Scientists from the University of British Columbia in Canada have built a 'rat casino,' finding that bright sounds and lights make the rodents more prone to taking risks when gambling. Yes, this is as fascinating and insane as it sounds.
As part of a study into addictive behaviours, Michael M. Barrus and Catharine A. Winstanley built this casino, teaching 32 rats to gamble for sugary treats. To do this, they chose between four different options with varying odds of providing either a treat or a time-out period.
The strategy that rats stuck to was always selecting the option which gave them smaller rewards, but carried less risk, meaning they did not go for "high-risk, high reward." They would do this under normal circumstances, but once lights and sound were added to the game, their behaviour changed.
Much like the slot machines you see people hooked to in Las Vegas, large rewards produced more light and music than the small wins. Rats followed these cues and took the greater risks. Simply put, the scientists had turned them into problem gamblers.
“It seemed, at the time, like a stupid thing to do, because it didn’t seem like adding lights and sound would have much of an impact. But when we ran the study, the effect was enormous,” said Catharine Winstanley, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. “Anyone who’s ever designed a casino game or played a gambling game will tell you that of course sound and light cues keep you more engaged, but now we can show it scientifically.”
After this, the team administered a dopamine inhibitor to block the D3 receptor - one which has been specifically linked to gambling addiction - and the rats immediately stopped exhibiting these irrational gambling behaviour.
"This brain receptor is also really important to drug addiction, so our findings help support the idea that risky behaviour across different vices might have a common biological cause," lead author Michael Barrus commented.
“I often feel that scientific models are decades behind the casinos,” added Winstanley. “I don’t think it’s an accident that casinos are filled with lights and noise.”
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