Cognitive neuroscience can support public health approaches to minimise the harm of ‘losses disguised as wins’ in multiline slot machines

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Video slot machines are associated with both accelerated transition into problematic forms of gambling, as well as psychosocial harm above and beyond other forms of gambling. A growing body of evidence is uncovering how key design features of multiline slot machines produce an inflated experience of reward, despite the fact that these features offer no overall financial benefit to the player. A pernicious example of this are ‘losses disguised as wins’ (LDWs), which occur when simultaneous bets placed on multiple lines result in a winning combination that returns an amount greater than zero, but less the total wager. These events are usually accompanied by the same celebratory sounds and animations that accompany true wins. We argue that LDWs may leverage neuropsychological phenomena that underlie reinforcement learning and contribute to extended or repetitive use and gambling-related harm. While other characteristics of slot machine gambling have been examined by cognitive neuroscientists, this feature has not yet received attention. Neuroscientific methods can be used to assess the impact of LDWs on the human reward system, to assess the claim that these events are a reinforcing and contributing factor in the development of harmful play. Positive findings would provide further persuasive evidence in support of strategies to minimise gambling harm through the regulation of machine design.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2384-2391
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • electronic gaming machines
  • event-related potentials
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • gambling disorder
  • reinforcement learning

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