This is your brain on gambling

I’ve mentioned that I recently finished reading the book “How We Decide” about the processes and functions the brain uses to make decisions. One interesting anecdote in the book was about Parkinson’s patients. Parkinson’s sufferers who were on a drug that saturated their brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine experienced a high rate of addiction (about 13% I believe) to gambling. The reason being that when a person receives unpredictable awards, they get a dopamine rush. (“Awesome! I got a bonus on my check!”) And gambling is all about unpredictable payouts, so, when triple sevens come up, the brains of these Parkinson’s patients, already saturated and dopamine, get an incredible high.

It struck me a few days ago that this is comparable to techno music at a rave. Techno music has a tendency to carefully build a pulse, panning it across the stereo spectrum, slowly increasing volume until !WHAMMO! everything is kicked up a notch and scantily clad teenage girls frantically wave their glow sticks in the air. The anticipation while predicting when that moment is going to occur, is very similar to the anticipation one experiences at a slot machine. And like these Parkinson’s patients, many people at raves have taken a drug, ecstasy, that has primed their dopamine for release.

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