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Researchers Explore How Attitudes, Intentions and Peer Behaviors Influence the Gambling Behavior of College Students

by: Institute Staff | May 6, 2010

A recently published study in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors highlights how gambling behavior among college students can be influenced by their own attitudes and intentions toward gambling, as well as their perceptions of the norms for family and friends regarding gambling.

The 2009 report of the Task Force on College Gambling Policies called for more research to help colleges and universities develop evidence-based programs to prevent and reduce gambling problems among students. This newly published study, “Using the theory of planned behavior to predict gambling behavior,” offers a promising approach for developing responsible gaming initiatives targeted at this population.

The researchers conducted a classroom-based survey of 785 undergraduate students at a large public university in order to evaluate the usefulness of the theory of planned behavior in understanding past-year gambling and gambling frequency among this population (Martin et al., 2010). The theory of planned behavior (TPB) is a model designed to understand and predict behavior by analyzing the individual’s intentions, attitudes and perceptions of what are normal behaviors and attitudes among friends and family (Ajzen, 1985). The survey assessed the individual’s past year gambling behavior, attitudes towards gambling, intentions to gamble (e.g., “In the next two weeks I intend to spend $20 or more on gambling.”), perception of control over gambling behavior (e.g., “I would be able to control my gambling if I were at a place where other people were gambling.”), perceived attitudes of friends and family towards gambling (e.g., “My family would disapprove of me gambling on the internet.”) and gathered general demographic information.

The researchers tested these factors to determine their influence on gambling behavior, and found that three factors in particular had significant effects. (1) A perception that friends and family were less positive toward gambling resulted in lower intention to gamble. (2) Individual attitudes towards gambling (including belief in luck, winning streaks and positive perceptions of high stakes gamblers) predicted greater intentions to gamble. (3) Individuals who believed that they had more control over their gambling intended to gamble less than those who felt they had less control. All of these factors—the norms of family and friends, the individual’s perception of attitudes and self-control—affected the students’ intentions to gamble. Intentions to gamble, in turn, were significantly related to gambling frequency. This relationship is important because gambling frequency correlates very highly with gambling problems (Kessler et al., 2008).

According to the study, these findings suggest that college-based responsible gambling efforts should consider targeting misperceptions of approval regarding gambling behavior (i.e. subjective norms), personal approval of gambling behavior (i.e. attitudes), and perceived behavioral control to better manage gambling behavior in various situations.

Gambling among college students continues to be a topic of interest throughout the U.S. Just last week, there were stories about college gambling in the Worcester Telegram and the UConn Daily Campus. For more information on college gambling and the Task Force on College Gambling Policies, visit our Youth and College Programs page. How is gambling being addressed on your campus? Please share your comments and questions with us below.   


Ajzen, I. (1985). From intentions to actions: A theory of planned behavior. In J. Kuhl & J. Beckman (Eds.),  Action-control: From cognition to behavior (pp. 11-39). Heidelberg: Springer.

Kessler, R. C., Hwang, I., LaBrie, R., Petukhova, M., Sampson, N. A., Winters, K. C., & Shaffer, H. J. (2008). DSM-IV pathological gambling in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Psychological Medicine, 38(9), 1351-1360.

Martin, R. J., Nelson, S. E., LaPlante, D., Usdan, S., Umstattd, M. R., Perko, M., & Shaffer, H. (2010). Using the theory of planned behavior to predict gambling behavior. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24(1), 89-97.


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