Language and gambling addiction – is there a connection?

Italian researchers have now investigated for the first time whether there is a connection between linguistic expression and pathological gambling. The central question of the investigation was whether a gambling addiction can be recognized by the way people express themselves. For this purpose, the scientists first questioned 30 game-addicted test persons in detail about their gaming behavior. Formal requirements were deliberately avoided.

Language and gambling addiction

Formal requirements were deliberately avoided. The first impressive findings of the pilot study have now been published. Can the formulations chosen actually show that a person suffers from gambling addiction?

In the current study, researchers from the Italian University Roma Tre, in collaboration with the International University for Study and Research (SISSA), investigated whether there is a link between language and gambling addiction. Although initially only 30 test subjects from the Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia were interviewed, the results of this pilot study are impressive. In fact, the researchers were able to identify two linguistic phenomena in the test subjects who were addicted to gambling. In the long term, this could result in a new therapeutic approach with which gambling addiction can be identified and treated at an early stage.

The investigation

The Italian researchers initially asked 30 test persons in writing who are currently in inpatient treatment because of their gambling addiction. Specifically, the participants should answer the following questions without any formal framework:

  • What attempts have been made to stop gambling?
  • Which factors are perceived as triggers for gambling addiction?
  • To what extent is the gaming behavior perceived as compulsive?
  • What measures work to avoid engaging in compulsive gaming?
  • What could the personal future look like?

The test subjects’ task was to write down their own experiences with gambling addiction as freely as possible. The participants created so-called narrative texts, a kind of narrative representation of their experiences. All 30 people questioned came from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Italy. As part of the evaluation, the formulations of the participants were analyzed with the help of special language software. The results of the pilot study published these days are amazing.

Gambling addicts avoid the future tense

What was noticeable in the evaluation was the fact that all test subjects consistently avoided the future tense in their answers. This means that all statements made by the gambling addicts were limited to the present. None of the participants dared to look into the future in their answers. The Italian researchers from the University of Roma Tre and the SISSA draw the conclusion that pathological gamblers largely try to suppress the future during their “game phases”. They try at all costs to turn a blind eye to the long-term consequences of their gambling addiction.

Active and passive sentence structures in the mix

But there was another linguistic phenomenon that was noticed during the evaluation. Many test subjects switched between active and passive sentences with a noticeable frequency in their written statements. In view of the questionnaire and the main task of telling about one’s own experiences, this linguistic mode is unusual. But the scientists also have an explanation for this: It can be seen that the participants feel responsible for their gambling addiction on the one hand. On the other hand, however, they see themselves to a certain extent as externally determined, as they can only control their own actions to a limited extent during the addiction.

Language gives a deep insight into the psyche

Language gives a deep insight into the psyche

Not only the facial expressions and gestures, but also the linguistic expression provides information about a person’s psychology. In his statement, the research director Stefano Canali once again underlines the importance of linguistic studies in relation to addiction diseases. With the help of complex language software it may not only be possible to identify the gambling addiction disease at an early stage. It might even be possible to access a new therapeutic approach through the linguistic expression. In any case, Canali was optimistic about this:

“They (linguistic markers, comment of the reaction) just pave the way for the use of techniques to improve the general narrative ability (…) similar to those already used experimentally in patients with autism”


Finally, it should be pointed out once again that the current study from Italy is a pilot study with a limited group of participants. This means that further research must first be carried out before linguistics can actually become part of gambling addiction therapy in the coming years. The fact is, however, that the two linguistic phenomena described can already be identified at least as an indication of (developing) gambling addiction.

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