The human brain needs constant sources of stimulation and exercise. Just like when you work out at the gym and progressively overload your muscles to get stronger, our brains also need to be pushed to new limits in order to function optimally. When you read books, solve word or number puzzles, or play casino games like slots, these types of interactive activities generate lots of activity in our neuro networks.
When you consider all the bright colors, flickering animations, and functions used to play slot machines—along with the natural emotions of hope and anticipation that come up when we’re trying to win, it’s easy to see and understand how some people can become hooked to these types of games.
Why are slot machines so psychologically addictive?
Slots aren’t exactly the same brain-training games, but they do have similar effects in the sense that our brains become accustomed to watching the reels spin and the symbols that show up. We also have to be conscious of the bets we place when playing these games, deciding whether or not to go bigger or smaller according to our bankroll.
Saying that, however, many people become so absorbed when playing slot machines that they lose all sense of time. This is especially common in land-based casinos where the venues purposefully make sure there are no windows to look out of or clocks on display. Thus, what feels like one hour could turn into several hours of mindless playing.
Another reason why slot machines are so addictive is due to a phenomenon scientists have called “cognitive dissonance.” Just like how a smoker willingly puffs away on a cigarette, knowing for a fact that their bad habit damages their body and shortens their life expectancy, they still continue to do it anyway for the artificial feelings of pleasure they get from it. The same goes for slot machine addicts—they know that they could end up losing a ton of money if they continue to play, but the prospect of winning it all back on a single spin or doubling their stake is what keeps them in pursuit of playing.
What happens if they get lucky and do happen to score a huge win? A big flood of dopamine is released, which only adds to the reason why people want to play even more.
What are the beneficial effects of playing slots?
While slots are undeniably addictive in nature, there are many brain-enhancing benefits that come from playing. Some of them include:
- Enhanced logical thinking – learning the rules of the game, working with strategies, calculating payout ratios, etc.
- Developing memory – memorizing different symbols, patterns, the prizes one could earn, and the potential outcomes that could occur
- Arithmetic skills – calculating budgets and bet sizes, figuring out how much you could potentially win
- Improved reaction times – The ability to stop the reels at the right time, being quick to press the hold and nudge functions
- Better focus – the ability to concentrate deeply on the game at hand, what symbols appear on the screen, and the bonus rounds that are triggered
The complex effect on the brain caused by several types of analyzers is the clear benefit of playing slots and other types of casino games. The fingertips actively and simultaneously operate in conjunction with the eyes, ears, and sense of touch. As the brain must process these senses along with the continuous stream of diverse information it receives from the game overall—it needs to work a lot harder than normal.
How casino games build new neural network pathways
Every time you learn a new ability, you go through a period of discomfort. This is because everything is “unknown territory,” and having to remember things like what symbols pay out, what prizes you can expect to win, or what combinations of cards constitute a winning hand, can be quite overwhelming at first.
However, once you get used to the dynamics of a casino game, you start to recognize different patterns and learn from the experience. As you get better and more familiar with everything, your nervous system switches on, and the brain starts to develop new neural connections that make it easier and less intimidating for you the next time you play.
This is essentially the secret to constantly improving and developing our brains, which is why gamblers should change slots and try out new strategies for playing casino games frequently. This automatically forces your brain to analyze and process new information that can enhance it and make you a better, more collected player.
How do table games affect our brains?
While card and dice games aren’t anywhere near as addictive as slots, it’s still easy to get into a state of flow with these types of games and they also pose many helpful benefits for brain health. Due to the level of concentration, the potential cards that you could be dealt, and the varying probabilities of winning, they are much more stimulating than slots. This is why many people play board games, chess, and popular card games like Solitaire, as these types of games are highly intellectual and require tactical ways of thinking in order to win.
Here are some of the brain benefits of playing table games like poker, blackjack and roulette:
- Improved reaction speed – knowing when to take a new card, where to place your chips on the table before the croupier starts the round;
- Logical thinking – using strategies to improve your winning chances, being able to anticipate what cards are most likely to show up next based on the ones already dealt from the deck;
- Better memory – Remembering the outcomes of the previous dice roll, what cards have already been dealt from the deck in a game of blackjack;
- Larger capacity for divergent thinking – being able to think outside the box, the confidence to try different strategies or unconventional moves/bets;
- High attention span – paying attention to what’s going on around the table, what bets other players are placing, and acute general focus on the game at hand; and,
- Brain re-programming – playing table games naturally forces the brain to think differently; hence, players are able to apply these new ways of thinking to everyday situations.
In recent years, research has shown that our health is heavily dependent on our perceptions and views of the world. Analysts proved this when they carried out a study on the lifestyles of people with long life spans. They concluded that various diseases, such as cancer, hardly showed up in their test subjects, which they believe to be linked to their ignorance of such diseases existing.
In other words, those who believe they may be suffering from a health problem before they have even been diagnosed (hello, hypochondriacs!) are more likely to wind themselves up so much by the prospect that they “could” get sick that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The brain undergoes a lot of stress when people think this way, which eventually shows up in the rest of the body.
How gamblers re-program the brain
If we compare the above to gambling, players are continually re-programming their brains. They do this by adopting a mindset that encourages them to stay optimistic, tenacious, and focused in the hopes that they will see success. This mindset naturally boosts their energy levels and trains their mind to only think in the specified direction. You’d be astonished at how a gambler accepts bad news much better than other people. The ability to feel like a leader and a winner is incredibly useful in daily interactions, business discussions, and interpersonal interactions.
Despite the positive effects gambling can have on our brains, never let a fun hobby turn into a gambling addiction. Orient yourself in such a way that you know when to take a break or call it quits, and only ever look at gambling as a fun pastime—never use it as a crutch to remove stress or rely on it as your sole income source. Keeping in line with these principles will ensure you never compromise your mental health and finances.