the influence and being a little less rational!

Casino designers can also introduce environmental features to manipulate human senses. For instance, light and colour are two variables that can affect behaviour – and gambling is no exception. Psychological research has shown that colour can evoke affective states and influence behaviour. Some colours are associated with certain moods. Red is “exciting” and “stimulating”, blue is “comfortable”, “secure” and “soothing”, orange is “disturbing” and green is “leisurely”. Colour can affect physiological reactions such as blood pressure, breathing rate, mood and arousal. In gambling situations, research has shown that people will gamble and stake money more under red light than colours towards the blue end of the spectrum.

The use of sound can also be important. Constant noise and sound gives the impression of a noisy, fun and exciting environment. In addition, many slot machines play musical tunes or ring bells and buzzers if someone has won. As coins are paid out by dropping down onto a metal pay out tray (along with buzzers, bells and music), it gives the impression that winning is more common than losing – as you cannot hear the sound of losing! Music can also be used to manipulate how we feel. Two of the many effects music can have may be to heighten psychological arousal or to relax. Early studies showed that when customers in a supermarket were exposed to loud music, their shopping rate – how much they bought per minute spent in the store – was higher than when quiet music was played. Gamblers may also spend more under similar conditions although there have only been a handful of studies published to date. We have carried out a couple of experiments which have shown that gamblers play faster when there is music with a high beats per minute playing in the background.

Believe it or not – and as I pointed out in a previous blog – smell may also have an influence on gambling behaviour. Experiments carried out in Las Vegas casinos showed that a slot machine’s takings could be increased by spraying them with pleasant odours. Researchers found that the slot machines with pleasant aromas had significantly higher profits than the machines not sprayed with any odours. This is very similar to shops who pump the smell of chocolate in the run up to Valetine’s Day hoping it will increase sales.

Physical comfort is also an important factor. I call this the “seating, eating and heating” phenomenon. If a gambler is physically (as well as psychologically) comfortable, there is more chance they will stay in the casino. Comfort is therefore used by casino management to encourage and prolong gambling. For instance, taking a gambler off their feet enhances physical comfort considerably and reduces fatigue. Another obvious customer care tactic is the availability of refreshments and amenities (including toilets). Paradoxically, serious gamblers often gamble for long periods of time. Consequently, they are often reluctant to leave a slot machine or the roulette table to get a drink or food, or go to the toilet as they do not want to lose their “lucky seat” or favourite machine. Interestingly, in one research study, thirty bars with slot machines were compared with another thirty that didn’t. In the bars without slot machines, almost all of the clientele drank pints. However, in the bars with slot machines, only 8% of the clientele drank pints. The main reason for this was that slot machine players did not want to leave the machines to go to the toilet in case someone ‘stole’ their machine!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Cole, T., Barrett, D.K.R., Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Social facilitation in online and offline gambling: A pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 240-247.

Dixon. L., Trigg, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). An empirical investigation of music and gambling behaviour. International Gambling Studies, 7, 297-308.

Finlay, K., Kanetkar, V., Londerville, J. & Marmurek, H.C. (2006). The physical and psychological measurement of gambling environments. Environment and Behavior, 38, 570-581

Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Casino design: Understanding gaming floor influences on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 5(1), 21-26.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2005). The psychology of music in gambling environments: An observational research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13. Located at: http://www.camh.net/egambling/issue13/jgi_13_griffiths_2.html.

Hirsch, A.R. (1995). Effects of ambient odors on slot-machine usage in a Las Vegas casino. Psychology and-Marketing, 12, 585-594.

Lam, L.W., Chan, K.W., Fong, D. & Lo, F. (2011). Does the look matter? The impact of casino servicescape on gaming customer satisfaction, intention to revisit, and desire to stay. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 30, 558-567.

Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.

Tech’s appeal: Is there a relationship between addiction to video games and slot machines?

Back in 1987, I began my PhD on slot machine addiction, and one thing that I began to notice as I spent the first few hours of (100s of hours) doing observational research in amusement arcades that there were many similarities between arcade slot machines and arcade video game machines. It wasn’t until 1991 that I finally did a comparative analysis of slot machine gambling and video game playing and published my observations in the Journal of Adolescence. In the intervening years I have published many papers examining the commonalities and similarities between these two behaviours and it wouldn’t surprise me if I am still writing about these issue in many years to come.

My initial insights into the existence of video game addiction arose out of the research I had been doing on slot machine addiction. Both slot machines and video game machines may be considered under the generic label of “amusement machines”. The main difference between the playing of video games and the playing of slot machines are that arcade video games are typically played to accumulate as many points as possible whereas slot machines are played (i.e., gambled upon) to accumulate money. In my 1991 paper, I (somewhat paradoxically) claimed that playing an arcade video game could be considered as a non-financial form of gambling.

