The effects of alcohol on sequential decision-making biases during gambling

  • Juliette Tobias-Webb
  • Eve H. Limbrick-Oldfield
  • Silvia Vearncombe
  • Theodora Duka
  • Luke ClarkEmail author
Original Investigation



Gambling and alcohol use are recreational behaviours that share substantial commonalities at a phenomenological, clinical and neurobiological level. Past studies have shown that alcohol can have a disinhibiting effect on gambling behaviour, in terms of bet size and persistence.


This study was conducted in order to characterise how alcohol affects biases in judgment and decision-making that occur during gambling, with a focus on sequential decision-making including the gambler’s fallacy.


Sequential biases were elicited via a roulette-based gambling task. Using a standard between-groups alcohol challenge procedure, male participants played the roulette task 20 min after receiving an alcoholic (0.8 g/kg; n = 22) or placebo (n = 16) beverage. The task measured colour choice decisions (red/black) and bet size, in response to varying lengths of colour runs and winning/losing feedback streaks.


Across both groups, a number of established sequential biases were observed. On colour choice, there was an effect of run length in line with the gambler’s fallacy, which further varied by previous feedback (wins vs losses). Bet size increased with feedback streaks, especially for losing streaks. Compared to placebo, the alcohol group placed higher bets following losses compared to wins.


Increased bet size after losses following alcohol consumption may reflect increased loss chasing that may amplify gambling harms. Our results do not fit a simple pattern of enhanced gambling distortions or reward sensitivity, but help contextualise the effects of alcohol on gambling to research on decision-making biases.


Alcohol Gambling Cognitive distortions Loss chasing Roulette 



The authors would like to thank Dr Josef Schlittenlacher for his kind assistance with coding in MATLAB.

Funding information

JTW was funded by a Cambridge Australia Poynton Scholarship. The Centre for Gambling Research at UBC (LC, EHL-O) is supported by funding from the British Columbia Lottery Corporation and the Province of British Columbia government. LC and EHL-O received funding from the Medical Research Council (G1100554). LC holds a Discovery Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC; RGPIN-2017-04069).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of Interest

LC is the Director of the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC, which is supported by the Province of British Columbia government and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC). The BCLC is a Canadian Crown Corporation. The Province of British Columbia government and BCLC had no involvement in the research design, methodology, conduct, analysis or write-up of the study, and impose no constraints on publishing. LC has received travel/accommodation reimbursements for speaking engagements from the National Center for Responsible Gaming (US) and National Association of Gambling Studies (Australia) and has received honoraria for academic services from the National Center for Responsible Gaming (US) and Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (Canada). He has not received any further direct or indirect payments from the gambling industry or groups substantially funded by gambling. He has received royalties from Cambridge Cognition Ltd. relating to the licensing of a neurocognitive test. EHLO is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC, supported by funding from the Province of British Columbia and the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), a Canadian Crown Corporation. She has received a speaker honorarium from the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling (US) and accepted travel/accommodation for speaking engagements from the National Council for Responsible Gambling (US), the International Multidisciplinary Symposium on Gambling Addiction (Switzerland) and the Responsible Gambling Council (Canada). She has not received any further direct or indirect payments from the gambling industry or groups substantially funded by gambling. The other authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

The study was approved by the University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee. All procedures involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

Supplementary material

213_2019_5376_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 16 kb)


