Iowa Gambling Task – All You Must Know About It

The Iowa Gambling Task has gained significant popularity over the last few years, but what exactly is it? Shortly explained, the Iowa Gambling Task is a psychological task that simulates real-life decision making. All participants in it, are asked to choose among four virtual desks of cards on a computer screen. Each deck could either bring them a reward or make them lose money, just like in real gambling. The goal, of course, is to win as much money as possible. Wondering how such a simple task could lead to making a serious psychological deduction? Stay with us and keep reading our article to find out.
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Iowa Gambling Task Explained

If you thought that the Iowa gambling task could somehow help you become a successful gambler, we regret to inform that you are wrong. It can, however, help you evaluate your decision making and how inclined you are to make the most convenient choices for you. As you have probably figured by its name, the Iowa gambling task was developed at the University of Iowa. However, it did not become publicly known until Antonio Damasio discussed it in his book Descartes’ Error. The task was originally designed by Antoine Bechara and others in 1994, and as we have already mentioned, was used to test the decision-making abilities.

How exactly does the Iowa gambling task work? In a very simple, yet effective way. Each participant is asked to pick one out four card decks, usually named A, B, C and D. Each time you select a stack, you turn a card, which can either bring you a financial reward, make you lose money or both. As you can imagine, your main aim should be to win as much money as possible. However, there is a little catch. The four decks are stacked differently, and some are more beneficial than others. It is up to you to figure which decks you should stick to, and which ones you should avoid at all costs. Before you begin, you would be given a certain amount of play money, and you would most likely be asked to pick a deck 100 times.

Are the Decks Stacked in a Specific Way?

Yes, each deck is stacked according to certain rules that participants should not be made aware of. Therefore, if you are planning to try the Iowa gambling task yourself, we advise you to skip this section. Before we move on, however, we must clarify that the task initially used real cards and was not computer-based, like it is today. Nevertheless, in both cases, the four decks of cards were stacked following certain rules.

  • To begin with, the cards in the decks A and B tend to bring better rewards than the ones in decks C and D.
  • However, there is a higher number of penalty cards in deck A and C than in deck B. Meanwhile, the cards in deck D bring higher financial losses than the ones in deck C.
  • To summarise, the cards in decks A and C have more losing than winning cards. Meanwhile, decks B and D have more rewards than penalties. As it turns out eventually, picking cards from decks with higher rewards could lead to possible financial losses. Meanwhile, selecting cards from the decks with lower rewards could result in being more profitable over time.

As you have probably figured, the system generates conflict between long- and short-term rewards. To make a sustainable profit, the participant must make a logical rather than an emotional choice. If he feels tempted to pick the cards with higher short-term rewards, the player will lose money in the long run. In order to help you understand the Iowa gambling task even better, we have prepared a brief explanatory video for you:

The Iowa Gambling Task Can Identify Potential Gambling Addicts

As we have established, the Iowa gambling task cannot help you build an infallible gaming strategy. It can, however, help experts identify potential gambling addicts. When researchers started having test subjects participate in the Iowa gambling task, they found out that people with damage to the prefrontal cortex, which is a part of the brain involved in the decision making, did not tend to choose the “good” decks and make a profit. Instead, they kept picking the decks with larger rewards but with more losing cards. However, this did not mean that everyone else automatically made the right choice. In fact, according to the research, different people preferred to play tactically and would often pick the decks with larger rewards, trying to implement a strategy that would limit potential losses. Generally speaking, however, strategies that emphasise immediate rewards tend to be riskier. Thus, psychologically, such actions could be linked to impulsivity and risk-taking, although we have not found a scientific explanation of the exact nature of their connection.

You are now probably asking yourself if such actions are related to problem gambling? The short answer is yet. People who demonstrate riskier and often reckless behaviour during the Iowa gambling task, tend to act the same way in real life. Thus, if they walk into a casino, they would likely be driven by the thrill to win and will keep making bad choices just to keep that feeling alive. In the long term, however, their deeds could lead to significant financial damages. Scientifically speaking, of course, the factors that cause gambling addiction, are much more complex. For example, some of the results from the Iowa gambling task were linked to the somatic marker hypothesis. If you are unaware of what that it is, the somatic marker hypothesis was put forward by Antonio Damasio. According to his theory, somatic markers or aspects of our body functions, such as raised heartbeat and anxiety, could affect the way we make decisions. Thus, shortly, people who are led by the thrill of winning would most likely make worse decisions than players that do not feel the same excitement and tend to act logically.

Where Can I Try the Iowa Gambling Task?

Iowa Gambling Task Online

There might be several institutions in your area undertaking the task. For precise information, we advise you to turn to the Faculty of Psychology at your local university. Additionally, you can take part in the experiment online by visiting this website. Your participation is free of charge and all you would have to do is install a small player. We must warn you, however, that the Iowa gambling task is not a psychological evaluation. It would help determine certain behaviours in the long term but would not provide you with personalised feedback. Yet, you can still draw your own conclusion by comparing your initial amount of play money to the one you will end up with. Of course, if you fear you might have fallen a victim of problem gambling, you must seek help by a professional institution such as GamCare, Gamblers Anonymous and BeGambleAware.com among others. Remember always to gamble responsibly and that no strategy could guarantee you would succeed.

What Else Did We Learn From the Iowa Gambling Task?

Throughout the years, the Iowa gambling task has led to many conclusions. It can not only indicate the behaviour of potential gambling addicts but also various factors that affect decision making. Several studies have determined that the human ability to make decisions is often affected by the following circumstances:

  • We make better decisions on an empty stomachThree experimental studies have found enough reasons to believe that people who are hungry perform better on the Iowa gambling task. In fact, hunger decreases the appetite for risk.
  • Sleep can help us make the right decisionsA study has proven that people who had a period of sleep between the sessions of the Iowa gambling task, would choose the risk with high rewards but also with significant losses less often.
  • Anxiety could lead to bad decisionsA scientific research has shown that people with high or very low levels of anxiety tend to make wrong decisions. Meanwhile, those who struggled with a moderate amount of anxiety in their lives picked the most profitable decks during the Iowa gambling task.
  • Good memory leads to good decisions – It has been concluded that people with good working memory perform better on the Iowa gambling task than the participants with low working memory. One of the possible reasons for the results is the ability of people to hold relevant factors in their minds and to make decisions only based on then.

As it becomes evident, even a simple experiment such as the Iowa gambling task has lead to many conclusions and assumptions. Clearly, what we should remember, however, is that rushed decisions, based on emotions often lead to disastrous results. Thus, when making a decision, whether it is about gambling or not, we should always try to consider all factors and think logically. Yet, we must note that the Iowa gambling task is a part of a generalised study and is the result of each participant are open to interpretations.

Conclusion – Our Final Verdict

As we have established, the Iowa gambling task is a popular psychological experiment that has led to many useful conclusions throughout the years. It helps identify the best way to make decisions and the warning signs for potential gambling addicts. Many scholars still undertake researches related to the task and the scientific interest towards it is constantly growing. We hope you have found our article interesting and useful. If you believe that you usually make good and rational decisions and want to try your luck gambling online, why not select one of our US online casino sites? We review only safe and licenced operators that promise you to have the best gaming experience. Remember always to gamble responsibly and never to bet more than you can afford to lose.

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