Research Projects

Current research programmes and projects are listed below. Published research can be found on the Research publications page.

Gambling Harms

The role of neuromodulation, cognitive processing and behavioural inhibition in problem gambling (PhD study) – University of East London

Overview
This study will explore whether approaches from neuroscience, such as non-invasive brain simulation, can help to moderate irrational thought processes and impulsivity in gamblers.

The Research
Evidence suggests irrational thinking plays an important role in the development and maintenance of problem gambling. Problem gamblers usually hold a set of erroneous beliefs that help them to maintain their gambling activity regardless of continuous losses; typically they believe that they can directly or indirectly influence the outcome of a game, and that they can correctly predict the outcome. These beliefs are now recognised to be results of cognitive distortions: thinking biases arising from the use of mental shortcuts (‘heuristics”), which go unchecked if combined with impulsivity.

This research project will test hypotheses relating to whether non-invasive stimulation of the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with impulse control, results in a greater ability to resist the desire to take risks rooted in heuristic thinking. Ultimately, if neurostimulation is found to be effective, this could open up new opportunities for improvements in the prevention and treatment of gambling harms.

Methods
A quantitative experimental approach will be used to test the effects of Transcranial Direct-Current Stimulation (tDCS) amongst individuals diagnosed with a gambling disorder.

Project Lead
Elena Gomis, University of East London
Principle Supervisor - Professor Volker Thoma, University of East London

Timeline
Thesis submission due September 2020

Gambling on civvy street: Assessing the impact of gambling-related problems on UK armed forces veterans and their families (PhD study) – Swansea University

Overview
This project will use a mixed-methods approach to better understand the extent to which there may be a ‘hidden’ issue of problem gambling amongst armed forces veterans.

The Research
Research during the past decade has shown that during the transition from Armed Forces service to civilian life veterans are at an increased risk of
developing risky behaviours (e.g., alcohol and drug abuse, and excessive gambling) and are more prone to developing mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety, and PTSD). With international and wide-spread anecdotal evidence suggesting UK Armed Forces veterans may suffer from a ‘hidden’ gambling problem, no research has yet focussed on this in the UK. The current project will use a mixed-methods approach to address this gap, with the aim of establishing the prevalence of problem gambling amongst UK Armed Forces veterans and determining any impact of problem gambling on this group and their families. The research will consider the profile of gambling habits amongst veterans alongside factors such as duration of service and experience of combat, mental health and wellbeing, and financial history. 

Methods
This study will entail secondary analysis of nationally representative survey data (from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey), primary quantitative research amongst veterans, and qualitative research with the families of UK veterans.

Project Lead
Glen Dighton, Swansea University
Principle Supervisor - Professor Simon Dymond, Swansea University

Timeline
Thesis submitted, Viva due Spring 2020.

Problem gambling and family violence – a life course analysis (PhD study) – Sheffield Hallam University

Overview
This research will explore through primarily qualitative methods the relationship between problem gambling and family violence, expanding our knowledge of the adverse effects of harmful gambling on both individuals and their ‘affected others’.

The Research
Whilst there is a growing body of evidence of the detrimental impacts of problem gambling on the  immediate families of gamblers, to date there has been little exploration of the extent to which this manifests in the form of violence within the home. The limited evidence that does exist points towards a significant relationship between problem gambling and intimate partner violence, with one study of family members of problem gamblers suggesting that over half of this group had experienced family violence in the previous twelve months, either as a victim or perpetrator.  This study will be the first to explore this issue in the UK specifically, and will identify the prevalence of problem gambling and family violence amongst those who have sought treatment or support for gambling harms.  

The research will use a qualitative life history narrative approach to understand the nature, trajectory, fluidity and impact of the relationship between problem gambling and family violence. The findings will be used to shape best practice relating to education, prevention and treatment of gambling harms and to inform further research in this emergent area.

Methods
This study will develop measurement tools in order to run a pilot study, participant screening and life history narrative interviews.

