2016-17 Scholarship and Research Allowance Award Recipients

The Institute is pleased to announce the following 2016-17 Scholarship and Research Allowance Award Recipients:

Jennifer Bertrand

Program: Masters (Physical Education & Recreation, U. of Alberta)

Supervisor: Dr. Craig Chapman

Imagine you're at a casino and trying to decide whether to play it safe or bet big. What influences this decision? In this project we investigate how different visual experiences alter decision making. It has been shown that flashing visual stimuli can create neural oscillations in the brain which can change how you perceive the world. We hope to understand how these visual stimuli, common to a gambling environment, could affect the state of the brain such that specific decisions become more likely – for example making bigger bets. In our first experiment we will use flashing visual stimuli in the alpha frequency (8 - 12 Hz), to produce a neural state such that we can predict the outcome of a person's perceptual decision (determining which of two objects is brighter). With further research we will then extend these findings to more complex value-based, or risky, decisions. We aim to draw significant conclusions for the gambling community about an opportunity (or risk) to shape behavior in a noninvasive but non-conscious way.


Hyoun S. (Andrew) Kim

Program: PhD (Clinical Psychology, U. of Calgary)

Supervisor: Dr. David Hodgins

The aim of my doctoral dissertation is to shed light on the process of addiction substitution among disordered gamblers. Addiction substitution occurs when a gambler increases the use of another substance (e.g., alcohol) when attempting to cut down or quit their gambling. Addiction substitution is of clinical importance as substituting gambling for another addiction can increase the risk of relapse and/or lead to the development of a new addiction. For example, a problem gambler who quits gambling may now use alcohol to compensate, which could increase his or her risk of relapsing to gambling, or lead to the development of an alcohol problem. Unfortunately, addiction substitution is poorly understood at both the theoretical and practical level. My doctoral dissertation aims to address this empirical gap.

I am currently in the midst of piloting my questionnaire to assess the process of addiction substitution among gamblers and hope to have collected a total of 180 participants in the next two years. Furthermore, a systematic review of addiction substitution has been completed with 47 articles having met the inclusion criteria, of which, seven are related to gambling. I am currently in the midst of synthesizing the results and anticipate submitting the paper for academic publication in 2017.


Catherine Laskowski

PhD (Neuroscience, U. of Lethbridge)

Supervisor: Dr. David Euston

What makes slot-machines and other forms of gambling so addictive? One factor is that reward (i.e., a jackpot) is always a surprise. Our brains are wired so that positive surprises cause high levels of dopamine which, in turn, make the behaviors leading to surprise highly attractive and potentially addicting. We are attempting to capture this aspect of gambling addiction in an animal model and test its validity. Catherine's project involves exposing rats to gambling-like reward schedules to see whether this will induce addiction-like behavior. We are also investigating whether factors which predict addiction in humans, such as impulsivity, will induce addiction-like behavior in our rats. To learn more about the neurobiological bases of addiction, we will manipulate specific brain regions, such as frontal cortex, and neurotransmitter systems, such as dopamine, to learn what role they play in addiction. This research will increase our understanding of the brain bases of gambling addiction and ultimately lead to new behavioral and/or pharmacological treatments which may help those suffering from gambling addiction.


Chang Lu

PhD (Business, U. of Alberta)

Supervisor: Dr. Trish Reay

It is no doubt that First Nation casinos are important for aboriginal communities in Canada. However, the development of these casinos has not been smooth. Contestations between different stakeholders have increased the difficulty of casino operation and development. In my research project, I aim to find new ways to manage the contestations between different stakeholders and reconcile stakeholders' competing interests. Building on extant organization and management theories, I conduct a qualitative study on the 18 First Nation casinos in Canada both at the organizational and institutional level, through which I understand the origins of stakeholders' competing interests, how they have evolved, and how they can be managed more effectively.


Dustin Marcinkevics

PhD (Educational Psychology, U. of Alberta)

Supervisor: Dr. William Hanson

The initial project focused on Canadian university student gambling, using the Problem Gambling Severity Index or the South Oaks Gambling Screen. Overall, findings from 17 published studies were used to calculate aggregate gambling prevalence rates. A random effects meta-analysis model combined different samples across Canada to estimate the true prevalence rate of problem gambling among university students. Composite estimates indicate that, across the country, university students gamble almost two times as much as the general population. A manuscript version of the project currently in preparation - the first draft has been completed.

Following this publication of this analysis, subsequent research will begin looking at gambling among post-secondary students through a developmental psychopathology lens. Analysis will be completed using a mixed-methods approach. Such a model underscores the need to recognize distinguishing risk and protective factors among this group in order advance further targeted awareness, prevention, and intervention strategies.


