Emotion Regulation of Others and Self

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Five days in a casino

Posted on Mar 30, 2012 by testmember

Do you gamble?
I don’t as a rule, but I did once spend about 120 hours in a casino complex in the US without leaving. Yes that’s right about 5 days of sensory overload of roulette, black jack tables and the incessant noise of slot machines. All in the name of science of course. I was at a conference that happened to get sponsorship from the Native American tribe that owned the casino complex and their sponsorship took the form of providing the conference with subsidised accommodation and conference room facilities.
It was an interesting place, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. During the introduction to the conference we were told that there was no original intention to stay open 24 hours a day, but on the opening night at four o’clock in the morning when they had planned to close the place they were still doing very good business and so they just stayed open and had done so ever since. 
Before I went to the conference I spent a bit of time in a town reasonably close by and met a couple who lived in the neighbourhood in which I was staying. Inevitably the fact I was going to the casino for a conference came up and so I got talking to them and their friends about visiting the casino, which they all did with some enthusiasm.
The first thing that struck me was that they were all convinced that on balance they won more money than they lost, which must have made the casino one of the biggest charitable institutions in the state.
The second was the number of them who said that when they went, it was on a day off and they drove over to get there to start gambling at 5 am.
I know what you’re thinking, but no, that’s not a typo, I do mean 5 o’clock in the morning!
So why? Did they spend all day there?
No, apparently they gambled for a couple of hours and then came away. The reason they gave for doing this was that they wanted to play Blackjack and that they knew the Blackjack dealers worked 8 hour shifts that ended at about 7 am. They explained to me that they wanted to play the dealers when they the customers were fresh and the dealers were tired, fed up and probably in a bad mood. Why? Because that made the dealers more likely to make mistakes and that might tip the odds in their favour.
So is there research to back up these ideas? Well one of the papers produced by colleagues in EROS seems to directly address this question and the answer is, as it is with lots of research, both yes and no.
The paper is Webb et al 2010 and it contained two experiments. The first demonstrated that people who had been induced into an unpleasant mood were more likely to rate themselves as willing to engage in a risky behaviour than those who had been induced into a neutral mood. In the second experiment participants were induced either into an aroused mood or a neutral mood and then given an actual gambling task. The results showed that greater arousal led to more risky betting.
So that is the yes part of the answer, which supports my casino visiting acquaintances’ hypothesis, mood does potentially have an effect on risk taking behaviour. However, there was another condition in both of these experiments and this was on a method to overcome the effect of mood on risky behaviour. This method used implementation intentions or as they are sometimes termed if - then plans. Basically, you decide ahead of times what you will do in a given situation, so if X happens then I will do Y, hence if-then.
The results of both experiments showed that forming implementation intentions i.e. having an if-then plan shielded the participants from the effects of the mood induction on their willingness to take risks. So this is the no part of the answer. Consider the professional Blackjack dealer; they have very little latitude on how they play any hand. The customer is gambling but the dealer is pretty much simply following a set of very well practiced if-then plans and so is probably protected from the effects of mood interfering with their play.
Nevertheless, going back to my early bird casino veterans, I do wonder if the same was true of them. Admittedly, having just arrived they may be fresher than the dealer, but they are also likely to be in a more aroused mood. After all, what is the point of gambling if it doesn’t do that?
All things considered I’m sure that the cards are still stacked pretty firmly in favour of the house. So do I think the casinos pay attention to the psychological literature to keep up with these things? No, I think they have a far surer method.
Whilst psychologists endeavour to try and untangle an answer from a myriad of different variables, the casinos can concentrate on only one thing to tell them whether they are on the right track.
They simply follow the money…....

Webb, T., Sheeran, P., Totterdell, P., Miles, E., Mansell, W., & Baker, S. (2010). Using implementation intentions to overcome the effect of mood on risky behavior. British Journal of Social Psychology. DOI:10.1348/014466610X533623

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