Impulsivity and Inhibition May Predict Gambling Problems in Children

“Gambling behavior begins early: by pre-adolescence, 15% of boys and 5% of girls have already become involved in daily or weekly gambling,” said Frank Vitaro and Brigitte Wanner of the University of Montreal. “There is accumulating evidence suggesting that diverse bio-behavioral elements are involved in gambling.” The researchers, who conducted a study on 1125 children to determine what behaviors predicted problem gambling, looked specifically at the behavioral activation system (BAS) and the behavioral inhibition system (BIS). “The BIS is sensitive to punishment and has been hypothesized as the neurological basis for the experience of anxiety. A low or weak BIS is reflected in low inhibition, low sensitivity to punishment, and low anxiety,” said the team. “In contrast, the BAS is sensitive to reward and is thought to control approach motivation and goal-oriented behavior. A high or strong BAS is reflected in high dis-inhibition, strong sensitivity to reward, and high impulsivity.”

The researchers noted that having a high BAS and a weak BIS could directly influence problem gambling. Additionally, the presence of parent gambling was examined to determine its effect on the behavior of the children. The team assessed the children when they were 6, 7 and 8, and evaluated their dispositions based on teacher’s reports. At age 8, the gambling behaviors of the children and their parents were measured. When the children reached the age of 10, they completed their own self-reports evaluating their gambling behavior. The results of the study revealed that for both boys and girls, impulsivity, as reported by the teachers, was directly linked to problem gambling. “In addition, low anxiety predicted early gambling behavior, above and beyond impulsivity and control variables, albeit only in boys,” said the team. They added, “However, parent gambling participation, but not problems, additively predicted early gambling for boys and for girls. “ In conclusion, the team explained how these results could help children with gambling issues. “Prevention programs targeting children’s personal dispositions and/or parent gambling could help uncover the possible causal role played by these early risk factors.”

Vitaro, Frank, and Brigitte Wanner. “Predicting Early Gambling in Children.” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 25.1 (2011): 118-26. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Steven Robinson

    Steven Robinson

    September 26th, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    15% of boys already engage in weekly gambling!!?? This is outrageous and a despicable thing to think about. These kids can’t even legally gamble!!! And yet not only are they illegally gambling, their is a large percentage that do it regularly!

    This has gone far beyond letting your kids pull a slot machine spinner thing (don’t gamble so I don’t know the lingo). This is just out right asking for your child to develop a gambling addiction.

    Tests like the one talked about above NEED to be mandatory in schools across the country so that these issues can be caught and corrected early on by the school social worker. In addition to a letter, and phone call to parents recommending further therapy.

    Problems like these can’t be given the cold shoulder, that doesn’t make them go away. It is time we stop ignoring what is right in front our face and take action. So the children of tomorrow can avoid the pitfalls of gambling!

  • Mel


    September 26th, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    So what this is telling me is that there is a predisposition to gambling just like any other addictive behavior? OK so maybe that is true, because I can see that with behaviors like drugs and drinking. But to look at my 5 year old and read some of her behaviors as predictors for a life of gambling? I am not so sure that I am buying that.

  • Trav good

    Trav good

    September 27th, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    So basically anyone with a little boy as a child should get some help for him because we all know that these little guys have no impulse control whatsoever!

  • Jack


    September 27th, 2011 at 10:42 PM

    I’m surprised at the stats as well. Its hard to imagine young children indulging in gambling and more so because the percentages are significant. I believe most of this happens at school or with school-mates outside the school. So if educative programs are dished out then maybe it could help the situation.

  • Zane


    September 28th, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    I have never tried to pre judge my own kid because I am afraid that if I believe something negative about him, then he will sense that and will grow up to be exactly what I most wish to avoid! Sef fulfilling prophecy or something like that? So anyway, I think that you should withhold the judgement and be a positive influence in their lives. That’s all.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.