Journal of Gambling Studies

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 823–834 | Cite as

Mixed Emotions to Near-Miss Outcomes: A Psychophysiological Study with Facial Electromyography

  • Steve Sharman
  • Luke Clark
Original Paper


Near-misses occur across many forms of gambling and are rated as unpleasant while simultaneously increasing the motivation to continue playing. On slot machines, the icon position relative to the payline moderates the effects of near-misses, with near-misses before the payline increasing motivation, and near-misses after the payline being rated as aversive. Near-misses are also known to increase physiological arousal compared to full-misses, but physiological measures to date have not been able to dissociate positive and negative emotional responses. The present study measured facial electromyography at the corrugator (brow) and zygomaticus (cheek) sites, as well as electrodermal activity (EDA), following gambling outcomes on a two-reel slot machine simulation in 77 novice gamblers. Behavioral data was collected using trial-by-trial ratings of motivation and valence. Wins were rated as more pleasant and increased motivation to continue playing, compared to non-win outcomes. Wins were also accompanied by increased EDA and zygomaticus activity. Near-misses after the payline were rated as more aversive than other non-wins, and this was accompanied by increased EDA and zygomaticus activity. Near-misses before the payline increased motivation to continue playing, and were accompanied by increased EDA. Thus, both subjective and physiological responses to near-misses differ for events falling either side of the payline. The ‘near-miss effect’ is not a unitary phenomenon. Facial EMG has differential sensitivity to positive and negative valence and may be a useful measure for future studies of gambling behavior.


Decision-making Reward Arousal Valence Motivation 



SS was funded by a graduate scholarship from the University of Cambridge. The Centre for Gambling Research at UBC is supported by an award from the British Columbia Lottery Corporation and the British Columbia Government.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

SS has no disclosures. LC is the Director of the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC, which is supported by the British Columbia Lottery Corporation and the Province of BC government. LC has provided paid consultancy to Cambridge Cognition Ltd, regarding neurocognitive testing. LC has received no direct or indirect payments from the gambling industry for consultancy, travel or to speak at events.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Centre for Gambling Research at UBCUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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