Iowa Gambling Tasks

Evaluate your decision-making and risk-assessment abilities with the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). Download a free PDF here and start your journey.

By Bernard Ramirez on Jul 15, 2024.


Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What is an Iowa Gambling Task?

The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is a psychological experiment to assess decision-making skills, particularly in uncertain and risky situations. Developed by neuroscientists Antoine Bechara, Antonio Damasio, Hanna Damasio, and Steven Anderson at the University of Iowa in 1994, this task has become a cornerstone in understanding how individuals make choices involving risk and reward.

Picture this: You're at a casino, faced with four decks of cards labeled A, B, C, and D. Your goal? To maximize your winnings. Sounds simple, right? Well, not quite. Each deck offers different probabilities of winning and losing money, and your task is to figure out which decks are more advantageous over time.

Here's where it gets interesting: Decks A and B offer high immediate rewards but even higher losses in the long run, while Decks C and D provide smaller but more consistent gains, resulting in net profit over time. Participants playing the Iowa Gambling Task must navigate these options, learning from experience and adjusting their strategy accordingly.

So, what's the catch? The catch is that players aren't explicitly told the game's rules or the payoff structure of each deck. Instead, they must rely on trial and error, intuition, and gut feelings to decipher which decks are more beneficial and which should be avoided. This mirrors real-life decision-making scenarios with uncertain outcomes, and individuals must weigh the potential risks and rewards.

Now, let's tie this back to everyday life. Think about a scenario where you're deciding between two job offers. One offers a higher salary but requires long hours and a stressful work environment (Deck A), while the other provides a moderate salary but better work-life balance and job security (Deck C). Like in the Iowa Gambling Task, you must assess each option's potential risks and rewards and decide to align with your long-term goals and well-being.

The Iowa Gambling Task has been instrumental in studying decision-making processes in various populations, including individuals with brain injuries, substance abuse disorders, substance addiction, and psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia. Researchers can develop interventions to improve decision-making skills and mitigate risky behaviors by understanding how people make choices in uncertain environments.

How does it work?

The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is a fascinating tool to delve into decision-making prowess's intricate workings. Let's break down how this assessment unfolds:

Step 1: Presentation of decks

Picture this: You're handed four decks of cards, each labeled A, B, C, and D. Just like in a casino, you're tasked with selecting cards from these decks to play money and maximize your winnings. This mirrors real-life scenarios where individuals face multiple choices, each with risks and rewards.

Step 2: Learning through trial and error

Now comes the fun part – making decisions! You start by picking cards from the decks without knowing the payoff structure of each. As you select cards and observe the outcomes, you form hypotheses about which decks offer the best chances of success. This process mimics real-world learning experiences where trial and error are crucial in shaping decision-making strategies.

Step 3: Adapting strategies

With each card selection, you receive feedback on your wins and losses. Over time, you refine your strategy based on this feedback, gravitating towards decks that yield higher rewards and avoiding those associated with more significant losses. This adaptive process mirrors how individuals adjust their behavior in response to changing circumstances, a skill crucial for navigating life's uncertainties.

Step 4: Analyzing Performance

Researchers analyze your deck preferences, learning trajectory, feedback processing, and overall risk-taking behavior as the assessment progresses. These insights provide a comprehensive picture of your decision-making abilities and help identify areas for improvement.

Step 5: Drawing insights and recommendations

Researchers interpret the results once the assessment is complete to gain insights into your decision-making processes. Based on these findings, they may offer recommendations tailored to enhance your decision-making skills and mitigate risky behaviors in real-world situations.

The Iowa Gambling Task offers a captivating journey into the complexities of human decision-making, shedding light on how we weigh risks, seek rewards, and adapt our strategies over time.

When would you use this form?

Clinical assessments

Utilize the Iowa Gambling Task Form when conducting clinical assessments to evaluate decision-making abilities problem gambling in individuals with neurological or psychiatric conditions. It offers valuable insights into cognitive functioning, aiding in diagnosis and treatment planning.

Research studies

Incorporate the Iowa Gambling Task into research studies exploring decision-making processes, risk-taking behavior, and related psychological phenomena. Its standardized format allows for consistent data collection and analysis across diverse populations.

Rehabilitation programs

Integrate the Iowa Gambling Task into rehabilitation programs for individuals recovering from brain injuries or substance abuse disorders. Assessing impaired decision-making and decision-making skills can inform treatment strategies and track progress.

Educational settings

Implement the Iowa Gambling Task in educational settings to teach students about decision-making, risk assessment, and the consequences of choices. It serves as a practical tool for tangibly illustrating complex psychological concepts.

Career counseling

Employ the Iowa Gambling Task in career counseling sessions to help individuals assess their risk tolerance and decision-making styles in professional contexts. Insights gained can inform career planning and goal setting.

Legal proceedings

Consider using the Iowa Gambling Task in legal proceedings, such as forensic evaluations or competency assessments. It can provide objective measures of decision-making capacity and inform legal decision-making processes.

