UWinnipeg psychologist hits ‘jackpot’ for research

Dr. Stephen Smith, ©UWinnipeg

Dr. Stephen Smith, ©UWinnipeg

Ding-ding-ding, cha-ching sounds, flashing lights and the hope of hitting the jackpot create the excitement of a slot machine. Gambling is a multibillion-dollar industry in Canada, with a net annual jackpot of over $13 billion.

UWinnipeg’s Dr. Stephen Smith (Psychology) and colleagues from the University of Waterloo have been given a substantial grant of $399,898 from the Manitoba Gambling Research Program that will examine features of slot machines that make them so appealing and even addictive to players despite the fact that the house always wins.

“We’re interested in why some people become absorbed by slot machines and VLTs while others do not,” expressed Smith. “What makes these people so susceptible to the allure of these machines? One hypothesis is that the people who enter dark flow states have trouble controlling their attention in the outside world. In other words, they are prone to mind-wandering. Having their attention captured and held by the lights and noises of a VLT could be quite rewarding to them. We’ll test this idea in a number of experiments, both within casinos and in the laboratories at The University of Winnipeg and the University of Waterloo.”

The proposed studies will examine the processes by which slot machines induce certain mental states in players that make it more difficult to stop playing. The researchers will test several hypotheses about the characteristics of people that make them more susceptible to this phenomenon.

The project will also evaluate the role of attention in other psychological principles that contribute to the addictive nature of slot machines.

Smith is well known for his research on the neuroscience of emotion and is currently supported by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Operating Grant that was recently renewed for the next five years. Bringing his expertise to bear on this new line of research promises to help us understand better gambling behaviour and the harm caused by addiction to slot machines.

Naniece Ibrahim, Communications Officer, The University of Winnipeg
P: 204.988.7130, E: n.ibrahim@uwinnipeg.ca


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