Teaching Rats To Gamble Responsibly – New Research About Medication To Curb Problematic Gambling Behavior

Dr. Catherine Winstanley

One of the goals of the NCRG research program is to provide initial funding for innovative research studies so that researchers can leverage their findings for larger grants to continue and expand their studies. Researchers from the University of British Columbia have made great strides by continuing the line of study from their NCRG-funded research that began almost seven years ago.

In 2006, the NCRG awarded a new investigator grant to Catherine Winstanley, Ph.D., from the University of British Columbia, to test a new model of gambling behavior in rats, based on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT).

By administering the IGT and examining how drugs that regulate serotonin and dopamine impacted gambling behavior, Dr. Winstanley and her colleagues were able to simulate real-life decision-making experiences with rats in a laboratory setting. They discovered that the rats could “play the odds” when choosing how to bet while doing the RGT and could regulate their level of play, especially when influenced by neurochemical regulation of serotonin and dopamine (Zeeb, Robbins, & Winstanley, 2009). For more on this study, download thesixth volume ofIncreasing the Odds,the NCRG’s monograph series.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia were recentlyin the news again, this time with further results from the gambling rats. Dr. Winstanley, along with Ph.D. student Paul Cocker, built upon the NCRG-funded study to discover that disordered gambling behavior could be treated with drugs that block dopamine receptors. Research shows that “near misses,” or a moment when the gambler comes very close to winning, can influence an individual with a gambling disorder to continue to gamble. In this study, researchers treated rats with a dopamine receptor-blocking medication that curbed problematic gambling behavior.

We’re proud that NCRG funding played a role in launching this important line of research. Read more about research that the NCRG has supported on ouronline research center.


Zeeb, F. D., Robbins, T. W., & Winstanley, C. A. (2009). Serotonergic and dopaminergic modulation of gambling behavior as assessed using a novel rat gambling task.Neuropsychopharmacology: Official Publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology,34(10), 2329–2343. doi:10.1038/npp.2009.62

NCRG staffResearch UpdateDr. Catherine WinstanleyIowa Gambling TaskNCRG-funded researchUniversity of British Columbia