Gambling & Uncertainty

gamblingWe have recently applied incentive salience analyses to a gambling model, in a series of collaborative studies with Patrick Anselme. Together we have been investigating how uncertainty can actually magnify the motivational attractiveness of a Pavlovian cue for reward, beyond the level justified by its CS-UCS association with actual reward. Uncertainty magnification of cue-triggered ‘wanting’ may be an important contributor to addictive-like motivation in gambling. Our results surprisingly demonstrate that when the probability that a reward will be delivered is maximally uncertain (occurring only 50% of the time, and with unpredictable magnitude) a CS becomes a stronger motivational magnet in sign-tracking paradigms than other cues that have perfect prediction to reward. This may be related to why games of chance become powerfully attractive if their predicted payoff is uncertain. The enhanced motivation frenzy created by these uncertain conditions redirects focus intensely onto the cue (increased sign-tracking and even ingestive-type nibbling of the metal cue), may be further subject to changes in mesolimbic dopaminergic activity modulated by the release of stress hormones. The form of uncertainty modeled in these tasks may help account for a proportion of problem gamblers.