Project Lead
Lucy Pointon, Sheffield Hallam University
Principle Supervisor – Professor David Best, Derby University

Timeline
Thesis submission due October 2020

Patterns of Play

Assessing the impact of social media upon gambling behaviour and the potential for social media to be used to promote positive gambling behavioural changes (PhD study) – Northumbria University

Overview
This research will explore how social media shapes gambling attitudes and behaviours and how different messaging approaches may be used to encourage safer gambling behaviours.

The Research
As online gambling has grown and innovated over the past decade, so too have approaches to marketing, with social media advertising becoming an influential channel, particularly amongst younger people who may be more vulnerable to gambling harms. Indeed, research conducted by the Gambling Commission in 2016 found that almost seven in ten (68%) 18 – 24-year olds reported being encouraged to gamble by posts made on social media.

In parallel, insight into effective behaviour change communication strategies has been evolving in public health fields such as smoking cessation. This study seeks to bring together an understanding of the role of social media in influencing attitudes to gambling, both from the viewpoint of understanding the negative influences advertising may have, but also the potential for positive change through the sharing of safer gambling messages.

The project will consist of four studies to provide insight against these questions, spanning both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Methods
The research entails semi-structured interviews with gamblers alongside a number of experiments to test attitudes and behaviour when interacting with gambling content posted on social networking sites.

Project Lead
Scott Houghton, Northumbria University
Principle Supervisor - Dr Richard Cutter, Northumbria University

Timeline
Thesis submission due March 2021

Online initial analysis - Natcen; University of Liverpool

Overview
This ambitious research project examining online gambling behaviour aims to better understand how gamblers’ patterns of play vary across different environments and activities. Player level data will be gathered from many of the largest online gambling firms and collated into one unified dataset, so that ‘big data’ analysis can be undertaken to identify indicators of potentially harmful behaviour.  

The Research
This project forms part of an overall programme of research that seeks to better understand ‘real world’ gambling behaviours. Currently, little is known about how people engage with the variety of online gambling activities that are now available to players, such as live casino games, tournament level poker, virtual and eSport betting, and online bingo.

The data collected will cover a year’s worth of interactions by players, including details of dates and times of gambling, stakes placed and overall returns or losses within each session, contextual information about the devices used, and any use of “responsible gambling” tools. 

By sharing thousands of records of detailed player level data, gambling operators will contribute to the compilation of a vast, rich dataset, which will enable both analysis of individual behaviour over time and comparisons of behaviours across different gambling activities and companies. The ambition is that for a sample of players, a follow-on survey will be conducted, which will enable researchers to link further demographic and attitudinal information to behavioural data to provide deeper insights. 

Methods
The specification for the data to be extracted from online gambling firms will be informed by qualitative depth interviews with gamblers. Descriptive and econometric analysis will be undertaken on the combined behavioural dataset, which will be complemented by survey research.

Project Leads
Dr Sokratis Dinos, Anne Conolly, NatCen Social Research
Professor David Forest, Professor Ian McHale, University of Liverpool

Timeline
Spring 2019 – Summer 2021

Analysis of Bank Transactional Data: Feasibility Study - Behavioural Insights Team

Overview
As more banks offer tools to support customers to manage their gambling behaviours, this project seeks to understand how patterns of gambling transactions by customers relate to wider financial behaviour, in relation to income, expenditure, use of overdrafts and use of blocking facilities.

The Research
This project forms part of an overall programme of research that seeks to better understand ‘real world’ gambling behaviours. Banks are increasingly taking actions to support customers with managing their money, and the capability to recognise signs of gambling harms via analysis of customer data could provide another route for identifying those in need of support.

Little is known about the use of new facilities such as gambling transaction blockers offered by banks, so this research will involve analysis of two customer datasets, one from a high street bank and the other from a challenger bank, to explore what may be learned from transaction level account data. The research will seek to understand more about the ways in which different customers gamble, how they interact with gambling products and the extent to which blocking facilities are being used and why, and by which customer groups.

