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It has been argued that despite the contemporary growth in gambling research directed mainly at the mental disorder concept of Pathological Gambling the conceptual and methodological issues associated with this model are fundamental in nature and may impede further progress. In this section of the paper an alternative focus for research is considered, namely, choice or subjective control over the time and money spent on gambling and the psychological processes that sustain or impair control.
It is difficult to reject the premise that the erosion of a person's ability to control their time and money expenditure on gambling is central to a psychological understanding of the origins of the harm that can arise. Impaired control has variously been defined as "spending more than planned", "gambling for longer than intended" and "spending more than can be afforded" (Corless & Dickerson, 1989). Schellink & Schrans (1998) used the responses to the questionnaire item, "Have you ever felt you were spending more money or time ... than you should?" (i.e. on gambling) as one of their criteria in operationalizing problem gambling. In the following discussion self-control of gambling is defined in terms of consistently staying within preferred levels of involvement i.e. time and money expenditure.
If the face validity of choice or self-control as a central feature of pathological gambling appears strong, achieving construct validity for such a variable poses significant problems for any account of human behavior (e.g. Bandura, 1997). Fortunately theoretical models that include self-control or self-regulation have become more diverse and open to empirical research (Cervone, 1996; Baumeister 1997, Beck & Fernandez, 1998) and some include developmental themes (Kuhl & Kraska, 1989; Diaz & Fruhauf, 1991; Grolnick, Kurowski & Gurland, 1999).
Within the addictions the concept of control has been assumed to be central and was the principle underlying the development of the Impaired Control Scale (ICS) (Heather et al., 1993) used in alcohol research. Less holistic self-control constructs have included severity of dependence (Stockwell, Murphy & Hodgson, 1983), craving (Heather & Robertson, 1981), restraint (Ruderman McKirnan, 1984; Curry, Southwick & Steel, 1987) and temptation (Collins & Lapp, 1992; Collins, 1997). This research into aspects of self-control in the addictions suggests a variety of avenues for gambling research to explore.
Thus far research on self-control of gambling has been limited. There has been research on an 18-item scale (the Scale of Gambling Choices; SGC) which correlates 0.87 with the SOGS (Baron, Dickerson & Blaszczynski, 1995). Using a shorter version (12 items), which shows a more satisfactory two-factor structure comprising resisting impulses to gamble and abiding by time and money constraints, there is emerging evidence of the significant role played by chasing in the development of impaired control (O'Connor & Dickerson, 1997). In a study of off-course gamblers, chasing, shown to be the raising of stakes and persisting at betting after a sequence of losses and after a large win, was found to be very closely related to impaired control (O'Connor, Dickerson & Phillips, 1995). The research issue raised by this result is whether a measure of gambling control that includes three themes, i.e. consistent control over time and money expenditure, resisting urges to gamble and chasing, will be too heterogeneous to facilitate research.
Despite the potentially complex conceptual issues and the limited empirical work completed, a further consideration is that self-control as a dependent variable may be more accessible to research designed to explore theoretical links with key constructs within the mainstream of psychology (this is illustrated in Fig. 1). It is emphasized that this is an illustration rather than a model. The following discussion has the objective of demonstrating the potential strengths of such an approach to both incorporate existing empirical findings and to indicate future directions for inquiry.
In the schema there is circularity between the variables of involvement and choice/control: the more a person gambles the greater the opportunity to lose control and the more a person experiences impaired control the more they gamble. The simultaneous examination of these two latent variables is possible using structural equation path modeling techniques and for that reason the schema follows the convention of Lisrel.
The direction of the relationship between the two variables is an important research theme in its own right. Reports from professional gamblers (Allcock & Dickerson, 1986) suggest that there is an inevitable tendency toward impaired control arising from increased involvement per se. Professional gamblers understand that just because they are gambling more frequently and with larger stakes they are at greater risk of losing control. They therefore adopt strategies that help maintain control such as detailed accounting records and systems to determine bet selection and stake size.
In contrast to this causal direction, subjective control may be impaired directly by a factor such as the player's prevailing negative mood (e.g. Griffiths, 1995), resulting in increased involvement. The inter-relationship between the two implicit variables may vary from control over starting a session to continuing or ending an ongoing one (Corless & Dickerson, 1989). There is some evidence to suggest that the processes that impair control over the latter are subjectively experienced as the stronger (Dickerson, Hinchy & Legg England, 1990; Schellink & Schrans, 1998).
The two latent variables in the schema also resolve some of the conceptual and methodological issues associated with Pathological Gambling, First, there is no assumption of a necessary causal link with harmful impacts. Whether either or both variables result in harm will be determined by the context in which the gambling occurs.
The "exclusion" of the harmful impacts that may arise from gambling does not preclude an examination of the potentially powerful influence of accruing harm on increased involvement and impaired control, as argued persuasively in Orford's (1985) concept of attachment. Debts as one impact with their associated link to greater chasing (O'Connor, Dickerson & Phillips, 1996) can be entered as a component of involvement itself. Secondly, like any other potentially distressing impact, it may enter the equation indirectly via changes in any of the predictor variables, e.g. increased negative mood or deterioration in social support.
One final methodological point involves the similarity between regular gamblers and problem gamblers in terms of both impaired control and level of involvement. Recent research confirms the probable natural cycling of players from one group to another without outside intervention or therapy (Schellink & Schrans, 1998). Such similarities are the source of problems in the design of research and measures seeking to distinguish Pathological Gamblers from other players. In the present illustration these common features facilitate research; prospective studies of regular gamblers are likely to inform our understanding of the processes that sustain or impair control over gambling.
Returning to the schema itself the predictor variables included in the schema are illustrative and not exhaustive. Potential gender differences (Mark & Lesieur, 1992) require that the pathways for men and women gamblers be examined independently in the first instance.
Negative emotions such as dysphoria and anxiety are consistently nominated by regular players responding to social impact surveys as being a common precipitant of a session of gambling. For example, 9% use gambling as an escape from feeling depressed, 30% were more likely to gamble after a frustrating day (Dickerson et al., 1996). This precipitation of further gambling has been confirmed among populations of problem gamblers attending therapy (Blaszczynski, McConaghy & Frankova, 1991). In addition, direct observation studies of gaming machine players has confirmed that dysphoric mood immediately prior to starting a session predicts persistence when losing (Dickerson et al., 1992), a finding confirmed for "fruit machine" players in the UK (Griffiths, 1994). A study of gaming machine players in Victoria (Ohtsuka et al., 1997) found that subjective mood of both men and women players was a significant predictor of SOGS scores in a standard multiple regression model.
Dickerson, M., & Baron, E. (2000). Contemporary issues and future directions for research into pathological gambling. Addiction, 95(8).
Personal Reflection Exercise #6
The preceding section contained information regarding self-control factors in pathological gambling. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
de Ridder, D., Kroese, F., & Gillebaart, M. (2018). Whatever happened to self-control? A proposal for integrating notions from trait self-control studies into state self-control research. Motivation Science, 4(1), 39–49.
Milyavskaya, M., Berkman, E. T., & De Ridder, D. T. D. (2019). The many faces of self-control: Tacit assumptions and recommendations to deal with them. Motivation Science, 5(1), 79–85.
Smith, T., Panfil, K., Bailey, C., & Kirkpatrick, K. (2019). Cognitive and behavioral training interventions to promote self-control. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 45(3), 259–279.