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Cognitive Biases And Gambling Addiction

Gambling has some characteristics that distinguish it from other ludic activities and that are essential to understand how it works. First of all, it usually consists of a betting activity. That is, if the objectives are met, money is obtained, but if the desired goals are not reached, it is lost. Secondly, the result obtained (win or lose) does not depend on the skill of the player, nor on the strategies carried out. Despite this, one of the most characteristic problems of gambling addiction is precisely the fact that players express cognitive biases about the probability of obtaining long-term profits with this activity.

What Are Cognitive Biases?

Cognitive bias refers to a systematic (that is, nonrandom and, thus, predictable) deviation from rationality in judgment or decision-making.

How Do Cognitive Biases Act In People With Gambling Addiction?

Due to the presence of cognitive biases, people may think that gambling can be a source of income, with which to meet the cost of living. While gambling, as a consequence of cognitive biases, people can reach irrational conclusions about the probabilities of predicting an activity controlled by chance. Thus, cognitive biases act as developers and maintainers of pathological gambling behavior.

Types Of Cognitive Biases In The Gambling Behavior

There are numerous cognitive distortions related to gambling behavior. Here are some of the most important.

  • Illusion of Control: This belief that the outcome of the game depends more on personal performance than chance. For example, the player would think that pressing the buttons of the slot machines would be controlling the game when in reality it does not depend on it. Also thoughts like "I wouldn't relapse with a coupon, nor with slot machines, I would only relapse with something that makes me feel like I'm not a chimpanzee."
  • Prediction of results: This belief is based on thinking that the result of the game can be predicted. This ability is related to magical thinking. For example: "I could play online in many bookmakers, but I don't trust the software... there are rigging and weird things... I'm not interested. I only trust online poker”.
  • Thinking of Luck as responsible for the results: In this case, it is considered that "luck" is the determining factor of the results of the game. The players and players have the belief that luck will make them win in the game.
  • Post hoc explanations bias: The player tries to explain the reasons why he or she has lost in the game and tries with these explanations to interpret what will happen in the next plays. For example: "I was trying to prove that you could make money with bets but then I lost everything again."
  • Locus of control: This belief is based on the tendency to attribute successes to one's own abilities (for example, "being a good player") and failures to external factors (for example, losing streak). For example: “The first game of poker that I have played I have won, because I have great numerical skills. The second game that I have played I have lost because I was very tired and I have not received good cards”
  •  I almost won: The gambler when he loses speculates on the fact that he has almost won. For example, “In sports betting, the person bets that the result of the match will be 3-2. Finally, the result is 2-2, the person will fantasize that he has been close to obtaining the result and that he has almost won the bet.
  • Superstitious thought: Associate events that are not related. For example, "every time I go to play I wear my green shirt, because green is the color of money and with that shirt I once got the best prize so far".
  • Device personification: Occurs when the device is attributed to human qualities. For example, talking to the device and saying things like "Come on, I know you're smart, be good and win my prize."
  • Fixation on absolute frequencies: This bias is related to the belief that you always win instead of considering the total amount of money invested and the times you have lost.

Tips To Deal With Cognitive Biases

Here are some strategies for dealing with cognitive biases:

Increase Awareness

The first step in dealing with cognitive biases is to be aware of them. By understanding the common biases that can affect decision-making, you can begin to recognize when they are influencing your thoughts and actions.

Seek Multiple Perspectives

To avoid being swayed by confirmation bias, seek out different perspectives and opinions on a given topic.

Use Structured Decision-Making Processes

Formal processes such as decision matrixes and cost-benefit analysis can help to reduce the influence of cognitive biases in decision-making.

Take Time To Think

Avoid making hasty decisions. Take the time to consider all the options and implications before making a decision.

Avoid Emotional Reasoning

Emotions can cloud judgment. Try to separate the facts from the emotions and make decisions based on logical reasoning.

Get A Second Opinion

Consult with others to get a different perspective and to avoid the overconfidence bias.

Reflect On Your Decision

After a decision has been made, take the time to reflect on it and consider whether it was based on rational thinking or was influenced by cognitive biases.


It is important to note that cognitive biases are a natural part of the human mind and it is unrealistic to think that you can completely eliminate them from your decision-making process. But, if you find that cognitive biases are having a significant impact on your life, seek professional help, such as a therapist or counselor. Thus, by being aware of these biases and implementing strategies to mitigate their effects, you can make more informed and rational decisions.



  1. Blanco, F. (2017). Cognitive bias. Encyclopedia of animal cognition and behavior1(6).
  2. Cocker, P. J., & Winstanley, C. A. (2015). Irrational beliefs, biases and gambling: exploring the role of animal models in elucidating vulnerabilities for the development of pathological gambling. Behavioural brain research279, 259-273.
  3. Tang, C. S. K., & Wu, A. (2012). Gambling-related cognitive biases and pathological gambling among youths, young adults, and mature adults in Chinese societies. Journal of Gambling Studies28(1), 139-154.
Cristina Varela Galan
Cristina Varela Galan
12 January 2023 15:15