The gambler's fallacy is associated with weak affective decision making but strong cognitive ability

PLoS One. 2012;7(10):e47019. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0047019. Epub 2012 Oct 5.


Humans demonstrate an inherent bias towards making maladaptive decisions, as shown by a phenomenon known as the gambler's fallacy (GF). The GF has been traditionally considered as a heuristic bias supported by the fast and automatic intuition system, which can be overcome by the reasoning system. The present study examined an intriguing hypothesis, based on emerging evidence from neuroscience research, that the GF might be attributed to a weak affective but strong cognitive decision making mechanism. With data from a large sample of college students, we found that individuals' use of the GF strategy was positively correlated with their general intelligence and executive function, such as working memory and conflict resolution, but negatively correlated with their affective decision making capacities, as measured by the Iowa Gambling Task. Our result provides a novel insight into the mechanisms underlying the GF, which highlights the significant role of affective mechanisms in adaptive decision-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition*
  • Decision Making*
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Gambling / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Intuition
  • Male
  • Nontherapeutic Human Experimentation
  • Young Adult