The WAGER, Vol. 18(1) – Disorder or distraction? Experiential Avoidance and problem gambling behaviors


avoidance (EA) refers to an individual’s attempt to avoid internal experiences related
to an event, such as thoughts,
feelings, and physical sensations, by engaging in some other activity (Riley
2012). Researchers have suggested that people can engage in EA through a number
of activities, including sex, drug use, exercise, and gambling (Riley 2012). EA
might therefore be related to the development of gambling problems. This week’s
WAGER reviews a study that explored the relationship between EA and
problem gambling, as well as the relationships between these constructs and
related constructs: thought suppression and mindfulness (Riley 2012).  


convenience sample of 103 treatment-seeking problem gamblers from an outpatient
facility in South Australia
completed a battery of measures to assess their levels of problem gambling and
mindfulness, their tendency to suppress difficult thoughts, and their inability
to take action when faced with “negatively evaluated private events.” Participants
completed the following measures:

  • Dispositional
    EA: Acceptance and Action Questionnaire (AAQ-II; Bond et al. 2011)[1]

    • In this scale, higher scores indicate lower levels of EA.
  • Dispositional
    thought suppression: White Bear Suppression Inventory (WBSI; Wegner and Zanakos
  • Dispositional
    mindfulness: Mindfulness and Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS; Brown and Ryan
  • Problem
    gambling symptomology: Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI; Ferris and Wynne

researchers completed multiple regression analyses to explore the relationships
among problem gambling, thought suppression, and mindfulness; and, to examine
whether EA mediated a relationship between thought suppression and problem


Table 1 below shows the relationship (zero order
correlations) between the variables in question. Thought suppression and experiential
avoidance were positively associated with problem gambling
(r’s = .33 and -.43; both p’s < .01). Mindfulness, on the other
hand, was negatively associated with problem gambling (-.39; p < .001).  

Table 1:
Zero order correlations of study variables. (This table is adapted from the
original article).







-.43; p < .001

.51; p < .001

-.63; p < .001


-.39; p < .001

.33; p < .01


.48; p < .001


researchers conducted linear regression analyses to examine potential mediating
relationships. As shown in Tables 2 and 3, EA appears to mediate the
relationships between both thought suppression and mindfulness with problem
gambling. When controlling for EA, the standardized regression coefficients
between the other variable (mindfulness or thought suppression) and problem
gambling decreased and became non-significant.

Table 2:
Linear Regression with Problem Gambling as the dependent variable w/ thought
suppression and experiential avoidance as independent variables



Standardized B


Sobel z;

Thought supression




2.73; p < .001

Experiential avoidance





Table 3: Linear Regression with Problem Gambling as the dependent variable w/ mindfulness
and experiential avoidance as independent variables



Standardized B


Sobel z





-2.82; p < .001

Experiential avoidance






  • The study may not be generalizable to other populations.
    • 103 is a relatively small sample size and all individuals came from the
      same outpatient facility in South Australia
    • The researchers used a convenience
      sample so the results may not be applicable to all problem gamblers

      • The participants were treatment seeking problem
        gamblers, perhaps those individuals for whom EA functions differently
        would not be seeking treatment.
  • Due
    to the cross-sectional nature of the analysis it is not possible to determine causal
    relationships between EA, thought suppression, and mindfulness and problem


article suggests that pathological gambling is related to experiential
avoidance and thought suppression. The mediational findings suggest a model
whereby people experience intrusive thoughts and attempt to cope with the
distress these thoughts cause by gambling. A more mindful state, however, might
decrease the urge to escape distress and gamble. These models can be applied to
more targeted, and therefore more effective, gambling treatments. Specifically,
incorporating mindfulness-based therapies and acceptance practices into
gambling recovery might help counteract experiential avoidance and draw into
focus the underlying problem that is leading to the problematic behavior.

Emily Shoov

What do you
think? Please use the comment link below to provide feedback on this article.


Bond, F. W., Hayes, S. C., Baer,
R. A., Carpenter, K. C., Guenole, N., Orcutt, H. K., et al. (2011). Preliminary
psychometric properties of the acceptance and action questionnaire—II: A
revised measure of psychological flexibility and acceptance. Behavior Therapy,
42, 676–688.

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M.
(2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in
psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4),

Ferris, J. A., & Wynne, H. J.
(2001). The Canadian problem gambling index: Final report. Canada: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Marotta, J. J. (2002).
Experiential avoidance as a functional process of problem gambling. In Marotta,
J. J., Cornelius, J. A., & Eadington, W. R. (Eds.), The downside of problem
and pathological gambling (pp. 69–91). Reno, Nevada, USA: University of Nevada

Riley, B. (2012). "Experiential Avoidance
Mediates the Association Between Thought Suppression and Mindfulness with
Problem Gambling." Journal of Gambling Studies.. Epub 30 October

Wegner, D. M., & Zanakos, S.
(1994). Chronic thought suppression. Journal of Personality, 62(4), 615–640.

[1] A 10-item
self-report measuring “an individual’s tendency to make negative evaluations of
unwanted private events, unwillingness to be in contact with them and a desire
to alter their form or frequency to the extent that they are unable to take
action in the face of such events.”

[2] A 15-item
self-report measuring “an individual’s tendency to suppress unwanted negative

[3] A
15-item self-report measuring “an individual’s
dispositional mindfulness” (i.e., the
existence or absence of an individual’s “attentional presence” to an experience)

[4] A 9 item self-report measure of problem gambling. 4 items that
assess problem gambling behaviors and 5items 
that assess consequences of gambling.

2 thoughts on “The WAGER, Vol. 18(1) – Disorder or distraction? Experiential Avoidance and problem gambling behaviors

  1. Mary L. Thorne Reply

    Can you give some examples of “mindful-based” therapies, and how one would implement them if one has a gambling problem? I am a layperson, and I am interested in helping a gambler recover. Thank you.

  2. Emily Reply

    Hi Mary,
    Mindfulness-based therapies are part of the newer wave of psychology and have been around since the 1970s. However, mindfulness has been around for centuries, just packaged differently. These therapies draw heavily from long- and well-established Eastern meditation practices. Mindfulness as a concept refers to nonjudgmental awareness, acceptance, and “presentness” in the moment where your complete attention is given to the present moment.
    Current therapies that include a mindfulness component include:
    Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction
    Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) for depression
    Gestalt therapy
    Adaptation Practice
    Dialectical behavior therapy
    Acceptance and commitment therapy
    And more recently mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) in substance use disorders.
    There has been some research to suggest that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) might be helpful with gambling-related problems. It helps promote acceptance of distressing thoughts and emotions.
    The article from the WAGER talks about experiential avoidance, which is essentially the opposite of what mindfulness targets. Instead of ignoring unpleasant thoughts or impulses and trying to distract yourself (e.g., with gambling) mindfulness-based approaches suggest that you take the time, without judgment, to think through those thoughts and acknowledge that you have them. The “no judgment” component is arguably the most important when confronting potentially unpleasant thoughts and urges, and can be difficult at first.
    I found you an article presenting a case study where they attempt to use MBCT for a problem gambler which is available online if you’re interested in reading about an example:
    In this instance, her therapy included keeping a daily diary that chronicled “date, mindfulness practice, practice duration, and comments.”
    Thank you for your interest in the WAGER and for your question!

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