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Current Research

The Leisure, Lifestyle, Lifecycle Project (LLLP)

The Leisure, Lifestyle, and Lifecycle project is a longitudinal study examining the leisure and recreational activities of individuals residing in Alberta, with particular emphasis on gambling behavior. The study began in 2006 with 1808 participants from five age ranges (13-15, 18-20, 23-25, 43-45 and 63-65 years old) who have continued to participate in four periods of data collection over the past five years. This longitudinal multi-cohort study allows for the investigation of changes in gambling behavior over time and will help identify factors that may be related to these changes, including aging effects and life events. For more information, please visit http://lllp.ucalgary.ca/

Gambling Fallacies and Involvement in Gambling

Cognitive explanations of pathological gambling hold that excessive gambling is initiated and maintained by maladaptive cognitions. Such cognitions, referred to as gambling fallacies, can include notions of having skill or personal control over the outcome of gambling, superstitions involving luck and selective memory biases. Using data from an ongoing longitudinal study of gambling titled Leisure, Lifestyle and Lifecycle Project, Igor Yakovenko seeks to understand how gambling fallacies relate to and predict gambling involvement. In addition, his research is examining the stability of such cognitions over time and their expression across different age groups.

Trans-diagnostic Treatment of Addictive and Impulse Control Disorders

Over the past decade, psychological treatments have become increasingly sophisticated. One example is the creation of interventions that target common psychological processes underlying a group of similar disorders. These interventions are known as trans-diagnostic treatments and have immense advantages over traditional treatments; they are more efficient and have been shown to treat secondary psychiatric co-morbidities in addition to the target disorder. Andrew Kim, along with Dr. David Hodgins and collaborators (Dr. Hermano Tavares; University of Sao Paulo), are currently conducting research to identify common psychological dysfunctions that cut across addictive and impulse control disorders, including behavioural addictions. The goal is to develop a single treatment that addresses underlying factors common to most addictive and impulse control disorders.

Addiction Substitution 

Addiction substitution, that is increasing the use of a secondary addictive behavior (e.g., alcohol, tobacco) when recovering from a primary addictive behavior (e.g., gambling), has long been talked about in clinical settings and in self-help groups. Indeed, 12 step programs often talk about a ‘13th step’, which is substituting a primary addictive behavior for a sexual compulsion. Despite the potential clinical implications (e.g., relapse) not much empirical focus has been paid to this important clinical concept. Andrew Kim aims to understand the process of addiction substitution and examine individual differences in psychological characteristics (e.g., emotional dysregulation) to shed light onto why some people substitute to secondary addictive disorders while others do not and further, who is at risk of engaging in addiction substitution. Understanding the process and risk factors associated with addiction substitution may further aid in the treatment of addictive disorders.

Lay-Epidemiology Study of Signs and Symptoms of Addictive Disorders

Our current understanding of the signs and symptoms of addictive disorders (including behavioural addictions) is driven by experts’ notions of what constitutes the symptoms of an addictive disorder. A lay epidemiological perspective (e.g., understanding signs and symptoms of those with lived experiences) counterbalances traditional expert-driven notions and seeks to understand a construct from a ‘bottom-up’ perspective. To this end, we have collected data from a large sample of Alberta residents (3000+) to examine people’s understanding of the earliest and most important warning signs of a variety of addictive disorders (e.g., alcohol, gambling, shopping, sex, video game). The data were collected from those with lived experiences, those with second-hand experience (e.g., family member) and those without any experience of an addictive disorder. Such knowledge will not only help in developing an understanding of the commonalities and differences of various addictive disorders, but may also assist in refining diagnostic criteria for established disorders and help establish diagnostic criteria for lesser known addictive disorders (e.g., sex). 

Social Casino Games

Social Casino Games (i.e., free to play gambling-like games found on social media sites such as Facebook) are immensely popular, boasting over 200 million active users. Although these games mimic the look and feel of traditional gambling activities, in social casino games, no money is wagered and players cannot cash out for money or prizes. However, concerns have been raised about whether they act as a ‘gateway’ to engaging in real money gambling. Previous studies conducted by Andrew Kim suggest that a portion of social casino gamers migrate to online gambling. Conversely, however, social casino games may be a harm-reduction strategy to help reduce gambling behaviour. Current studies are underway to further our understanding of the social casino gaming-gambling link using experimental paradigms.

Proactive and Reactive Control in Gambling Disorder  

This project aims to elucidate the different mechanisms of response inhibition in disordered gamblers. We are using a variant of the traditional stop-signal task to investigate (1) how disordered gamblers reactively inhibit motor responses and (2)  how they proactively anticipate and prepare to stop a response. This study will add to the literature on reactive control, as well as uncover the anticipatory/proactive processes required for stopping behaviour. The practical relevance is for treatment development and implementation. Given the strong link between high relapse rates and impaired response inhibition in gambling disorder, identifying the mechanisms underlying this poor control may lead to more targeted treatments in this difficult-to-treat population. 

 

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