Understanding addiction: Why your brain gets hooked on gambling

The brain of a gambling addict mimics that of a drug addict. But no outside chemicals are involved. How does that happen?

Author and neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitz says that your brain doesn't necessarily choose to become addicted to gambling. Rather, it just really wants to figure out a pattern. This 'want' doesn't need any foreign chemicals in order to make it work. In the mind of a serious gambler, their brain wants to find order in the game's structure so bad that it will keep the person playing, telling itself that it will figure it out and that it's just one step away from becoming rich. This doesn't happen to everyone — on the contrary, addictive gamblers are a small yet potent percentage of all gamblers — but their brains mimic that of a severe drug addict trying to get their next fix. Maia's latest book is Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.

Surprising Science

Why elementary schools should teach poker

Might a simple card game have a giant positive effect on a child? Professional poker player Liv Boeree thinks so.

Champion poker player Liv Boeree isn't suggesting that children become professional gamblers who play for high stakes, like she often does. But she is suggesting that if more children learned poker, they might be more ready for the real world. For instance, what is a poker hand other than a progressive set of decisions with consequences, sort of like adult life itself? Liv posits that children would learn that their actions have consequences and the benefits of updating your beliefs, both of which are very important developmental skills (and ones that even some adults have yet to master). You can find out more about Liv at www.livboeree.com.

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