Superstition in Gambling (Operant Conditioning)

psychpost | 5/04/2011 04:10:00 AM
Angry face

Superstition can be defined as: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation. An example of superstitious behavior is to blow on dice before rolling them to increase chance of winning (the probability of the dice roll is not affected).

I chose to discuss the formation and reinforcement of superstitious behavior because it is something I notice a lot. Examples of superstitious behaviors can be seen in gambling, sports, and virtually any activity with chance involved. For example there are many baseball players who have a routine ritual they follow each time they are at bat.2 Also sports fans are likely to wear special clothing or preform pre-game rituals on game days because they believe it will bring luck to their team.

Article for discussion: http://www.psychologyinspain.com/content/reprints/2000/3.pdf (Psychology article, Superstition in Gambling)

In this article, experimenters were looking for superstitious behaviors in gambling. The participants were given a small amount of money (about 5USD) and were presented with a game in which they would be able to win a maximum of about 35USD. The game was a dice game (rolling a winning number) and winning was determined only by chance. After a few rolls, participants were given the option to either roll again, or let an experimenter roll for them. Participants who were winning were highly likely to continue rolling themselves, while those who have been losing were likely to let the experimenters roll for them.

Another experiment in which participants (playing a dice game again) were given magnetic bracelets. Although the bracelets do not affect the outcome of the games, participants considered it to be a "lucky charm" or felt less confident while wearing it.

These experiments show that individuals are more likely to repeat behaviors that are accompanied by a positive reinforcer (ie. they are positivley reinforced). Meaning, that when a participant wins, they are likely to repeat the course of actions prior to their win. Although the behaviors do not actually effect the outcome, they tie in closely. The opposite is true for those who experienced more losses.

It is clear to see that the formation development of superstitious behaviors can be attributed to operant conditioning.

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PHOTO CREDIT: http://www.flickr.com/photos/missturner/

57 responses to "Superstition in Gambling (Operant Conditioning)"

  1. Everyones different, but i guess its nice to see how everyone 'ticks'

  2. Great article, dude! :D :D :D

  3. love this article, thanks man!

  4. interesting article. i, for one, am not superstitious at all.

  5. Everyone has a lucky charm, sometimes a little superstition can help us get through the day, with gambling its even more prevalent given the sums of money that can be involved

  6. i don't have any luck @ gambling

  7. interesting. i think alot of "rituals" have to do with OCD

  8. superstition is for idiot ! probability is for smart people !

  9. Another thing I've seen gamblers do (I play a lot of poker) is believe previous instances of some outcome will affect future outcomes. IE, if an ace was on the board this hand, its unlikely an ace will be there next hand. No, there are things called odds, and they reset every time a hand is played. Yet there are those who will fight with you in their belief something has changed.

  10. yep! superstitious behavior develops when reinforcement or punishment accidentally follow an irrelevant behavior. You are then more or less likely to engage in that behavior depending if it was reinforced and punished! Once again, good post! It's right up my alley :)

  11. Definitely is funny how people think, sometimes you can exploit it - like with stocks.

  12. gamble everyday

  13. a lot of people believe in luck...

  14. Great article, thanks for sharing!

  15. Should have talked about how people fail at probabilities as well. :P As a psych major going into grad school, this stuff always makes me cringe. People really are amazing sometimes.

  16. Probability totally!

  17. I have a book on superstitions. Some of them are SO weird!

  18. its just chance, everything else is a myth.

  19. Ah nice, this hits my interest. Will read more.

  20. interesting..as you know i have a gambling blog and i have less gambling rituals than others but i do know alot of people with interesting rituals such as card protectors or certain phrases

  21. I actually didn't know about this. It makes sense too since I'm always doing something different when I'm on a losing streak.

  22. Good post, good points. Following...

  23. Read something about this very recently. Interesting stuff!

  24. im going to have my friend that is obsessed with the loto read this

  25. Good read, liked it.

  26. never could get into gambling, slots are fun but that's probably more if a flashy lights and fun noises reaction.

  27. Always wanted to try, haven't yet.

  28. That's pretty interesting, although I try to not dictate my actions via superstition :P

  29. Awesome read, interesting stuff.

  30. luck be a lady tonight...

  31. I'm not superstitious or anything, but when I play bar dice I'll usually do something weird like rub it on someone else first, just because it's fun.

  32. yeah i definitely do this without realising!

  33. Haha, very interesting read, I gamble too much.

  34. When your dices are controlled by a higher power it doesn't matter.

  35. Fantastic article, mate.

  36. Oh yeah almost everyone does strange things before throwing the dice. Humans have strange behauviours.

  37. ...I'm still totally blowing on my dice the next time I have to roll.

  38. Very good reading! Thanks :)

  39. Definitely an interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

    Keep 'em coming as always :). Following!

  40. Really interesting article. Always like reading about psychology and the study of the mind.

  41. Great article! Followed for sure!

  42. I'm definitely following. Nice article.

  43. Followed!

  44. I'm not believing any supertitions, since I believe in such science +f

  45. man, operant conditioning is a pain in the ass for people that dont know about the effects of it.

  46. I am not superstitious at all. I wouldn't have let the experimenter roll the dice and I wouldn't have worn the bracelet. Cool to know the Psychology behind it all though.

  47. Very nice read, it all boils down to: don't gamble :)

  48. Great learnin all of this, now i can talk smart stuff at social reunions hehehe.

  49. Interesting. only reinforces my belief that humans will find patterns in anything. Its our true gift and curse of awareness.

  50. Very interesting, now I have a way of describing to my friend that his superstition fears are irrelevant!

  51. cool post. gambling is always a interesting argument for me

  52. this si an interesting view to superstition, and U had never thought of it before :)

  53. pretty interesting. my psychology professor talked about something similar.

  54. Its just like those Power balance, what happens has nothing to do with the bracelet itself but it happens because our brains thinks so, so it acts like a placebo. We can see that our brain is very powerfull and that we can achieve things just by faith and this, i think, the essential to remember.

  55. i like it but i dun think im any good at it..= _=

  56. bleh

  57. "For example there are many baseball players who have a routine ritual they follow each time they are at bat."

    This is a terrible example of what you are trying to convey. The reason being that the routine an athlete goes through prior to stepping into the batters box DOES have an effect on the outcome of the at bat. It is not only superstition. Something to consider.

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