In Study 2, we examined potential channels through which mindfulness is associated with lower degrees of gambling pathology. For example, mindfulness may foster better calibration of risk-taking assessments. This possibility is important, given well-established empirical links between judgment and decision-making deficits and PG (Ladouceur, 2004
; Toneatto, 1999
). In particular, judgment and decision-making deficits reflected in the Georgia Gambling Task (GGT; Goodie, 2003
), which measures overconfidence and risk-willingness, and the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT; Bechara, Damasio, Damasio, & Anderson, 1994
), which measures myopic focus on reward, have demonstrated relevance in determining the severity of gambling outcomes (Bechara, 2001
; Goodie, 2005
; Lakey, Goodie, & Campbell, in press
). In this study, we used these two behavioral assessments to assess different forms of gambling-related risk-taking.
In the GGT, participants first complete a confidence calibration task by answering 100 two-alternative general knowledge questions and assessing their confidence in each answer using a 50% to 100% scale. Confidence is assessed such that, among answers in which one expresses 80% confidence, 80% should turn out to be correct. If this is achieved, the average confidence over all trials equals the proportion of questions answered correctly. Overconfidence is calculated as the difference between average confidence and accuracy across the question set. In the next phase, participants accept or reject a bet on each answer that is fair (having zero average value) if confidence is well calibrated. For example, if participants express 80% confidence in an answer, the offered bet would award 100 points if correct, but penalize 400 points if incorrect. If participants are overconfident, accepting bets systematically results in negative point totals. Previous research has established the relevance of GGT performance to the severity of gambling outcomes, where higher reports of PG relate directly to overconfidence and bet acceptance, and inversely with point totals (Goodie, 2005
; Lakey et al., in press
The IGT is a contingency card-choice task in which participants choose from among four decks. Two decks offer large wins, which intermittently are accompanied by even larger losses, leading to negative average outcomes. The other two decks offer smaller gains, which sometimes are accompanied by even smaller losses, leading to positive average outcomes. Initially, Bechara et al. (1994)
found that patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex damage continually chose from the disadvantageous decks, whereas non-lesioned controls learned over 100 trials to avoid those decks. Successful performance is contingent upon learning to avoid the risky decks and choosing from the safe decks, which is accomplished through the aversive emotional responses tied to the large losses associated with the disadvantageous decks (Bechara, Damasio, & Damasio, 2000
). The interpretation of perseveration among non-lesioned participants is that they are willing to continue choosing from disadvantageous decks because of a myopic focus towards large wins. Researchers have used this task to delineate among groups with heightened risk-taking propensities, including those with substance addiction disorders (e.g., Bechara & Damasio, 2002
), and individuals with PG (Lakey et al., in press
Clearly, the GGT and IGT are not designed to assess gambling per se
, as neither involves wagers for real money. Instead, these tasks measure differences in cognitive processes that underlie gambling and other risky activities. Indeed, in the Lakey et al. (in press)
study of frequent poker players, those who frequently opted for risky decks on the IGT also displayed greater overconfidence, accepted more bets, and ultimately earned fewer points on the GGT. Moreover, both of these tasks uniquely predicted higher reports of PG. To date, no research has documented a link between mindfulness and performance on the GGT and IGT. We argue, however, that such a link is plausible. As mindfulness entails enhanced attentional and self-regulatory capabilities that facilitate meeting situational demands adaptively (Brown et al., in press
), the biased judgments that lead to overconfidence and risk-willingness captured by the GGT, and the tendency to maintain an indiscriminate focus on reward in the IGT, suggest lower levels of dispositional mindfulness are operative. With this in mind, we hypothesized that the relation between mindfulness and PG would be accounted for (i.e., mediated), at least in part, by participants’ performance on these tasks.
Undergraduate frequent gamblers (N=309; 101 female) from a large university completed this study for partial fulfillment of course requirements. Ages ranged from 18-25 (M=19.23, SD=1.31).
Measures and Procedures
As in Study 1, participants completed the MAAS (α=.81), the SCS (α=.86), and the DIGS to assess gambling pathology (α=.91) and gambling frequency (α=.81). Participants then completed computer-administered versions of the GGT and IGT, in counterbalanced order. To assess performance on the GGT, we used total points won or lost (GGT Points) as the variable of interest, as this reflects both individuals’ confidence calibration (i.e., overconfidence) and the proportion of times participants accepted bets based on their level of confidence. To gauge performance on the IGT, we used the total number of times participants chose from the advantageous, safe decks over 100 trials (IGT Total).
