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Gambling and the Brain

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Gambling is a classic risky behaviour where a wager is placed on the uncertain prospect of larger monetary gain. Despite widespread acceptance that ‘the house always wins’, gambling remains a popular and expanding form of entertainment in the UK, with approximately 70% of the population gambling at least annually. Gambling can also become dysfunctional in a small but significant minority of ‘problem gamblers’. This talk will highlight some recent research from our lab looking at the brain mechanisms that underlie gambling decisions. I will describe some neuropsychological similarities between problem gamblers, and brain-injured patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, on tests of risky decision-making. I will also describe some brain imaging data from healthy, non-gambling volunteers, looking at how the brain responds to ‘near-miss’ events, which are an important factor in encouraging gamblers to continue to play. These findings illustrate both the fallibility of decision-making mechanisms in the general population, and also the possible routes by which gambling can become an addictive behaviour.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Neuroscience Seminar: New Approaches in Neuroscience series.

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