Frank Floor Talk: The persistence of the slot player

March 26, 2024 8:00 AM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • John G. Brokopp, CDC Gaming Reports
March 26, 2024 8:00 AM
  • John G. Brokopp, CDC Gaming Reports

The concept of “perceived persistence” as it applies to slot machines has proven to be a dynamically successful visual created to attract players and increase time-on-device.

Story continues below

Just how powerful this perception had the potential to be was revealed in a research paper titled “Perceived Control Influences Neural Responses to Setbacks and Promotes Persistence” that appeared in the scientific journal Neuron in 2014.

The research paper was co-authored by associate professors in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University: Jamil P. Bhanji, a cognitive neuroscience researcher and instructor, and Dr. Mauricio R. Delgado, the department chair with an appointment in the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience.

Professors Bhanji and Delgado examined how people cope with setbacks and persist with their goals, and how perceiving control over setbacks alters neural processing in ways that increase persistence through adversity.

Their study revolved around university students who experienced setbacks in pursuit of their goals, such as failing an exam. Participants, it was discovered, persisted more when they perceived controls over setbacks.

This columnist would argue, strictly from an empirical perspective, that the same alteration of neural processing that was discovered in students who exhibited increased persistence in the face of adversity when they perceived control over setbacks would also apply to slot players.

This would make perceived persistence in slot games far more than a one-dimensional technological component designed to give players the illusion that they have control over when bonus rounds are about to be triggered.

There is actually a physiological response taking place that manifests itself in neural processing that increases persistence by observing “how close” they are to a bonus event that could be “only one spin away”.

Slot players are accustomed to adversity. Losing streaks are inevitable, as are long dry spells triggering a bonus event. The true random nature of slot play is an abstract for a majority of players. They are driven by what they see and what they get.

Watching coins piling up one by one in bowls in anticipation of them eventually cascading into a bonus event, or firecrackers being set off until they are one ignition away from exploding into a bonus are visuals that get any slot player’s adrenaline percolating.

That recent losing session, or the cold streak they are experiencing now, are the setbacks and the adversity that increases persistence once the neural responses kick in and they feel as if they are in control of their goal.

Professors Bhanji and Delgado cited Andrews and Debus (1978) when they observed that the belief that a person has control over a setback is one factor that encourages persistence.

The control that slot players have over setbacks when perceived persistence is visually present is arguably one of the most influential factors in the long and colorful history of these fascinating games of chance.

As detailed in the research paper, what follows is study of neural mechanisms underlying responses to setbacks and their relation to persistence behavior:

“While undergoing MRI, the participants in the Rutgers University Department of Psychology played a game designed to measure persistence with a goal after a setback was experienced. The professors manipulated the perceived controllability of the setback (controllable or uncontrollable) as well as the potential value of persisting with a goal in comparison to alternatives (high or low alternative value).

“Participants chose a goal to pursue (depicted as a path). Along the way they encountered setbacks. After every setback, participants had to decide whether to persist with their previously chosen path or pursue a different path. Controllable setbacks could be avoided by pressing the correct button (learned by trial and error). Uncontrollable setbacks could be avoided by a random determination of the computer.”

The professors observed that although both controllable and uncontrollable setbacks were determined by chance, and were both in fact equivalent, they hypothesized that participants would persist more after controllable than uncontrollable setbacks (Andrews and Debus, 1978).

Persistence in the wake of controllable setbacks exerts a significant force in the world of casino gambling, be it the card counters at the blackjack tables or the craps players who insist there is a science to setting and tossing the dice.

Slot players are no exception. The phenomenon of perceived persistence has managed to assume a position of influence over the true random nature of bonus events for many.

Incorporating a perceivable impression, albeit a flawed one, that just one more coin in the pot or one more firecracker on the string is a spin away from the goal of a hand-pay is an extremely impactful tool that will most certainly be expanded upon.

Mere feelings or “positive vibes” that a machine is ready to hit have been replaced with a perception, real or not, that a major score is imminent. Slot players have a reason to persist, something that only progressive jackpots which exceeded the return on investment had power to wield.