Gambling addicted man in front of online casino slot machine on laptop computer at night.

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CHIBA, Japan — Hearing the sounds of nature could curb your gambling disorder, a new study reveals. Researchers in Japan say that by hearing the buzz and noise of insects, compulsive gamblers feel less stress and are less likely to relapse. The approach is part of a nature therapy called shinrin-yoku.

Study authors explain that one of the contributing factors to gambling addiction is stress. Recovering gamblers might feel the temptation to run to a casino as a way of escaping from life’s problems or feel the compulsion to gamble if they come across a familiar smell or place that acts as a trigger. Previous research has shown that swapping gambling with other leisure activities could reduce the chances of relapse. Nature-associated activities were an area of interest for the authors since it has been linked to lowering stress levels and helping the body relax.

“It has also been reported that people are spending more time at home and are under stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic. These circumstances strongly point to the need for familiar relaxation methods. The results of this experiment suggest that the auditory stimulation of nature-derived sounds is also beneficial for patients with [gambling disorder],” says study co-author Yoshifumi Miyazaki, a professor emeritus at the Center for Environment, Health, and Field Sciences at Chiba University in Japan, in a media release.

Mountain climber looking at beautiful nature scene
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The current study evaluated how useful nature therapy was in helping people with gambling addiction. The team enrolled 22 Japanese men between the ages of 25 and 60 with a diagnosis of pathological gambling. They randomly divided the men into two groups where the participants listened to a digital recording of insect sounds or traffic noise from a city intersection. Along with testing how they behaved after hearing the recordings, the authors also measured any physiological signs that could point to stress or relaxation. For example, one of the sensors measured people’s heart rates. This could help with understanding their autonomic nervous activity, one of the main pathways activated by stress. Another tool measured changes in the blood oxygen levels in their bilateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area important for rational decision-making and controlling impulsivity.

People who listened to nature sounds were physically more relaxed and mentally more positive than the other group. Additionally, the men reported being in a better mood, feeling more relaxed, and having a sense of comfort.

“Nature therapy may be useful for stress reduction in various patient groups and the general population, especially as our society becomes more artificialized and stress levels increase. As scientific evidence continues to accumulate, various nature-derived stimuli, including the auditory stimulus used in this study, may contribute to reducing stress in people,” says Miyazaki.

While more research is necessary to study the long-term effects of nature therapy on gambling addiction, this study suggests stress-relieving therapy could also help with other forms of addiction and people who are just stressed in general.

The study is published in the Journal of Integrative and Complementary Medicine.

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About Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master's of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor's of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women's health.

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