Breaks in online gambling and neuropsychological arousal. TESSA-pilot trial


Schwarzkopf, L., Bickl, A., Daniel, J., Papastefanou, G., Neyer, M. A., Gomes de Matos, E., Hoch, E., Olderbak, S., Kraus, L., & Loy, J. K. (2024). Do breaks in online gambling affect neuropsychological arousal? Conceptual approach and lessons learned from the TESSA-pilot trial. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 19, 100530. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.abrep.2024.100530


Introduction Mandatory breaks have been discussed as a harm reduction strategy in the context of gambling for several years, but their effectiveness remains unclear. The TESSA pilot study examines the association of physiological arousal (PA) and mandatory breaks during gambling with an aim to conceptualize the framework for a subsequent randomized controlled trial. Material and methods In a one-armed experimental pilot study 28 participants engaged in a simulated online slot game with mandatory breaks. PA, disentangled into fear, anger, joy, attraction, balance, and retraction, was continuously monitored via skin conductivity and skin temperature. The occurrence of PA in distinct phases (phase 1: initiation, phase 2: pre-break, phase 3: post-break) was contrasted by multilevel logistic regression. Results Fear and attraction did not change. Compared to phase 1, anger (OR = 0.698; p = 0.015) and joy (OR = 0.714; p = 0.032) were less likely in phase 2, with joy also being less likely in phase 3 (OR = 0.690; p = 0.023). Balance was more likely in phase 2 (OR = 5.073; p < 0.0001) than in phase 1 and less likely in phase 3 (OR = 0.348; p < 0.0001) whilst retraction declined from phase to phase. Discussion Mandatory breaks appear suited to offset changes in PA response evolving during gambling, but a sustained effect on initial PA levels should not to be expected. However, to sensitively judge the role of breaks additional framework conditions that impact on gambling behavior (e. g. wins/losses) should be considered.