Gambling addicts have a poor ability to assess and adapt to high risk situations, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Kyoto University in Japan determined flexibility in risk-taking between addicts and non-addicts through a series of gambling tasks, requiring participants to earn a certain amount of credits.
Addicts were found to go with a risky strategy even if that choice was sub-optimal, researchers said.
"We observed diminished activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in cognitive flexibility," said Hidehiko Takahashi of Kyoto University.
"This indicates that these subjects lack an ability to adapt their behaviour to the risk level of the situation," Takahashi said.
"Gambling addicts also have higher levels of mood and anxiety disorders. Hence pleasure may not be the main goal, but rather an inability to properly recognise risk and adapt accordingly," he said.
People make action decisions by evaluating the likelihood of success based on the level of tolerable risk. They then make adjustments based on prevailing circumstances, researchers said.
For example, if someone is losing in the first half of a soccer match, they will likely prefer a strong defence while pushing their attackers forward.
However, if someone is losing at the end of the second half, they may choose to forgo defence in favour of an all-out attack, because they would lose otherwise, researchers said.
Addicts, on the other hand, are inclined towards unnecessarily risky action, demonstrating a defect in risk assessment and adaptation, they said.
The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.