Slot machines are designed to trick you

New research reveals their music and sound effects help convey the illusion that you're winning

Topics: Pacific Standard, slot machines, Gambling, Las vegas, Canada, Journal of Gambling Studies, ,

Slot machines are designed to trick you (Credit: Shutterstock/Mircea Maties)
This piece originally appeared on Pacific Standard.

Pacific Standard Does this casino scenario sound familiar? You’re pumping money into a slot machine, very much enjoying the sense that you’re winning more often than you’re losing. Your excitement mounts—right up until that startling, disheartening moment when your money runs out.

How did you misjudge things so badly? It turns out you can’t put all the blame on those complimentary cocktails. Newly published research suggests at least part of the answer involves the slot machine’s music and sound effects.

It seems all those bells and whistles simultaneously perform two functions casino magnates love: They heighten players’ emotional arousal, even as they incite them to “significantly overestimate the number of times they won.”

That’s the conclusion of a research team led by psychologist Mike Dixon of the University of Waterloo, who has extensively studied the psychology of gambling. The researchers report two groups of gamblers experienced less pleasure playing silent slot machines. But they were also better judges of how well they were doing.

Writing in the Journal of Gambling Studies, the researchers describe a phenomenon they call “losses disguised as wins.” On modern slot machines, where gamblers wager simultaneously on several lines, success on any one of those lines will produce the music and sound effects associated with a win.

You Might Also Like

That holds true even if you lost on all of the other lines, resulting in a net loss on that particular wager. This leaves gamblers with the impression they’re winning (and the incentive to play more), even when they are, in fact, losing money.

To determine if the music and sound effects exacerbated this costly misconception, the researchers tested 96 regular slot machine players (a bit over half of them male). Most were recruited at the entrance of an Ontario slots venue; the experiment took place in a meeting room upstairs from the slots floor. Others were recruited online and tested at a university laboratory.

All of the participants played a simulated slot machine game, designed to look and sound like the actual machines, while electrodes attached to their skin measured changes in skin conductance (a good signal of emotional arousal). After playing a block of spins with sound, and one without sound, they were asked to estimate the number of times they won more than they wagered.

“The vast majority of players that were tested preferred the playing session where wins were accompanied by sound,” the researchers report. Skin conductance levels confirmed that the music and sound effects made the experience more exciting.

They estimated winning an average of 33 times when the sound was turned off, and 36 times when it was turned on. In fact, they won only 28 times. This suggests that (a) the multi-line game leads to the false impression of winning, and (b) the music and sound effects exacerbate this misconception, raising the rate of overestimation from 15 percent to 24 percent.

So losses are often masked as wins, and sound effects and music “may be an integral component to the disguise,” Dixon and his colleagues conclude. This, they add, helps explain the “persistence that some players experience when playing slot machines.”

Indeed, there are few things more enticing than the sound of winning money—even when it’s an illusion.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...