Both types of machine require insertion of a coin to play, although the playing time on a slot machine is usually much less than on a video game machine if starting with the same amount of money. This is because on video games the outcome is almost solely due to skill, whereas on slot machines the outcome is much more likely to be a product of chance. However, the general playing philosophy of both slot machine players and video game players is to stay on the machine for as long as possible using the least amount of money. I have also argued that regular slot machine players play with money rather than for it, and that winning money is a means to an end (i.e., to stay on the machine as long as possible). This is exactly what arcade video game players do too.

Besides the generic labeling, their geographical juxtaposition, and the philosophy for playing, it could be argued that on both a psychological and behavioural level, slot machine gambling and video game playing share many similarities (e.g., similar demographic differences such as age and gender breakdown, similar reinforcement schedules, similar potential for “near miss” opportunities, similar structural characteristics involving the use of light and sound effects, similarities in skill perception, similarities in the effects of excessive play, etc.). The most probable reason the two forms have rarely been seen as conceptually similar is because video game playing does not involve the winning of money (or something of financial value) and therefore cannot be classed as a form of gambling.

However, the next generation of slot machines is starting to use video game graphics and technology. While many of these relate to traditional gambling games (e.g., roulette, poker, blackjack, etc.) there are plans for developing video gambling games in which people would win money based on their game scores. This obviously gives an idea of the direction that slot machines and the gaming industry are heading.

Furthermore, there are a growing number of researchers who suggest that video games share some common ground with slot machines including the potential for dependency. On 1995, Dr Sue Fisher and myself edited a special issue of the Journal of Gambling Studies and wrote a paper examining trends in slot machine gambling. We pointed out that arcade video games and slot machines shared some important structural characteristics, these being:

  • The requirement of response to stimuli that are predictable and governed by the software loop.
  • The requirement of total concentration and hand–eye coordination.
  • Rapid span of play negotiable to some extent by the skill of the player (more marked in video games).
  • The provision of aural and visual rewards for a winning move (e.g., flashing lights, electronic jingles).
  • The provision of an incremental reward for a winning move (points or money) that reinforces “correct” behaviour.
  • Digitally displayed scores of “correct behaviour” (in the form of points or money accumulated).
  • The opportunity for peer group attention and approval through com- petition.

As with excessive slot machine playing, excessive video game playing partly comes about by the partial reinforcement effect. This is a critical psychological ingredient of video game addiction whereby the reinforcement is intermittent – that is, people keep responding in the absence of reinforcement hoping that another reward is just around the corner. Knowledge about the partial reinforcement effect gives the video game designer an edge in designing appealing games. Magnitude of reinforcement is also important. Large rewards lead to fast responding and greater resistance to extinction – in short to more “addiction.” Instant reinforcement is also satisfying.

Video games rely on multiple reinforcements (i.e., what I call the “kitchen sink” approach) in that different features might be differently rewarding to different people. Success on video games comes from a variety of sources and the reinforcement might be intrinsic (e.g., improving a personal high score, beating a friend’s high score, putting a name on the “hall of fame,” mastering the machine) or extrinsic (e.g., peer admiration). As early as the 1980s, Dr. Thomas Malone reported that video game engagement is positively correlated to (i) a presence or absence of goals, (ii) the availability of automatic computer scores, (iii) the presence of audio effects, (iv) the random quality of the games, and (v) the degree to which rapid reaction times enhance game scores.

In 2007, Dr Jonathan Parke (Salford University, UK) and I developed a new taxonomy of structural characteristics related to gambling, listing all the known structural characteristics that have been shown to influence gambling behaviour in some way. All the 60+ structural characteristics were grouped into one of six types of characteristic:

  • Speed and frequency characteristics: Factors relating to the frequency, duration and expediency of the game or reward.
  • Playability characteristics: Factors that make gambling fun, interaction and/or engaging.
  • Payment characteristics: Factors that relate to how one pays to gamble
  • Reward characteristics: Factors relating to how one receives financial rewards or winnings.
  • Educational characteristics: Factors that educate, protect, or provide information to players.
  • Ambient characteristics: Factors that may influence the immediate situation of the game or may contribute to other factors already mentioned (e.g., the use of colour and sound).

