In his blog SCIENCE LIFE, Rob Mitchum writes:
“…the immediacy of the reward [is] part of what [keeps] people at slot machines, making them so addictive. The quick turnaround between action and reward also allows people to get into a repetitious, uninterrupted behavior… Every feature,” he concludes, “the incessant noise, the flashing lights, the position of the rolls and the sound of the coins hitting the dish – is designed to hijack the parts of our brain designed for the pursuit of food and sex and turn it into a river of quarters.”
I grew up in Atlantic City. I’ve seen first hand just how gripping this give and take effect can be. I also grew up as a nerd among nerds, which brought me face to face with another, alarmingly similar, addiction. Video Games. David Wong, at Cracked.com:
[Subscription based video games] keep gamers subscribing…locking them into a repetitive slog using Skinner’s manipulative system of carefully scheduled rewards. [They are] addictive in exactly the same way a slot machine is addictive. You can’t quit now because the very next one could be a winner. Or the next. Or the next.
The evidence overwhelmingly supports the theory that we are reward whores. But that’s OK, because if you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer, which means that you have the opportunity to use this effect for the betterment of mankind. The mechanics of plotting are no different from that of slot machines or video games, except we can offer a 100% payout. Every scene in a book is an opportunity to implement the principles of give and take. We give our readers sympathetic protagonists and compelling stories, we take their time, fiscal, and emotional investments in return. So long as every scene rewards that investment, Cha-ching! they’ll keep coming back for more.