  1. Abdollahnejad R, Delfabbro P, Denson L (2014) Understanding the relationship between pathological gambling and gambling-related cognition scores: the role of alcohol use disorder and delusion proneness. Int Gambl Stud 14:183–195. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allison PD (2005) Fixed effects regression methods for longitudinal data using SAS. SAS Institute, Cary, NCGoogle Scholar
  3. Alter AL, Oppenheimer DM (2006) From a fixation on sport to an exploration of mechanism: the past, present and future of hot hand research. Think Reason 12:431–444. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ayton P, Fischer I (2004) The hot hand fallacy and the gambler’s fallacy: two faces of subjective randomness? Mem Cogn 32:1369–1378. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Ball CT (2012) Not all streaks are the same: individual differences in risk preferences during runs of gains and losses. Judgm Decis Mak 7:452–461Google Scholar
  6. Barnes GM, Welte JW, Tidwell M-CO, Hoffman JH (2015) Gambling and substance use: co-occurrence among adults in a recent general population study in the United States. Int Gambl Stud 15:55–71. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Barrett SP, Collins P, Stewart SH (2015) The acute effects of tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption on video-lottery terminal gambling. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 130:34–39. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Blankenship J, Starling R, Woodall WG, May PA (2007) Gambling and alcohol use: trends in the state of New Mexico from 1996-1998. J Gambl Stud 23:157–174. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Boileau I, Assaad JM, Pihl RO, Benkelfat C, Leyton M, Diksic M, Tremblay RE, Dagher A (2003) Alcohol promotes dopamine release in the human nucleus accumbens. Synapse 49:226–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Boynton DM (2003) Superstitious responding and frequency matching in the positive bias and gambler’s fallacy effects. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 91:119–127. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Breslin FC, Sobell MB, Cappell H et al (1999) The effects of alcohol, gender and sensation-seeking on the gambling choices of social drinkers. Psychol Addict Behav 13:243–252. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Campbell-Meiklejohn DK, Woolrich MW, Passingham RE, Rogers RD (2008) Knowing when to stop: the brain mechanisms of chasing losses. Biol Psychiatry 63:293–300. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Carlson KA, Shu SB (2007) The rule of three: how the third event signals the emergence of a streak. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 104:113–121. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chen D, Moskowitz TJ, Shue K (2016) Decision-making under the gambler’s fallacy: evidence from asylum judges, loan officers, and baseball umpires. Q J Econ 131:1181–1242. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clark L (2016) Decision-making in gambling disorder: understanding behavioural addictions. In: Dreher J-C, Tremblay LK (eds) Decision neuroscience. ElsevierGoogle Scholar
  16. Clotfelter CT, Cook PJ (1993) Notes: the gambler’s fallacy in lottery play. Manag Sci 39:1521–1525. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Comings DE, Blum K (2000) Reward deficiency syndrome: genetic aspects of behavioral disorders. Prog Brain Res 126:325–341. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Connor JP, Haber PS, Hall WD (2016) Alcohol use disorders. Lancet 387:988–998. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Corbin WR, Cronce JM (2017) Effects of alcohol, initial gambling outcomes, impulsivity, and gambling cognitions on gambling behavior using a video poker task. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 25:175–185. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Cronce JM, Corbin WR (2010) Effects of alcohol and initial gambling outcomes on within-session gambling behavior. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 18:145–157. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. Croson R, Sundali J (2005) The gambler’s fallacy and the hot hand: empirical data from casinos. J Risk Uncertain 30:195–209. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cross CP, Copping LT, Campbell A (2011) Sex differences in impulsivity: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull 137:97–130. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Cyders MA, Smith GT, Spillane NS, Fischer S, Annus AM, Peterson C (2007) Integration of impulsivity and positive mood to predict risky behavior: development and validation of a measure of positive urgency. Psychol Assess 19:107–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Delfabbro P, Borgas M, King D (2012) Venue staff knowledge of their patrons’ gambling and problem gambling. J Gambl Stud 28:155–169. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Ellery M, Stewart SH (2014) Alcohol affects video lottery terminal (VLT) gambling behaviors and cognitions differently. Psychol Addict Behav 28:206–216. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Ellery M, Stewart SH, Loba P (2005) Alcohol’s effects on video lottery terminal (VLT) play among probable pathological and non-pathological gamblers. J Gambl Stud 21:299–324. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Euser AS, Van Meel CS, Snelleman M, Franken IHA (2011) Acute effects of alcohol on feedback processing and outcome evaluation during risky decision-making: an ERP study. Psychopharmacology 217:111–125. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. Ferris J, Wynne H (2001) Canadian problem gambling index. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Ottawa, OntarioGoogle Scholar
  29. Field A, Miles J, Field Z (2012) Discovering statistics using R. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  30. Fortune EE, Goodie AS (2012) Cognitive distortions as a component and treatment focus of pathological gambling: a review. Psychol Addict Behav 26:298–310. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. French MT, Maclean JC, Ettner SL (2008) Drinkers and bettors: investigating the complementarity of alcohol consumption and problem gambling. Drug Alcohol Depend 96:155–164. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. George S, Rogers RD, Duka T (2005) The acute effect of alcohol on decision making in social drinkers. Psychopharmacol 182:160–169. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Glautier S, Bankart J, Rigney U, Willner P (1998) Multiple variable interval schedule behaviour in humans: effects of ethanol, mood, and reinforcer size on responding maintained by monetary reinforcement. Behav Pharmacol 9:619–630. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Hosmer DW, Lemeshow S (1989) Applied logistic regression. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  35. Huggett SB, Winiger EA, Corley RP, Hewitt JK, Stallings MC (2019) Alcohol use, psychiatric disorders and gambling behaviors: a multi-sample study testing causal relationships via the co-twin control design. Addict Behav 93:173–179. