How Slot Machines Use Psychology and Design Pattern to Keep You Coming Back

How Slot Machines Use Psychology and Design Pattern to Keep You Coming Back

Once upon a time, slot machines were somewhat of an afterthought in casinos with table games being the real focus. However, since the advent of online casinos, slot games are responsible for earning over two-thirds of a casino’s revenue. But what is it that makes slots so popular in the online gambling scene? Well, it’s partly down to their design as well as their creator’s understanding of human psychology. Let’s take a look in more detail at how slot machine design and human psychology work hand in hand at keeping players coming back.

The psychological principles of slot machines

During the 1960s, the American psychologist and behaviorist Burrhus Frederic Skinner discovered some basic principles of psychology after he experimented with pigeons. In a similar vein to Ivan Pavlov and his dogs, Skinner experimented with conditioning. Skinner used an operant conditioning chamber, which came to be known as the Skinner Box, to condition animals to perform specific tasks. Essentially, a pigeon (or another animal) was placed in the box and would learn to respond to stimuli like light or sound or activate levers for a reward. The reward was either food or stopping a loud or unpleasant sound.

The reason why slot machines have been likened to slot machines is that they don’t always give rewards. Skinner discovered that the best way of conditioning a subject was not to reward them every time so that they keep on ‘playing’. In fact, animals (and people) are more likely to keep playing when there is a chance of a reward but not a guarantee of one. This box and its experiments became an important part of Schedules of Reinforcement, Skinner’s most influential book.

Using casino psychology to get players to keep coming back for more

Using rewards and psychological theories to encourage players to keep on playing isn’t new. But, before players get to experience “flow”, they need to be encouraged to enter the online casino in the first place.

While casino layout design is clearly important, promotions and offers are important for attracting customers initially. When a Canadian is browsing for an online casino and sees a 500% first deposit bonus in Canada or a good review, for example, this immediately draws their attention to the site.

And, on signing up, they will then experience the “flow” of the Skinner Box-Esque slot machine that will keep them coming back for more.

More Slot machine psychology – losing track of time

More Slot machine psychology – losing track of time

Have you ever got so engrossed in an activity that you can’t believe how much time has passed? You might, for example, have a spare ten minutes where you decide to browse on social media. The next thing you know two hours have passed and you’re watching clips from a soap opera episode from two decades previous! Such is the concept of “flow”. This idea was coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, an Italian-Croatian positive psychologist who believed that people were at their most content when they were intrinsically motivated and focused on a task to the extent that time seemed to fly.

For flow to happen, there are four criteria:

  1. Every moment has a little goal
  2. Each goal has clear rules attached to it
  3. The activity involves immediate feedback
  4. The activity’s tasks involve a challenge
“Flow” in Slot Machines

By looking at the criteria above, it’s easy to see why slot machines can get players in a state of “flow”. When slot games have low volatility, multiple lines, infinite bonus rounds, and occasional mini-games, they fulfill all the criteria required for “flow” to happen and they may also use images that make you lose track of time too.

Online casino promotions that retain customers

After players have been drawn in by an initial bonus, online casinos need to work hard to retain them. Offering free spins, bonus games or a special jackpot are all strategies used by online casinos to encourage players to continue to gamble there.

Other ways online casinos keep players coming back

When online casinos are looking at their gambling machine design, they pay close attention to the design pattern and casino color scheme. Littering their games with images of casino slot machines and images that you lose track of time all work to heighten the player’s experience too. The idea is to create a completely immersive experience that works well with the psychology of the slot games themselves.

Offering other games besides slots is one way that online casinos raise their profile and keep people coming back. After all, even though slot machines are great at keeping players entertained and spending their money, people do like variety. Roulette is one game that is hypnotic in its attraction to players. It’s uncomplicated, quick, and exhilarating, which, psychologically speaking, conditions players to come back for more.


There’s a reason why we love online slots so much and it’s not just because they’re fun! There’s a lot of planning that goes into the design and function of online slot games, and decades of psychology research have meant these games have become the most popular in online casinos. As technology continues to advance, who knows what developments online slot games will have in the future!