Canadian psychologist, Catharine Winstanley's gambling rats were an important development because "the neurobiological basis of gambling is still poorly understood and few treatment options exist," Money is on rats to help fight gambling addiction
Her international team devised a system which gave the rats four choices for getting some sugar pellets in a 30-minute time limit. The more pellets that were on offer to the rats, the higher the risk, with a greater chance of more frequent and longer periods without being able to get at the tasty food.Cool experiment, but what I don't get is that people with very high risk-taking behaviours don't suffer from high dopamine levels, in fact either their dopamine level is lower than average or their receptors are less sensitive and require much higher levels of dopamine to trigger their pleasure centres, so they seek risk.
The rats became successful gamblers, learning that it was better to choose an option with fewer pellets but fewer penalties.
"Rats are capable of playing the odds. They learn to avoid these risky options to maximise their earnings," said Professor Winstanley, whose study is published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
The rats were then treated with drugs that reduced the levels of two chemicals in the brain - serotonin, which is associated with impulse control, and dopamine, which is associated with pleasure.
In the first case the rats became much worse at playing the odds, and took more risks. In the second case, the gambling rats became better at maximising the number of sugar pellets they ate.
I would give good odds that when they try this on humans, we find that reducing dopamine production has a similar effect, the gambling addiction gets worse because what we crave is the high.
My wife wants to know what the deal is with us pessimists, do we have too much serotonin? Does that keep us from the kind of risk taking that we see as unsafe but most people just think is fun?