Using this typology, Dr Parke and I argued that future research and policy initiatives may be to focus on regulating structural factors relating to payment (spending) and player awareness/education and focus less on structural factors relating to playability (which may also include reward, ambient, and speed characteristics). In this way, slot machines can continue to be fun, exciting, and play inducing, but with the eventual aim of minimizing harm.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I – along with Dr Daniel King and Dr Paul Delfabbro (both at the University of Adelaide, Australia) – developed a separate taxonomy of structural characteristics related to video game playing (published in the International Journal of Mental health and Addiction). We used some earlier empirical work that I had done with Dr Richard Wood (GamRes Ltd, Canada) back in 2004 and published in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior. We devised a list of structural features by (a) playing a variety of video games, (b) examining and comparing known gambling structural characteristics, (c) discussing these features with players of video games, and (d) examining relevant research in the area of video game design. Our framework included the following characteristics:

  • Sound, including sound effects, speaking characters and background music.
  • Graphics, including high-quality realistic or cartoon-style graphics and full motion video (FMV).
  • Background and setting, including whether the game is based on a story, film, or television program, and the use of realistic or fantasy settings.
  • Duration of game, referring to how long the game usually takes to complete.
  • Rate of play, referring to how quickly the player “absorbs” or “gets into” the game. & Advancement rate, referring to how quickly the game play advances.
  • Use of humour in the game.
  • Control options, referring to what the player can control in the game (including sound, graphics, and skill settings, choice of control methods, and physical feedback). &
  • Game dynamics, including exploring new areas, elements of surprise, fulfilling a quest, skill development, AI interactions, collecting things, avoiding things, surviving against the odds, shooting, different ending options, different modes of transport, solving puzzles, beating times, cheats/Easter eggs, solving time limited problems, building environments, mapping, and linear/non-linear game format.
  • Winning and losing features, referring to the potential to gain or lose points, finding bonuses, having to start level again, and ability to save regularly.
  • Character development, referring to character development over time and character customization options.
  • Brand assurance, referring to brand loyalty and/or celebrity endorsement.
  • Multiplayer features, referring to various multi-player options, communication methods, building alliances, and beating other players.

Using this paper, and the gambling structural characteristics taxonomy, we developed our new video game structural characteristics taxonomy comprising five types of feature. These were: (a)

  • Social features (i.e., social aspects of video game playing)
  • Manipulation and control features (i.e., the role of user input in influencing in-game outcomes)
  • Narrative and identity features (e.g., the role of character creation and interactive storytelling)
  • Reward and punishment features (i.e., the ways in which players win and lose in video games)
  • Presentation features (e.g., the visual and auditory presentation of video games).

Since developing the taxonomy, we have started to test it out empirically. Dr. King, Dr. Delfabbro and myself recently published a study investigating our structural characteristic taxonomy among 421 video game players (aged between 14 and 57 years). Our results showed that the reward and punishment features, such as earning points, finding rare game items, and fast loading times, were rated among the most enjoyable and important aspects of video game playing. There was some evidence that certain structural characteristics were stronger predictors of problematic involvement in video games than factors such as gender, age, and time spent playing. This included the use of adult content in the game, earning points, getting 100% in the game, and mastering the game. Our latest research supports the notion that some structural characteristics in video games may play a significant role in influencing problem video game playing behaviour.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Fisher, S.E., & Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Current trends in slot machine gambling: Research and policy issues. Journal of Gambling Studies, 11, 239-247.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The observational analysis of adolescent gambling in UK amusement arcades. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 1, 309-320.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). Amusement machine playing in childhood and adolescence: A comparative analysis of video games and fruit machines. Journal of Adolescence, 14, 53-73.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Adolescent gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). The relationship between gambling and videogame playing: A response to Johansson and Gotestam. Psychological Reports, 96, 644-646.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011).  A typology of UK slot machine gamblers: A longitudinal observational and interview study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 606-626.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Derevensky, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The classification of video games with gambling themes and content: An Australian perspective. International Gambling Studies, in press.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Video game structural characteristics: A new psychological taxonomy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 90-106.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). The role of structural characteristics in problematic video game play: An empirical study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 320-333.

Malone, T.W. (1981). Toward a theory of intrinsically motivating instruction. Cognitive Science, 4, 333–369.

Save all your misses for me: The psychology of the near miss in gambling

One of the most frequent questions that I am asked is why gamblers continue to gamble despite the fact that (in the long run) they consistently lose. The simple answer is that they gamble because they get constant rewards from engaging in the behaviour. To a non-gambler, losing money doesn’t seem like a very rewarding activity. To a gambler, there can be many different kinds of rewards. For instance, they could be financially rewarded (by winning money), physiologically rewarded (through an adrenaline rush by the thrill and the ‘buzz’ of the gambling itself), psychologically rewarded (through an increase of self-esteem) and/or socially rewarded (by getting peer praise from their friends). There are also many other things that can be rewarding in specific gambling settings because they produce excitement, arousal and tension. Obvious examples are things like the pre-race and race sequence at the race track, the flashing lights of a slot machine, or the spinning roulette wheel, the placing of bets.

