Stopping yourself mid-action can make you take fewer risks: study

Carolyn Morris
Shine On

You may be one of those people who's not afraid of taking risks when it comes to the stock market, or a trip to the casino. But if you're forced to use some physical self-control, you just might become a little more cautious when it comes to gambling.

This is what researchers from the University of Exeter and Cardiff University found in a series of experiments on gambling and motor control. Their results are published in the journal Psychological Science.

"Our research shows that by training themselves to stop simple hand movements, people can also learn to control their decision-making processes to avoid placing risky bets," says the study's lead researcher and University of Exeter psychologist Frederick Verbruggen.

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In the first exercise, Verbruggen and his colleagues paid 44 people to play a gambling video game, and told them they could also keep the small amounts of money won during the game. The participants bet on six rising columns that represented values of money. The larger the sums of money, the lower the odds, thus the greater the risk.

While one group was given the extra task of pressing another button if the colour of the bars changed, another was told to refrain from pushing buttons if that happened.

These buttons didn't directly affect the betting, these were separate tasks. However, those who had to refrain from pushing buttons were less likely to opt for the riskier bets. The same results held in subsequent experiments where the inhibition exercise took place two hours before the gambling test.

This research shows that physical inhibition exercises can lower risk-taking in healthy volunteers — and not necessarily in people with gambling addictions. But researchers believe their findings could potentially lead to new types of therapy.

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"This work could have important practical implications for the treatment of behavioural addictions, such as pathological gambling, which have previously been associated with impaired impulse control," says Verbruggen.

In fact, a separate study has shown that Dutch college students with a tendency for heavy beer drinking reduced their consumption when they had to refrain from pressing computer keys in response to beer-related images.

So could new addiction therapy come in the form of a video game? Or might that create the potential for yet another vice.

Watch the video below about some vices that in some way are actually good for men.