Methods
Quantitative statistical analysis will be conducted on two large samples of customer banking data to identify patterns of behaviour, trends in spending and correlations with other personal finance variables.

Project Leads
Dr Simon McNair, Aisling Ní Chonaire, The Behavioural Insights Team

Timeline
Summer 2019 – Summer 2020

Industry-based initiatives

Remote Interventions, Phase II - Behavioural Insights Team

Overview
This research builds on the successful trials in Phase I of the project, applying behavioural insight to reduce risky on-line gambling play.

The Research
Pilot trials in the Phase I pilot showed how small changes to gambling websites’ choice architecture can have a big impact on gambling behaviour. Specifically, it was found that reducing friction (for example, making ‘responsible gambling’
tools easier to access) was an effective way of increasing the number of players setting deposit limits and setting a cool-off period. Working with bet365, Phase II will trial two potentially more impactful behaviour change trials, using personal commitment and ‘anchoring’ devices:

  • Personal commitment: devices which help players take advantage of periods when they are not yet in a ‘hot state’ of gambling. For example, before beginning play, players will be invited to pre-define their own spending or time limit. These commitment devices could involve the player making a promise to themselves, or to someone in their social network
  • Anchoring: a device to help players gamble within safer spend and time limits. For example, designing drop down menus for setting deposit limits that start at £5 rather than £100,000.

Methods
The research uses quantitative methods (randomised control trials) to evaluate the interventions to assess their effectiveness in reducing risky on-line gambling play.

Project Lead
Aisling Ni Choniare & Dr Simon McNair, Behavioural Insights Team (BIT)

Timeline
Autumn 2019 - Summer 2020

Safer Gambling Messaging, Phase 2 - Revealing Reality

Overview
This project focuses on developing safer gambling messaging in collaboration with gambling industry operators. New formats of messages will be trailled by operators, both in online and land-based gambling contexts. The process of messaging development, and any impacts of the messaging on player behaviour, will then be evaluated.

There are two key components to this piece of research. Firstly, gambling operators will be supported to develop and trial new approaches to communicating messages about safer gambling behaviours. Secondly, operators will be provided with instruction and guidance on how to measure the impact of their message trials. The overall aim of this project is to build capacity amongst operators to develop effective messaging to prevent gambling harms, and this aspect will be assessed through a process evaluation. 

The project will build knowledge around theories underpinning evidence-based safer gambling messaging, improve industry capabilities in the area of safer gambling message development, and identify and share best practice in operator-led message development and testing. It will identify and share a range of evaluation approaches that would enable operators to assess the effectiveness of their interventions; and will produce recommendations for larger-scale evaluations of messaging trials.

The project will demonstrate and share practicable and optimal safer gambling messaging, with the ambition that best practice and learnt lessons may be shared and implemented by other stakeholders and operators

The process of operator engagement and collaboration is also key: this process will be documented and subject to a process evaluation, highlighting barriers, challenges, successes, and unexpected outcomes resultant of this collaboration in the development of safer gambling messaging.

Methods
A mix of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, used in both the messaging formulation element of the project, and in the data collection and evaluation stages.

Project Leads
Safer Gambling Messaging: Damon De Ionno, Revealing Reality

Timeline
Autumn 2019 – Summer 2020

Safer Gambling App – EROGamb 2.0 (Powerful Social Norms, Meaningful Transparency and Data-Informed Behavioural Change for Responsible Online Gambling) - University of Bournemouth

Overview
This project will gather information related to gambling norms, and individuals’ gambling patterns. It will use that information to see whether it can empower people who gamble with a contextual and accurate understanding of their gambling, whilst increasing their control over their gambling patterns.

