Posts tagged with "Gambling"

Do you have an addictive personality, or just a healthy enthusiasm?

February 24, 2020

Some people cannot stop tweeting; others stream endless episodes of a favorite TV series, drink gallons of coffee each week; bet on competitive sports;  cover themselves with tattoos, jockey for position on video games, or visit tanning salons. While they may not be taking opioids, they still might be “addicted.”

But is there such a thing as an addictive personality? The informal answer is yes, according to the American Addiction Centers—one of the largest networks of rehab facilities nationwide.

Indeed, the rehabilitation experts describe “addictive personality” as an informal term that links particular personality traits to a higher risk of addiction or other problematic behaviors—such as drug abuse, cigarette smoking, gambling, or even constant social media use—according to a report by MindyBodyGreen 

“The term is used colloquially to refer to people who have tendencies that appear to lead to addiction-like behaviors,” says George Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

“Addictive personality” is a term often used in association with alcoholism, but you can also feel addicted to other things, like certain activities, people, foods, or physical objects. According to J. Wesley Boyd, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics, behaviors like gambling, frequent social media use, or even video gaming can also be addictive.

“For people who are addicted to these behaviors—and even those who just derive intense enjoyment from them—engaging in these behaviors can result in the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is the final common pathway of basically every drug of abuse,” Dr. Boyd told MindyBodyGreen.

He also notes that you can even be addicted to another person in a dating relationship because of this neurochemical response. That said, an unhealthy addiction is very different from healthy enthusiasm.

“Being addicted to something means it has taken over your life and that you are sacrificing important things in your life in service of the addiction,” says Boyd. Koob describes addiction similarly as “being stuck in a cycle in which a person binges on a substance, feels discomfort when the substance wears off, and is preoccupied with procuring and using the substance again.” (And again, this doesn’t apply only to physical substances—it can also be behaviors or experiences.)

On the flip side, “enthusiasm means that you might love something and even that you might look forward to it much of the time, but you are not and will not compromise basic important elements in your life,” Boyd says. 

Some experts believe that the term “addicted” is used too loosely to explain behaviors that are closer to enthusiasm, so Boyd uses exercise as an example of this distinction: An enthusiastic exerciser will look forward to workouts but probably won’t work out when they’re sick, he says. An exercise “addict,” on the other hand, might continue exercising even when they have the flu, despite adverse outcomes. 

“There are definitely individuals who are prone to become addicted in various ways,” Boyd says, noting that addiction is often a combination of both genetics and the environment. “Some of this is based on personal history, but much of it is determined by having a family history of addiction.”

According to MindBodyGreen, people who are at a higher-than-average risk for addiction may have some of the following markers:

  • A close family member with an addiction. Boyd says individuals born to parents who have an addiction are more likely to become addicted themselves, and lots of research backs this up. Overall, it appears that genetic heritability affects addiction by between 40% and 70%—but Koob is careful to note that this genetic component comes from many different pathways, and the likelihood of developing an addiction is due to both the environment and your genetics.
  • An OCD diagnosis. Several other disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, are more likely to co-occur with addiction.
  • Impulsive tendencies and trouble self-regulating. A study about video game addiction found that impulsive people might be more prone to developing an addiction.
  • Low self-esteem. For certain people, low self-esteem also appears to be associated with a higher risk for developing an addiction, according to the study about video gamers.
  • ADHD. A sibling study conducted in 1997 found certain people with ADHD may be more likely to develop substance use disorders, and more recent studies have found that ADHD and substance use disorders tend to co-occur in the same patients.
  • Social anxiety. People who feel lonely and anxious during social events are more likely to develop problematic internet use tendencies, according to a 2007 study. This may be because scrolling the internet can feel soothing in the moment, which helps to reduce overall feelings of anxiety or discomfort.
  • A traumatic history. Koob says people who have a history of abuse or trauma may be more likely to initiate substance abuse in order to reduce their discomfort.

Again, Koob is careful to note, “While there are tendencies that increase the risk of a substance use disorder, they don’t comprise a specific personality type, such as an addictive personality.”

