Given that most gambling these days happens via smartphone apps, and that the psychological tricks used by gambling firms are also used by, for example, for-profit centralised social media sites, I found this fascinating (and worrying!)
Kim Lund, founder of poker game firm Aftermath Interactive, has made a career out of game design and has seen at first-hand how cold, hard probability defeats the illogical human mind every time – and allows the gambling companies to cash in. “All gambling games are based on psychological triggers that mean they work,” he tells me. “The human brain is incapable of dealing with randomness. We’re obsessed with finding patterns in things because that prevents us from going insane. We want to make sense of things.”
In her 1975 paper The Illusion of Control, Ellen J Langer conducted a series of experiments that showed that our expectations of success in a game of chance vary, depending on factors that do not actually affect the outcome. One of the variables that makes a big difference to how gamblers behave is the introduction of an element of choice. In one of Langer’s experiments, subjects were given lottery tickets with an American football player on them. Some subjects got to choose which player they wanted, others were allocated a ticket at random. On the morning of the draw, everyone was asked how much they would be prepared to sell their ticket for. Those who had chosen their ticket demanded an average of $8.67, while those who had been allocated one at random were prepared to give it up for $1.96.