Tue, Mar 05, 2002 - Page 8 News List

A peek into the human condition

By Lin Yao-sheng 林耀威

In an experiment in which respondents from different areas were asked to estimate the diameter of a coin, the intuitive estimates from respondents in slum areas were significantly larger than those made by respondents in wealthy areas. We might choose to interpret this as a result of psychological projection or of the personal circumstances of individuals. In either case, however, it reflects the complexity of issues concerning human beings. Simi-larly, the computerized lottery that was launched Jan. 17 provides a glimpse into the human condition.

People's explanations of events can be roughly divided into two types, theories of predisposition and theories of circumstance. Gamblers, for example, often feel that it is external circumstance rather than any lack of self-restraint on their part that leads to excessive behavior. Then, once the behavior becomes compulsive, they believe that their repeated inability to resist temptation comes from abiding characteristics inherent in their persons. In fact, specialists disagree about whether compulsive behavior is ultimately brought about by predisposition or is involuntary.

According to theories of predisposition, there are three primary components of excessively indulgent behavior: cravings or an urge to behave obsessively, a loss of control and a persistence with the behavior in question despite deleterious consequences.

This kind of gambling-control theory often highlights bizarre cycles arising in an individual's control systems. The more an individual gambles, the greater the chance he will lose control. And the more an individual experiences a loss of control, the more he throws himself into behavior surrounding gambling. The problem is that to attribute gambling exclusively to individual addiction and to evade public responsibility by labeling the problem as a psychological disorder is to oversimplify the matter.

As far as theories of circumstance are concerned, research shows that there are often serious consequences when gambling venues become more easily accessible or new lottery outlets open. Individuals may, for example, increase the frequency of their gambling as it becomes more convenient to do so, or they may simply spend more money on gambling. It is also possible that those who do not gamble will begin to develop the habit and that reformed gamblers will fall off the wagon.

For these reasons, with lottery fever continuing to rage, a recent proposal by some lottery vendors to open 24-hour ticket kiosks is cause for concern.

If we consider the interactions between individuals and their circumstances, there may be a number of reasons why lottery players believe that with a ticket in hand, their potential is infinite.

First, they overestimate the probability of winning. The media's incessant sensationalization of the winners creates a feeling of euphoria and acts as a catalyst to create an illusory sense of control.

Second, they may believe that by buying tickets from outlets that have sold winning tickets in the past, some of the fortune will rub off on them, or they may even believe good luck flows from person to person and will eventually come to them.

Third, they may believe that by continuing to gamble, they can increase their chances of winning and recover the costs.

Fourth, society creates a collective myth. Before the winning numbers are revealed, there is the sense that everyone has a chance. The media's sensationalizing of the countdown to the draw stimu-lates buying.

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