Cognitive distortions as a component and treatment focus of pathological gambling: a review

Psychol Addict Behav. 2012 Jun;26(2):298-310. doi: 10.1037/a0026422. Epub 2011 Nov 28.


The literature on the role of cognitive distortions in the understanding and treatment of pathological gambling (PG) is reviewed, with sections focusing on (a) conceptual underpinnings of cognitive distortions, (b) cognitive distortions related to PG, (c) PG therapies that target cognitive distortions, (d) methodological factors and outcome variations, and (e) conclusions and prescriptive recommendations. The conceptual background for distortions related to PG lies in the program of heuristics and biases (Kahneman & Tversky, 1974) as well as other errors identified in basic psychology. The literature has focused on distortions arising from the representativeness heuristic (gambler's fallacy, overconfidence, and trends in number picking), the availability heuristic (illusory correlation, other individuals' wins, and inherent memory bias), and other sources (the illusion of control and double switching). Some therapies have incorporated cognitive restructuring within broader cognitive-behavioral therapies, with success. Other therapies have focused more narrowly on correcting distorted beliefs, more often with limited success. It is concluded that the literature establishes the role of cognitive distortions in PG and suggests therapies with particularly good promise, but is in need of further enrichment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition Disorders / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Female
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Gambling / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Male
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Treatment Outcome