Scientists have conducted an experiment to determine what attracts players to slot machines, and specific elements that might cause them to play for shorter or longer periods of time. Using a placebo effect, the results were rather interesting, showing that slots fans would prefer to think that their games are equipped with an immensely popular human trait known as ‘freedom of choice’.
Entitled Humanizing Machines: Anthropomorphization of Slot Machines Increases Gambling, the study was published last month by the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
That big A-word you just read (or skipped over after a few attempts) means something that is human-like in nature, and that impression had a profound effect on the activity of slots players who participated in the study.
The experiment included two control groups who were simply given a basic description of the slot machine they were about to play. This first group received the following stimulus:
|“The slot machine can decide whether you will win or lose a series of bets any time she wants. Sometimes, she may choose to make fun of you, leaving you empty-handed for several bets; other times, she might want to reward you with a win.”
The second group was told:
|“The slot machine is controlled by a mathematical algorithm that is programmed to deliver a certain overall number of wins and losses. Based on this algorithm, you can win or lose a series of bets.”
How do you think you would react if given the same descriptions before sitting down to spin the reels? Would you be more inclined to play the human-like slot machine, wherein the AI is said to have simulated emotional responses that will determine your gambling fate? Or would you prefer to play one that is based entirely on the random results spit out by an apathetic computer program?
If you’re like the majority of those who participated in the study, you probably picked the first, humanized slot machine. Players who were assigned to these slots spent more time playing the game, and subsequently lost more money due to the fact that the casino always holds an edge. In contrast, those who played the algorithm-controlled slots played—and lost—less.
The Placebo Effect
The most interesting factor in the experiment, however, was the fact that none of the slot machines were different. Both control groups were playing the exact same computerized slots that rely on algorithmic RNGs to produce wins and losses. There was no human-like ‘freedom of choice’ behind the first control group’s machines.
The results clearly indicate that slots players would prefer to think that their experience is controlled by something more compelling than an indifferent computer chip. Call it Lady Luck, if you will, but the underlying conclusion here is that slot machine manufacturers and casinos could easily syphon millions more dollars from gamblers by simply giving them a favorable impression that a greater influence is at work.
“Our research indicates that the psychological process of gambling-machine anthropomorphism can be advantageous for the gaming industry,” the study determined. “However, this may come at great expense for gamblers’ (and their families’) economic resources and psychological well-being.”
Jaqueline Ronson, a scientific journalist based in Canada, speculated on the results of the slot machine study, saying that “seeing the slot machine as a computer algorithm sucks the fun out of gambling, and reminds players that the odds are stacked against them. Maybe one needs to believe in Lady Luck to believe one can get lucky.”