Some say that the concept of odds is too great for many human minds to comprehend. There's also availability heuristics such as media coverage, which only add to general bias with extensive coverage of unusual events, like winning the lottery. Not to mention social reinforcement and gambling for pleasure.
University of Kentucky psychology professor Thomas Zentall takes the feather-covered approach in his latest study, titled "Maladaptive choice behaviour by pigeons: an animal analogue and possible mechanism for gambling (sub-optimal human decision-making behaviour)" released in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences today.
What would a pigeon say to all of this?
"It looks like none of these factors are important, because pigeons gamble in the absence of these factors," Zentall explained. "This suggests that there's a basic behavioral/ biological mechanism that seems to be true of a variety of species."
Zentall, who has been working with pigeons for over 35 years, tested their affinity for gambling through pecking at lights for a predetermined numbers of pellets.
If the pigeons pecked on the left side, they would receive a green or a red light; after 10 seconds, the red light yielded ten pellets but the green light yielded nothing. This led to an average of two pellets per trial, according to Zentall. On the right side, each participating pigeon would receive yellow or blue lights, which both yielded three pellets of food per trial.
Zentall's results are fascinating. "You'd think that pigeons would choose the right side, but they don't," he said. Zentall's winged participants reliably choose the left side each time, hoping to receive the ten pellets, when zero was much more likely.
These results can be easily compared to commercial gambling and lotteries; pellets are analogous to dollars. "It's more efficient not to gamble, and the likelihood of winning is low, but pigeons do it anyway," Zentall said. "And so do people."
Zentall's findings bring up an interesting question. Many ecologists claim that animals should choose rationally, as they've evolved to be sensitive to reinforcement.
"If they behave sub-optimally, they would not survive, according to behavioral ecologists," said Zentall. "So, how does this behavior get here in the first place?"
This is something very basic in the behavior of humans and in animals too, according to Zentall.
"There's a basic behavioral, biological process involved that probably affects many different species, and it doesn’t require the excitement of a casino, the misunderstanding of the likelihood of winning, social reinforcement or the publicity of winners," he said. "These factors may help, but that's not it. Look at the pigeons."
And, just like there are people who don't care to gamble, there are usually one or two pigeons that don’t either, according to Zentall, which leads to a study the UK psychology professor is currently working on.
"We're interested in the kind of human that tends to gamble more," Zentall said. "You can look at the correlation, with the lifestyle and personality characteristics of people who gamble. Most of the time, people who aren’t terribly happy with what they're doing choose to gamble because it's exciting to them and other things generally aren't."
While any correlational study is complicated, Zentall is currently testing this theory on pigeons as well. "We are now varying their environment," he explained, "giving them a large cage, half the size of the room where they can explore, look at one another, and 'play' or look at 'toys.'"
According to Zentall, the pigeons are less likely to gamble after spending time in the room 'playing.'
"The availability of options in the cage may be what's producing non-gambling behavior," he said. "We can understand the basis for gambling, but why has this evolved in people and in animals?"
Zentall has a suspicion based in the notion of control. "In nature, probability isn’t constant," he said. "Animals are attracted to stimuli that make it easy to predict the availability of food and approaching these stimuli often makes their occurrence more likely. In lab conditions, this isn’t the case."
"In addition, humans remember the wins and not the losses, which has functional value in nature," Zentall added. "Animals too, don’t remember where they didn't find food, but do remember where they did."
Thus, gambling like behavior may have survival value in nature, but not in the casino.
The Royal Society is an independent academy promoting the natural and applied sciences. Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles, as the UK academy of science, as a learned Society and as a funding agency. It responds to individual demand with selection by merit, not by field.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B is the Royal Society's flagship biological research journal, dedicated to the rapid publication and broad dissemination of high-quality research papers, reviews and comment and reply papers. The scope of the journal is diverse and is especially strong in organismal biology.
For more information, please contact Zentall at (859)-257-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Holaday Ziegler | Newswise Science News
Study relating to materials testing Detecting damages in non-magnetic steel through magnetism
23.07.2018 | Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Innovative genetic tests for children with developmental disorders and epilepsy
11.07.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.
When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...
Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.
Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....
Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.
Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...
Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur
What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...
The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.
Dr. Francisco Garcia-Moreno and his team have designed a turntable that rotates ultra-stably about its axis at a constant rotational speed. This really depends...
08.08.2018 | Event News
27.07.2018 | Event News
25.07.2018 | Event News
14.08.2018 | Information Technology
14.08.2018 | Life Sciences
14.08.2018 | Life Sciences