December 23, 2020 written by

Having hope for the future proven to protect people from risky behaviours – including gambling

New research shows that those with a positive mindset for the future are less likely to take risks when gambling. 

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have been studying ‘relative deprivation’ – the feeling that you are suffering more than others, or others are better off than you – to find out why some people turn to risky behaviours, particularly in gambling. 

The answer, as flowery as it sounds, lies in hope.

Postgraduate researcher Shahriar Keshavarz, from UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “I think most people have experienced relative deprivation at some point in their lives. It’s that feeling of being unhappy with your lot, the belief that your situation is worse than others, that other people are doing better than you.

“Roosevelt famously said that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. It’s that feeling you have when a friend buys a new car, or your sister gets married, or a colleague finds a better job or has a better income.

“Relative deprivation can trigger negative emotions like anger and resentment, and it has been associated with poor coping strategies like risk-taking, drinking, taking drugs or gambling.

“But not everyone scoring high on measures of relative deprivation makes these life choices. We wanted to find out why some people seem to cope better or even use the experience to their advantage to improve their own situation.

“There is a lot of evidence to show that remaining hopeful in the face of adversity can be advantageous, so we wanted to see if hope can help people feel happier with their lot and buffer against risky behaviours.”

The psychological experiment 

The research team carried out two lab-based experiments with 55 volunteers. The volunteers were quizzed to find out how much they feel regarding deprivation and hope.

The researchers also induced feelings of relative deprivation in the volunteers by telling them how deprived they were compared to their peers, based on a questionnaire about their family income, age and gender.

They then took part in specially designed gambling games that involved risk-taking and placing bets with a chance to win real money.

The outcome 

Dr Piers Fleming, also from UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “The aim of this part of the study was to see whether feeling relatively deprived [..] causes greater risk-taking among low-hopers and decreased risk-taking among high-hopers.

“We looked at the people who scored high for relative deprivation, the ones that thought their situation in life was worse than those around them. And we looked at those who also scored high for hope.

“We found that the volunteers who scored high for hope, were much less likely to take risks in the game. Those who weren’t too hopeful, were a lot more likely to take risks.”

How can this help in the real world?

Another experiment looked at just that. Researchers worked with 122 volunteers who had gambled at least once in the last year. The volunteers took part in questionnaires to gauge how hopeful they are, whether they feel relatively deprived and to measure problem gambling.

Of the participants, 33 had no gambling problems (27 per cent), 32 had low levels of problems (26 per cent), 46 had moderate levels of problems leading to some negative consequences (38 per cent) and 11 were problem gamblers with a possible loss of control (9 per cent).

Mr Keshavarz said: “When we looked at these scores compared to scores for hope and relative deprivation, we found that increased hope was associated with a decreased likelihood of losing control of gambling behaviour – even in those who experienced relative deprivation.

“Interestingly, our study found no significant relationship between hope and gambling severity among relatively privileged persons. We don’t know why this is, but it could be that they are gambling recreationally or better able to stop when the fun stops.”

The research team say that nurturing hope in people who are unhappy with their lot could protect against harmful behaviours like drinking and gambling.

You can read more on the study, ‘Relative Deprivation and Hope: Predictors of Risk Behaviour’ in the Journal of Gambling Studies published on December 16, 2020.

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