Iowa play task: what it is and how it’s used

Every day of our lives, we make hundreds of decisions: what to eat for breakfast, where to go, with whom, how and what to talk about, prioritize, when to rest … Many of them seem insignificant to us and we barely write them down., while in other cases, we think and think carefully about the possible implications before making a decision.

Sometimes guided by reason, others by emotion. But we decide. In any case, deciding does not require a wide range of operations and mental processes to be carried out.

Trying to explain how we decided is something that has aroused great interest from disciplines like psychology, having generated different instruments that seek to help discover it through the analysis of our responses. One of these instruments is Iowa Gambling, better known by its English name: Iowa Gambling Task.. And it is this interesting instrument that we will be talking about throughout this article.

    What is gambling in Iowa?

    The Iowa Gambling Task is a type of behavioral psychological test used as an assessment tool. it allows us to value and evaluate the decision-making process of those who carry it out. More precisely, it aims to assess the degree of involvement of cognitive and emotional factors in decision-making.

    This is a task of some complexity in which a total of 4 decks of cards are provided (A, B, C and D) to the subject to be evaluated, he was told that he had a certain amount of virtual money (more precisely $ 2000). The subject should be the lifting of letters from the mallets, which can lead to economic gains or losses, and be given the task of obtaining the maximum possible benefit.

    Mallets are not equal to each other: two of them involve huge wins and losses, while the cards of the other two involve both minor wins and losses.. Specifically, mallets A and B usually make around $ 100 per set, and one in ten times they result in a loss of $ 1,250 (although mallet A causes losses more often, the total amount is the same as that of the B).

    As for mallets C and D, they cause losses of $ 250 every ten tries, the loss being more frequent in the C although the final balance is the same in both mallets. While Mallets A and B have a final balance of -250, Mallets C and D have a positive balance of $ 250. So mallets A and B would actually reflect negative results and be bad mallets, while mallets C and B would provide moderate but safe gain.

    However, the subject does not know: he is faced with an ambiguous task since he does not know what is in each mallet. Thus, part of a situation of total uncertainty and little by little and through a process of trial and error, you will learn the characteristics of mallets. The choices they make will not depend on their prior knowledge but on the feedback that the subsequent choice of cards generates on an emotional level, even if they will learn to choose those that favor them the most.

    Although this task has traditionally been performed in physics, there is currently a computerized version that allows more comfortable performance and assessment for both rater and rater, which is much more common in consultation.

      The somatic marker hypothesis

      Iowa Gambling was proposed and designed primarily on the basis of a concrete and explanatory assumption of decision making. This is the Damasio somatic marker hypothesis.

      It is proposed that the decision-making process be fundamentally guided and modulated by the emotional and somatic responses that anticipate the consequences of our decisions, thus ranking the possible choices looking the most favorable for us. Emotional responses are interpreted by a network or neural pathway wherein the amygdala, in contact with the hypothalamus and the brainstem, generates impulses which are then regulated by these nuclei to generate a somatic response.

      This is why a response is “marked” at the somatic level as pleasant or unpleasant, which has the effect of replicating or avoiding the behavior that provoked it. Moreover, through the orbitofrontal, we generate a replication of this sensation every time we perform a similar task, which is why the response tendencies appear and are maintained.

      In what situations or conditions do you usually use this task?

      Although technically it can be used in any field where it is tried to analyze how it is a person’s decision-making process (as there are interpersonal or even intrapersonal differences based on time. and the state of the subject), in general rule the use of the Iowa Gambling or “Iowa Gambling Task” is generally limited to the clinical field or to research.

      In both cases usually used to assess the existence of dysfunctions or alterations of the orbitofrontal cortex, Especially in cases of disorders or injuries associated with problems in these areas. While those with an unscathed orbitofrontal often experience stress reactions to mallets considered “bad” after some time, in anticipation of possible punishment, in the case of subjects with problems in this area, this reaction is not observed to the same extent.

      Although it does not have a specific target audience, the Iowa Gambling Task generally used in patients with head trauma, epilepsy, stroke or dementia (Whenever damage to the orbitofrontal or symptomatology is observed, it indicates some type of dysfunction in decision making), as well as alterations such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (in which doubt and difficulty decision-making are common) or schizophrenia.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Tranel, D. and Damasio AR (2005). The Iowa play task and the somatic marker hypothesis: some questions and answers. Trends in Cognitive Science, 9 (4), 159-162.
      • Damasio, AR (1996). The somatic marker hypothesis and possible functions of the prefrontal cortex. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 351, 1413-20.
      • García-Molina, A., Rodríguez, Rajo, P., Vendrell Gómez, P., Junqué and Platja, C. and Roig-Rovira, T. (2008). Orbitofrontal dysfunction in multiple sclerosis: Iowa Gambling Task. Psicothema, 20 (3): 445-448.
      • Li, X., Lu, ZL, D’Argembeau, A., Ng, M. and Bechara, A. (2010). The Iowa MRI Image Bet Task. Hum Brain Mapp, 31: 410-423.

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