One hallmark of gambling disorder (GD) is the observation that gamblers have problems stopping their gambling behavior once it is initiated. On a neuropsychological level, it has been hypothesized that this is the result of a cognitive inflexibility.The present study investigated cognitive inflexibility in patients with GD using a task involving cognitive inflexibility with a reward element (i.e., reversal learning) and a task measuring general cognitive inflexibility without such a component (i.e., response perseveration). For this purpose, scores of a reward-based reversal learning task (probabilistic reversal learning task) and the Wisconsin card sorting task were compared between a group of treatment seeking patients with GD and a gender and age matched control group. The results show that pathological gamblers have impaired performance on the neurocognitive task measuring reward-based cognitive inflexibility. However, no difference between the groups is observed regarding non-reward-based cognitive inflexibility. This suggests that cognitive inflexibility in GD is the result of an aberrant reward-based learning, and not based on a more general problem with cognitive flexibility. The pattern of observed problems is suggestive of a dysfunction of the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, and the ventral regions of the striatum in gamblers. Relevance for the neurocognition of problematic gambling is discussed.

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Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Department of Psychology

Boog, M.C, Höppener, P, van de Wetering, B.J.M, Goudriaan, A.E, Boog, M.C, & Franken, I.H.A. (2014). Cognitive inflexibility in gamblers is primarily present in reward-related decision making. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8(AUG). doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00569