Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.


Win Some, Lose More

By Jocelyn SelimAugust 2, 2004 5:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Pathological gambling may have less to do with the thrill of winning than with the downer of losing, reports Vanderbilt University neuroscientist David Zald. He tested nine subjects under three sets of rules. In the primary scenario, a gambling simulation, a person was asked to pick one of four cards and told he would get a dollar if he picked the right one. Meanwhile, Zald monitored levels of dopamine—a euphoria-inducing brain chemical that influences motivation—in the subject’s brain. As expected, dopamine increased when the person won. “But we also saw something there that’s never been documented,” Zald says. “Dopamine actually decreased whenever a person didn’t receive the dollar.”

The gloom associated with losing might be the trigger that causes some people to latch onto gambling or other types of compulsive behaviors, Zald speculates. Rather than getting more of a high when they win, they might get more low when they don’t, making them more driven to correct the deficit. “And if you start with low dopamine,” Zald says, “the high of winning feels that much better.”

    3 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%


    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In