Changing behaviours

Dr Sarah Hodge talks about the growing correlation between gaming and gambling among higher education students

Dr Sarah Hodge is a lecturer in psychology at Bournemouth University: shodge@bournemouth.ac.uk and @SHodge


Higher education students can be a particularly vulnerable demographic for gaming- and gambling-related harm, as university is likely to be the first time they experience complete independence and freedom. As well as this new-found freedom that comes from students moving out of parents’/guidance residences into student accommodation, students have to manage their finances, which can be challenging.

Students also find themselves in a new learning environment – the teaching and structure of the university experience is largely very different to previous schooling and education, as students are given much more freedom and flexibility with their time. Hence, HE for many students is a substantial transition.

Managing change

While this transition is an important part of student development, this freedom can create potential vulnerability for students’ wellbeing – specifically, how they manage this change and make positive choices. This includes making good financial decisions, which can be challenging due to student loans giving large sums of money at the beginning of term/semester rather than spreading payments. Good time management can be constrained with the increased independence of finances and time, which can then create difficulties with excessive use and/or balancing gambling and gaming activities with other commitments.

Technology has changed HE in many ways, especially the student experience. As a lecturer in Cyberpsychology (the psychology of technology) at Bournemouth University, I explore how technology is impacting students’ lives in my teaching and research. New developments with both video games and gambling have created much potential overlap between the two. Some video games, for example, contain in-game gambling features while traditional forms of gambling now have an online presence with gamification techniques such as reward systems.

The overlap has many implications for students’ experiences in HE, and much of the previous research has focused on either video games or gambling with this age group.

The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust, YGAM, is raising awareness on this and has released a report with RedBrick Research on university students’ gaming and gambling attitudes and behaviours. This report is particularly important as it explores both gaming and gambling behaviours. It highlights the students’ experiences including the prevalence of those experiencing challenges with digital resilience and problematic gambling behaviours. The report highlights a link between student gambling behaviours and academic confidence and identifies a link between regular gaming and an impact on academic performance.

Complex behaviours

For many of us, we have to learn how to use technology in a way which can enhance our wellbeing rather than develop unhealthy habits. This can be difficult to know with new technology, and the technology may not be developed to focus on supporting the user’s wellbeing. Gaming and gambling behaviours are complex and often involve many factors.

It is therefore important that students are aware of support and feel that they can seek it out.

In my teaching, I support students to think about their own technology use, through encouraging them to reflect on their experiences including their gaming and/or gambling. Awareness of supporting students with gaming and gambling is increasing, and many universities offer support through their students’ union and wellbeing services (including financial concerns). It is worth enquiring about specific workshops, events and awareness weeks held at university. Students can also access gambling support from independent charities such as Gamcare (www.gamcare.org.uk) and Gordon Moody Association (www.gordonmoody.org.uk), while for gaming support, among others, there’s The CyberSmile Foundation (www.cybersmile.org).

The charity YGAM (www.ygam.org) provides information, resources and support for both gaming and gambling. One of YGAM’s initiatives to support university students includes placing student staff at a university as peer educators to support student experience and wellbeing. They open up discussion with other students to consider their gaming and gambling behaviours and that of their friends, and provide activities, events tips and resources to help them develop positive behaviours.

We are very excited at Bournemouth University to be one of the first few universities to work in partnership with YGAM and to give our students this opportunity to be a peer mentor and receive support for gaming and gambling behaviours.


For more information on the report, visit YGAM’s university engagement advisor Sarah Gosling’s blog: www.ygam.org/student-research/


A new report from charity Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) reveals some shocking statistics for students turning to gambling to ‘raise’ funds

The YGAM report identifies the four main motivators for students turning to gambling are to try and win money, for fun, to get a buzz and because it’s social. Gambling, the research suggests, is seen as a form of escapism, especially for those who leave university premises to gamble, and draws a potential link between gambling behaviours and a student’s negative perception of their academic performance.

Student gamblers fall into four categories: non-problem gamblers; low-risk gamblers; moderate-risk gamblers; and problem gamblers. The report cites: “Around half of students (47%) in our sample have gambled in the last 12 months. Of these, 75% are classified as non-problem gamblers, 8% low-risk gamblers, 8% moderate-risk gamblers and 8% problem gamblers.”

Key stats from the report

  • Moderate or problem gamblers are more likely to gamble to cheer themselves up  but 9 in 10 feel guilty for gambling
  • A third of these types of gambler say gambling has a negative effect on their wellbeing with over half considering dropping out
    of university
  • 31% of these two groups visit a casino, while 23% play fruit machines and 18% visit a betting shop
  • 47% of students have gambled in the last 12 months
  • 88,000 students are already identified as problem gamblers
  • In total, 264,000 students in the UK are at some risk from gambling
  • Nearly three-fifths (59%) say they are always worrying about their financial situation
  • 16% have gambled more than they could afford
  • For problem gamblers, the main reason (41%) is to win money; for low-risk gamblers, this rises to 71% who see it as ‘light entertainment’
  • 56% of moderate risk/problem gamblers have considered dropping out of university

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