Implications of Empathy for Effective Self- and Social Regulation of Gambling Behaviour


Investigator Dr. Jacquie Vorauer, University of Manitoba
Research Priority Determine effective approaches for identifying and interacting with players who may be exhibiting signs of at-risk or problem gambling.
Funding Small Grant  ($49,389)
Project Status Completed


Project Summary

Effective self-regulation is critical to responsible gambling. Being able to control immediate impulses, evaluate alternative courses of action, and remain focused on higher-order, longer-term goals allows individuals who enjoy gambling to take part in this activity without at the same time incurring costs in the form of damaged social relationships, poor work performance, and stress-related reductions in psychological and physical well-being.

The first key goal of this research project is to examine how being the target of empathy from others affects individuals’ ability to engage in effective self-regulation in gambling contexts. Research from social psychology suggests that being on the receiving end of empathy from another person can sometimes be disempowering and undermine self-regulation. If these effects extend to gambling contexts, this would suggest that being empathic is counter-productive as a social support response toward those having problems and negative experiences in connection with gambling. Experiments 1 and 2 directly test whether being the target of empathy is harmful in a situation involving gambling activities, and also examine whether negative effects are more evident for those with propensities toward problem gambling.  

Considering the effects of empathy in gambling contexts raises the question of how easy it is for people to detect problem gambling vulnerabilities in others: Can they usually tell when there is a problem? It is currently unclear how transparent individuals’ gambling inclinations generally are to those around them. Accordingly, the second key goal of this research project is to examine individuals’ accuracy in identifying problem gambling in others. Experiments 3 and 4 examine this issue and further probe how accuracy is affected by factors such as closeness and individuals’ own gambling propensities, which may enhance their ability to empathize.

Ultimately the findings will reveal whether adopting an empathic stance toward someone in a gambling situation is helpful or harmful – information highly relevant to both systematic and informal intervention efforts. The findings will also reveal when individuals’ assessments of problem gambling tendencies in others are apt to be valid or invalid and whether, for example, staff at a gambling facility or close friends are better judges of problem gambling tendencies.

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