New Study Reveals Genetics of Gambling


Throughout human history gambling has been an important social activity, providing the thrill of risk and the potential to win money or goods. But for many people, the habit becomes harmful and addictive. For these individuals, treatment can help.

A new study reveals the underlying genetics of pathological gambling. Researchers have used data from two large sibling and twin studies, analyzing the structure, typology and etiology of this problem behavior. In addition, the study identified several genes that are associated with gamblers’ ability to regulate their emotions, a key factor in their compulsion to wager. The study, which appeared in the journal Scientific Reports, was led by University of Virginia psychology professor Scott Clark and graduate student Daniel Denison.

The study’s results provide a new genetic and psychological framework for understanding how gamblers develop and maintain their addictions. These findings could lead to better diagnosis and treatment of problem gambling, which affects an estimated 20 million Americans.

Gambling is the wagering of something of value on a random event, with the intent to win something else of value. Instances of strategy are discounted. In order to gamble, three elements must be present: consideration, risk and a prize. It is not uncommon for a person to gamble with their weekly entertainment budget or even their rent or utility bill. But it is important to remember that gambling is a game of chance, and the odds are always against you.

There are many forms of gambling: keno, bingo, baccarat and poker. But the most common form of gambling is the ‘fun’ variety, which involves dice and cards. In the ancient world, gambling was a way to settle disputes and feuds. In later years, it became a way to amass wealth and status. In modern times, it is a popular pastime for many people.

Although the emergence of scientific methods of gambling has provided new insights into the process, much remains to be learned about the nature of this complex behaviour. For example, it is known that humans are very poor at judging probability and that various features of certain gambling games foster erroneous beliefs in some individuals (Gigerenzer 2002).

Other research has shown that brain regions involved in reward and emotion are significantly altered in pathological gamblers. This includes a specific ‘weighting’ of small probabilities in the ventral striatum, and fine alterations of the dopamine system (Miedl et al. 2012).

For people who struggle with problem gambling, the best way to stop is by setting money and time limits before they start. Taking up a hobby, getting therapy or joining a support group can also be helpful. Often, gamblers will lie to family members and therapists about their habits in an attempt to hide the extent of their involvement. Others will jeopardize their relationship, career or education opportunities to finance their addictions and will resort to illegal acts like forgery and theft to continue gambling. Often, these activities will lead to even bigger losses and can result in mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and stress.