Small Grants 2017-18

Gambling Risk-Taking Behavior in the Aftermath of Broken Promises: The Role of Stress (S44)

Project Approved 2017-18

Dr. Yannick J-L. Griep (Principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
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Dr. Daniel McGrath (Co-Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Calgary
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The primary goal of the proposed study is to examine the extent to which heightened levels of stress (as induced by perceptions of broken promises) lead to riskier gambling behavior (more risks and lower accuracy of play) among expert gamblers and novice gamblers.

Status (Complete)

Gambling disorder (GD) is a serious psychiatric condition that afflicts approximately 3% of Canadians (Afifi et al., 2010) and often results in substantial social and financial harms. However, we know very little about the association between stress and GD or problematic gambling, yet the experience of stress is nearly inevitable in our everyday lives (Janis, 1993). Thomas et al. (2011) found that self-reported stress levels were associated with avoidance-motivated gambling (i.e., gambling to forget about the stress) which in turn was related to a higher level of gambling related problems, an increased frequency of gambling, and a further avoidance of problem-solving coping (i.e., dealing with the stress). However, despite initial evidence for an association between stress and gambling, very little is known regarding how stress influences acute gambling behaviour. This is especially applicable to strategic forms of gambling (e.g., poker) in which ‘gambling skill’ can be acquired with time and practice. It is conceivable that seasoned strategic gamblers (experts) are less prone to the influence of stress on gambling play than recreational strategic gamblers (novices).

To examine the role of stress on poker gambling, we conducted a 2 (stress, no stress) x 2 (expert, novice) experimental study in which stress was first induced in a sample of poker players followed by gambling on a poker simulation (WinPoker 6.0). Poker skill was assessed with the Poker Skills Measure (PSM; Leonard et al., 2015). A total of 27 poker players (12 novice, 15 expert) were tested with 11 assigned to the stress condition and 16 in the no stress condition. The key dependent variables of interest were: average number of bets made, average number of hands played, and the total number of strategic errors made (as assessed by the Winpoker simulation). For ‘average bets made’, no significant differences were found between novice (M = 4.13; SD = .41) or expert players (M = 4.10; SD = .37), F (1,23) = 0.69, p > .05. Similarly, the interaction of stress condition X poker skill was not significant. Similarly, for the ‘average number of hands played’, neither main effect of ‘stress’ or ‘poker skill’ was significant nor was the interaction term. Lastly, for ‘total errors made’, the main effects of ‘stress’ and ‘poker skill’ were not significant. Similarly, the interaction was not significant. These findings suggest that at least in this case, laboratory induced stress did not appear to influence the performance on a poker playing task in novice or expert poker players. However, the results should be interpreted in light a number of potential limitations. These include a modest sample size and computer-based poker simulation in place of live poker against other players.

The goal of this project was to investigate the role of acute stress on gambling behaviour. Specifically, we wanted to test weather stress would alter indices of gambling intensity and quality of play in pokers players deemed to be experts vs. novices. Although the findings were largely negative, nonetheless, they may still be informative for future research exploring the impact of psychosocial stress on gambling.

The research on the role of stress in gambling is surprisingly sparse. Our team at the University of Calgary has begun to explore the effects of both chronic and acute psychosocial stress on gambling behaviour. In addition, it is also important to account for differences between skill-based and chance-based forms of gambling in research. The very nature of a game like poker requires that players display impulse control and keep calm under pressure. This study was the first known attempt to assess the possible influence of acute stress on poker play. While the findings did not indicate reduced play quality under stress, it does provide a framework for future research to explore this issue in more depth.

Disordered Gambling and Bankruptcy Law Research-Informed Practice for Insolvency Professionals (S45)

Project Approved 2017-18

Dr. Anna J. Lund (Principal Investigator)
Faculty of Law, University of Alberta


This project builds on previous research on how insolvency trustees and judicial officers (collectively referred to as "insolvency professionals") respond to individuals who file for bankruptcy with gambling-related debts. That research indicated that insolvency professionals' responses are problematically inconsistent, with some adopting a therapeutic approach and others a punitive one. The current phase of the research project has two branches:

  1. Knowledge Translation: The researchers are developing research-informed practice guidelines for insolvency trustees about what responses are appropriate to incorporate into the bankruptcy system, and will be co-authoring an article, for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, on the guidelines.
  2. Theoretical Analysis: The Applicant is theorizing how bankruptcy law has taken a therapeutic turn that emulates the process by which problem gambling has been medicalized, and is considering how these theoretical frameworks interact when they converge in the person of the bankrupt gambler.

