Research

Explained: Slot Machine Psychology

Online slots are some of the most popular games in the world, played by huge numbers of people every day. Most people who play online slots know that the house has the advantage, but they play anyway, and this is down to one thing: psychology.

Author: Editorial Team August 16, 2021

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Slot Machine Psychology plays a huge role in gambling, and on this page, we’ll be looking at the psychology of slot machines, so you understand exactly what’s going on when you next put a dollar or two into your favorite game.

Dopamine: Why We Gamble

Dopamine: it’s the key to human pleasure. This is the neurotransmitter released whenever we do something that our body finds good, such as eating or doing exercise. It produces a natural high feeling, which can sometimes lead to absolute euphoria. As you might expect, it’s something we as humans want to experience as often as possible.

Gambling has been designed to deliver this dopamine hit to players. When you hit a big win, you’ll feel the rush of joy and excitement hit you, and that’s the dopamine kicking in. Each and every time this happens, the brain begins to associate gambling with dopamine. This means that even if you’re not winning, you’ll often continue to play, in the knowledge that the dopamine hit could be just around the corner.

It’s not just a huge win that can trigger a dopamine release. Many online slots are designed to have different features, which can be exceptionally exciting. These can also cause dopamine to be released, even if eventually they only lead to a small prize. The fact that slot features can activate regularly means that the dopamine hits keep on coming.

Understanding Cognitive Dissonance

Many non-gamblers wonder why so many people continue to gamble, despite knowing that the odds are against them. The reason is something called cognitive dissonance. This is something that allows players to forget that they are usually going to lose, by overriding that thought with the fact that big wins are possible. Essentially, players refuse to acknowledge the facts and instead lie to themselves about the reality of gambling.

Cognitive dissonance is not unique to casino psychology. In fact, every potentially addictive activity sees involvement from it. Drug users ignore the dangers they experience to chase the next high. Smokers ignore the damage to their health to get a nicotine hit. Alcoholics choose to forget about the damage alcohol does, as they want to quench their desire for a drink.

The False Feeling of Control

Human beings are creatures that enjoy control. The majority of us like to know exactly what is happening and also like to have the ability to control the outcome. Online slots go against this, as there is nothing that can be done to alter the chances of winning, so why exactly do we continue to play them?

The answer comes from the fact that we believe we have some control, especially in the case of modern video slots. You’ll notice that the slot machine design has loads of different options: you can choose how much to bet, how many paylines to have active, and often whether to activate a specific bonus. Using these features gives us the false feeling of control, so we become more comfortable.

In addition, the various buttons also act in another way: pressing a specific button, most noticeably the spin button, will cause excitement. This is because dopamine, which we’ve already discussed in this page about slot machine psychology, is released when the visual and audial sensations hit us.

Controlling the Dangers of Gambling

As you will be aware, the slot machine effect can lead to one unfortunate problem: gambling addiction. Those who are addicted to fruit machines will find that they play compulsively, unable to stop themselves from spinning, even when they’re damaging their own bank account and mental health by doing so.

Quite simply, those addicted to gambling crave the feeling it delivers, which is caused by the hit of dopamine. The more they play, the more money they have to gamble to experience the high, which leads to a downward spiral. Quitting can be exceptionally tough, as the craving for dopamine is so high, much like a smoker craves nicotine.

After recognizing that they have a problem, addicts must stop gambling of all types. What’s more, we would encourage anyone on this site with a gambling problem to avoid playing free slots. While they won’t lose any money playing games of this type, playing free slots will still put gambling at the forefront of their thoughts, and this could spill over into them playing real money slots at online casinos.

If you think that you have a gambling problem, we would encourage you to stop playing slots of all types right now and seek help from one of the many great gambling addiction charities and organizations available to you.