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human nature, Religion

Do Religious People Make Bad Gamblers?

Every once in a while, I stumble on a little gem.  A couple of days ago, I was playing research assistant for a friend, and in the process of tedious data mining, I found this:

People, who score high on self-transcendence are viewed as being creative, satisfied, patient, selfless, and spiritual (Kose, 2003). However, Kose (2003) also describes people who score high on self-transcendence as often appearing to be in ‘another world’ (p. 93), believing in miracles and are regarded as ‘fuzzy thinking idealists by other people’ (p. 94). The correlation between pathological gambling and self-transcendence may be related to the superstition and dream world escapism often found in pathological gambler. As evidence for this, self-transcendence was positively correlated with the participants strategy score, r ¼ 0.31, p , 0.001 and their WCQ escape and avoidance score, r ¼ 0.28,  p, 0.001, and negatively correlated with their REKT scores, r ¼ 20.26, p , 0.01.

The layman’s version of this is pretty simple.  Gamblers who believe in the supernatural, miracles, transcendence, higher meaning, hidden messages in everyday events, and so forth should stay out of casinos.  They make poor strategy decisions and routinely attribute “meaning” to random events.  They are also more likely to become pathological gamblers.  (We used to call them “gambling addicts.”)  {EDIT:  Due for release in May 2013, the DSM V will reclassify them as “disordered gamblers.”)

By itself, this isn’t any kind of coup in studying the religious mind, but it is an interesting indictment against encouraging or condoning “transcendent thinking.”  One of the things that makes problem gambling analogous to religious fanaticism is that it’s not an external chemical addiction.  It’s all about choosing how to interpret reality and therefore, how to act.

This is particularly important because there is considerable evidence that problem gamblers can learn to alter their thought patterns, and therefore, their actions.  They can learn to gamble more effectively and less compulsively.

If it’s true for gambling, it’s most likely true for religious behaviors as well.

Don’t let that slip by.  If we can help people who “naturally” gamble based on “faith-like” reliance on long shots, patterns, and hidden meaning in the dice, we can also help people who naturally want to believe in angels and demons and signs in everyday life.  They can learn to think and act without seeing miracles everywhere.

Turner N, Jain U, Spence W, Zangeneh M. Pathways to pathological gambling: Component analysis of variables related to pathological gambling. International Gambling Studies [serial online]. December 2008;8(3):281-298.


3 thoughts on “Do Religious People Make Bad Gamblers?

  1. Micheal Shermer made an interesting talk on pattern regonition, I’ll try to dig it up.

    But from what I can recall he cited an experiment where people where shown a distorted picture of a whale and saw a whale or giant fish. After they were asked if they believe in the supernatural, and I think you can guess the results.

    Pattern regonition can happen to anyone even in the natural realm [not to mention names]and that can lead to trouble.

    Posted by cptpineapple | May 3, 2011, 10:39 pm
  2. Alison… thank you… as always…

    And by the way, I figured you’d be the first in…

    Posted by Living Life Without a Net | May 4, 2011, 2:20 am
  3. Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slots—in a casino or online—problem gambling can strain relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial catastrophe. You may even do things you never thought you would, like stealing money to gamble or pay your debts. You may think you can’t stop but, with the right help, you can overcome a gambling problem or addiction and regain control of your life. The first step is recognizing and acknowledging the problem.*

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    Posted by Lizette Alar | March 27, 2013, 12:04 pm

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