“Why do people gamble?” is a question researchers have tried to answer since the onset of casinos. Gambling is so universal that the activity has become popular in the western world. But it is a game “rigged” to favor the house, which means that players as a whole would lose financially. If reason should be king, a rational subject shouldn’t be gambling in the first place. But they do. Researchers have provided answers as to why:
Two theories have been forwarded to explain high and low frequency gamblers: Arousal theory and cognitive theory. Arousal theory proposes that the real motivation for people to gamble is the excitement the game brings; while cognitive theories proposes that it is the financial reward that pushes people to play. There are merits to each theory and weaknesses which we would like to pick apart.
The Arousal Theory Gambling is played primarily because it offers subjective and objective excitement to people who play it. The weakness of this theory is that not all gambling games are exciting but a lot of people still play (like lottery). The second weakness is that this theory cannot lay down an answer as to why some people continue to gamble despite losses, where excitement drops. Excitement alone cannot explain impaired gambling. Mental health professionals can pinpoint excitement as the motivator, but they also note that impaired control could be assessed only through a thorough form-by-form basis. There are games that increase a player’s arousal such as roulette. Computer games are less arousing, but they are addictive. The point is, excitement is not enough to explain addictive behavior.
It has been measured however that high-frequency gamblers display higher arousal than those low-frequency gamblers during a game. Arousal can alternatively explain gamblers seeking more sensation, which explains the need for gamblers to play high stakes game. Most of the time, they are those who persist in playing the game.
Cognitive Theory assumes that gamblers are motivated because of reason and not by a disorder of personality, social environment, or education. They do it largely for finance too. Winning is crucial. In one classic study, participants in a gambling game were all rigged to win 15 times and lose 15 times in 30 games. Those who lose predominantly in the beginning learned more from their winnings. They are the participants who desired to win more and would most likely gamble more frequently. The weakness of this theory is that it failed to explain why individuals develop a higher level of gambling addiction behavior.