Smaller reward and certainty vs. big random rewards…a fowl choice.

Spotting the pigeon at a poker table takes on new meaning in recent research which shows that the humble pigeon is by preference a high roller when it comes to a tasty food bet.

Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on U.S. research this week in which pigeons were given the choice of randomised big rewards in food or smaller rewards but more certainty of winning.

The pigeons chose the high roller, risky option almost every time.

Scientists studying the birds’ behaviour concluded that the findings challenged “…the view that non-human animals avoid a poor gamble that might impact survival”

The Telegraph reports that the birds appeared to be psychologically hooked in much the same way as humans who buy lottery tickets and visit casinos.

The researchers set up an apparatus to test pigeon gambling tendencies with similarities to human slot machines. The birds were trained to peck on either of two keys that displayed projected vertical or horizontal lines as well as red, yellow, green and blue colours, and which carried different risk/reward characteristics, the rewards coming in the form of food pellets.

Six of the eight pigeons taking part in the experiment showed a strong desire to keep pecking the high risk, high reward key in the hope of winning the jackpot, the scientists found. This was despite the fact that over a series of repeated trials they could have obtained 50 percent more pellets by choosing the alternative and more conservative option.

“Such ''maladaptive'' decision making is typical of human gamblers, said researchers Thomas Zentall and Jessica Stagner from the University of Kentucky, writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. ”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 percent more reinforcement.''

Anyone spot similarities in that Kentucky urge to take a risky gamble? Domains, anyone?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/8060036/Pigeons-have-urge-to-gamble.html

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