Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.



Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Neuroscience & Behavior

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



The somatic marker hypothesis posits that physiological arousal is partially responsible for decision-making behavior. Arousal, measured by skin conductance responses (SCR), increases before deck choice in the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). These markers co-vary with performance -- pathological gamblers lack these markers and perform poorly. Personality also modulates IGT behavior – high-novelty-seeking (NS) individuals tend to perform worse. In the IGT, participants decide which deck to select, creating a potential confound between personality, performance, and arousal. For example, high-NS individuals select the bad decks more often, potentially causing habituation and a muted SCR. The first goal of this research was to replicate the finding that personality modulates arousal in a task which removes these confounds. Participants selected a series of cards from two decks. Each card was either a win or loss. Real money was used. To remove the potential confound between choice and outcome, all participants experienced the same outcomes regardless of choice. SCR was measured during the task. Personality characteristics previously shown to modulate gambling behavior, such as sensation seeking (SS), were measured. Arousal may also occur during other phases of gambling, for example, before or after the outcome is revealed. To date, few studies have examined the relationship between arousal in these different phases. The second goal was to determine this relationship. The phases of gambling (pre-choice, anticipation, and outcome) were temporally separated to allow for precise SCR measurement in each phase. The final goal was to determine the relationship between perceived control and physiological arousal. An 'illusion of control', e.g., pulling the lever on a slot machine, promotes gambling, especially in pathological gamblers. Little work has addressed the relationship between personality, control, and arousal. In different sessions, participants either selected the next card or the next card was selected for them. SS decreased arousal during all three gambling phases. The perception of control decreased arousal during the pre-choice phase only. This latter effect was strongest for low-SS individuals. The ramifications of this study are clear: identifying how physiological responses vary with personality opens up avenues for potential treatment of problem gambling.


First Advisor

Heather N Richardson

Second Advisor

Andrew L Cohen