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Casino Atmosphere Encourages Addictive Behaviors: See Why (VIDEO)

First Posted: Jan 20, 2016 08:41 PM EST

Flashing lights, luminous screens and upbeat music enhance the atmosphere of a casino, but a new study shows that this environment may encourage gambling or risky behaviors--even in rats.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia used rats to examine how flashy lights and sounds affected their behaviors. They found that the rats more likely to engage in risky behaviors when in this environment. However, when a specific dopamine receptor known as D3 was blocked in their brains, they were less likely to engage in "gambling-like" behaviors.

"Anyone who's ever designed a casino game or played a gambling game will tell you that of course sound and light cues keep you more engaged, but now we can show it scientifically," said Dr. Catharine Winstanley, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, in a news release. "I often feel that scientific models are decades behind the casinos. I don't think it's an accident that casinos are filled with lights and noise."

During the study, researchers trained the rats to search for treats even if it involved a risky outcome--and they tested their response with and without a casino-like environment. 

Though rats generally learn to avoid risky behaviors that result in punishment, the findings showed that both light and sound altered their ability to think clearly--making them take larger risks. Then, when the scientists administered a drug that blocked the dopamine D3 receptor, the rats' behaviors reversed; their risky decision-making decreased.

"This brain receptor is also really important to drug addiction, so our findings help support the idea that risky behavior across different vices might have a common biological cause," said Michael Barrus, a doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia.

The study is published in the journal Neuroscience.

Want to learn more about what the researchers found? Check out this video, courtesy of YouTube.

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