"loss chasing"

Why Do Gamblers Chase Losses?

Gambling-Addiction (1)

Loss-Chasing, Alexithymia, and Impulsivity in a Gambling Task: Alexithymia as a Precursor to Loss-Chasing Behavior When Gambling


This was the subject matter of my PhD when I was a PhD candidate.

Essentially a couple of my experiments proposed to examine if there was a link between alexithymia and the decisions made during a gambling task, the IOWA gambling tasks.

Here is a very recent study which has examined this question and which concurs with my research hypothesis, that trait alexithymia may be linked to variable decision making on this gambling task. This study used the Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT) rather than the IOWA.

In more wider terms it was part of the idea we have been forwarding many times on this blogsite, mainly that the maladaptive decision making that is at the heart of all addictive behaviours is prompted by an impaired ability to process emotion and hence to use emotion effectively in guide optimal decision making.

We have seen this in all the main addictive behaviours from substance to behavioural addictions. In fact, in eating disorders it is been demonstrated to be a trait phenomenon, i.e. it is a condition that is not more a personality characteristic, fixed, rather than state, a temporary condition.

Here in this study (1) we can see that high alexithymia scores are linked to more problematic choices when gambling and this has been shown in gambling before in psychological and neuropsychological studies.

These studies demonstrate that emotion processing deficits are apparent and perhaps even a pathomechanism that prompts the decision making deficits which in turn facilitate addictive behaviours, they show that in, for example,  substance addiction it is not say chronic alcohol consumption that solely causes alexithymic characteristics as alcohol abuse does effect emotion processing and regulation circuits but that it may be a genetically inherited personality characteristic.


Objective: To examine the relationship between loss-chasing, the propensity to continue gambling to recover from losses, alexithymia, a personality trait associated poor emotional processing and impulsivity, the tendency to act quickly without reflection or consideration of the consequences.


In experiment 1, two groups (low alexithymia, high alexithymia) completed the Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT). Loss-chasing behavior was investigated. In experiment 2, both alexithymia (low, high) and impulsivity (low, high) were examined also using the CGT.

Conclusions: Alexithymia is a precursor to loss-chasing when gambling and loss-chasing reflects the cognitive and emotional aspects of gambling. Specifically, the tendency to loss-chase depends on the need to recoup previous losses and failure to process the emotional consequences of those losses.


…Loss-chasing and personality

The DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, Fourth Edition) criteria for problem gambling includes “chasing” one’s losses, that is continuing to gamble, often with increasing bet size, to recover from losses. This phenomenon is common among problem gamblers and may be the most significant step on the road to problem gambling (Lesieur, 1979; Dickerson et al., 1987; Corless and Dickerson, 1989; O’Connor and Dickerson, 2003). Toce-Gerstein et al. (2003) found that more than 75% of problem gamblers reported chasing losses and 59.6% of all gamblers chased. They also found that chasing losses occurred even when other commonly cited indicators of problem gambling did not.

…A study by Linnet et al. (2006) examined problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers in the context of the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT; Bechara et al., 1994). They found that problem gamblers showed evidence of more loss-chasing than non-problem gamblers. Problem gamblers, they argued do not notice their chasing behavior…

Alexithymia and problem gambling

Alexithmyia is a stable personality trait associated with the processing of emotional information (Taylor et al., 1997). The key features of alexithymia have been identified as difficulty identifying feelings (DIF), difficulty describing feelings (DDF), and externally oriented thinking (EOT; Parker et al., 1993, 2008; Bagby et al., 1994, 2007, 2009). Essentially, a person high in alexithymia finds making sense of their own and other people’s emotions difficult. As a consequence they tend to focus on external rather than internal causes for behavior.

