NCRG Awarded $380,466 In Research Grants In 2010

The National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) recently announced it awarded $380,466 in project grants in 2010 for five new research projects on topics ranging from a laboratory simulation of Internet gambling to an intervention for college students at risk for developing gambling problems. The recipients of these grants are investigators based at the University of Florida, Duke University, Southern Illinois University, the University of Missouri and the University of Minnesota.

The NCRG grants were selected by independent peer review panels and the Scientific Advisory Board, which guides the NCRG’s grant making. The awards were made in three new categories adopted in 2010: Exploration Grants, Seed Grants and Large Grants.

The following summaries describe the 2010 grant awards:

Exploration Grant

  • Many believe that online wagering is riskier than other forms of gambling; however, there are few studies evaluating problematic gambling on the Internet. Yijun Liu, Ph.D., River Branch Professor and chief of the Division on Global Health at the University of Florida, seeks to fill this void with a project funded by a $5,400 Exploration Grant. The project will develop a virtual Internet gambling website to be used as a simulation in a laboratory experiment involving 12 subjects who meet the criteria for pathological gambling and 12 control group members. Using an fMRI brain scanner, Dr. Liu will seek to understand the neural pathways involved in excessive gambling and discern what is unique about the online gambling experience for people with gambling-related problems.

Seed Grant

  • Gambling is all about making choices, and gambling disorders are characterized by poor judgment and risky decision-making. Scott Huettel, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, was awarded $34,500 to test the hypothesis that whether someone makes a risky or safe choice depends not simply on preferences, but on the strategies they use to acquire and integrate new information. The research team will investigate the information-acquisition process in real time using high-speed, high-resolution tracking of eye movements and tasks that involve incentive-compatible decisions between economic gambles. They will evaluate how factors that contribute to risk-seeking choices alter how people process new information about risks and rewards. Dr. Huettel explained, “By tracking how people move their eyes when they make risky decisions, we will gain a better understanding of how they acquire and integrate information about risks and rewards. In turn, this understanding will provide insight into why environmental cues lead some people to make unwanted risky decisions, while others are unaffected.”
  • Previous brain imaging research has shown that brain activity differs between pathological and non-pathological gamblers when exposed to wins, losses and near-miss outcomes. Mark R. Dixon, Ph.D., professor of rehabilitation at Southern Illinois University, was awarded $34,500 to examine the brain activity of disordered gamblers through an fMRI scanner before and after Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an intervention that has shown promise for treating gambling disorders. The investigators will compare the brain scans of the therapy group with the control group to look for evidence of neurobiological changes as a result of ACT. According to Dr. Dixon, “This project will be the first in the published literature to a) document a magnitude effect of near-miss outcomes at the neurobiological level, and b) provide evidence at a neurobiological level of the impact of psychological treatment for pathological gamblers.”

Large Grants

  • Matthew P. Martens, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of educational, school and counseling psychology at the University of Missouri, Columbia, was awarded $172,500 to test a personalized feedback-only intervention that will provide “at-risk” college students with information about their own behavior. This project will determine if college students participating in the personalized feedback condition will report less gambling, fewer dollars gambled and less problem gambling at follow-up than students in both education/advice and assessment-only control conditions. According to Dr. Martens, “Our findings will indicate whether or not a low-cost, personalized feedback-only intervention is effective at reducing gambling-related activities and problems among college students at-risk for problem gambling.”
  • John Nyman, Ph.D., professor of public health at the University of Minnesota, was awarded $136,449 to study the differentiating factors between people who are recreational gamblers with no gambling-related problems and people who are pathological gamblers. Dr. Nyman explained, “There are a number of characteristics that have been associated with disordered gambling, such as race and gender. Our analysis will determine whether and to what extent these are also characteristics of recreational gambling. Isolating the characteristics that are associated with disordered gambling from those also associated with recreational gambling will permit more finely focused and effective interventions of disordered gamblers.” The study will also determine when a recreational gambler becomes a problem gambler. To achieve these objectives, Dr. Nyman’s team will conduct an analysis of two important data sets that include gambling data: the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a nationally representative survey of 43,093 Americans and the Minnesota Twin Family Study.

Christine ReillyIssues & Insights