ABA and Gambling

Gambling is, for most of us, a fun, enjoyable activity. We enjoy a “little flutter” every now-and again. Scratchcards, lottery tickets, sports and casino games are all types of gambling that many of may enjoy regularly or less frequently. With the development of technology, it becomes easier to gamble and now you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your own home! The gambling commission (Gambling Commission)  surveyed people in England, Scotland and Wales and found that 56%, 66% and 55%, respectively, of people gambled in 2016. Unfortunately, something that is meant to be fun, has a darker side; addition. Of the people who were surveyed and said they had gambled, 1.2%, 1.3% and 1.5% consider themselves problem gamblers, for England, Scotland and Wales, respectively.

Becoming a problem gambler adversely impacts the person’s career, home life, finances and their mental health. NHS suggest an addition is when the person does “not have control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful”. To find out more about addition and it’s effects, visit the NHS page.

Many resources that discuss addiction mention a “high”, which is a good feeling that person gets when they engage in specific behaviours. For Problem Gamblers, this would be associated with winning. In behavioural terms, this relates to automatic reinforcement. Automatic reinforcement is reinforcement that is not mediated by another person and relates to an internal state to pleasure or enjoyment. When money is lost the gambler may be in a state of deprivation and then this increases the value of obtaining more money, making gambling and winning even more reinforcing.

automatic reinforcement.jpg

Gambling can also be addictive due to the schedules of reinforcement. Reinforcement is delivered on an intermittent schedule, it’s unpredictable so gamblers continue to engage in high level of responses to be able to access reinforcement. This schedule is a Varied Ratio (VR) schedule, and when different schedules were analysed, this schedule provokes a high and consistent level of responding. This picture below shows the four main reinforcement schedules, VR is the graph in the left, bottom corner. The other schedules show steadier rates of responding across longer periods of time and in some cases reinforcement pauses (the person stops responding after they receive reinforcement, because it is predictable). The VR schedule shows a high level of responses within a short period of time. This is similar to gambling, an average number of responses are required before reinforcement (winning) occurs, so players engage in higher levels of responses (bets) to obtain the reinforcement.


The government are attempting to tackle the issue around gambling, by introducing new restrictions on bets via Fixed-Odds machines. At the moment £100 can be bet every 20 seconds and this will be reduced to £2 every 20 seconds. This would hopefully reduce the possibility of people losing more money and finding themselves in debt and also prevent people from becoming addicted to gambling through the use of Fixed-Odd machines. You can learn more about this change at the BBC website.


To learn more about Gambling, relating to Applied Behaviour Analysis, read the February edition from 2017.


If you are concerned about your own gambling habits, you can visit the following websites

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/gambling-addiction/

Gamcare: http://www.gamcare.org.uk/

Gamble Aware: https://about.gambleaware.org/



British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), (2018, May, 17), Betting Machine Stakes cut to £2, Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44148285

Gambling Commission, Gambling Participation and Problem Gambling, Retrieved from http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news-action-and-statistics/Statistics-and-research/Levels-of-participation-and-problem-gambling/Gambling-participation-and-problem-gambling.aspx

National Health Service (NHS), (2015, April, 18), Addiction: what is it?, Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/addiction-what-is-it/



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