The fantasy of huge piles of chips or tons of credits flooding into their accounts sends mood-elevating endorphins shooting throughout their brains.
But how does it all start? What is the psychology of the gambler and of gambling?
The Psychology of the Desire to Gamble
While the actual process of gambling may take some sophistication, the desire to gamble is a simple, primal one.
Everything we learn to do in life, we learn through gambling.
As children, we take a gamble that we can touch a hot stove. When we get burned and lose that gamble, we learn not to do it again.
As teenagers, we may take a gamble on asking out a member of the opposite sex, or joining a sports team or taking a role in the school play.
If any of these things work out to our benefit, we will want to continue to do them again and again.
The Psychology of Conditioning
This is called conditioning, when a reward is paired with a behavior, encouraging a repetition of the behavior, and it happens everywhere in the animal kingdom.
You may remember the famous experiment with Pavlov's dogs, where Pavlov rang a bell every time he provided food, until the dogs were conditioned to drool at the ringing of the bell even if no food was provided.
Gambling works the same way.
We are rewarded financially when we get lucky gambling, so we continue to return to the tables even when we have walked away empty-handed.
The Psychology of Continued Gambling
The psychology behind continuing to gamble even after repeated losses comes from the idea of intermittent conditioning. Continuous rewards followed by a long period of no reward will often result in extinction of the behavior, since the subject learns that the reward will no longer be provided.
However, if the reward is provided intermittently, that is, sometimes the subject gets it and sometimes he doesn't, the behavior will continue for much longer even after an extended period with no reward, because the subject never knows if another reward is forthcoming.
This, in essence, is the psychology of gambling. When you play online slots games, for instance, you never know when that next big win might come and it's therefore sometimes difficult to quit.