Mindfulness Problems and Depression Symptoms in Everyday Life Predict Dark Flow During Slots Play: Implications for Gambling as a Form of Escape

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Slot machine players refer to a state of absorption that researchers have labeled dark flow. Players become completely occupied by the game and forget everything else (leading to “dark” consequences such as spending more money than intended). We propose that players who experience dark flow have difficulty staying on task in everyday life, but, the reinforcing sights and sounds of slot machines rein in these otherwise wandering minds and induce these flow-like states. We assessed 129 gamblers for mindfulness problems (using the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale), gambling problems (using the Problem Gambling Severity Index), and depressive symptoms (using the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale). Participants played a slot machine simulator and were periodically interrupted with thought probes to assess whether they were thinking about the game or about something else. After playing, we retrospectively assessed dark flow and positive affect during play. Our key results were that mindfulness problems outside of the gambling context were positively correlated with depression, problem gambling status, and most importantly, dark flow within the gambling context. Dark flow was positively correlated with positive affect during play and the combination of dark flow and depression predicted gambling problems. The picture that emerges is that individuals with mindfulness problems in everyday life find their attention locked in by slot machines inducing dark flow, which in turn leads to a state of positive affect. For depressed players especially, this state may be enjoyable because it provides an escape from the negative mentation linked to depression that characterizes the everyday lives of these troubled players.

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