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Gambling Pigeons Go for the Jackpot

Oct 19, 2010 - by admin
Gambling pigeons

A new study has revealed that pigeons are natural gamblers. While they won’t be hitting the slots or betting bread crumbs at poker tables any time soon, they do tend to go for lower odds if the payout is high enough.

Psychologists at the University of Kentucky tested the birds with a simple machine that had two buttons. One was marked with a vertical line, and it paid out 10 pellets 20% of the time. The other button, marked with a horizontal line, rewarded with 3 pellets every time.

Six out of the eight pigeons tested pecked the vertical line most of the time, indicating a natural urge to go for the big jackpot, even though the horizontal line paid out more pellets in the long run. The lure of the jackpot was more appealing to the birds than a safe bet.

According to the psychologists, “The results of these experiments suggest that pigeons show a tendency to make maladaptive decisions similar to those of humans. That is, pigeons prefer a signal for a low probability, high payoff alternative over a signal for a certain low payoff alternative that on average provides 50% more reinforcement.”

Studying gambling behavior in pigeons may help the researchers better understand gambling behavior in people. “There’s a basic behavioral, biological process involved that probably affects many different species, and it doesn’t require the excitement of a casino,” said the researchers.

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