Aussie-as gambling research gets top gong
A CQUnivesity Bundaberg researcher is part of a team who have taken out a prestigious international award for their snappy study combining killer crocs and gambling.
CQUniversity Australia researchers Professor Matthew Rockloff, who teaches in Bundaberg, and Nancy Greer were named Ig Nobel Laureates at the infamous annual prize ceremony at Harvard University last night.
Their research, "Never Smile at a Crocodile: Betting on Electronic Gaming Machines Is Intensified by Reptile-Induced Arousal", assessed whether visitors to a crocodile farm in Central Queensland made riskier bets on a pokies game immediately after holding a one-metre saltwater croc.
The research won the Economics Prize and was the only Australian winner.
The Ig Nobel Prizes, which parody the Nobel Prizes, honour research topics that "first make people laugh, then make people think" - and according to judges, CQUni's concept of "crocodile-induced arousal" did just that.
Professor Rockloff, who heads CQUniversity's Population Research Laboratory, said the 2010 study was inspired by Australians' love of risk-taking through gambling, and the many risks inherent in our natural environment.
"Our prior research identified four psychological factors that put people at increased risk problem gambling: excitement, esteem, excess and escape," Prof Rockloff explained.
"We needed a sneaky way to generate some 'excitement' prior to participants playing pokies, to see if this would lead to riskier gambling."
When Prof Rockloff asked his wife Susan, a native of Alice Springs, about options for excitement in Central Queensland, she suggested, "Well, there are crocs - those are exciting!"
"It was a real light-bulb moment - and fortunately, at CQUniversity we were lucky to have a crocodile farm just down the road," he said.
The research was conducted at Koorana Saltwater Crocodile Farm outside Rockhampton over four months, and psychology researcher Nancy Greer attended the farm's tour more than 100 times during the surveys.
A born-and-bred Queenslander and now a PhD candidate, Ms Greer said the croc study was her first job in research - and she even had a close encounter in the line of duty.
"Even though their mouths are taped, they still have razor-sharp teeth sticking out - so the adrenalin definitely gets pumping!" she said.
Prof Rockloff explained the simulated pokie-machine game was able to measure levels of intemperate real-money gambling.
The study results suggest that excitement associated with gambling can cause people with pre-existing problems to gamble more intensively; betting larger amounts and ultimately losing more money.
It's new insight into the emotional determinants of problematic gambling.
Originally from the US, Prof Rockloff has lived in Queensland since 2001, and said he'd moved here with alligator boots and a Stetson - thanks to time in both Florida and Texas.
Now he regularly wears an Akubra hat, and occasionally, Crocs on his feet - although never at the same time.
The fun-loving academic said the study also teaches a more serious lesson about research.
"Great science doesn't need to be stuffy or boring," he said.
"The core to humour is a pleasant surprise or incongruity, and the core to great science is the same thing. When both happen at once, it's a marriage made in heaven."
The CQUniversity team were amongst 10 winners honoured at the 27th annual prize ceremony, and laureates received their prizes from four actual Nobel Prize winners.
CQUniversity Australia is Australia's biggest regional university, with 24 locations across five states.
In 2015, the Australian Research Council's Excellence in Research for Australia results rated CQUniversity reach at or above world standard in areas including Mathematics, Psychology, Nursing, Agriculture & VET Science, Environmental Science, Engineering, Medical & Health Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Public Health & Health Services.