Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Knowing When to Fold ‘Em

By Tim Hannan

The discovery that some brain injuries may eliminate the gambler’s fallacy could lead to pharmaceutical treatments for problem gambling.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

At first glance, the various forms of gambling appear to be games that require a participant to make decisions based on a reasoned calculation of the probabilities of various outcomes. Yet psychological research has revealed that gamblers typically commit cognitive errors that promote a greater expectation of winning, such as the well-known gambler’s fallacy of expecting that if one of two equally likely outcomes has occurred several times in a row (e.g. a tossed coin landing on heads repeatedly), the other outcome (tails) then becomes more likely.

A novel study has now found that certain focal brain injuries may reduce or eliminate the gambler’s fallacy, suggesting that these types of cognitive errors are related to the activity of a specific region of the frontal lobes.

While gambling has been a popular pastime throughout human history, the social consequences of problem gambling have prompted psychological research into its causes. Several characteristic errors in reasoning have been identified among gamblers, each of which creates an enhanced expectation of winning.

In addition to the systematic misjudgement of random sequences known as the gambler’s fallacy, another error is the near-miss effect, which is the increased expectation of success following an unrewarded outcome that was nevertheless close to the target: “because I nearly won last...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.