The Efficacy of the Theory of Reasoned Action to Explain Gambling Behavior in College Students

By Thrasher, Robert G.; Andrew, Damon P. S. et al. | College Student Affairs Journal, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

The Efficacy of the Theory of Reasoned Action to Explain Gambling Behavior in College Students


Thrasher, Robert G., Andrew, Damon P. S., Mahony, Daniel F., College Student Affairs Journal


Shaffer and Hall (1997) have estimated college student gambling to be three times as high as their adult counterparts. Despite a considerable amount of research on gambling, researchers have struggled to develop a universal theory that explains gambling behavior. This study explored the potential of Ajzen and Fishbein's (1980) Theory of Reasoned Action to explain college student gambling. The results from 345 completed student surveys indicated both gambling attitudes and subjective norms significantly and positively predicted gambling intentions; however, the explained variance in gambling intentions was low. Gambling intentions significantly and positively predicted gambling behavior in terms of specific gambling types. Modifications to the Theory of Reasoned Action are suggested to better explain college student gambling behavior.

Gambling has been popular for a long time, and its popularity continues to grow. Since the early 1960s, 37 states and the District of Columbia have reestablished state lotteries. Also, since 1991, 60 riverboat casinos opened, and these new casinos captured 20% of the casino market in the United States (Kentucky Legislative Research Committee). College students are at an age that is highly impressionable, experimental, and prime for taking risks, while ignoring the possible consequences and, therefore, are particularly susceptible to problem gambling (Oster, 1992).

Gambling, whether legal or illegal, is readily available to students on college campuses and surrounding areas (Saum, 1999). Indeed, among the problem behaviors of college students, gambling has received the least amount of attention despite its prevalence (Dunne, 1985; Shaffer, Forman, Scanlan, & Smith, 2000). In fact, a meta-analysis of published studies on college students estimated the prevalence rate of problem gambling among college students at 5.6%, approximately three times the rate found in adults (Shaffer & Hall, 1997). However, much is unknown about the gambling behaviors of college students, or what impacts their gambling intentions. This study attempts to fill the gap in the research.

The first step to better understand gambling behavior is to identify an appropriate theoretical framework with which to examine such behavior. Gambling researchers have struggled to develop a single theoretical framework that universally explains gambling behavior. To date, no single framework has emerged as a widely accepted explanation of gambling behavior. The following literature review defines gambling and discusses several of the available theories present in the field of gambling today.

Literature Review

Gambling is a very prevalent legalized activity that can be considered a non-drug related behavior with addictive potential (Potenza, Fiellin, Heninger, Rounsaville, & Mazure, 2002). For the purposes of this study, gambling is defined as "any risky behavior, based on a combination of skill or chance, or both, in which something of value can be won or lost" (Kassinove, 1996, p. 763). Many types of gambling are prominent today including card games, dice games, lotteries, slot machines, sport games, and pari-mutuel gambling. Tabor (1987), Murray (1994), and Brown (1987) have suggested that it is difficult to fully describe or conceptualize gambling behavior or gambling problems using any one model. Shaffer and Gambino (1989) suggested three reasons why there is a conceptual crisis in the understanding of compulsive gambling: a) the absence of an accepted paradigm, b) the consequent paucity of facts, and c) the lack of integration between research, theory, and practice. Brown (1987) suggested that using one model in exclusion of others acts as a perceptual filter, and leads to some aspects of behavior being ignored or relegated to the background. Rosenthal (1987) identified three clusters of theoretical constructs that have been used to examine gambling behavior: a) psychodynamic theories, b) biological theories, and c) behavioral theories. …

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