The Psychology of Addictive Behaviour


Biological Approach:


Initiation - genetics as PG can run in families, Black found that first degree relatives of PG are likely to be PG.

Maintainance - an underactive pituarity adrenal response, Paris found that when PGs were shown a gambling stimulus and a neutral stimulus their cortisol levels were no different. Zuckerman also found that PGs scored higher on a senstation seeking questionnaire.

Relapse - poor boredom tolerance as PGs need excitement.


  • genetic explanations explain individual differences but fail to explain environmental or situational factors
  • addiction could be caused by an interaction of several factors
  • Bonnaire identified two types of PG: 1 type gamble to relive boredom whilst the other type gamble for arosal
  • the biological approach fails to explain why some types of gambling are more addictive.  Zuckerman found that males and females addicted to video gambling became PGs after 1 year whilst betting on horses or sport took 3 1/2 years to become addicted.


Initiation - hereditability of smoking is 39-80%, Vink in a newer study found the hereditability to be 42%.

Maintainance - Vink suggests that this is also primarily due to genetic factors for 75% of cases. Nicotine also affects brain chemistry and the release of dopamine in the reward pathway as a reponse to smoking. Pre-natal exposure also plays a role with those whose mothers smoked 20 or more day during pregnancy being at greater risk of becoming a regular smoking.

Relapse - twin studies show that 54% of the risk of quit failure is due to genetics.


  • an Icelandic study found a specific gene varient on chromasome 15 which influenced smokers of over 10 a day.
  • the biological approach neglects other determining factors such as environment and situational
  • it does offer possibilities for pharmacological treatment methods.
  • new discoveries suggest that people can be screened to find out who has a particular senisitivity to the possibility of smoking and thus advice could be distributed accordingly especially due to the high public health burden that smoking has caused. However, studies to date have not been very successful.

Cognitive Explanation:


Initiation - self medication model proposes that individuals purposfully treat psychological symptoms by engaging in pathological behaviour, some activities may be chosen because they help an individual overcome anxiety.

Maintainance - irrational beliefs such as 'gambler's fallacy' contribute as they believe a run of losses mean they 'deserve' a win. Griffiths demonstrated that those playing on a fruit machine who were regular gamblers used irrational vocalisation when they were playing.

Relapse - recall bias and the just world hypothesis suggest that gamblers overestimate wins and underestimate or rationalise losses. 


  • Li showed that PGs who gambled to escape reality often had other substance dependencies, they were also more likely to commit illegal acts to finance their habit.
  • Delfabbro found that were more irrational in some forms of cognition but just as accurate at calculating odds. Furthermore, a study of university students found that those trained in statistical fields were no less susceptable…


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