Gambler Psychology: Near-Misses Are Frustrating Losses Rather Than Near-Wins
    By News Staff | October 10th 2012 07:30 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Gamblers interpret near-misses as frustrating losses rather than near-wins, and that frustration stimulates the reward systems in the brain to promote continued gambling, which may contribute to addictive gambling behavior. 

    Analyses to date have shown that near-misses support persistent gambling and activate brain areas that reinforce certain behaviors. If near-misses are seen as near-wins, then they should be pleasurable. If, however, near-misses are highly frustrating losses, then they should be unpleasant. Dixon and team set out to shed light on this debate.

    Researchers measured the time between the result of a spin and the initiation of the next spin following losses, near-misses and wins of various sizes among 122 participants as they played a slot machine simulator. Of the 122 gamblers, 22 were non-problem gamblers, 37 were at risk players and 23 were problem gamblers. The researchers also assessed the players' frustration levels by measuring the rate at which electricity travels through the skin. Skin responses reflect psychophysical changes as a result of frustration.

    Dr. Mike Dixon from the University of Waterloo comments, "Our findings support the hypothesis that these types of near-misses are a particularly frustrating form of loss, and contradict the supposition that they are a mis-categorized win. Specifically, following these types of near-misses, participants may be driven to spin again as quickly as possible to remove themselves from a particularly frustrating state."

    The analyses showed that progressively larger wins led to longer pauses between spins and increased arousal levels. Near-misses with jackpot symbols landing on the first two reels led to significantly larger skin responses than regular losses and other types of near-misses. In addition, the gamblers were compelled to repeat the spin as quickly as possible after this type of near miss.

    “By activating what we call the appetitive component of the mesolimbic rewards system, these near-misses may help a player develop a hopeful, subjective impression that the next win is imminent,” said Dixon. “This might ultimately contribute to the sensitization of the appetitive system, which plays a key role in addictive behavior.”

    Citation: Dixon MJ et al (2012). The frustrating effects of just missing the jackpot: slot machines near-misses trigger large skin conductance responses, but no post-reinforcement pauses. Journal of Gambling Studies DOI 10.1007/s10899-012-9333-x.


    Gerhard Adam
    Gamblers interpret near-misses as frustrating losses rather than near-wins...
    What is that supposed to mean?  A loss is not a "near miss", it is a miss.  It is unambiguous.  A "near-win" is also a loss, so again ... what is that supposed to mean?

    Obviously a key effect here is the rationalization on the part of the player as to how to interpret these events with respect to the likelihood that such a "near win" will translate into an actual win.  I would certainly expect these interpretations to be significantly different based on the nature of the game.  So a slot machine, might prompt a belief that the mechanics/electronics of the machine are "primed" to produce a win, whereas in a game like poker or blackjack I would expect a negligible effect.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    What is that supposed to mean?  A loss is not a "near miss", it is a miss.  It is unambiguous.  A "near-win" is also a loss, so again ... what is that supposed to mean?
    It means that you are not a compulsive gambler Gerhard!
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at
    Gerhard Adam
    I get that compulsive gamblers will be more obsessive about rationalizing their actions, but the phrase "near-miss" makes no sense.  Are they meaning that you won and nearly missed?  Does it mean you nearly won?  If so, then how is that different than a near win?

    Also, why shouldn't it be a frustrating loss, if it was very close? 

    That's why I raised the question, but such ideas factor into the rationalizing mechanism the individual uses.  If there's a mechanical/electronic element to it, then often people feel that they may have discerned a pattern or found something that lets them predict the behavior of the machine.  In games like cards, this would be extremely unlikely unless an individual were counting cards.  Even games with dice or roulette suggest that there may be some means by which a physical interaction produces a pattern of play, thereby reinforcing the notion that being "close" may signal a potential win coming up.
    Mundus vult decipi