Impulsivity and Stress Response in Pathological Gamblers During the Trier Social Stress Test

Giuseppe Maniaci, Carla Cannizzaro, Ruth J. Van Holst, Maniaci, Maniaci, Goudriaan

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Gambling has been associated with increased sympathetic nervous system output and stimulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis. However it is unclear how these systems are affected in pathological gambling. This study aimed to investigate the effect of the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) on cortisol and on cardiac interbeat intervals in relation to impulsivity, in a sample of male pathological gamblers compared to healthy controls. In addition, we investigated the correlation between the TSST, duration of the disorder and impulsivity. A total of 35 pathological gamblers and 30 healthy controls, ranging from 19 to 58 years old and all male, participated in this study. Stress response was measured during and after the TSST by salivary cortisol and cardiac interbeat intervals; impulsivity was assessed with the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale (BIS-11). Exposure to the TSST produced a significant increase in salivary cortisol and interbeat intervals in both groups, without differences between groups. We found a negative correlation between baseline cortisol and duration of pathological gambling indicating that the longer the duration of the disorder the lower the baseline cortisol levels. Additionally, we found a main effect of impulsivity across groups on interbeat interval during the TSST, indicating an association between impulsivity and the intensity of the neurovegetative stress response during the TSST. Involvement of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis in pathological gambling was confirmed together with evidence of a correlation between length of the disorder and diminished baseline cortisol levels. Impulsivity emerged as a personality trait expressed by pathological gamblers; however the neurovegetative response to the TSST, although associated with impulsivity, appeared to be independent of the presence of pathological gambling.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-160
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Gambling Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Psychology

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