This is Your Brain On Awesome Thoughts on the world from a student of the mind

21May/10

Connecting the dots…

I recently read an article describing the nature of our reward system as it pertains to gambling and success.  Essentially, the article reported that, while winning at gambling activates many of the reward pathways that reinforce our behavior towards similar activities, nearly missing seems to do so as well.

Researchers hypothesized that being rewarded for near misses may be useful in a situation where skill is related with success, but in a completely chance-driven activity like gambling, it can result in near-pathological behavior: those with an addiction to gambling had a stronger reaction to near-wins compared with those that were casual gamblers.

This is an interesting finding, but more intriguing to me is the fact that the gambling industry has already known this for a long time.  When interviewed, representatives of casinos and game makers noted that many gambling devices have been created to have a large number of misses right next to the "big winner," and that this encouraged users to keep playing.  This makes no sense from a statistical or logical perspective, and yet the casino industry has been capitalizing on this fact for decades.

Which leads me to the question - what other knowledge about ourselves has already been discovered, just not made public?  The gambling industry presents one example, but certainly the experiences of the millions of people out there, while not strictly empirical in nature, have uncovered some very interesting quirks and truths about the human condition.  Not to mention the hundreds of academic fields which aren't strictly scientific, but which have much to say about ourselves and our brains.

How might our society encourage this kind of information to be spread?  How can we connect the seemingly disparate dots of our incredibly diverse and expansive set of experiences?  I'm not sure - maybe by encouraging cross-disciplinary research, by forcing students out of the pidgeonhole of their respective fields, by giving people the tools to communicate with one another more efficiently, or by fighting against the myriad forces that would encourage people to safeguard their knowledge in the name of furthering their own interests.

Each of these topics warrants an entire discussion in-and-of themselves, so maybe I'll get into it in the future.  Until then, I'll try and connect the dots as best I can.

Here's the article

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