Online Gambling and Genetics

Published Saturday, February 14, 2009 -

American researchers doing genetic research on addictions contend that they may have found proof that some people are genetically more inclined to risk taking behaviour. The researchers have defined certain DNA structures that they say may lead to addictions including internet gambling. Nature, they say still has something to do with the equation. The Northwestern study suggests that researchers are getting closer to pinpointing specific genetic mechanisms underlying complex social and economic behavior, including, gambling and risk-taking.

We must keep in mind that risk taking in the online gambling world or financial world may be the result of the genetic makeup of players their past experiences in the casino, stock market or their cultural background, study organizers suggested.

The study, for the first time, links specific variants of two genes that regulate dopamine and serotonin neurotransmission to risk taking in financial investment decisions. That sounds very scientific for people who want to win a little money on the horses or at the slots. Participants in general, invested significantly more money in the risky wager if its expected return was higher. Conversely they invested less if the return was lower on safer bets. Significantly the survey showed people risked more when they had more money.

This study was primarily done to explain the risk taking actions in the financial world, but as is turns out the results can be applied to gambling online and otherwise. Northwestern students were given real money to make a series of investments, in each trial deciding how to allocate money between a risky and a risk-free asset.

The study's co-investigators Camelia M. Kuhnen, assistant professor of finance and Joan Y. Chiao, assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern, were able to take advantage of advances in neuroscience methodology as well as emerging research on the two neurotransmitters' effects on decision-making.

Kuhnen cautions, more research is needed to further understand risk taking behaviour, given the complex influences of nature versus nurture on financial decisions. Less than 30 percent of variation across people in risk-taking comes from genetics. The rest comes from experience and upbringing.

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