Pigeons like a flutter too, gambling study shows
Published 13/10/2010 | 05:00
A GAMBLING experiment has shown that pigeons like a flutter as much as humans -- and that taking risks in the hope of rewards may be a fundamental part of our biological nature.
Scientists have shown that when faced with a choice between a series of safe, small but guaranteed rewards or a single much larger reward that is less likely to happen, pigeons will almost always gamble.
The findings were a surprise to researchers, because Darwinist theory would predict that the birds would be honed by natural selection to act in a way that optimises the way they behave, rather than allowing them to take unnecessary risks.
The scientists believe that if pigeons have an innate predisposition to gamble then this could be a widespread trait across the animal kingdom.
The experiment indicates that there may be a fundamental biological reason for gambling rather than purely human-centred preferences, such as the idea that gambling is practised because it is entertaining, said Thomas Zentall, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
"The entertainment value of gambling shouldn't really play a role with pigeons, yet we have found that most pigeons will choose to gamble," said Prof Zentall.
"This seems to suggest that there is some fundamental behavioural system at work."
The study, published in the journal 'Proceedings of the Royal Society B', involved giving pigeons a choice between pecking at a coloured light that always gave them access to three food pellets, or pecking at a different coloured light that gave them two pellets but the gambling opportunity of "winning" 10 pellets 20pc of the time, or zero pellets 80pc of the time.
Overall, the best strategy for optimal foraging would be to choose the three-pellet route. But eight out of 10 pigeons tested consistently chose to gamble. (© Independent News Service)