Major Grants

An Examination of Cryptocurrency Ownership in Canada and its Relationship to Gambling Involvement and Severity (#98)

Project Approved 2022-23

Dr. Daniel McGrath (Principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
Google Scholar Profile | ORCid: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2772-942X

Dr. Robert J. Williams (Co-Principal Investigator)
Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Lethbridge
Google Scholar Profile

Dr. Carrie Shaw (Principal Investigator)
Centre of Excellence in Responsible Gambling, University of Gibraltar
Google Scholar Profile

Dr. Paul Delfabbro (Co-Principal Investigator)
School of Psychology, University of Adelaide
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Involvement in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies garnered significant media attention during the global COVID-19 lockdown. Trading or investing in cryptocurrencies can be considered quite risky due to high volatility, drastic swings in price, and the potential for losses due to fraud and scams.   The proposed research will thoroughly explore involvement in cryptocurrencies among a sample of Canadians, including patterns of behaviour, motives for purchasing these products, associations with gambling behaviours, and the stability/change in cryptocurrency ownership over time.

Timeframe: December 1, 2022 to December 1, 2024

When complete, two waves of data will be collected with the same cryptocurrency owners. Wave 1 (baseline) data was collected from December 2023 to January 2024. Wave 2 (follow-up) data will be collected 12 months later. At present, baseline data is being analyzed, and a manuscript based on the results is being prepared.

Our team expects that this dataset will make a meaningful contribution to our understanding of cryptocurrency ownership among Canadians. The baseline dataset is comprised of 2,510 lifetime cryptocurrency owners and contains information on demographics, patterns of ownership, motives for use, cryptocurrency information sources, problematic speculation, and personality. It is anticipated that this project will provide the first comprehensive assessment of cryptocurrency ownership in Canada. Furthermore, with the inclusion of the second wave of longitudinal data, our team will investigate the potential predictors of change in cryptocurrency ownership status over time.

McGrath, D.S. (2024, April). An assessment of cryptocurrency ownership in a national sample of Canadians. Presentation at the Alberta Gambling Research Institute’s (AGRI) 23rd Annual Conference, Banff, Alberta, Canada.

Reinforcement Schedules Underlying the Allure of Gambling (#99)

Project Approved 2022-23

Dr. David R. Euston (Principal Investigator)
Department of Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge
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This research seeks to discover the psychological reasons why gambling activities are so alluring and how this might lead to gambling problems. It proposes a series of experiments in both rats and humans that will test a mathematical model to explain why the randomly delivered rewards used in gambling machines are so attractive.

Timeframe: January 1, 2023 to December 31, 2025

Starting in January, 2023 we ran a study to test the relationship between impulsivity and preference for an random, gambling-like reward schedule. Conducted in 36 rats—tested daily for almost 3 months—this was a major undertaking. We found a strong, irrational preference for gambling-like schedules but no relationship between impulsivity and affinity for gambling-like reward schedules. This was counter to our prediction and warrants a follow-up study. We also ran two other smaller scale animal studies outlined in my grant proposal. One showed that, when reward amounts are variable, pairing larger payouts with shorter ratios can increase the appeal of a random schedule. The second study examined the idea that lower reward ratios (i.e., the number of responses per payout) would increase the appeal of a random schedule over a fixed schedule with similar rate of return. That study was a pilot which suggested methodological improvements leading into our full-scale test of this hypothesis, currently ongoing. 

We also have a project to test gambling behavior in human subjects. We started working on the human subjects ethics proposal in July and finally got approval in November. We tested 34 subjects in late 2023 and have since run another 20 subjects. Our paradigm asks participants to choose between two concurrently available slot machines (using Mike Dixon’s “Sands of Spendor” simulator). We have found that it is very difficult to get subjects to do such a discrimination without over-thinking. Rather than following their gut, which is what we want, subjects evidently adopt different strategies such as alternation, switch every 10, or win-shift
without an consistent pattern across individuals. We are currently testing the viability of using serial presentation of the two slot machines (100 plays on slot 1 followed by 100 plays on slot 2), using reaction time metrics as a dependent variable. Hopefully, this method will be more successful and we can then proceed to the full-scale study we have planned.

Our research has potential impacts in the areas of provision and delivery of effective treatment programs. One of the major predictions of our theoretical framework is that impulsivity (meaning difficulty delaying gratification) is a risk factor for gambling addiction. Gambling schedules create the illusion that they offer more rewards than they actually do. This draws people into gambling and increases the chances of developing gambling problems. According to the theory we are testing, people who are more impulsive will find gambling rewards schedules particularly attractive, putting them at much higher risk of addiction. 

Our research aims to uncover basic mechanisms of gambling addiction, using both animal and human testing. If our theory is validated, it suggests new diagnostic criteria which may be helpful in predicting an individual’s on-going risk of gambling escalation. It also predicts which aspects of a gambling game (e.g., speed of play, payout ratio, reward distribution) contribute the most to the attraction of that activity, potentially allowing for the development of guidelines to reduce the propensity of gambling machines to cause addiction.

Le May, J.M., Dorchak, D.L., Patel, D., Gal, M., and Euston, D.R. (2023). Sex Differences in Choice Impulsivity. Presented at the Alberta Gambling Research Institute Annual Conference. Banff, Alberta. March 31 – April 1, 2023.