If you haven’t been down the toy aisle lately, you might be surprised to find that one of the most popular items is not an action figure, doll, or stuffed animal. The relatively inexpensive item that has captured the attention of children everywhere is merely a small bag, box, or capsule that conceals a small collectible toy.
The premise seems innocuous enough: you open the bag and receive a surprise toy from a set. L.O.L. Surprise! dolls are some of the most sought-after toys of this variety, but hundreds of these products exist, spanning many popular franchises such as Marvel and My Little Pony. But what happens when the child opens the box and doesn’t get the character they were hoping for? Some children will continue to purchase more blind bags in pursuit of the item they’re seeking. When they finally score it, the payoff is that much more gratifying. Sound familiar? Some experts are concerned that this trend could be setting up young people for gambling problems in the future.
The Rise of “Unboxing” Popularity
Getting a surprise toy is certainly not a new concept, as anyone who’s ever plunked a quarter into the machine at their local pizzeria can attest. But the process of opening boxes of toys has become a sensation on YouTube, and there are entire channels devoted to children opening blind bags. This “glamorization” further fuels young people’s interest in these toys, increasing their desire to obtain the rarer ones in the set.
Why Blind Bags Are So Rewarding to Young Brains
The psychology behind blind bags is much more than just having a toy that children want. The concept is “intermittent reinforcement,” which was demonstrated in experiments with pigeons by American psychologist B.F. Skinner. In the experiment, the pigeons were trained to use a lever that would dispense food. If the lever gave food every time, the birds would only peck the lever when they were hungry. However, if the lever only delivered food at variable ratios, the pigeons started pecking the lever compulsively. It is this same concept that rewards gamblers — slot machines are a prime example of intermittent reinforcement.
Here are some facts about how gambling behaviors can start young:
The fact that the toys are inexpensive — typically under $10 — makes it easy for parents to say “yes” when their child pleads to have one during a weekly shopping trip.
Beyond the Toy Aisle
Blind bag toys are not the only exposure that people under the age of 18 have to gambling-like practices. Many video games contain “loot boxes” that you can purchase for real money, and they are essentially a virtual blind bag containing different in-game items. We’ve examined the potential dangers that these loot boxes may pose for young gamers.
Talking to Children About Gambling
Even if your child has never asked you to purchase a blind bag for them, they are likely exposed to these collectibles through their friends or classmates. Keeping an open line of communication is important, and helping children develop healthy attitudes about gambling from a young age can go a long way.
Here are a few tips for talking to children about surprise toys and loot boxes:
CCGNJ Has Resources for All Ages
If you have noticed unhealthy, gambling-like behaviors in your child or another young person you know, CCGNJ has resources available to help. New Jersey residents can call or text our helpline, 800-GAMBLER, at any time for support, treatment, and hope.