Research contact: @mindbodygreen

 

‘Polly want a Ph.D.’: Parrots are not feather-brains

March 4, 2019

Usually, the term, “bird-brain,” is used as an insult—but, at Harvard University, an African Grey parrot named Griffin is rewriting the rules when it comes to avian intelligence, according to a February 25 report by the Harvard Gazette.

It’s not that parrots have been undervalued to date. In fact, talkative and empathetic African Greys are known as the Einsteins of the parrot population.

Now, a study by Harvard psychologists has determined that the African Grey can perform some cognitive tasks with mental agility beyond that of five-year-old humans.

The results not only suggest that humans aren’t the only species capable of making complex inferences, but also point to flaws in a widely used test of animal intelligence. The study is described in a November 2018 paper published online in Behaviour.

The paper arose from a collaboration led by Irene Pepperberg, a research associate in Harvard’s Psychology Department.

The team first employed a classic challenge that uses two cups. A reward is hidden in one of the cups; subjects are then shown that one cup is empty, and those that successfully choose the other cup are thought to employ a process known as “inference by exclusion”—reasoning that if the reward is not in A, it must be in B.

For years, researchers have argued that young children—including infants as young as 17 months, and animals from a wide number of species, including Grey parrots—understand this process.

“This is really about logic,” Pepperberg said. “In the wild, nonhumans must make these kinds of choices when they decide on things like, ‘Where should I forage? I saw other creatures eating food in this area. … If there’s nothing right here, I should deduce that something is nearby.’”

But what’s important about this study is not just that Griffin is, in some ways, as smart as a five-year-old, but, said Pepperberg, “We also argue that this two-cup task, which has been the gold standard, only tells you about a certain level of ability. If you really want to study inference by exclusion, you have to go to the more complicated three- and four-cup tasks.”

Based on the theory that the two-cup task wasn’t an effective test of human cognition—that subjects could be choosing that B cup simply by default, not because they think the reward must be there—the researchers decided to put Griffin’s apparent smarts to a more challenging test.

They performed a three-cup test in which one reward was hidden in a single cup, and another was placed in one of two additional cups to one side of the first cup. When faced with a choice, participants should pick the single cup, as it is the only cup guaranteed to have a reward. This task doesn’t test inference by exclusion, but does test understanding of certainty versus mere possibility — a precursor to exclusion.

Tests have shown that, until they are about 30 months old, young children fail at similar tasks. The same goes for apes. But Griffin outperformed even five-year-olds.

A four-cup test worked similarly: Rewards were placed in one cup of each pair; then one cup in a pair was shown to be empty. Successful subjects would then pick the other cup in that pair, understanding that it must hold the reward, and that they had only a 50-50 chance of finding the reward in the other pair. The 30-month-old children again failed, showing that they do not fully understand inference by exclusion.

Although Griffin passed both tests “with flying colors,” the research team still wanted to be sure that he hadn’t simply learned to choose whichever cup was next to the empty one; so they designed a series of additional trials to test this possibility.

“Basically, we forced him to gamble,” Pepperberg said. “For a small percentage of trials, we would put nothing on one side and show him an empty cup on that side … so he if wanted a reward, and understood the system, he’d know that now he couldn’t go to the cup next to the empty one; instead he’d have to gamble on the 50-50 side. And he hated it, but he did it on all the trials in the subset.”

The researchers even developed a test in which he had the choice between the guaranteed small reward of a nut or, in a small percentage of trials, gambling and potentially receiving one of his favorite treats—a Skittle.

“We wanted to make sure he wasn’t just avoiding the empty side completely … and, again, that he didn’t always pick the cup next to the one that was empty,” Pepperberg said. “If he wanted that very special candy, he’d have to go to the 50-50 side. A good-enough percentage of the time, he gambled. But what was interesting was that if he lost, he wouldn’t gamble on the next trial.”

Ultimately, Pepperberg said, tests like these don’t only reveal the intelligence of birds like Griffin, but also help shed light on the roots of human intelligence.

“Birds are separated from us by 300 million years of evolution, and their brains are organized differently than ours,” Pepperberg said. “That’s why this was so exciting — because we were able to show that Griffin was working at the level of a five-year-old, on a task at which even apes would not likely succeed.”

Research contact: impepper@wjh.harvard.edu