The Research
The project, building on a previous project developing an app infrastructure, will develop and evaluate data-driven goal settings and feedback approaches for staying in control of gambling. The project will establish what the broad gambling community’s perceptions are in terms of normative gambling behaviour; and establish what normatively acceptable behaviour is for this community. Through increasing participants’ understanding of these norms, and their understanding of their own gambling, the project will challenge participants’ beliefs regarding their gambling. In this context, it will allow participants to set objectives and goals to modify their behaviour to make their gambling more informed and controlled.

Further to using understandings of norms to empower and control gambling, the project will also attempt to combat the cognitive bias that can be shown in some people who gamble. This refers to the misassumptions that people may have about chance, odds, luck, and broader patterns of gambling; that is, systematic mistakes in their thinking that impacts decision making and behaviour. These misassumptions will be challenged through developing and evaluating an information transparency layer in both promotional gambling materials, and in games themselves.

Methods
The project will make use of both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, triangulating results of surveys, qualitative interviews, and literature reviews. 

Project Lead
Professor Raian Ali, The University of Bournemouth

Timeline
Winter 2019 – Summer 2022

The Future of Gambling: gaming gambling mergence - A mixed-methods investigation into the gaming/gambling interface - University of Wolverhampton; University of Plymouth

Overview
This project focusses on online computer gaming. It builds knowledge and understanding of the harms which may exist within chance-based elements within gaming. It focuses on ‘loot boxes’ in computer games that people pay to access, with the contents of the box (virtual game upgrades) dictated by chance.

The Research
Loot boxes in video games have become increasingly common in the past decade, with their estimated prevalence in market-leading games having grown from under 1 in 20 in 2010, to more than 7 in 10 in 2019.

There is some evidence that people experiencing problem gambling are more susceptible to the mechanics of loot boxes; however, there is considerably less research focusing on whether these people experience the same harms that can be associated with traditional gambling. The project specifically focuses on the similarities of these with gambling-related harms.

The project will be a first of its kind: it will examine how behaviours and motivations regarding gaming loot boxes mimic, and diverge from, those of traditional forms of gambling.

The project will build understanding of the motivations behind purchasing in-game chance-based items, and develop knowledge of the psychological profiles of the adults, children, and young people involved.

Data and analyses will be driven by in-depth, qualitative, semi-structured interviews, and will be complemented by a quantitative survey of people with experience of gaming and other stakeholders.

Methods
The project will make use of both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, triangulating results of surveys, qualitative interviews, and literature reviews.  

Project Leads
Dr James Close, University of Plymouth
Dr Joanne Lloyd, University of Wolverhampton

Timeline
Spring 2020 – Summer 2021

The impact of message framing on problem recognition amongst problem and at-risk gamblers - London South Bank University; YouGov

Overview
This piece of research will explore the impact of the phrasing and positioning of messages designed to encourage safer gambling, in order to support the development of future public health campaigns in this area.

The Research
This project aims to address important questions related to the way in which “safe” or “responsible” gambling is promoted, with a particular focus on the way that “problem gambling” is framed, as well as the way in which gambling or betting identities are made central to a campaign.

There is an existing evidence base which shows that public health campaigns can be effective in changing health behaviours in areas such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Evidence from these sectors shows that if campaign messages are not worded appropriately, individuals may recognise that certain behaviours carry a degree of risk but may not see themselves as being likely to experience these adverse consequences. Previous research has shown that it is possible to influence the likelihood that an individual will recognise problems in their own behaviour as a function of the way in which messages are framed: however, the implications of this have not yet been explored in the field of gambling.

The results of the study will build the evidence base regarding awareness of problems associated with gambling more widely,  provide practical guidance on the optimal way of framing problem gaming in health messaging, and also determine whether the dominance of particular identities makes different groups of gamblers more or less likely to acknowledge their own problems.

The first phase of the study will engage with a wide audience of individuals who participate in any type of gambling or betting activity through an online survey. The survey will provide some important insights into harm awareness and identities of gamblers from those who gamble infrequently, to those who may be experiencing problems with gambling.  The second phase will involve a quantitative online panel study which will test the effects of framing safer gambling messages on problem recognition amongst at-risk gamblers. The messages used in this phase will be built on insights developed from the first phase, involving a group of subject experts and experts with lived experience of problem gambling.

