Why You Should Never Go to a Casino When You're Tired

Last Updated Mar 25, 2011 5:16 AM EDT

It's rare for business people to look to the land of feather bedecked showgirls and unmentionable (probably pretty hazy) memories for wisdom, but if there's one thing Las Vegas casino owners know well, it's how to encourage an unhealthy amount of risk-taking.

Excessive risk may profit blackjack dealers, but it's unlikely to serve you well in business (or, when taken to extremes, be very good for the economy either.) So what's one Vegas risk-boosting trick you can easily avoid? Making decisions while sleep-deprived.

Researchers from neuroscientists at Duke University medical school peered into the brain in the midst of making decisions and saw exactly what happens when you drag yourself into work after being out for most of the night. Test subjects were asked to make a series of economic decisions both after a full night's sleep and after being awoken early from very little rest. The results indicated that,
Sleep-deprived individuals in the study tended to make choices that emphasized monetary gain, and were less likely to make choices that reduced loss... sleep deprivation can change the way the brain assesses economic value.
The study also demonstrates that sleep deprivation increases sensitivity to positive rewards while diminishing sensitivity to negative consequences.
Or in simple terms, being exhausted makes you more optimistic about the outcome of your gamble. While casinos use this knowledge to their advantage, using flashing lights and tons of visual stimuli to keep you at the tables long after you should be in bed, the average businessperson should take the exact opposite course of action, according to Vinod Venkatraman, the lead author of the study. And don't think a few cups of coffee are enough to counteract your exhausted brain's bias for risk-taking. Venkatraman said:
Late-night gamblers are fighting more than just the unfavorable odds of gambling machines; they are fighting a sleep-deprived brain's tendency to implicitly seek gains while discounting the impact of potential losses. Countermeasures that combat fatigue and improve alertness may be inadequate for overcoming these decision biases.
So that's one more item to add to the list of underlying causes of the recent financial crisis then -- not enough naps among bankers.

Read More on BNET: (Image courtesy of Flickr user joanna8555, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.