Alexithymia is related to problem gambling (Lumley and Roby, 1995; Parker et al., 2005; Toplak et al., 2007; Bonnaire et al., 2009; Ferguson et al., 2009; Mitrovic and Brown,2009). Lumley and Roby (1995) used the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS; Lesieur and Blume, 1987) and Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20; Taylor et al., 1985) to examine the relationship between alexithymia and problem gambling. Of the 1100 American university students, 3.1% were identified as problem gamblers using the SOGS criteria. Of these, 34% were identified as alexithymic (a high degree of alexithymia) whereas only 11.1% of the non-problem gamblers were so classified. Parker et al. (2005), using the revised Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20, Parker et al., 1993) and SOGS, found that 22% of the pathological gamblers were alexithymic whereas only 11% of the non-problem gamblers were alexithymic. Though Bonnaire et al. (2009) only examined pathological gamblers they found that 44% were identified as alexithymic. Parker et al. (2008) found a 10% incidence of alexithymia in a community sample (n = 1933) and an 11% incidence in an undergraduate sample (n = 1948). Thus, an incidence of 44%, as observed by Bonnaire et al. (2009) is greater than would be expected.

…Alexithymia and loss chasing

There are two areas of research that suggest that there is a link between the alexithymia and loss-chasing. First, it has been suggested that people who are high in alexithymia have difficulty processing information about losses (Ferguson et al., 2009; Bibby and Ferguson,2011) and second, the neurological structures implicated in loss-chasing (Campbell-Meiklejohn et al., 2008) show clear differences in alexithymic and non-alexithymic individuals (Lane et al., 1998; Berthoz et al., 2002; Kano et al., 2003, 2007; Mantani et al., 2005; Moriguchi et al., 2006)…

Campbell-Meiklejohn et al. (2008) found loss-chasing was associated with increased activity with the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC), but the decision not to loss-chase was associated with increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), the ventral striatum and the anterior insula cortices. Kugel et al. (2008) found a relatively strong negative correlation between TAS-20 scores and right amygdala activation when processing emotional facial expressions. Lane et al. (1998), Berthoz et al. (2002), Kano et al. (2003) all found reduced activity in the anterior cingulate cortex for alexithymics when processing emotional information. Mantani et al. (2005) reduced activity in the posterior cingulate cortex when alexithymics were asked to imagine past and future happy, sad and neutral events. Kano et al. (2003) also found an association between alexithymia and reduced activity in the anterior insular cortex. Both Kano et al. (2003) and Moriguchi et al. (2006) found reduced activity in alexithymics when processing emotional information in the pre-frontal cortex.

Given that alexithymia is associated with problem gambling and problem gambling is associated with loss-chasing and that activity in several of the same brain regions is associated with both loss-chasing and alexithymia it seems realistic to predict a relationship between between alexithymia and loss chasing in gambling. Experiment 1 uses a simple gambling task, the Cambridge Gambling Task (CGT; Rogers et al., 1999) to test the prediction that higher alexithymia is associated with greater loss-chasing. It is predicted that participants high in alexithymia will bet more after a loss than after a win and will do so more than people low in Alexithymia…

General discussion

In both experiments a loss-chasing effect was observed for participants who scored higher in alexithymia. It was hypothesized that this would be the case since alexithymic individuals are less sensitive to losses (Ferguson et al., 2009; Bibby and Ferguson, 2011). A comparison of the size of the loss-chasing effect for the alexithymics between the two experiments suggests that it is proportional to the size of the loss. The loss-chasing effect is small when the loss is small and larger when the loss is larger. This is a new and interesting observation. For non-alexithymic individuals when the loss was small there was no evidence of loss-chasing but when the loss was relatively large a loss-chasing effect emerged. However, the comparison between alexithymics and non-alexithymics indicated that the loss-chasing effect was substantially greater for the alexithymics…

The neurological studies reported earlier support the idea that reduced activity in the emotion centers of the brain is associated with both alexithymia and loss-chasing. In particular, Campbell-Meiklejohn et al. (2008) suggest that less activity in the regions associated with managing conflict between cognitive and emotional systems could be a precursor to loss-chasing. It is these, and other, regions that been found to show reduced activity in alexithymics. Damasio and colleagues (Damasio, 1996; Bechara, 1999; Bechara et al., 2005) have demonstrated that injury to the emotion processing centers of the brain, in particular the prefrontal cortex, lead to poor decision making in the IGT. The loss-chasing effect for alexithymics is another example of how failing to utilize emotional information can lead to poor decision making.

Reference LINK


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