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Pigeons Have a Tendency to Gamble Too!

I thought I’d heard it all but it seems not! Professor Thomas Zentall from the University of Kentucky claims that pigeons have the same tendency to gamble as human beings. The researcher, who has 35 years experience working with the birds, has shown that pigeons take risks in order to gain rewards – just like people.

The study had birds presented with two lights, one situated on their right, and one on their left. The left light showed either a red or green light. The red rewarded the pigeons with 10 pellets to eat, while the green gave them nothing. On the left hand side, a yellow or blue light would shine, yet both of them would give three pellets, no matter which light shone.

In a news release put out by the University of Kentucky, Zentall said that presumption was that the pigeons would always choose the right side because they eventually understood that there would always be food. However, this was not the case. The pigeons ‘gambled’ to the left in the hopes of getting more food each time. The study showed that some pigeons – like their human counterparts – preferred not to gamble and reliably stuck to the right at all times.

“It’s more efficient not to gamble, and the liklihood of winning is low, but pigeons do it anyway,” said the professor. “And so do people.”

Some people are questioning the reliability of such a study and whether animal studies can truly recreate human behavior. “There has to be a commodity that gets lost,” noted another expert in human psychology. “You have to be able to go into debt. It’s difficult to simulate that with an animal model.”

However, Professor Zentall is adamant that his work shows parallels between animal and human gambling. He noted that pigeons who lived in rich environments don’t tend to take large risks. This matches human studies which shows that humans who are satisfied with their standard of living tend to gamble less than those who want to earn more.

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