Ghrelin, a peptide hormone associated with appetite, is also linked to increased reward seeking behaviors, including food, sex, and drug seeking behaviors through the stimulation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system. Moreover, plasma ghrelin concentrations are increased by cues that predict rewards, suggesting that cues could facilitate cravings and ultimately relapse. In this project we examined the effects of an overnight fast, a manipulation known to increase ghrelin concentrations, on gambling behaviors. We also examined if cues associated with gambling would also increase ghrelin and, if so, we examined if these increases were associated with gambling behavior. One hundred and one (37 females) participants were asked to fast overnight or after breakfast and then asked to complete food and gambling craving questionnaires. Participants were then presented with gambling cues (a casino like environment in the lab) or a control cue (a cubicle with a computer). After the cue, subjects filled gambling craving questionnaires, and were allowed to gamble. Following 25 practice spins, the slot machines were fixed so that all subsequent spins were losses, and the number of spins in spite of losses were quantified. Blood samples were collected throughout the experiment. Results showed that the gambling cues significantly increased ghrelin concentrations particularly in fasted individuals, and that ghrelin concentrations 20 min after the cue were the best predictor for gambling persistence in the face of continued loss (p < 0.05). Our results suggest that cues that predict the opportunity to gamble have an acute effect on ghrelin concentrations that is facilitated by fasting, and that ghrelin concentrations are a significant predictor of gambling persistence.

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Biological Psychology
Department of Neuroscience

Sztainert, T. (Travis), Hay, R. (Rebecca), Wohl, M, & Abizaid, A. (2018). Hungry to gamble? Ghrelin as a predictor of persistent gambling in the face of loss. Biological Psychology, 139, 115–123. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.10.011