Doctoral dissertation

Anu Sirola: Web of gamble: A social psychological perspective on youth gambling and virtual communities

Anu Sirola
The dissertation of M. Soc. Sc. Anu Sirola provides a social psychological perspective on youth gambling and gaming by examining the role of virtual communities and the underlying social factors in such behaviors.

The Internet and social media have facilitated gambling opportunities, and gambling content has become highly visible in an online context. Gambling has gained popularity worldwide, and youth problem gambling in particular is an increasing concern.

Digital games increasingly include monetary gambling-like features such as microtransactions and loot boxes, blurring the line between gambling and gaming and exposing young players to mechanisms of gambling. The Internet also provides social platforms for gamblers and gamers to interact and connect, both inside and outside a game.

As active online users, youth actively engage in different online games and utilize virtual communities to interact around shared interests. Virtual communities may shape gambling attitudes and behavior through social norms and peer influence.

In Anu Sirola's doctoral dissertation of social psychology, it was examined what is the role of virtual communities and social media behavior in gambling and gambling-like intentions and behaviors. Gambling-like mechanisms in digital games are scrutinized, as well as differences and similarities in the social aspects of gambling and monetary gaming. The dissertation provides a social psychological perspective on youth gambling and gaming by examining the role of virtual communities and the underlying social factors in such behaviors.

The dissertation consists of four separate studies. Cross-national survey data of 15- to 25-year-old respondents from four countries were used: Finland (N = 1,200), the United States (N = 1,212), South Korea (N = 1,192) and Spain (N = 1,212). Survey data were used to examine factors associated with online gambling community participation and interest toward online gambling content among youth. Systematic literature data were used to widen the scope of gambling in the dissertation by exploring and comparing the role of virtual communities in gambling and monetary gaming behaviors.

According to the results, participation in virtual gambling communities such as discussion forums is associated with gambling problems, posing a potential risk for excessive gambling. Some country differences were found in underlying factors, such as sense of loneliness, in active online gambling community participation.

Gambling communities differ in their stance on gambling. Some communities are related to gambling strategies and tips, while others focus on problem gambling recovery and harms caused by gambling. Thus, depending on the community norms, gambling communities may normalize excessive or moderate forms of gambling. In digital games, a community aspect is often inherently embedded inside the game.

Further, there is strong evidence that the social aspect of game communities can motivate ingame purchase intentions and gaming continuation, posing a potential risk for excessive money consumption.

The results suggest that strong attachment to a virtual community, together with perceived group norms and mechanisms of social influence, are risk factors to excessive gambling behavior, attitudes and purchase intentions. Moreover, gambling content that is approved by peers in social media is likely to make the content appear more interesting and increase the likelihood to act on such content.

The results emphasize the risky nature of social media and emerging group processes in online gambling exposure and normalization of gambling. The findings provide topical knowledge and practical implications for players, parents and health care professionals to help reduce excessive gambling and game-related purchase behaviors.

The doctoral dissertation of M. Soc. Sc. Anu Sirola in the field of social psychology titled Web of Gamble: A Social Psychological Perspective on Youth Gambling and Virtual Communities will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 15 January, 2021. Professor Tom Postmes from University of Groningen will be the opponent while Professor Atte Oksanen will act as the custos.

Because of the coronavirus situation, the event can be followed only via remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at
http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-1812-3