Small Grants 2014-15

Preliminary investigation of loss sensitivity (S37)

Project Approved 2014-15

Dr. Aaron Gruber (Principal Investigator)
Department of Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge


This grant will help kick-start a research project in human gambling.  The investigator has recently discovered that a little-studied brain circuit in rodents plays a surprisingly important role in the ability of these animals to rapidly learn to avoid bad choices during a competitive task.  This may be highly relevant to understanding gambling behaviour because problem gamblers do not avoid high-risk choices after large financial losses as compared to control subjects.

Interestingly, some recent data has indicated that this same circuit is involved in impulsive actions supporting obesity and drug addiction.  This grant will allow the investigator to (1) conduct a thorough literature search to assess published evidence that this brain circuit is altered in gambling, and (2) develop a competitive choice task for use with human subjects and conduct a small pilot study to demonstrate feasibility of this approach.  These two aims will provide necessary information for a larger grant application that will shed new light on the neurobiology of problem gambling.

Status (Complete)

The aim of this project was to prototype a new behavioural task to assess choice behaviour in human subjects. We implemented the task on a touch-screen computer, and have now collected data from over 70 subjects. This data allowed us to transfer knowledge we acquired from our rodent studies to human testing.

The propensity of animals to shift choices immediately after unexpectedly poor reinforcement outcomes is a pervasive strategy across species and tasks. We tested the memory supporting such lose-shift responding in humans, assessed using a competitive binary choice task. This behaviour is robust, decays during the inter-trial interval, and persists throughout the testing session despite being a sub-optimal strategy. Moreover, lose-shift responding increases when subjects are given a cognitive load and presumably rely on non-executive systems for task performance. Further support for non-executive control of lose-shift responding comes from performance of children (5-9 years old) without load, who performed similarly to the cognitively engaged adults, presumably due to the underdevelopment of their prefrontal cortex. The behaviour of these two groups is remarkably similar to intact rodents performing a similar task. These data provide converging evidence that lose-shift responding is an innate strategy, likely mediated by sensorimotor brain structures, which is normally suppressed by executive systems. As such, it is an important component to include in theories and computational models of choice, and can serve as a useful objective behavioural assay of executive function that is easy to measure in humans and animals.

This work has been completed by four students in my lab. Three undergraduate students did most of the data collection, and a graduate student coordinated them, did the analysis and is currently writing a paper presenting the results. All students showed tremendous progress in conducting a study involving human subjects, collaborated with each other in order to complete the task, and were responsive to my guidance and requirements. I strongly believe this project will have a positive impact on their future careers.

The adult participants were from the undergraduate student population at the University of Lethbridge. The majority of students were keen on being part of a neuroscience research project and were curious to know the rationale behind our study. Their interest showed us this is a great way to attract undergraduate students to research in general, and to the neuroscience department in particular.

The children population was recruited from a local school. We collaborated with the school officials to gain access to these children, explained the process to the parents, and were able to effectively communicate the task objectives to children. Bringing research closer to the community is an important objective of the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, attested by several public events we organize every year, and this could be another approach for achieving this goal. 

Banks, P. J., Tata, M. S., Bennett, P. J., Sekuler, A. B., & Gruber, A. J. (2017). Implicit Valuation of the Near-Miss is Dependent on Outcome Context. Journal of Gambling Studies

Scholarly Conference Poster:

The results of this project were presented in the poster session of the National Center for Responsible Gaming conference in Las Vegas, USA, in September 2016. The poster was entitled “Prevalence of lose-shift responding as a measure of prefrontal control in humans” and was presented by the graduate student who led the study.

Knowledge translation in gambling research An overview of what we know and where we need to go (S38)

Project Approved 2014-15

Dr. David Hodgins
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary

Dr. Terri-Lynn MacKay (Co-Principal Investigator)
Department of Educational and Clinical Studies, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Within the field of healthcare there has been a rapidly growing interest in the area of knowledge translation (KT).  The important of KT in research primarily relates to the underutilization of research to inform practice, but also extends to translation of research to policy-makers, patients, caregivers and the general population.  Knowledge translation is particularly important in the wake of an era of rapidly advancing technological change, where information is abundant and accessible.  The opportunities for research dissemination are growing and it is incumbent upon the field of gambling to learn from disciplines that area effectively moving research to practice.

Research in the gambling field has increased exponentially in the past decade but application to practice has garnered less focus.  Gambling research institutions are moving towards KT as an integral part of the research portfolio, which is in line with grant funding agencies such as the Canadian Institutes of health Research (CIHR).  Knowledge translation reviews have been conducted for a variety of health-related fields such as medicine, nursing, allied health and mental health, but none of the current literature reviews assess the state of KT in the gambling area.  This project aims to inform best practices for translational knowledge in gambling to inform researchers, research institutions and government agencies in moving forward with their respective agendas.

Status (Complete)

A scoping review of the knowledge translation literature in the gambling field was completed in the summer of 2014. Three independent researchers reviewed 416 records and thirty-four publications met criteria for inclusion. The publications were categorized according to publication date, country of origin, type of publication, number of stakeholder groups, and thematic content areas. This review was the main objective of this project. The results of this review will serve to further advance the integration of knowledge translation within the gambling field, and more effectively move research to policy and practice.

Mackay, T-L., Petermann, L., Hurrell, C., & Hodgins, D. (2015). Knowledge translation in gambling research: A scoping review. International Gambling Studies, 15(2), 179-195.

Scholarly Conference Papers:

This project has been accepted for presentation at the New Horizons conference to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia in February of 2015.