Methods
A quantitative survey and online experimental study.

Project Leads
Professor Tony Moss, London South Bank University
Briony Gunstone, YouGov

Timeline
Autumn 2019 – Summer 2020

Treatment and support

CONGAM: Adding Contingency Management to Psychosocial Interventions for Disordered Gambling - Swansea University

Overview
This research will undertake a scoping and feasibility assessment of adding Contingency Management to existing psychological treatments for disordered gambling in the UK clinical gambling treatment settings. 

The Research
Contingency management (CONGAM) is a behavioural therapy based on principles of operant conditioning, whereby positive reinforcement may be used to reward a desired behaviour. In the context of gambling, this takes the form of offering individuals an incentive, such as a shopping voucher, when they abstain from potentially harmful gambling behaviours. This type of treatment has been shown to be effective at promoting behaviour change in a wide range of areas such as substance use disorders and smoking cessation, however little is known about the efficacy of CONGAM for disordered gambling.  Despite the success of CONGAM interventions in other settings, the application of CONGAM to gambling is somewhat controversial, due to the use of financial incentives which could be used by recipients to fund further gambling activity. As a result, addiction therapists, clinicians, and the general public may hold negative views about the approach and may have concerns about its long-term efficacy in dealing with the underlying causes of gambling addiction.

The first stage of the project will explore perceptions of the treatment, to find out what UK therapists and service users think about CONGAM. Then, a pilot of a survey measure of CONGAM for use in UK treatment settings will be conducted, and the effects of reinforcing both attendance at group therapy sessions and abstinence from gambling will be evaluated. In so doing, it will be possible to identify the best ways of measuring CONGAM outcomes as well as changes in mood, anxiety, depression and self-efficacy. Finally, the project will estimate the healthcare costs of adding CONGAM to existing treatment and identify potential barriers to the wider adoption of CONGAM based interventions to reduce gambling harm. 

Methods
A mixed-methods approach including surveys, focus groups and quantitative feasibility analyses and inferential analysis.

Project Lead
Professor Simon Dymond, Swansea University

Timeline
Autumn 2020 – Autumn 2022

Development of harm reduction interventions for bespoke risk environments in the changing landscape of gambling and gaming (PhD study) – University of Wales

Overview
The research aims to investigate the gambling-related harms associated with advertising and specific product features to inform the development of corresponding harm-reduction strategies.

The Research
As a result of the technological revolution in availability and access to online gambling, the environment in which individuals interact with gambling opportunities and gambling advertising is rapidly changing. Although gambling is increasingly recognised as a public health issue, the rate at which the online gambling market is evolving means that that the ‘risk environment’ of gambling is unlike any other. 

Research in the field of alcohol related harms has shown that increased availability leads to increased engagement at a population level, resulting in shifts in the proportion of people displaying ‘normal’ levels of behaviour to increased ‘at-risk’ or harmful activity. Furthermore, there is evidence that new products, such as esports, are strongly associated with increased participation in gambling. These new forms of gambling have the potential to attract a wide demographic audience, including young people, who are particularly vulnerable to gambling harm.

This study will further explore how the gambling risk environment is changing, including the convergence of the digital cultures of gaming and gambling, to better understand the extent to which modern gambling sits within existing theories and models of behavioural addiction. Based on this knowledge, the research will then examine how the potential harm from this bespoke risk environment can be mitigated.

Methods
A mixed-methods approach will be used, including experimental investigations, surveys, interviews and focus groups.

Project Lead
Jamie Torrance, University of Wales
Principle Supervisor - Professor Bev John

Timeline
Thesis Submission due September 2021

Lived Experience

Lived Experience Programme 2020/21

Read about GambleAware's Lived Experience Programme 2020/21 here.