Samuel M. Ofori Dei

PhD (Health Sciences, U. of Lethbridge)

Supervisor: Dr. Darren Christensen

There is inadequate theoretical knowledge about the mechanisms underlying the effects of gambling accessibility factors on the prevalence of gambling participation and problem gambling in the general population. My study addresses this knowledge gap by developing a multifactor model that explains how individual level factors such as sociodemographic and psychosocial factors shape the manner in which gambling accessibility factors influence gambling participation and problems.


Jeffrey Pisklak

PhD (Psychology, U. of Alberta)

Supervisor: Dr. Marcia Spetch

My project is aimed at assessing the functional role of near miss events on gambling behavior. Near miss events occur when the elements of a casino game suggest to a player that they have almost won; the classic example of this involves obtaining two cherries and a lemon on a three-reel slot machine. For various theoretical reasons, it has long been assumed that these types of events cause a player to persist longer at gambling than they otherwise would. However, the evidence for an effect of near misses on actual gambling persistence is inconsistent. My work thus far, which utilizes experimental analyses of pigeon and human behavior, suggests that near miss events are no more reinforcing than other types of misses.


Jennifer Prentice

PhD (Clinical Psychology, U. of Calgary)

Supervisor: Dr. Keith Dobson

The present project investigates the relationship between stigma (i.e., stereotypes, social distance, and discrimination) and different labels that are used to describe problem gambling. Three hundred and ninety-five community members from across Canada completed the study. Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 9 label conditions (e.g., gambling addiction, problem gambling, asthma, depression etc.). Participants completed a battery of questionnaires related to stigmatizing attitudes and perceptions, gambling behaviour, and a behavioural task of discrimination. Gambling problems appear to be stigmatized to a similar extent to alcohol use disorder, and to a greater extent than asthma, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and compulsive buying disorder. Furthermore, participants allocated fewer hypothetical government funds to treatment and research on gambling conditions than the other health conditions. This study will lead to an improved understanding of the role of labelling in the area problem gambling stigma.


Christina Rash

Masters (Psychology, U. of Calgary)

Supervisor: Dr. Daniel McGrath

The aim of my research project is to construct a psychological profile of individuals who do not gamble; that is, both former gamblers and never-gamblers. Participants, recruited via MTurk, will complete a series of measures assessing personality, expectancies, motivations, and behaviours including recreational and problematic substance use. The goal is to shed light on additional protective factors against problem gambling, so that we may focus more of our efforts on those at a higher risk.


Jennifer Swan

PhD (Clinical Psychology, U. of Calgary)

Supervisor: Dr. David Hodgins

The proposed research aims to further examine the mechanisms by which motivational interviewing (Ml) promotes behaviour change and how this can further inform the development and implementation of effective brief interventions for disordered gambling. To this end, the degree to which therapist use of Ml techniques are related to client change language, and the degree to which this change talk predicts gambling outcome, is being examined in: 1) brief MIs with disordered gamblers via telephone, and 2) transcriptions of interactions with an online Ml tool for disordered gamblers.


Nathan Wispinski

Masters (Psychology, U. of Alberta)

Supervisor: Dr. Anthony Singhal and Dr. Craig Chapman

If you are sitting at a poker table how do you decide between betting big or folding? Theories of decision making argue that the likelihood of choosing each option (called evidence) builds over time until one of them reaches a threshold and the decision is made. Recent electroencephalography (EEG) recordings have shown neural patterns that are consistent with this theory. However, in these past projects researchers have almost exclusively examined detection decisions (e.g. did you see it) and have ignored the more natural discrimination decisions (e.g. which one do you like more). In this study, we are exploring the neural signatures of discrimination decision making. Preliminary data is entirely consistent with evidence accumulation models of decision making and suggests we can measure this neural signature as a correlate of each individual’s decision making processing. We believe that individual differences in the weighing of multiple choice options will be fundamental to understanding both the regular and disordered decision making we see in gambling scenarios.


Gabriel Yanicki

PhD (Anthropology, U. of Alberta)

Supervisor: Dr. John W. (Jack) Ives

My research examines how gambling could have served as a primary vehicle for the social interaction between specialized bison-hunters and broad-spectrum foragers in the Great Salt Lake area in the 13th century AD. Ubiquitous gaming materials at the Promontory Caves suggest exogenous social interaction, especially between women with different social backgrounds. The social recruitment of women, through intermarriage and related processes that were facilitated by the positive social interactions linked to traditional gambling games, played a pivotal role in the emergence of new cultural identities linked to the ancestral Southern Dene.


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