The Insula: Did Scientists Find Part of Brain Linked to Gambling Addiction? Posted On

Millions of people throughout the world are struggling with gambling addiction. And every day, many more are researching problem gambling – seeking to understand problem gambling and why some people are unable to stop, and trying to identify a way to prevent or permanently treat this addiction.

Studies are ongoing all over the world – and breakthroughs are being made.

Gambling Addiction and the Insula

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England recently shared findings that suggested a part of the brain called the insula is the key to understanding why gambling addiction affects some people and not others.

How’d they get to this conclusion?

The scientists asked people with different types of brain injuries, as well as healthy people with no brain injuries, to play games such as slot machines and roulette-style computer games.

Whenever players nearly won their games, they were driven to play again – this occurred for every player except those with damaged insulas. Players with damaged insulas were not likely to try again.

Remember gambler’s fallacy? The idea that a series of losses make you more likely to be “due” for a win? That if you flip a coin and land on heads five times in a row, the next one HAS to be tails?

The truth is that every time you flip a coin, the odds remain 50-50, no matter the previous outcomes. Belief that the odds change based on previous outcomes is gambler’s fallacy – and it drives people to keep playing.

In this study by the University of Cambridge researchers, it was found that players with damaged insula were not making the mistakes associated with gambler’s fallacy. They did not believe they were closer to winning, and they were not likely to keep playing.

What Does the Insula Do?

The insula (or insular cortex) is a part of the cerebral cortex.

According to neuroscientists who study it, it’s “the wellspring of social emotions, things like lust and disgust, pride and humiliation, guilt and atonement. It helps give rise to moral intuition, empathy and the capacity to respond emotionally to music.” (New York Times)

Why could the insula matter when researching gambling addiction? The insula drives feelings like cravings and hunger. For people always thinking about their next bet, how their insula drives them to make certain decisions could be an extremely important factor to examine.

What Does this Research Mean?

The researchers concluded that people with hyperactive insula may be more prone to problem gambling or other addictions, but more research is needed.

If we are able to identify the brain area that drives addiction, further research can follow to identify safe and healthy treatments that may lessen or permanently end the consequences of addiction. Further studies confirming hyperactivity of the insula causes problem gambling will allow us to consider how to reduce that activity – the same activity that may cause alcohol abuse, excessive smoking and other substances or actions people “crave.”

Help Is Available

While research that could change the future of how we treat problem gambling is underway, help is available for gambling addiction right now. Learn more about problem gambling by exploring KnowTheOdd’s many resources and call the NYS HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY to reach individuals who can direct you to treatment and support options near you.


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