Tuesday April 8,2014 :  U.K. SCIENTISTS IN BRAINY BREAKTHROUGH
 
Is the insula important for problem gamblers?
 
Researchers at Cambridge University in Britain are claiming a breakthrough in problem gambling research after identifying a part of the brain which they believe is linked to addictive tendencies.
 
The Cambridge News reports that scientists led by senior psychology lecturer Dr. Luke Clark found that brain damage affecting insula – an area of the brain linked to emotion and consciousness – would make people more likely to quit while they are ahead rather than continue gambling.
 
The research, published this week in the journal PNAS, looked into a phenomena known as ‘gambler’s fallacy’ where players feel encouraged to continue playing after ‘near misses’ even though statistically they are no different from any other loss.
 
When tossing a coin, people often incorrectly believe that after four heads in a row they are more likely to land on a tail.
 
There is increasing evidence that problem gamblers are particularly prone to these erroneous beliefs.
 
The Cambridge study looked at the neurological basis of such beliefs by examining healthy people and those who had suffered injuries to parts of their brain such as strokes and tumours.
 
Dr. Clark said he was shocked at the findings of his team, as he had predicted people with ventromedial prefrontal cortex injuries to be the ones behaving differently, as that area is most involved with decision making and risk.
 
He said: “A healthy brain is actually functioning incorrectly by thinking that they are more likely to have a tail after say, four heads.
 
“The healthy group, and all the other brain injury groups apart from the insula group had that effect on the roulette table. Those with insula injuries were very rational in their answers.”
 
Researchers gave participants two different gambling tasks – a slot machine game and a roulette game involving red or black predictions.
 
All of the groups, with the exception of those with insula damage, reported a heightened motivation to play following near-misses in both games.
 
Dr. Clark said: “Based on these results, we believe that the insula could be hyperactive in problem gamblers, making them more susceptible to these errors of thinking.
 
“Future treatments for gambling addiction could seek to reduce this hyperactivity, either by drugs or by psychological techniques.”