Croc research on gambling habits gets an Ig Nobel

September 15, 2017 by Matthew Rockloff And Nancy Greer, The Conversation
The one-metre long relatives of this snappy croc at the Koorana Crocodile Farm, near Rockhampton, helped test the betting risks of potential gamblers. Credit: Flickr/Michael Gorey, CC BY-NC

Our research examining the effects of holding a live crocodile on slot-machine gambling has won one of this year's infamous Ig Nobel prizes.

The award was one of several presented at a ceremony at Harvard University in the US on Thursday night, which honours research topics that "first make people laugh, then make people think". They're often regarded as a parody of the Nobel Prizes.

The judges said to all those who didn't win an award, "better luck next year" and repeated the same to the recipients.

Our original research paper, Never Smile at a Crocodile: Betting on Electronic Gaming Machines is Intensified by Reptile-Induced Arousal published in the Journal of Gambling Studies in 2010, did get some coverage at the time.

Now that our work has been awarded the 2017 Ig Nobel prize for Economics, does it mean the influence of emotions on people's may get more attention in the literature?

Frankly, probably not. People will laugh a little, and carry on with their lives.

The croc research

But the research addressed a surprisingly serious topic of how gambling is affected by the excitement generated by pokies or slot machines.

One of the important entertainment elements of gambling is its ability to generate excitement. This excitement is particularly important for people with pre-existing gambling problems, who often suffer from low moods.

The research was devised to subtly manipulate excitement just prior to gambling.

Our supposition was that some of the excitement from holding the crocodile would be misattributed to the gambling experience, allowing us to study how that feeling of excitement might influence gambling decisions.

So we attended 100 crocodile tours at the Koorana Crocodile Farm in Coowonga, Central Queensland, Australia. For about half of the tours, we approached people at random to play a simulated pokie game before entering the farm and having any contact with .

For the other half of participants, they were approached immediately after holding a live one-metre crocodile. Photos holding the crocodile are a feature of the end of the tour, and most tourists take a turn holding this ancient - and potentially deadly - animal.

We measured all aspects of people's real-money gambling on our simulated pokie game. We also took standard measures of people's physiological state and mood, and surveyed them for any pre-existing gambling problems.

The researchers used smaller crocs like this one as part of the study. Credit: Shutterstock/Digital Video Bank
The findings

Most of our subjects, the tourists at the croc farm, had fun holding the croc. The juvenile crocodile had its mouth taped shut, but still had sharp teeth protruding from its mouth.

It also had sharp claws, and tourists were advised to handle it carefully. In our debriefing of the participants, nobody indicated an awareness that the crocodile had any influence on their gambling decisions.

But our results showed that people with pre-existing problems bet larger amounts after they held a one-metre crocodile, as long as they did not rate themselves as having a negative mood.

In contrast, gamblers with pre-existing problems who were in a negative mood bet substantially less. This demonstrated that emotions are an important determinant of gambling choices.

The research used a paradigm consistent with experimental realism, in which the goal was to simulate the psychological processes involved in real-world gambling rather than to simulate the mundane realism of the casino environment.

Experimental research often sacrifices some features of realism to improve control. Later correlational research supports our result by showing that people generally bet more in large, and presumably more exciting, casino environments than in smaller local venues.

Ig Nobel recognition of the research

Great science and great humour are often based on a surprise or unexpected results. It is important for people to understand that not all research has to be stuffy to be valuable.

Public recognition for our research through the Ig Nobels may allow people to "laugh," but also to "think." People need to be more aware of how their emotional states can influence their gambling decisions so that they can make better gambling choices.

The crocodile study was actually completed ten years ago, and we have made great progress since in understanding gambling choices. Our more recent research looks at gambling harms and benefits, with the purpose of trying to identify what amount of gambling is "too much."

Many people participate in gambling with measurable recreational benefits. The key to engaging successfully with gambling products, including slots, is to maximise the benefit and minimise the harms.

One of our new research platforms to examine this and other questions is a customised Luck Lolly Slots slot machine game available from iOS and Android app stores. It's been developed by CQUniversity for a research project investigating pokie-style mobile apps and is available for free (with no in-app purchases and no ads).

As for the Ig Nobel prize, it includes a cash award of 10 trillion Zimbabwe dollars. This will soon be spent by the research team on necessary supplies: two cups of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts (medium, no milk).

Explore further: Study links slot-machine addiction to immersion in the game

Related Stories

Study links slot-machine addiction to immersion in the game

February 21, 2017
Gamblers who feel like they enter into a trance while playing slot machines are more likely to have gambling problems, according to new research from the Centre for Gambling Research at UBC.

First investigation of eye-tracking in electronic gaming machine play

April 26, 2017
New research, funded by GambleAware used eye-tracking to investigate how machine players pay attention to Electronic Gaming Machine (EGM) displays in local bookmaker offices.

New York pumps up gambling treatment as it expands gambling

February 1, 2017
Thousands of new slot machines and table games debuting this month as part of New York state's casino growth spurt are bringing not only more chances to gamble, but also millions of dollars more to help problem gamblers.

Study finds no threshold for safe gambling

November 16, 2015
A new study into problem gambling and gambling addiction has found there is no safe level of gambling.

Recommended for you

What social stress in monkeys can tell us about human health

December 11, 2018
Research in recent years has linked a person's physical or social environment to their well-being. Stress wears down the body and compromises the immune system, leaving a person more vulnerable to illnesses and other conditions. ...

The richer the reward, the faster you'll likely move to reach it, study shows

December 11, 2018
If you are wondering how long you personally are willing to stand in line to buy that hot new holiday gift, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the answer may be found in the biological rules governing how animals typically ...

Trying to get people to agree? Skip the French restaurant and go out for Chinese food

December 11, 2018
Here's a new negotiating tactic: enjoy a family-style meal with your counterpart before making your opening bid.

Using neurofeedback to prevent PTSD in soldiers

December 11, 2018
A team of researchers from Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. has found that using neurofeedback could prevent soldiers from experiencing PTSD after engaging in emotionally difficult situations. In their paper published in the ...

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

You make decisions quicker and based on less information than you think

December 11, 2018
We live in an age of information. In theory, we can learn everything about anyone or anything at the touch of a button. All this information should allow us to make super-informed, data-driven decisions all the time.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.