Willpower and addiction in (online) gambling


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Scientists in the world think differently about the cause of gambling and other addictions. We have dealt with several opinions on Online Casino Ground. One researcher points to substances in the brain that are created by gambling pleasure. Another suspects manipulation of slot machines. And a third scientific study points to the domestic situation or other causes.

Willpower and the choice

However, a growing number of scientists consider gambling problems and addictions as a choice disorder. The simplest remedy could then be, “with a little more willpower you can prevent or overcome an addiction.”

Obviously that is not always possible. Because when you're having fun, your brain does make substances that make you feel good; a feeling that you want to repeat by playing too long.

And fruit machines may be manipulated. Perhaps that happens with the intention of breaking your willpower. It is all in all complex. But more and more research shows that willpower and our way of thinking have a major impact on our lives.


Before we elaborate on willpower, free will, self-control and choices, we first make a story from Maxwell Maltz's book psycho-cybernetics. It is a good example of the power of thought:

In the late 1950s, researchers conducted an experiment into the effects of mental exercise. They wanted to see if the skills of basketball players improved as a result. To this end, they divided the participating students into three groups. All three groups of students had to throw a basket several times. The score of the groups turned out to be approximately the same.

A group then went on to train for 20 days by throwing a ball many times. The second group did nothing and the third group visualized 20 days they scored. Then they all had to throw again, like on the first day. The first group increased their first score by 24% thanks to the physical exercise. The second group showed no improvement. The third group, who had only thought of scoring, improved their score by nearly 23% almost as well as the first group.

In the following years, the research was repeated in several countries and in different ways. The results between physical and mental exercise always proved to be virtually the same.

More research into willpower

A growing number of scientists are convinced that not a brain disorder but willpower, the lack thereof, is the cause of addiction. Or that it plays at least an extremely important role in this.

This insight increased the number of investigations in recent years, based on willpower, free will and self-control. We looked at how we make choices, or decisions. Sometimes such research focused specifically on gambling addiction. More often on other addictions, such as drugs and alcohol, or addiction in general.

To think

A study in line with the basketball example was published in 2017. Researchers from different universities looked at, among other things, the influence on addiction of thoughts about their own free will.

According to them, it is all too often believed that addiction leads to the loss of free will. They wanted to see if a person might not get rid of their addiction, because he or she thinks they can't do it themselves due to a lack of willpower or free will.


They find after their research that most people, and their colleagues, think (or believe) that addiction undermines free will. This would make addicts use more drugs or gamble more. It naturally also explains why attempts to stop alcohol, drug and gambling fail.

The researchers also show that the reduction of willpower by the addict is used as an excuse for his failure to get rid of the addiction.

It even turns out that these excuses are a so-called “self-fulfilling prophecy”. The addict who thinks that his willpower has decreased because of the addiction, increases the power that the addiction has over him.


In their conclusion, the researchers advise their colleagues to be more reluctant to make research results public. In the popularized reports in family magazines, addictions appear to stem from a brain disorder. This allows gamblers, drug users and others, but especially addicts, to develop destructive thoughts.

They may think that they cannot (no longer) decide for themselves and cannot control their behavior themselves. They then become convinced that they do not have the willpower to stop when it is better and / or healthier for them.


Scientists show that our thoughts have great influence in all kinds of areas. Applied with that knowledge, athletes achieve new records or win competitions against opponents deemed unbeatable. But there are also applications in daily life.

Employees of the University of Plymouth put the results of multiple studies into practice. They help people lose weight by changing their mind about themselves and some psycho-cybernetics. The “patients” must think that they are already successful and lean. In addition, it helps that they visualize that they exercise, eat a salad and have the willpower to say “no” when needed.


In deliberate play, everything comes together for the sensible gambler. The substances of gambling pleasure in our brains can do their thing and willpower as a function may be present. Thoughtfully, the gambler decided to stop early yesterday and will continue for a little longer today. To perhaps take it a bit easier tomorrow.

Additional information

  • There are scientists who think that the result of willpower comes from the presence of “dusts.” See, for example, the 2007 study by Gailliot et al.: Self-control relies on glucose (pdf).
  • Others assume that our self-control decreases (temporarily) with use. They warn that this willpower depletion occurs when we have resisted temptation after temptation. Some do not make a distinction between activity. Others claim that self-control mainly decreases with the same temptation. Temptations that we are exposed to on a daily basis (the next episode of a series of binding wigs, a cookie, etc). They don't just have to be physical temptations. Responding (eg hateful) to someone's remark is also a temptation.
    • For Muraven, this raised the question in 2000: “is self-control a muscle?” (Pdf)
    • Baumeister and his team in particular did a lot of research into willpower, self-control and free will. A good example of temptation between chocolate and radish can be found in “Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?” (pdf). After willpower exhaustion, the participants chose chocolate rather than a radish.
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