Even if you've never been inside a casino, you know what a casino is like: loud, flashy, distracting, maybe even exciting. They hide the clocks so you never know how long you've been in there. Someone nearby is probably planning a heist, and you'd never know it.
Okay, some of those may be less true than others, but there is something about casinos that makes us want to spend big. Researchers at the University of British Columbia have just shared a study about how environment encourages risky decision-making — in short, why a sober-minded non-gambler might bet it all in hopes of cashing out big. If you're a big believer in free will, prepare to get annoyed: Casinos have been designed to short-circuit our neurobiology.
All the flashing lights, spinning wheels, and audio cues of a casino cause gamblers to skip over any information they're given about their chances of winning. Study participants also showed higher physical arousal or engagement when a win came with lots of celebratory dings and visual stimulation. We just don't care about the facts as much when there are exciting audiovisual cues.
Our brains take all kinds of left turns and odd plans of attack without our input. We justify big purchases, think we're saving big on 99-cent items, and even put off saving because prioritizing that takes work. We also know some pretty weird hacks for our brains, from the smell of coffee creating mental clarity to actual targeted zaps to increase risk-taking. Casinos are one more way design can get the better of us, but luckily there are always ways to stop for a moment and take it slow.