Animal model of human gambling behavior
- Tom Zentall -
University of Kentucky, Kentucky,USA
Human gambling generally involves choosing a low probability high outcome alternative (gambling) over the more economically optimal high probability low outcome alternative (not gambling). Surprisingly, although optimal foraging theory suggests that animals should be sensitive to the overall probability of reinforcement, the results of many experiments suggest otherwise. For example, pigeons do not prefer an alternative that 100% of the time provides them with a stimulus that always predicts reinforcement over an alternative that provides them with a stimulus that predicts reinforcement 50% of the time. This line of research leads to the conclusion that preference depends (1) not on the frequency of the reward but on the value of the stimulus that signals the reward when it occurs, as well as (2) contrast between what is expected at the time of choice and the positive outcome that results. It is likely that similar mechanisms account for the suboptimal choice that humans make when they engage in commercial gambling.