The means of the MAAS (M
=.73), SCS (M
=11.69), DIGS (M
=2.33) and gambling frequency (M
=123.65) variables were consistent with those found in Study 1. Of the 309 participants, 199 scored four or less on the DIGS, while 110 scored five or higher, indicating PG. The means of GGT Points (M
=22504) and IGT Total (M
=17.55) are consistent with those found in other samples of frequent gamblers (e.g., Lakey et al., in press
). Again, we centered all predictor variables and subjected gambling frequency to a square root transformation to correct skewness. Correlations of the study variables appear in .
Bivariate Correlations among Study 2 Variables
In an attempt to replicate the results of Study 1, we simultaneously regressed DIGS onto MAAS, SCS, and gambling frequency. As before, a significant relation with MAAS score emerged (β=-.26, t=-4.71, p<.01). Gambling frequency also was a significant predictor (β=.40, t=8.14, p<.01), but SCS was not (p>.06). Having again established the relation between mindfulness and gambling severity, we analyzed the relation between mindfulness and the prospective mediating variables — GGT Points and IGT Total. We first simultaneously regressed GGT Points onto MAAS, again controlling for SCS and gambling frequency. MAAS score was a significant predictor (β=.23, t=3.76, p<.01), whereas gambling frequency and SCS were not (both ps>.45). We then regressed IGT Total onto MAAS, controlling for gambling frequency and SCS. Neither gambling frequency nor SCS were statistically significant (both ps>.64), whereas MAAS score was highly significant (β=.23, t=3.79, p<.01). depicts GGT and IGT performance as a function of MAAS scores.
Figure 1 Results using a median split of high and low MAAS scores for (a) GGT confidence calibration, showing accuracy as a function of confidence, and (b) IGT deck choice, showing the average difference between advantageous and risky choices for each block of (more ...)
To determine whether performance on these tasks accounted for a significant portion of the shared variance between mindfulness and DIGS, we simultaneously regressed DIGS onto MAAS, both posited mediating variables, and the covariates gambling frequency and SCS. Importantly, both GGT Points (β=-.14, t=-2.60, p<.05) and IGT Total (β=-.13, t=-2.36, p<.05) were significant predictors of DIGS scores. The direct relation of MAAS also remained significant (β=-.16, t =-2.77, p<.01). displays the mediation model and results.
Model of relations between mindfulness, GGT and IGT performance, and pathological gambling (DIGS), controlling for gambling frequency and self-control.
Given concerns regarding mediation tests that do not use formal significance tests of mediation relations (e.g., MacKinnon, Lockwood, Hoffman, West, & Sheets 2002
), we tested the significance of both the total direct relation of mindfulness, and the specific indirect relations of GGT Points and IGT Total using Preacher and Hayes’ (submitted)
bootstrapping technique for multiple mediator models. In comparison to other proposed mediation methods, this method has greater power to detect significant mediation without imposing questionable distributional assumptions on the data (MacKinnon et al., 2002
). To reveal the precise nature of the mediation, Preacher and Hayes’ technique produces point estimates and bias-corrected and accelerated confidence intervals (see Effron, 1987) for each of the proposed indirect relations, and a point estimate of the remaining direct relation. For the indirect relation tests, confidence intervals that do not include zero suggest significant mediation.
The total indirect relation of MAAS on DIGS through both of the mediating variables was significant (point estimate=-.0129; 95% CI:-.0056 to -.0239). Importantly, examinations of the specific indirect relations revealed that both mediating variables also were uniquely significant. Specifically, the GGT Points point estimate was -.0067 (95% CI:-.0016 to -.0160), and the IGT Total point estimate was -.0062 (95% CI:-.0014 to -.0150). The remaining direct relation of MAAS was significant (point estimate=-.0345), indicating partial mediation.
These results demonstrated again that mindfulness was related to less severe gambling outcomes. Also, we found significant relations between mindfulness and performance on two risk-related judgment and decision-making tasks. Specifically, mindfulness predicted better performance on the GGT, where points are contingent upon better calibration between judgments of confidence and accuracy and less bet acceptance, and the IGT, which assesses myopic focus on reward. Better performance on both tasks related to less gambling-related pathology, and most importantly, performance on these tasks partially explained why more mindful individuals evidenced less severe gambling outcomes.
