Findings from a federal and state funded study conducted by researchers at the University of New Mexico in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital indicating that gambling, like food and drugs, produces feelings of reward in the brain and that gambling addictions are a form of spiritual seeking. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that prize money could activate many of the same "reward" areas in the brain turned on by food and drugs. "This work argues that we can begin to dissect the systems that process reward and organize behavior in humans," says lead author Hans B reiter. "This is also the first demonstration that a monetary reward in a gambling-like experiment produces brain activation very similar to that observed in a cocaine addict receiving an infusion of cocaine.
The results showed that an incentive unique to humans-money-produced patterns of brain activity that closely resembled patterns seen previously in response to other types of rewards. This similarity suggests that common brain circuitry is used for various types of rewards." Anthropological and theological researchers, and behavioral theorists at the University of New Mexico studied gambling throughout history to modern times. Their findings suggest that gambling was originally considered to be a means by which devotees could contact the deities, with one overriding exception in approach: gamblers in the Old World cast lots to divine the will of the gods and to forecast the future, while Native Americans played gambling games to come into harmony with their universe. Researcher Stewart Culin concluded, "In general, games appear to be played ceremonially, as pleasing to the gods, with the object of securing fertility, causing rain, giving and prolonging life, expelling demons, or curing sickness." The anthropological, theological, and psychological conclusions of this study seem to be saying that gamblers, and especially gambling addicts are spiritual seekers. As Anthropologist James Mooney said, gambling is rooted in the "universal longing of mankind to know the cause of things and how effects may be controlled." On the surface they are seeking economic fortune, but they are also seeking a personal transformation, for that feeling of invincibility and liberation, even if for only in the moment of exhilaration. The moment is transitory, and the seeking of further moments is what can sometimes throw the individual out of integrity, causing addictive cycles.
Whatever the forces are that the gambler believes is causing him or her to win or lose, they can never sustain or nurture the gambler. Of course, these forces lie within one's own actions. The conclusion that gambling addictions are a form of spiritual seeking lends support to the idea that gambling addictions should not be viewed as inherently evil or immoral, but as a disease of the spirit that uses pleasure to avoid pain. Society can try to exile or reform addictive gamblers but, ultimately, they must embark on their own vision quest that takes them deeper into their traditional beliefs, and beyond. This is not to say that gamblers should not suffer the consequences of their actions for, after all, these are part of the experiment to "know the cause of things and how effects can be controlled.".