Rats Model Human Gambling

You know how scientists most often use rats to study human issues? For some reason, these tiny critters have behavioral and physical similarities to our own species.

A group of researchers in Canada are now using rats to study the ever present problem of addiction to gambling. In an experiment – the first of its kind in the world – using the rats, researchers from the University of B.C. aimed to find potential cures to gambling addiction. They used 32 rats, which were placed in chambers they fondly call “Fisher Price activity house for rats.”

Researcher Catharine Winstanley, who is also an assistant professor in UBC’s Department of Psychology, says that “for most people, gambling is a harmless recreational activity, but for some it becomes a maladaptive obsession similar to drug addiction. We hope to find treatments to offer people who have this problem.”

So what did they find out?

One, they discovered that rats can suppress the temptation to make a go for the larger rewards and instead stay within their comfort zone for smaller (but surer) rewards. This is much like some people who would not risk too much when gambling.

Two, they also discovered that the decisions of the rats were affected by drugs. A report by Canada.com elaborates:

When the rodents reduced their level of serotonin, associated with impulse control, they dramatically reduced their ability to play the odds. When they had a lower level of dopamine, associated with pleasure in humans, they were more likely to choose holes with smaller gains and smaller losses.

I suppose that they could use this info to treat problem gambling. But they are probably so far from the cure as of now.

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