People are more likely to gamble after losing, study finds

The house always wins: Gamblers place another bet quicker following a loss because frustration from the defeat prompts them to try and win back their money, study finds

  • Gambling outcomes influence what people do but also how quickly they do it 
  • In experiments people who lost their bet started another game up to 20% faster
  • Failure to slow down after bad decisions has been linked with behavioural issues

Gamblers will place a bet quicker following a loss rather than a win, according to psychologists, as part of a syndrome called ‘post-loss speeding’.

In experiments, European researchers found people who lost a bet involving real money started the next game up to 20 per cent faster after a loss.

In one of the four experiments, they even found higher rates of post-loss speeding with larger losses, suggesting the more gamblers lose, the faster they try to get their money back.

Post-loss speeding is a mental process that seems to be initiated by the need to recoup one’s losses as quickly as possible, triggered by frustration or regret.

The researchers warn that failures to adjust behaviour and learn from negative experiences is central to clinical disorders such as substance abuse and addiction.

2017 research found that college students started a next gamble faster after losing money than after winning money or not gambling. In the new study, researchers replicated these findings and extended them to a wider sample

The results replicate and consolidate the results of a previous study and contradict the suggestion that gamblers who lose go on to approach their next round with more caution.

‘Previous work indicates that gamblers often continue gambling to recover their losses and such “loss chasing” has been identified as a risk factor for problem gambling,’ study co-author Charlotte Eben from Ghent University in Belgium told MailOnline.

‘Typically, loss chasing is the amount people bet or the overall duration of betting session. Our study now suggests that the speed of betting might also be influenced.’

The research team, who set out to replicate previous studies that had the same results, now assume a loss ‘frustrates’ people because they do not get what they want, and that this encourages them to try again as quickly as possible.

‘In some situations, quickly trying again after a failure might be advantageous, as it can help to obtain a reward,’ Eben said.

‘But this is not the case in a game of chance in which the odds of winning are stacked against you.’

The research team included Dr Frederick Verbruggen, a cognitive psychologist at Ghent University in Belgium, who had led research in this area in 2017.

In his 2017 study, Dr Verbruggen and colleagues found that college students started a next gamble faster after losing money than after winning money. 

Gamblers were faster to initiate the next trial after a loss – actions that also sped up later decision-making tasks that not related to gambling or money, suggesting ‘losses have a general effect on action’. 

As a follow-up on this research, Dr Verbruggen set out in the present study to replicate these findings and extended them to show how ‘post-loss speeding’ can be observed in different gambling contexts.

The team also generalised these findings to a broader sample by acquiring online data from participants from around the world, as opposed to just students at Ghent University.

failures to adjust behaviour and learn from negative experiences is central to clinical disorders such as substance abuse and addiction

The psychologists conducted four online experiments using different tasks in which participants can win or lose points, which were converted into real money.

Like the original study, they found participants started a gambling trial involving coloured squares faster after a loss than after a win or a ‘non-gamble’ – receiving a guaranteed amount of points.

In this first trial, probability of gambling was numerically lower after a win than after a loss or a non-gamble.

In the second experiment, researchers stepped up their sample of participants to 100, made up of people from the UK, the US, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Greece, Russia, Germany, Japan and more,. 

Consistent with the first experiments and the original 2017 study, participants started the next trial faster after a loss than after a non-gamble trial or a win.

In a third of the experiments, participants were presented with a set of virtual doors and had to press the left or the right arrow keys to find the door hiding a reward.

However, in this experiment, they we did not find any significant differences in restart times following losses and wins – although both resulted in faster restarts than ‘non-gamble’.

In a final experiment with 100 participants, researchers once again found significantly greater time differences in the restart period after a loss than a win or a non-gamble.

Previous work indicates that gamblers often continue gambling to recover their losses – known as ‘loss chasing’, which has been identified as a risk factor for problem gambling

Overall, in three out of four experiments, people who lost their bet started the next game 10 to 20 per cent faster after a loss than after a win or a game in which they just received a guaranteed pay-out.

Losses invigorated subsequent behaviour, which appears to challenge the ‘post-error slowing effect’ theory – where undesirable outcomes lead to response restraint and increased caution.

Failures to obtain a reward in a gambling task can invigorate subsequent actions and increase impulsivity – in other words, negative outcomes do not always result in slowing or more cautious behaviour.

The experiments support the concept of a ‘meta monitoring loop’, proposed by US psychologist Charles S. Carver in a 2006 study.

This can describe the thinking process within the mind of a gambler, where their current position of success is compared with an ultimate goal.

Gambling behaviour is adjusted depending on how well the individual is doing in reaching this goal.

For example, when the individual is currently doing well and winning a large amount of money, subsequent effort is reduced – seen by taking a pause after a high win, for example.

However, if the individual is preforming badly in reaching the goal state, subsequent effort is increased and behaviour is invigorated.

The Ghent research team are now investigating the extent to which they can apply their findings to real-life casinos around the world.

More broadly, the decision-making mental processes involved in gambling and negative outcomes could be applied to other failures in life.

‘More generally, we believe that our work can contribute to a better understanding of the development of maladaptive behaviour,’ Eben said.

‘Often people slow down and become more cautious when something goes wrong.’

‘Failure to do so has been associated with the development of behavioural problems, including addictive behaviours such as problem gambling.

‘This study provides insights why such failures might occur.’

The study has been published in Royal Society Open Science.


Problem gambling is an urge to gamble continuously despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop.

This is defined as gambling that disrupts or damages personal, family or recreational pursuits. 

The NHS provides the following questionnaire for those who fear they may be a problem gambler.

Answer each question and award yourself the following points: 

Score 0 for each time you answer ‘never’

Score 1 for each time you answer ‘sometimes’

Score 2 for each time you answer ‘most of the time’

Score 3 for each time you answer ‘almost always  

– Do you bet more than you can afford to lose?

– Do you need to gamble with larger amounts of money to get the same feeling?

– Have you tried to win back money you have lost (chasing losses)?

– Have you borrowed money or sold anything to get money to gamble?

– Have you wondered whether you have a problem with gambling?

– Has your gambling caused you any health problems, including feelings of stress or anxiety?

– Have other people criticised your betting or told you that you had a gambling problem (regardless of whether or not you thought it was true)?

– Has your gambling caused any financial problems for you or your household?

– Have you ever felt guilty about the way you gamble or what happens when you gamble?

If your total score is 8 or higher, you may be a problem gambler.  

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