An online survey of university student gamblers reported that people who gamble and are prone to lying, cheating and callous behavior (primary psychopathy) were much more likely to fall into gambling-related problems and much less likely to use strategies to limit the scope of problems they fall into (gambling protective behavioral strategies). The study was published in Psychological Reports.
Psychopathy is a pattern of affective, personal and behavioral traits that includes callousness, superficial charm, manipulativeness, impulsive actions and antisocial behavior. It’s one component is primary psychopathy, that is thought to have an important genetic component and that makes a person prone to lying, cheating, aggression, callous behavior, overall lack of empathy and heightened grandiosity.
The other component is secondary psychopathy, which is thought to be more of a learned pattern and is characterized by an excess of negative emotions, high anxiety, thrill-seeking and impulsivity.
Studies have linked both types of psychopathy to various adverse outcome. The failure or reluctance to apply protective behavioral strategies — strategies people use to limit the harm that they can suffer from various activities (such as not drinking and driving with regards to alcohol, or leaving the venue before running out of money when gambling etc.) — is often reported as an important mechanism leading to adverse outcomes for people high on primary psychopathy.
The proneness to act rashly on one’s impulses, often in a way that one will later regret is a frequently mentioned way in which secondary psychopathy leads a person into problems. This behavioral tendency is sometimes treated as a separate personality trait called “urgency.” And how do these translate to gambling behavior?
To study the links between psychopathy and gambling, Matthew P. Kramer and his colleagues organized an online survey of university students who reported engaging in gambling. Authors initially collected observations from 1,620 students, but 1,312 students were excluded because they did not report engaging in gambling. Responses of 308 students who did report engaging in gambling were analyzed. These were predominantly male (63.64%), the average age was around 21 years and they responded to survey in 2017.
The participants completed assessments of gambling quantity (Gambling Quantity and Perceived Norms Scale, GQPN), primary and secondary psychopathic traits (Levenson Self-Reported Psychopathy Scale, LSRP), gambling protective behavioral strategies (Gambling Protective Behavioral Strategies Scale, GPBSS), urgency (UPPS-P scale), and gambling problem severity (Problem Gambling Severity Index, PGSI). This last assessment included questions about problems caused by gambling such as financial problems for the household or mental health problems such as stress and anxiety. In their analyses, researchers considered having gambling problems at all and the magnitude of such problems separately.
Results showed that primary psychopathy is linked to having gambling problems both directly and through being associated with lower levels of gambling protective behavioral strategy use, which in turn aggravate gambling problems. In other words, people who are prone to lying, cheating and callous behavior, while having low empathy have a tendency to fall into gambling related problems, but are also less prone to use strategies meant to protect against such problems, aggravating the said problems.
The magnitude of gambling problems was also linked to primary psychopathy, but this link was fully explained by the reduction in protective strategies associated with primary psychopathy. Secondary psychopathy was also associated with having gambling problems and this link was mediated via urgency. Proneness to rash, impulsive decisions, decisions that the person did not think through, strongly predicted gambling problems. The association between the magnitude of gambling problems and secondary psychopathy was direct and quite strong.
The study sheds light on important links between gambling behavior and psychopathic traits. It should, however, be noted that this study design does not allow for cause-and-effect conclusions between considered behavioral and personal tendencies. The study was done on university students and results on different groups might not be the same.
The paper, “Psychopathy and Occurrence of Gambling Problems: The Role of Gambling Protective Strategies and Urgency”, was authored by Matthew P. Kramer, Roselyn Peterson, Angelina V. Leary, Dexter D. Wilborn, Tatiana Magri, and Robert D. Dvorak.