Status (Complete)

As proposed, the research project included the following objectives:

  1. Anna Lund to present a work in progress at the Emory Law Workshop on Legal Transitions & the Vulnerable Subject in Atlanta Georgia.
  2. Anna Lund and Arooj Shah to prepare guidelines for research informed practice by trustees.
  3. Anna Lund and Arooj Shah to prepare an article on research informed practice by trustees.
  4. Arooj Shah to present research findings at the Alberta Gambling Research Institute Conference.As outlined in further detail below, goals 1, 2, 3, and 4 were achieved. The guidelines for research informed practice are set out in the article prepared by Anna Lund and Arooj Shah, entitled, "Bankrupt Gamblers: Research Informed Practice for Insolvency Trustees."

This research project has advanced knowledge along two different branches:

  1. Knowledge Translation: Anna Lund and Arooj Shah have co-authored an article on research-informed practice for insolvency trustees. This article surveys the literature on disordered gambling and considers how this body of research can inform two aspects of insolvency trustees' practice: identifying bankrupt individuals with gambling problems and intervening to help them recover.
  2. Theoretical Analysis: Anna Lund has authored an article that theorizes how bankruptcy law has taken a therapeutic turn that emulates the process by which problem gambling has been medicalized, and considers how these theoretical frameworks interact when they converge in the person of the bankrupt gambler.

An article, "Help is the Sunny Side of Control: Problems with using the Medical Model of Gambling in Bankruptcy" was submitted to a peer reviewed journal and is currently being revised for re-submission.

Scholarly Conference Papers:

Lund, A. J., & Shah, A. (2019, February 1). Bankrupt Gamblers: Research Informed Practice for Insolvency Trustees. Annual Review of Insolvency Law 2018, Montreal, Quebec.

Shah, A. (2018, April 13). Disordered Gambling & Bankruptcy Law: Research Informed Practice for Insolvency Professionals. Poster presentation, Alberta Gambling Research Institute Conference, Banff, Alberta.

Shah, A. (2018, March 14). Disordered Gambling & Bankruptcy Law: Research Informed Practice for Insolvency Professionals. Poster presentation, University of Alberta Festival of Undergraduate Research, Edmonton, Alberta.

Lund, A. (2017, December 8). Help is the Sunny Side of Control: Problems with using the Medical Model of Gambling in Bankruptcy. Emory Law Workshop on Legal Transitions & the Vulnerable Subject, Atlanta, Georgia.


University of Alberta, Faculty of Law website. (2018, February 6). Young Researcher Making Waves: Third year student Arooj Shah working with Assistant Professor Anna Lund on problem gambling and bankruptcy law.

Selective Memory in Gamblers: An Autobiographical Memory Approach (S46)

Project Approved 2017-18

Dr. Norman R. Brown (Principal Investigator)
Department of Psychology, University of Alberta
Google Scholar Profile


It is common for researchers to assume that gamblers' autobiographical memories are selective for wins. Although this assumption seems plausible, there appears to be no direct evidence to support it. The research outlined in this proposal is intended to directly address this issue by having gamblers recall, describe and rate their five most memorable gambling experiences, their five largest wins and their five largest losses. If memory is selective for wins, then: (a) a large percentage of events considered most-memorable should be wins; (b) more wins than losses should be recalled in response to the most-memorable prompt; and (c) there should be large overlap between the most-memorable events and the largest-wins events. Regardless of whether these predictions are confirmed (i.e., regardless of whether autobiographical memory is, in fact, selective for wins), content analysis performed on the event memories may be very informative, shedding new light on the range of experiences that gamblers find particularly noteworthy.

Status (July, 2019)

Data collection on this project is complete; we have collected data from 31 active gamblers. We are now in the process of analyzing these data, but are not yet able to provide a complete description of the results. That being said, we have looked at the data that address the primary question addressed by this study, namely whether gamblers have selective memory for wins. Given that loses are more common than wins our answer is a qualified "yes." It turned out that about half of the "most memorable gambling experiences" would have been listed among the gambler's five largest wins. The reminder of events in the most memorable category included large(st)/consequential losses, reversals of fortune, first time experiences and memorable social interactions. Yes, it seems that gamblers do remember their wins, but definitely not to the exclusion of other gambling experiences.

Time frame: November 1, 2017 to October 31, 2019