Why Casinos Serve Free Alcohol

A new study in the April 30 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience shows that people who drink moderately have increased activity in the part of their brains involved in rewards—and less activity in the parts used to detect threats.

Here’s what happened: 12 healthy people lay down at the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Half were given IVs with alcohol. Half were given saline solution. (This study could have been much more fun than it was, admittedly.) Afterwards, while hooked up to brain imaging equipment, they all looked at pictures of people who looked afraid (images that traditionally bother human beings). In response to the scary pictures, the buzzed subjects showed less anxiety—and more excitement in the brain’s reward-system.

In fact, just getting free stuff period been shown to decrease people’s sensitivity to risk. That’s another reason to give free drinks to gamblers at casinos. But enough about casinos. They clearly get this already. The larger point is that our risk calculus is probably more malleable than we think—which could be an asset if we exploited it in pursuit of our own best interests.

GeneralAmanda Ripley