“When you know it’s not a good idea to spend all that money, why do you do it anyways? Why can people not control their behaviour?”
These are some of the questions UBC psychology professor Michael Souza asks himself as he works on creating a new course on the psychology of gambling.
A native to central California, Souza’s interest in the psychology of gambling was born out of personal history, not simple academic curiosity.
Years ago, gambling played a role in forcing Souza to defer an acceptance to the University of California, Davis.
“My dad was, and is, a pathological gambler and spent my college fund. When I got into Davis, I didn’t have any resources to go, and so I worked in a casino for a year, right after high school,” Souza said.
“I dealt blackjack and the other cool games and eventually supervised those games. I was 18 and thought I was the king of the world, and it was really cool. And working lots of hours, I made enough money to fund school for a couple of years.”
Considering his father’s actions, Souza’s choice of job may seem unusual.
“It’s really ironic, isn’t it?” he acknowledged. “I was an 18-year-old kid and I was working in a grocery store before this happened and I was making 10 bucks an hour. I learned that people who were dealing cards in the casino could sit there and deal cards, but those people were making 30, 40 bucks an hour.
“I often get this question from students and it’s a totally fair one. Gambling kind of limited me at that time, but it also enabled me too, which is really strange.”
Years later, as a professor at UBC, Souza dedicated one of his lectures to gambling, discussing the mental rewards of addiction.
“That was my birthday two years ago and I thought it would be kind of fun to do a special topics lecture — maybe a bit selfish, but it was kind of neat, because people were kind of excited by it.
“It was a nice way to see a litmus test: are people actually interested in this, or is this something that I think is cool, but I’m a dork and nobody else thinks that?” he said. “But there’s been lots of positive student interest and that’s something I’ve been sort of cultivating behind the scenes.”
Souza hopes to start up the new course next fall.
“The idea with this gambling course is to create a course where you can draw really broad interest, not just from psych students, but from people from all corners of UBC, to give them some insight into some of the factors about why people gamble.”