Understanding reward-seeking behaviours in an age of excess
Gambling as a model for refining research into addiction
Gambling has never been so readily available or easy to engage in. There is currently a worldwide proliferation of sports betting opportunities, available at the touch of a smartphone screen. Consequently, there is a growing concern that this new gambling technology will contribute to an increased risk of developing maladaptive gambling habits, which constitute an important public health issue.
The BETHAB project focuses on gambling since gambling does not involve the confounding effect of psychoactive drugs on the brain and is thus an ideal model for refining research into addiction.
Identifying biomarkers of gambling disorder
Neural reactivity to addiction-related cues, as assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has repeatedly been identified as a key biomarker of substance use disorders. The BETHAB project posits that, in a context where online gambling opportunities are blooming, research examining neural reactivity to a gambling cue could also offer a fine-grained and up-to-date approach to advance current knowledge about the cognitive and motivational determinants of gambling disorders.
An integrative framework for examining neural cue reactivity
The BETHAB project provides research directions for enhancing current knowledge of the way individual-specific and study-specific factors impact on gambling cue reactivity, and by extension of its predictive power regarding clinical status and treatment outcomes of gambling disorders.
Three work packages (WP) have been launched for examining the impact of gambling availability on the dynamic interplay between “impulsive” limbic-striatal motivational processes, pre-frontal decision-making “reflexive” processes and insular cortex “interoceptive” neural systems. The first one (WP1) aims to identify the neural correlates of gambling availability during the viewing of sports betting cues. WP2 examines the impact of interoceptive processes (induction of stress and frustration) on the neural signature of gambling availability. Finally, the third package (WP3) examines whether brain stimulation aimed at boosting the reflective system decreases subsequent effects of interoceptive processes on gambling cue exposure.
This BETHAB project is currently being carried out by Dr. Damien Brevers at the University of Luxembourg, and is being financed by an FNR CORE Junior Track grant. In accordance with the University of Luxembourg four-year plan on Research and Healthcare, this project will contribute to efforts to improve mental health and wellbeing in individuals with maladaptive hedonic habits.
The first results of the research project led by Damien Brevers are now published in Addiction Biology and available online.
The study investigated whether problem gambling status, sports betting passion, and trait-self-control modulate brain reactivity to sports betting cues.
The first findings suggest that sports bettors' brain reactivity to gambling unavailability might be a relevant marker of sports betting-related harms, as well as of blunted trait-self-control
65 frequent sports bettors (35 “nonproblem bettors” and 30 “problem bettors”) were exposed to cues representing real upcoming sport events (with varying levels of winning confidence) that were made available or blocked for betting, during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recording.
Sports betting passion and trait-self-control were assessed using self-report scales. Sport events nonavailable for betting elicited higher insular and striatal activation in problem bettors, as compared with nonproblem bettors. No significant effect of sports betting passion was observed.