Casino and Brain: What happens when we gamble

When playing casinos games, specific brain signals are activated when waiting for a reward and when we win on slot machines or other games, shows a team of French researchers.

While playing slots games for example, the time between we start to spin the reels until the last character of the game appears, signaling a gain or loss seems endless. Our brain appears to boil. What really happens in the brain?

To find out, the team of Jean-Claude Dreher of the Institute of Cognitive Science Marc Jeannerod (CNRS) recorded directly from implanted electrodes in patients with epilepsy, the electrical activity of the orbitofrontal cortex. This is a region of brain involved in risk-taking and learning stimuli-reward associations.

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Thanks to brain imaging functional magnetic resonance, the researchers identified three types of signals: The chances of winning, Uncertainty in the expectation of a reward and when we face the results, they said in a study published in the journal Brain.

The brain assess the probability of winning.

Three types of signals illustrating three distinct phases following each other in the brain of a subject that is about to play (see illustration below).

The first phase is when the subject becomes aware of the amount he can win and the probability that he has to win (a).
During this phase, the orbitofrontal cortex encode the subjective value of the potential gain (This means, our estimate of our win with this slot machine).

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The second anticipatory phase (when the reels rotate). This phase has a maximum uncertainty when the chance of winning is 1 chance in 2 (b).
During this phase, the player waits for the result, the orbitofrontal cortex encode the uncertainty of reward.

The third phase is to obtain the result, which confirms or not the expectations of the player (c).
This study allows us to better understand the role of the orbitofrontal cortex in learning and risk taking.

Casino and Brain: What happens when we gamble

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