Iowa Gambling Task Description

  1. Iowa Gambling Task
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The main advantages that both cards offer include ease of use, cost, dependability and speed. When the United States started with the UIGEA or the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, the popularity of credit and debit cards started to dwindle.The law of UIGEA prohibits bank to process the transactions directed to casino online gambling. Iowa Gambling Task. A simulation of real life decision-making, the Iowa gambling task is widely used in cognition and emotion research. Participants are presented with four virtual decks of cards on a computer screen. They are told that each time they choose a card they stand to win some game money.

In this task, individuals attempt to earn points by playing or passing cards from 4 different decks. Two of the decks are associated with relatively small gains, but the small gains exceed losses over the course of the task, resulting in a net gain. The other two decks produce larger gains than the first two decks, but in the long run, these decks produce a net loss due to larger losses. In addition, within each type of deck (net gain vs. net loss), there is one deck in which the loss is infrequent but large, and the other deck produces losses that are consistent and small. The ability to choose to pass on bad decks and play on good decks is a measure of decision-making under conditions of uncertainty and risk evaluation. The preference to play the decks with more variance in the outcome is taken as a measure of risk preference. This task is especially appealing because it assesses decision-making relatively free of prior experience. One reason that adolescents and adults might differ in their decision-making abilities is that adults just have more practice with decision-making with the analytic, overt reasoning processes, or with decisions within a specific domain. Rather than assessing overt controlled decision-making, however, this task appears to tap implicit aspects of decision making. As such, any differences that may be observed between adults and adolescents cannot be attributed to differential expertise on the part of the adults, as neither group has previous experience with this task.
  • Bechara, A., Damasio, A.R., Damasio, H., & Anderson, S.W. (1994). Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex. Cognition, 50, 7–15.
  • Cauffman, E., Shulman, E., Steinberg, L., Claus, E., Banich, M., Graham, S., & Woolard, J.L. “Age differences in affective decision making as indexed by performance on the Iowa Gambling Task.” Developmental Psychology 46 (2010): 193-207.

How is the Task Structured?

The Iowa Gambling Task is an incredibly simple test. The participant is presented with four virtual decks of cards if playing on a computer, or four real decks if doing the test in the physical domain. The participant is informed that the outcome of each choice, that being which deck they choose to draw a card from, will reward or penalize them. The aim of the game is to raise as much money as possible through maximizing the rewards and minimizing the number of penalties incurred. After several plays on each deck the participant should understand and form an intuition of how to proceed in the game. The key here is that you must use this specific set up for the test. However, you can notice the patterns of behavior while playing online blackjack or playing roulette.

Common Findings Upon Completion of the Task

ManualIowa Gambling Task Description

The majority of participants sample a few cards from each deck to gain an understanding of the game mechanics. Once an intuition has been developed, usually at about 20-30 selections into the game, the player is generally very good at selecting the cards from the decks that will most efficiently build their reward/bank balance in the game. However, the test is designed to identify patients with an orbitofrontal cortex dysfunction (OFCD). In the case a patient playing the Iowa Gambling Test has an OFCD, the likeliness is they will fail to recognize the decks that reward them the most efficient and will continue to persevere with bad decks. Furthermore, researchers are able to monitor the reaction time of each choice on the player. Healthy patients are witnessed as displaying a stress reaction to hovering over bad decks, even after just 10 selections into the game. By contrast, players with neurological dysfunctions continue to choose outcomes that yield high immediate rewards in spite of higher losses in the future.

Bechara and Damasio explain these findings in great detail. The key conclusion relates to the somatic marker hypothesis, which ascertains that key decision making is often made in the heat of emotions and it is emotions that ultimately guide behavior and decision making. This obviously has particular relevance to gambling psychology which we will attempt to bring into the equation in the following section. If you want a quick break from the dense psychological analysis, have a read of this relatable article on how gamblers try to get good luck.

Can the Iowa Gambling Task Identify Gambling Addiction?


It seems like a very logical conclusion to make given the results of healthy and dysfunctional patients. The apparent inability to recognize risk whilst making a decision, and being blinded by the potential to yield larger immediate gains is a familiar problem to anyone who understands gambling addiction. Participants who are constantly choosing a deck that will yield higher gains but comes with a much higher chance of a high penalty are more likely to become gambling addicts. Players who recognize that small incremental gains at a low-risk desk are better for them in the long-run are less likely to be gambling addicts. This simple hypothesis has become the foundation of this test and remains a large reason why it is attributed to pushing advancements in the assistance of gambling addiction.

What Other Lessons Can We Learn from the Iowa Gambling Test

Whilst the conclusions drawn from the Iowa Gambling test is indeed very fascinating, they are by no means the limit of this psychological phenomenon. The test itself can be used to extrapolate many conclusions about the process of human decision making. Below we have selected some of the most interesting conclusions found by studies of the Iowa Gambling Test. In particular, there is a fundamental need to explain the connection between emotion and decision-making.

  • Gain and loss frequency are in fact the most crucial features of a gambling game when determining which one to choose. Subjects in the Iowa Gambling Test who are of a healthy pre-disposition were increasingly more likely to choose the deck that gave the most wins, despite the size of the reward.
  • Having the ability to memorize stuff and rules lead to favorable decision making. Subjects who are able to work something out, and at the same time remember crucial details about a task were far more likely to succeed in the Iowa Gambling Task.
  • Participants who take fewer drugs either medication or recreational performed far better under the pressure of the Iowa Gambling Task. It is well-known that recreational drug use has an adverse effect on the psychology of the individual. With this in mind, it explains a lot of the detrimental connections between drugs and gambling addiction.
  • Anxiety and other mental conditions of a similar nature tend to cause a negative impact on our ability to make good decisions. With the pressure of reward and risk, participants with high-anxiety are often likely to avoid risk all together at all costs. This can lead to a high opportunity cost from missing out on potential gains.

Iowa Gambling Task

A Few Final Words

Iowa Gambling Task Description Form

The Iowa Gambling Task is by all measures a fascinating concept and study of the human decision-making process. The results gained from such a study can indeed be utilized and deployed to better understand gambling addiction and greater mysteries around the human psyche. For more wonderful reports on psychology in gambling, check out our article on the Gamblers Fallacy. If you think that you may be developing or already have unhealthy attitudes while gambling, read our guide to responsible gambling.

Iowa Gambling Task Description Examples

You can find out more about the Iowa Gambling Task here.