Gambling in excess can engender manifold intrapersonal and interpersonal problems, and it is important to isolate specific individual difference variables that might promote adaptive behavioral choices and thereby protect people at risk of developing PG. As such, we examined the hypothesis that dispositional mindfulness is associated with less severe gambling outcomes and the biased judgment and decision-making processes that help to uphold them. Two studies found that although more mindful individuals gamble with equal frequency as those less mindful, there were significant inverse relations between mindfulness and reports of PG, even after controlling for gambling frequency and dispositional self-control. In addition to its implications for PG, this finding supports theory and past research on the role of mindfulness in supporting adaptive behavioral choices more generally (Brown et al., in press
; Brown & Ryan, 2003
Study 2 extended this basic finding by examining the role of risk-related judgment and decision-making in explaining the inverse relation between mindfulness and gambling severity. This study revealed two potential mechanisms by which mindfulness may inhibit severe gambling outcomes, as demonstrated by behavioral performance in two gambling paradigms that assessed different forms of risk-taking. First, perhaps as a function of their heightened awareness and attention to present events and experiences, more mindful individuals displayed greater accuracy when answering general knowledge questions on the GGT. Moreover, they exhibited better calibration between their confidence and accuracy (i.e., less overconfidence). As seen in , mindful participants revealed calibration curves consistently closer to the normative identity line where confidence equals accuracy. As such, coupling these more adaptive judgment processes with less frequent risk-taking decisions, more mindful individuals objectively outperformed those less mindful in points earned. The fact that mindful individuals were more accurate suggests that mindfulness may inhibit distraction from intrusive thoughts, allowing for deeper processing of relevant stimuli. This may have led to greater recognition of risk, resulting in lower bet acceptance.
Second, more mindful individuals implicitly learned mixed reward and punishment contingencies better than less mindful individuals, as depicted in by their higher selection from advantageous decks on the IGT. This finding suggests that the heightened awareness to internal and external stimuli that denotes mindful attunement may facilitate a subsequent consonance between individuals’ behaviors and the affective consequences associated with particular stimuli. Specifically, higher mindfulness may have allowed for better attunement to internal affective states caused by the reward and punishment contingencies associated with the risky decks. Presumably, this decreased the myopic focus on potential reward that obscures the recognition of potential loss, which in turn may have increased inhibition and tempered individuals’ impulsivity. Detailed investigation of these processes awaits further research.
The lack of observed relation between mindfulness and gambling frequency, and the inverse correlation between mindfulness and PG suggests that mindfulness may promote successful gambling experiences by fostering less overconfidence, less risk-taking, and less myopic focus on reward. Future research is needed to examine these potential processes more closely. However, given that performance on these risk-taking tasks only partially mediated the relation between mindfulness and gambling severity, it will be important to explore other potential mediators. One possibility is to examine mechanisms related to psychological distress. Specifically, mindfulness might serve to inoculate individuals from symptoms such as depression or neuroticism, which often arise in conjunction with PG (Petry, 2005
). Another possibility is to examine mechanisms related to gamblers’ ego-involvement. Certain PG symptoms, such as preoccupation with gambling, suggest that imbuing gambling experiences with heightened self-relevance fosters egoic attachment to gambling outcomes, which may undermine gambling’s harmless nature. In both of these cases, mindfulness may serve to mitigate ego-involvement in gambling by inhibiting such attachment and by decreasing the likelihood of using gambling as a means of escape from challenging personal realities.
Given the links between mindfulness, judgment and decision-making biases, and PG, future research may also explore the gambling-related effects of interventions designed to enhance mindfulness. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for gamblers targets, in part, increasing objective recognition of cravings and potential gambling-related triggers, and mitigating the cognitive biases that exacerbate gambling problems (Petry, 2005
). Based on our findings, the capacity for mindfulness may help facilitate such self-regulation, and may prove useful for designing interventions. Mindfulness is a quality of consciousness that may be enhanced through training (Brown et al., in press
), and such training has demonstrated effectiveness in treating self-control related disorders (e.g., Witkiewitz et al., 2005
Limitations and Other Future Directions
Mindfulness related to less severe gambling tendencies in two independent samples of frequent gamblers. However, the causal direction of this relation is uncertain in these studies. While a broad-based disposition (mindfulness) is more likely to influence a specific behavioral tendency (gambling) than the converse, experimental research is warranted, possibly using mindfulness induction (e.g., Broderick, 2005
). Finally, the risk-taking tasks we employed did not offer wagers for real money, and differed from real gambling in other ways. These tasks do, however, mimic real-world risk-taking in important ways, and capture differences in basic cognitive processes that underlie gambling and other risky activities. To the extent that these measures mediate the link between mindfulness and gambling pathology, they may play a similar role in other forms of risky behavior.
These studies demonstrated that mindfulness is associated with less severe gambling outcomes, and revealed that better attuned risk-taking judgments and decisions helped to explain this relation. These findings are hopeful in suggesting that the greater attention to and awareness of ongoing internal and external stimuli that characterizes mindfulness may represent an effective means of mitigating the impulsive and addictive responses and intemperate risk-attitudes of individuals with PG. Indeed, mindfulness has been considered a self-regulatory capacity, and heightened awareness of events and experiences is a necessary antecedent to reflectively considered choices. In this light, mindfulness may help to lessen the grip of automatic thoughts, affective reactions, and behavior patterns, thereby facilitating adaptive behavioral regulation.