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Hull JG, Bond CF (1986) Social and behavioral consequences of alcohol consumption and expectancy: a meta-analysis. Psychol Bull 99:347–360. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Joyce KM, Hudson A, O’Connor RM et al (2019) Retrospective and prospective assessments of gambling-related behaviors across the female menstrual cycle. J Behav Addict 8:135–145. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Kahneman D, Tversky A (1979) Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica 47:264–291 retrieved from: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kessler RC, Hwang I, LaBrie R, Petukhova M, Sampson NA, Winters KC, Shaffer HJ (2008) DSM-IV pathological gambling in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Psychol Med 38:1351–1360. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Kyngdon A, Dickerson M (1999) An experimental study of the effect of prior alcohol consumption on a simulated gambling activity. Addiction 94:697–707CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lane SD, Yechiam E, Busemeyer JR (2006) Application of a computational decision model to examine acute drug effects on human risk taking. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 14:254–264. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Leino T, Molde H, Griffiths MD et al (2017) Gambling behavior in alcohol-serving and non-alcohol-serving-venues: a study of electronic gaming machine players using account records. Addict Res Theory 25:201–207. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Loeber S, Duka T (2009a) Acute alcohol decreases performance of an instrumental response to avoid aversive consequences in social drinkers. Psychopharmacol 205:577–587. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Loeber S, Duka T (2009b) Acute alcohol impairs conditioning of a behavioural reward-seeking response and inhibitory control processes—implications for addictive disorders. Addiction 104:2013–2022. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Lorains FK, Cowlishaw S, Thomas SA (2011) Prevalence of comorbid disorders in problem and pathological gambling: systematic review and meta-analysis of population surveys. Addiction 106:490–498. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Lyvers M (2000) “Loss of control” in alcoholism and drug addiction: a neuroscientific interpretation. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 8:225–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Marlatt GA, Demming B, Reid JB (1973) Loss of control drinking in alcoholics: an experimental analogue. J Abnorm Psychol 81:233–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Marmurek HHC, Switzer J, D’Alvise J (2015) Impulsivity, gambling cognitions, and the gambler’s fallacy in university students. J Gambl Stud 31:197–210. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. McCarthy S, Thomas SL, Bellringer ME, Cassidy R (2019) Women and gambling-related harm: a narrative literature review and implications for research, policy, and practice. Harm Reduct J 16:1–11. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mehrabian A, Russell JA (1978) A questionnaire measure of habitual alcohol use. Psychol Rep 43:803–806CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Miller NV, Currie SR (2008) A Canadian population level analysis of the roles of irrational gambling cognitions and risky gambling practices as correlates of gambling intensity and pathological gambling. J Gambl Stud 24:257–274. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Nikolaou K, Critchley H, Duka T (2013) Alcohol affects neuronal substrates of response inhibition but not of perceptual processing of stimuli signalling a stop response. PLoS One 8:1–16. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. O’Connor J, Dickerson M (2003) Definition and measurement of chasing in off-course betting and gaming machine play. J Gambl Stud 19:359–386. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Oscar-Berman M, Marinkovi K (2007) Alcohol: effects on neurobehavioral functions and the brain. Neuropsychol Rev 17:239–257. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  55. Oskarsson AT, Van Boven L, McClelland GH, Hastie R (2009) What’s next? Judging sequences of binary events. Psychol Bull 135:262–285. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Phillips JG, Ogeil RP (2007) Alcohol consumption and computer blackjack. J Gen Psychol 134:333–353CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Phillips JG, Ogeil RP (2010) Alcohol influences the use of decisional support. Psychopharmacology 208:603–611. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Raylu N, Oei TP (2004) The Gambling Related Cognitions Scale (GRCS): development, confirmatory factor validation and psychometric properties. Addiction 99:757–769. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Sagoe D, Mentzoni RA, Leino T, Molde H, Haga S, Gjernes MF, Hanss D, Pallesen S (2017) The effects of alcohol expectancy and intake on slot machine gambling behavior. J Behav Addict 6:203–211. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  60. Sjoberg L (1969) Alcohol and gambling. Psychopharmacologia 14:284–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Steele CM, Josephs RA (1990) Alcohol myopia. Its prized and dangerous effects. Am Psychol 45:921–933CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Studer B, Limbrick-Oldfield EH, Clark L (2015) ‘Put your money where your mouth is!’: effects of streaks on confidence and betting in a binary choice task. J Behav Decis Mak 28:239–249. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  63. Temcheff CE, Paskus TS, Potenza MN, Derevensky JL (2016) Which diagnostic criteria are most useful in discriminating between social gamblers and individuals with gambling problems? An examination of DSM-IV and DSM-5 criteria. J Gambl Stud 32:957–968. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Tobias-Webb J, Limbrick-Oldfield EH, Gillan CM et al (2017) Let me take the wheel: illusory control and sense of agency. Q J Exp Psychol 70.
  65. Toneatto T, Blitz-Miller T, Calderwood K et al (1997) Cognitive distortions in heavy gambling. J Gambl Stud 13:253–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Vogel-Sprott M (1967) Alcohol effects on human behaviour under reward and punishment. Psychopharmacology 11:337–344. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wagner G, Sevincer AT, Keim R, Fähnrich M, Oettingen G (2018) Alcohol intake can reduce gambling behavior. Psychol Addict Behav 32:832–845. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Welte JW, Barnes G, Wieczorek W, Tidwell MC, Parker J (2001) Alcohol and gambling pathology among U.S. adults: prevalence, demographic patterns and comorbidity. J Stud Alcohol 62:706–712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Yakovenko I, Hodgins DC, El-Guebaly N et al (2016) Cognitive distortions predict future gambling involvement. Int Gambl Stud 16:175–192. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Centre for Gambling ResearchUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Elizabeth House, Fulbourn HospitalCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience, School of PsychologyUniversity of SussexBrightonUK

Personalised recommendations