The impact of gambling speed of play on executive control functions: investigating gambling harm-minimisation approaches to combat impulsive action and impulsive choice

Harris, A. ORCID: 0000-0001-9627-4900, 2018. The impact of gambling speed of play on executive control functions: investigating gambling harm-minimisation approaches to combat impulsive action and impulsive choice. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

Andrew Harris 2019.pdf - Published version

Download (3MB) | Preview


Executive control functions are higher-order cognitive processes essential for exercising self-control over behaviour. These executive processes are the antithesis of impulsivity, which describes actions routinely and automatically triggered by environmental cues without planning and consideration of the consequences of those actions, and represents a construct intimately linked with disordered gambling behaviour. To prevent the potential harm that can be experienced during gambling, it is desirable that decisions and actions within a gambling context are governed by high-levels of executive control, as opposed to thought and actions that are triggered automatically and on impulse. Of interest to the present thesis is the way that technological developments have afforded increased sophistication of the structural characteristics of electronic gambling products, and how these interact with executive control processes during gambling. More specifically, this thesis aims to investigate how the increased speeds of play during gambling, afforded by electronic gambling products, impacts a gambler's ability to exercise self-control over motor actions.

An initial systematic critical review investigated the existing research findings pertaining to the impact of gambling speed of play on behaviour and cognition. Following an extensive literature search, 11 studies were selected for review based on several inclusion criteria. Some of the key findings stemming from the review were that games with higher event frequencies were more appealing to gamblers in general, and particularly appealing and enjoyed by problem and pathological gamblers. Faster games were associated with more difficulty quitting the game, and often resulted in more time and money being spent compared to slower games. Overall, the findings from the review suggest a link between increased speeds of play during gambling and reduced self-control, providing justification for the empirical chapters within this thesis that investigated the effects of gambling speed on executive control functions.

In a repeated-measures experiment, Experiment 1 identified that as the speed of play is increased during a slot machine gambling simulation, motor response inhibition performance, as assessed using an embedded go/no-go task, is inhibited amongst regular gamblers. This highlights how the structural characteristic of speed during gambling can impair a gamblers ability to exercise self-control during gambling, independent of the presence of a problem or pathological gambling disorder.

A second systematic critical review investigated the range of gambling harm-minimisation tools available during electronic gambling and their relative impact on thoughts and behaviour during gambling. Several within-session tools were identified, including enforced breaks in play, pop-up messaging, behavioural tracking tools, monetary limit setting, and visual clock displays. One of the key findings included that the efficacy of pop-up responsible gambling messages in shaping thoughts and behaviour during gambling is dependent on the mode of delivery and content displayed in the messages. Yet to be investigated in depth within the gambling literature is the potential for the use of emotive content to be displayed in pop-up messages, which may serve to have a more powerful influence over thoughts and behaviour compared to non-emotive content.

Experiment 2 investigated the ability of new and existing gambling harm-minimisation tools to combat the loss of control over motor actions when gambling at high speeds of play, as demonstrated in Experiment 1. Pop-up responsible gambling messages containing either emotive or non-emotive content were compared to a structural change in the form of a forced discriminatory motor choice procedure and financial punishment intervention, in terms of their ability to facilitate motor response inhibition performance during slot machine gambling. Making structural changes to the slot machine that prevents prepotent response patterns developing and that requires greater levels of active attention over motor actions were successful in facilitating response inhibition performance amongst regular, non-problem gamblers. Changing the salience of no-go cues by financially punishing participants for erroneous motor responses increased motivation to exercise self-control and also improved response inhibition performance.

Experiment 3 built on the findings from Experiment 2 and aimed to investigate if inducing more cautious motor response patterns and greater control of motor outputs had wider benefits for cognitive control. It was found that inducing more cautious motor responses during an electronic slot machine simulator resulted in more deliberation and more accurate decisions in an information sampling task (see Clark et al., 2006), as well as a greater tolerance for delayed reward in a monetary delay discounting task (Kirby et al., 1999). It was also found that using emotional content in a pop-up responsible gambling message also facilitated performance on these choice impulsivity tasks, but this effect was independent of a transfer of cautiousness account.

This research has theoretical and applied implications to the field of gambling harm-minimisation. The research presented within this thesis suggests that making simple structural changes to electronic gambling products that prevent automatic response patterns developing are not only beneficial for motor control, but also have carry over benefits by reducing impulsive choice tendencies. In addition, the use of emotive content delivered via responsible gambling messages should be considered above the use of non-emotive content, as emotive content had a greater influence on decision-making processes amongst regular, non-problem gamblers.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Harris, A.
Date: September 2018
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the owner(s) of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 16 Jul 2019 15:24
Last Modified: 16 Jul 2019 15:24

Actions (login required)

Edit View Edit View


Views per month over past year


Downloads per month over past year