Personal development

Offer the Iowa Gambling Task as a tool for personal development and self-reflection. Individuals can gain insights into their decision-making strengths and weaknesses, empowering them to make more informed choices in various aspects of life.

Benefits of Iowa Gambling Task (IGT)

The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is a renowned psychological assessment to evaluate decision-making abilities in uncertain and risky situations. Here are five key benefits of utilizing the IGT:

Insight into decision-making skills

The IGT provides valuable insights into an individual's decision-making processes, shedding light on their ability to weigh risks, anticipate rewards, and adapt strategies over time. This assessment offers a window into cognitive functioning, aiding in understanding decision-making impairments in various populations, including those with neurological disorders or psychiatric conditions.

Objective measurement

One of the most significant advantages of the IGT is its objective measurement of decision-making abilities. By standardizing the assessment process and quantifying performance metrics such as deck preferences, learning trajectory, working memory, and risk-taking behavior, researchers and clinicians can obtain reliable data for analyzing and comparing decision-making capabilities across individuals and groups.

Predictive value

The findings derived from the IGT have predictive value in real-world scenarios. Research has shown correlations between performance on the IGT and outcomes in areas such as academic achievement, career success, financial management, and even criminal behavior. Understanding an individual's decision-making tendencies can help anticipate their behavior in diverse contexts and inform interventions to promote positive outcomes.

Diagnostic tool

In clinical settings, the evidence suggests that IGT is a diagnostic tool for assessing decision-making deficits associated with neurological patients with various neurological and psychiatric conditions. From traumatic brain injuries to addiction disorders, the IGT aids in identifying impairments in executive function and risk assessment, guiding treatment planning, and monitoring progress over time.

Educational and therapeutic applications

Beyond its diagnostic utility, the IGT offers educational and therapeutic applications. It is a practical tool for teaching students about decision-making, risk assessment, and consequences in educational settings. In therapeutic contexts, the IGT can be integrated into cognitive rehabilitation programs to improve decision-making skills and promote adaptive behavior in daily life.

The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is a versatile assessment tool with far-reaching benefits, from providing insights into decision-making processes to informing interventions in clinical, educational, and therapeutic settings.

Research and evidence 

The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) has a rich history rooted in research aimed at understanding decision-making processes. Developed by Antoine Bechara, Antonio Damasio, Hanna Damasio, and Steven Anderson at the University of Iowa in 1994, the IGT emerged from studies exploring the cognitive deficits observed in patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) lesions. Through experimental tasks, including the IGT, researchers sought to elucidate how damage to specific brain regions affects decision-making abilities.

Over the years, the IGT has been extensively validated through numerous studies across diverse populations, including healthy individuals, healthy control groups, participants, clinical populations, and even non-human primates. Research utilizing the IGT has provided valuable insights into decision-making impairments associated with various neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorders, schizophrenia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Evidence supporting the efficacy of the IGT in assessing decision-making skills comes from both experimental studies and clinical observations. These studies have demonstrated correlations between task performance as on the IGT and real-world outcomes, such as academic achievement, employment status, financial management, and social functioning. Additionally, neuroimaging studies have elucidated the neural mechanisms underlying decision-making processes, further validating the IGT as a tool for probing executive function and risk assessment.

Recent research continues to refine our understanding of decision-making processes using the IGT, employing advanced methodologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and computational modeling. These studies contribute to the growing body of evidence supporting the utility of the IGT in both research and clinical practice.


Bechara, A., Damasio, A. R., Damasio, H., & Anderson, S. W. (1994). Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to the human prefrontal cortex. Cognition, 50(1-3), 7-15.

Maia, T. V., & McClelland, J. L. (2004). A reexamination of the evidence for the somatic marker hypothesis: What participants know in the Iowa gambling task. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101(45), 16075-16080.

Yechiam, E., Busemeyer, J. R., Stout, J. C., & Bechara, A. (2005). Using cognitive models to map relations between neuropsychological disorders and human decision-making deficits. Psychological Science, 16(12), 973-978.

How does the Iowa Gambling Task work?
How does the Iowa Gambling Task work?

Commonly asked questions

How does the Iowa Gambling Task work?

Participants are presented with four decks of cards and instructed to select cards from each deck. The decks offer different probabilities of winning and losing money, and participants must learn through trial and error which decks are more advantageous over time.

What does the Iowa Gambling Task measure?

The Iowa Gambling Task measures various aspects of decision-making, including risk assessment, reward processing, and feedback utilization impaired performance. It provides insights into an individual's ability to weigh risks and rewards and adapt strategies in uncertain environments.

Who can benefit from using the Iowa Gambling Task?

The Iowa Gambling Task benefits researchers studying decision-making processes, clinicians assessing cognitive functioning in patients with neurological or psychiatric conditions, educators teaching about risk assessment and decision-making, and individuals seeking to have gambling disorder improve their decision-making skills.

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