Sensation-seeking And Gambling Disorders: NCRG-Funded Study Explores The Relationship

Treatment and prevention are two of the most important and challenging areas for addiction researchers. Prevention is a particularly difficult undertaking even when working with the most understood disorders, and can be even more difficult in an emerging field such as gambling disorders. One way to advance prevention research is to better understand the relationship between pathological gambling (PG) and psychological traits that have been more thoroughly studied. One recent study by Erica Fortune and Adam Goodie, Ph.D., at the University of Georgia, takes this approach. The study, which was published in the December 2010 edition of theJournal of Gambling Studies(Fortune & Goodie, 2009), was partially funded by a grant from the NCRG to Dr. Goodie and attempts to clarify the relationship between PG and sensation seeking.

Sensation seeking is a psychological trait that measures a person’s need for excitement and pleasure as well as their susceptibility to boredom. It may seem intuitive that individuals with PG would rate highly in sensation seeking since gambling can be an exciting activity, providing a “rush” to healthy and disordered people alike. However, such a positive correlation has not been shown consistently in the scientific literature. In fact, some studies have shown that people with PG are higher in sensation seeking (a positive correlation); some have shown that people with PG are actually lower in sensation seeking (a negative correlation); and some have shown no relation at all (no correlation).

The authors hypothesized that the uneven outcomes of previous studies are attributable to the differences in the populations studied. All of the studies that found a negative correlation sampled individuals in inpatient treatment facilities, while none of the studies that found a positive correlation sampled people in inpatient treatment.

Another reason cited for the mixed results of previous studies is the scale used to measure sensation seeking. Sensation seeking has been traditionally measured by the Sensation Seeking Scale Form V (SSS-V). The SSS-V is made up of four subscales with 10 questions, each of which are combined to produce a single score (Zuckerman, 1996). It has been hypothesized, however, that dividing the SSS-V into subscales may produce a more clear connection with pathological gambling (Parke, Griffiths, & Irwing, 2004). The four subscales that comprise the SSS-V are Thrill and Adventure Seeking (TA), Experience Seeking (ES), Disinhibition (DS) – defined as a lack of self restraint – and Boredom Susceptibility (BS). Previous research suggests that the four traits should be broken into pairs, with TA/ES as one and DS/BS (also called “excitement seeking”) being the other. The excitement-seeking trait has been found to correlate strongly with alcohol use in the past, and the researchers hypothesized that it might also correlate with PG when separated from the other SSS-V scales.

To test this hypothesis, the authors interviewed 212 individuals about their gambling behavior and sensation seeking. The researchers found no significant correlation between the SSS-V scale as a whole and PG, but did find the excitement-seeking traits were significantly correlated with PG. They also found that the traits that assessed performing sensation seeking activities were preferred by PGs, while the traits that asked aboutdesireto perform sensation seeking activities appealed more to non-PGs. The reason for difference between PGs and non-PGs on this variable is not known. Practical confirmation of a theory like the potential of the SSS-V subscales to predict PG can form a foundation for future screening and prevention research, which may someday be able to target individuals at risk for PG before they have experienced severe symptoms.

More information on the article is available onPubMed. Have thoughts of questions? Tell us in the Comments section below.


Fortune, E. E., & Goodie, A. S. (2009). The Relationship Between Pathological Gambling and Sensation Seeking: The Role of Subscale Scores.Journal of Gambling Studies,26(3), 331-346. doi:10.1007/s10899-009-9162-8

Parke, A., Griffiths, M., & Irwing, P. (2004). Personality traits in Pathological Gambling: Sensation Seeking, Deferment of Gratification and Competitiveness as Risk Factors.Addiction Research & Theory,12(3), 201-212. doi:10.1080/1606635310001634500

Zuckerman, M. (1996). Item revisions in the Sensation Seeking Scale Form V (SSS-V).Personality and Individual Differences,20(4), 515. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(95)00195-6

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