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Flashing Lights, Music Turn Rats Into Problem Gamblers With Riskier Choices

21 January 2016, 9:49 am EST By Alyssa Navarro Tech Times
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It's no coincidence or luck that casinos are filled with vibrant lights and loud music, experts in Canada said.

A new study conducted by the University of British Columbia revealed that incorporating flashing lights and loud music to gambling "spices up" risky decision-making.

By studying lab rats, the team of experts found that the animals acted like problem gamblers when light and sound cues were mixed up with a "rat casino" model.

The UBC researchers were even able to correct the rats' behavior by blocking a specific dopamine receptor. This opens up the possibility of developing a new treatment for gambling addiction in humans.

The lab rats, who gambled for sugary treats, usually learn to avoid the risky choices. However, their behavior changed when the flashing lights and music were added.

Catharine Winstanley, associate professor at the university's Psychology Department, said that before getting the results, doing this seemed like a "stupid thing to do" because it didn't seem like adding flashing lights or noises would have much of an impact.

When they ran the study, however, the effect was massive, she said.

Anyone who's ever designed a casino game or played a gambling game would say that light and sound cues can definitely keep the player engaged, Winstanley said. Their study provides scientific evidence for this concept.

Winstanley also said that she often feels as if scientific models are decades behind the casinos.

"I don't think it's an accident that casinos are filled with lights and noise," said Winstanley.

She and her colleagues gave the lab rats a drug that prevented the action of a particular dopamine receptor, which has been associated with addiction. Doing so had stopped the animals from acting like problem gamblers.

However, the dopamine blockers had little effect on lab rats who gambled and exhibited problem gambling behavior even without the flashing light and music.

Michael Barrus, the study's lead author and a Ph.D. candidate in the university's Psychology Department, said this particular brain receptor is really vital in understanding drug addiction. He said the study supports the idea that risky behavior across various vices might have one biological cause.

Barrus and his team's findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience on Wednesday.

Photo : Ted Murphy | Flickr

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