Distinct emotions and their regulation in recreational and problem gambling

Mikko Salmela


Previous research suggests that problem gamblers differ from recreational gamblers in terms of their emotional attitude towards gambling. Thus, recreational gamblers display a harmonious passion for gambling which is characterized by positive feelings and emotions such as amusement, excitement, and fun, whereas problem gambling associates with obsessive passion for gambling, characterized by feelings of guilt, anxiety, and other negative emotions (Mageau et al 2005; Ratelle et al 2004). In this presentation, I offer a potential explanation to this difference between the dissimilar emotions of recreational and problem gamblers. According to this explanation, recreational gamblers differ from actual and potential problem gamblers in terms of their emotions already from the outset. Whereas the emotions of recreational gamblers focus mainly on the game and its outcomes, actual and potential problem gamblers also experience strong emotions about themselves as winners or losers in the game. The regulation of the latter kind of emotions such as pride, humiliation, anger, and shame is psychologically more exhaustive and demanding than the regulation of game-focused emotions such as arousal, joy, and disappointment. This difference predisposes players that experience emotions both about the game and themselves to tilting, strategically poor choices in the game, loss of control, and chasing losses, which already manifest problem gambling. Finally, I review empirical evidence that supports this hypothesis.

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