One of the most interesting psychological rewards is the “near miss”. In simple terms, near misses are failures that are close to being successful. In games of skill, near misses are very helpful as they give us useful feedback and encourages us to continue because we know that we were nearly successful in what we were trying to achieve. However, in activities of pure chance (such as buying a lottery ticket), such information is worthless as it gives absolutely no likelihood as to the chances of future success. Research as shown that gamblers experiencing near misses may view them as encouraging signs by confirming their strategy and by raising their hopes of winning. In gambling situations, near misses encourage and induce continued gambling, and some commercial gambling activities (particularly slot machines and scratchcards) are deliberately designed to ensure a higher than chance frequency of near misses. In some of my own research, I have shown that gamblers appear to get as physiologically excited when they are nearly winning as when they are winning. Therefore, a gambler is not constantly losing but constantly nearly winning! And the near misses are both psychologically and physiologically rewarding. What’s more, it costs the gaming industry nothing to incorporate them into their products.

Unfortunately, because of features like the near miss, some types of gamblers (such as slot machine players) can become very hooked on playing. Characteristics such as the near miss are capable of producing psychologically rewarding experiences even in financially losing situations. On slot machines, the most significant change in near miss design over the last decade involves the types of near misses incorporated by the manufacturers in their machines. On current slot machines, gamblers can win money through the machine’s ‘reel order’ or specialist ‘play features’. (In basic terms they can either win money through the order of symbols on the ‘win line’ such as three melons in a row, or win money via a specialist play feature by progressing up a feature board). The gaming industry appears to have adapted and strengthened the near miss by connecting it more to the ‘feature’ play rather than reel order.

The more features incorporated into the slot machine, the more opportunities for manufacturers to use different types of near miss. For instance, a player can often move their way up the ‘feature board’ without actually winning any money. They might even get themselves up to a point where they are just one spin away from the jackpot or the ultimate prize winning feature. On this final spin having moved right up the feature board, they lose. This is clearly an example of the near miss evolving but is extremely powerful for three reasons. Firstly, the gambler actually had access to several wins along the way but decided not to take them in order to pursue their goal of the jackpot prize. Secondly, the play leading up to the jackpot is extremely arousing and involves intensive gambler involvement that is itself highly rewarding. Thirdly, habitual slot machine players will often continue until they reach the jackpot or top feature no matter what the cost. These factors all give the impression that losing is the player’s fault since they did not collect the winnings when they had the chance.

As with traditional near misses, the gambler feels the excitement of “nearly” winning via ‘feature’ participation. Perhaps more importantly, it may cause frustration or regret that can perpetuate gambling. Often the only way a gambler can get rid of the feeling of frustration and regret is to gamble again. The main point is that the psychology of the near miss appears to be being used now more than ever and in different ways to that with which it was traditionally used. Before I go I ought to add one more thing. Near misses only work up to a point. To increase the proportion of near misses in relation to wins will in the long term be self-defeating. Put simply, it is like crying “Wolf!” – gamblers will very quickly start to realise that near wins don’t pay out. However, from a gaming industry perspective, even a very slight manipulation of near misses may reap huge commercial rewards for them in the very long run.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Chase, H.W. & Clark, L. (2010). Gambling severity predicts midbrain response to near-miss outcomes. Journal of Neuroscience, 30, 6180-6187.

Clarke, L., Lawrence, A. J., Astley-Jones, F., & Gray, N. (2009). Gambling near-misses enhance motivation to gamble and recruit win-related brain circuitry. Neuron, 61, 481- 490.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991). The psychobiology of the near miss in fruit machine gambling. Journal of Psychology, 125, 347-357.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). The psychology of the near miss (revisited). British Journal of Psychology, 90, 441-445.

Harrigan, K. (2008). Slot machine structural characteristics: creating near misses using high award symbol ratios. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 6, 353-368.

Harrigan, K. (2009). Slot machines: Pursuing responsible gaming practices for virtual reels and near misses. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 7, 68-83.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Gambling addiction and the evolution of the ‘near miss’. Addiction Theory and Research, 12, 407-411.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Reid, R.L. (1986). The psychology of the near miss. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 2, 32–39.