Were you born a betting man?

Science 2014-06-20

Now that the World Cup in Rio is well under way the chances are that you have probably made a bet on one of the games, if you haven’t then there is a good chance you will. For the last World Cup in 2010 over £1 billion was bet on the World Cup in the UK alone.


So why are so many people out there betting money on football games? If you have placed a bet recently then you probably know why. The rush and excitement following the act of gambling is caused by the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that is responsible for the reward and pleasure systems in the brain.


recent study by the University of Berkeley, California and the University of Illinois links the social interactions of gambling to the role of dopamine and regulatory genes.  The study identified the areas of the brain and the types of learning that are active when taking part in competitive betting and used mathematical modelling to identify the genes responsible.




When you are making the decision about which team to bet your money on you are likely to call on two main areas of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex and the striatum. These areas deal with decision-making and motivation, respectively, and are both known to consist of neurons that use dopamine to send signals. These different areas of the brain, as well as serving different functions in gambling, also lend themselves to different types of learning as a result of competitive behaviour. Trial-and-error learning causes you to change your decision and strategy based on past experience. Belief learning causes people to attempt to think like their opponent and anticipate their actions to aid their strategy decisions.


During the study researchers focused on 143 variants of 12 genes regulating dopamine release and looked for relationships between these gene variants and the differences in learning and reactions as a result of betting. Three of these genes were found to be associated with variations in belief learning ability and were all genes that controlled dopamine release in the medial prefrontal cortex. Alternatively variations in trial-and-error learning capabilities were found to be associated with variations in 2 genes that controlled dopamine release in the striatum.


So if you do make a bet on your World Cup favourite your decisions and strategy are, at least partly, controlled by your genes.


Let me know who your world cup favourite is @GabyAtNotch.

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