Siblings Of Gamblers Show Similar Impulsive/Risk-taking Characteristics

New research regarding gamblers siblings has given weight to the idea that problem gamblers are not created but born that way.

A new study published in the scientific journal Neuropsycho-pharmacology on Thursday found that the biological siblings of individuals struggling to control their gambling behaviour display similar impulsiveness and risk-taking characteristics, indicating that the subjects share pre-existing genetic vulnerabilities to gambling disorders.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC), included 20 problem gamblers, 16 problem gamblers ‘ biological parents, and a gambling-free control group. When playing a virtual slot machine game, the participants completed questionnaires, underwent cognitive tests and had their brains examined by an MRI system.

Both the problem gambler and sibling groups reported higher risk-taking and impulsiveness rates than the control group, including an increased likelihood of behaving impulsively while feeling negative emotions. Interestingly, when making risky decisions, the two classes were more likely to make greater wagers.

The brains of the children, however, showed a similar lack of reward response as did the control group participants. The researchers indicated that this might mean that their gambling experiences had affected the creation of problem gamblers ‘ brains to some degree. (Other research indicated a correlation between adult gambling disorders and childhood stress and/or trauma.) Researchers said their findings suggest that pre-existing individuals may be vulnerable to gambling disorders. The small size of the study groups makes it difficult to extrapolate definitive conclusions, but investigators hope that their results can continue to be studied by other scientists.

A research by the University of Iowa in 2014 showed that first-degree relatives of pathological gamblers are eight times more likely than individuals who did not share the DNA of a problem gambler. Many studies have shown significant differences in brain function–including difficulties in predicting rewards and measuring risks as well as seeing trends where none exist–among problem gamblers and individuals who do not suffer from such disorders.

The argument that problem gamblers were born and not made is also reinforced in multiple jurisdictions by statistics that have experienced a dramatic expansion of gambling opportunities with no corresponding increase in the number of problem gamblers or pathological gamblers.