Journal of Gambling Studies

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 435–455 | Cite as

Reward-Sensitivity, Inhibition of Reward-Seeking, and Dorsolateral Prefrontal Working Memory Function in Problem Gamblers not in Treatment

  • Victor Leiserson
  • Robert O. Pihl
Original Paper


Given the central role of perseverative chasing in problem gambling, the present study sought to find evidence for three hypothesized components of perseveration in problem gamblers: reward-sensitivity dominance, deficient inhibition of reward-seeking behavior, and working memory deficits. This was the first attempt to examine working memory deficits in problem gamblers using a conditional association task, which is associated with posterior-dorsolateral prefrontal functioning. In a sample that was not in treatment, and representative in terms of comorbidity, problem gamblers performed significantly worse on the conditional association working memory tasks after controlling for general memory function, compared to demographically-matched controls. This is significant because deficits in the dorsolateral prefrontal region have been consistently associated with perseveration, which suggests that problem gamblers’ perseverative chasing may be associated with a working memory deficit. Problem gamblers were not significantly higher than at-risk gamblers in terms of reward-sensitivity dominance (measured as a personality trait in terms of extraversion) suggesting that it may not be specifically associated with problem gambling. Sensation-seeking was also not associated with problem gambling in a sample that corrected for the methodological problems of previous studies which examined it. The need for gambling research to focus specifically on the perseverative inability to stop gambling is emphasized, and the present findings of specific working memory deficits in problem gamblers suggest the need for further examination of working memory as a potential risk factor for problem gambling. We propose that subsequent studies examine working memory in terms of the self-regulatory capacity for goal maintenance where attention must specifically be allocated to resist interference.


Problem Gambling Chasing Working Memory Dorsolateral Perseveration Impulsivity 



Support for this article came from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. We are particulary grateful to Peter Hoaken, Rhonda Amsel, Frank Vitaro, Jean-Marc Assaad, and Jean Séguin for their advice on statistical and other issues. We are also grateful to Rina Gupta and Jeffrey Derevensky for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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