Monkey gambling has been the focus of many research papers and every study has concluded that monkeys understand how to gamble and are keen gamblers. Also an awesome cat maze and some funny cat and monkey materials and memes.
MONKEY GAMBLING RESEARCH
Ever since the 1970’s when a chimpanzee at Columbia University took part in “Project Nim” in an attempt to see if non-human primates could learn to communicate with humans, researchers have become increasingly ambitious in their efforts to teach monkeys everyday human skills. Monkey research is a fascinating study in its own right, their close physical and even psychological similarity to humans can also help shed light on human behaviour and attitudes. In the last number of years a number of different studies have been developed to see if monkeys can be taught to gamble and, if so, do their gambling tendencies tend to match those of humans. The findings shed light upon our shared evolutionary basis and can be used to provide insight into gambling addictions.
Imagine walking into your local casino and seeing monkeys sitting around the poker table with the other players, or, maybe you spot a group of monkeys perched on a chair at the slots games, although the probability of this happening in real life is highly unlikely, this scenario is really not that far-fetched. Monkey gambling has been the focus of many research papers and every study has concluded that monkeys not only understand how to gamble, they are also keen gamblers and enjoy playing casino games. In this paper we will touch on some of the major research projects carried out by scientists, biologists and psychologists and demonstrate the valuable and interesting conclusions that this research has generated.
MONKEYS LOVE TO GAMBLE
In August 2005, Duke University Medical Center Neurobiologist Michael Platt and his colleagues published a research paper in the Nature Neuroscience Journal where they concluded that given the choice between receiving a steady and safe reward, or, a larger but riskier reward, monkeys overwhelmingly preferred to gamble in the hope of winning the more generous but riskier reward.
The researchers hypothesized that studying the behavior of monkeys could help us understand the behavior of compulsive gamblers and their overwhelming need to experience the winners high whilst obliterating and ignoring the constant pain of the losses that they experienced. This experiment is also very valuable in helping scientists understand the correlation between risk, reward and neurons in the human brain.
MONKEYS AT YALE
Yes you read that correctly! Scientists at Yale University carried out a series of tests to see if they could teach monkeys how to use money. Not only were they successful in teaching the monkeys how to exchange money for fruit, they also noted that like humans, monkeys would buy more of one foodstuff if the price would fall. Once the researchers concluded that the monkeys understood the value of money and how to use it for their benefit, they introduced them to gambling games.
The monkeys responded enthusiastically and the researchers found that much like humans, monkeys were more likely to gamble on a game that had a potential win as opposed to a game with a potential loss even if the odds of winning at the game were identical. In one game the monkeys were given one grape to hold, with the flip of a coin they could either gain another grape or not. The second game began with the monkeys being awarded two grapes, the coin flip determined if they held on to both grapes or had to return one of them. The monkeys consistently chose to play the first version of the game even though the likelihood of them winning two grapes was exactly the same in both games. The same test given to humans would have a very similar result.
THE HOT HANDED MONKEYS
Perhaps the most famous of all monkey gambling research was the 2014 study carried out by Tommy Blanchard a Doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester together with Hayden and Wilke, Psychology professors from Clarkson University. The premise of their study was to determine if the same proclivity towards believing in a winning and losing streak was shared with the monkeys, if this was the case, the researchers could determine that this is a predisposition that is ingrained in our cognitive psychology.
The researchers created a computer game that the monkeys were taught to play. The game had three different screens. In one game two objects appeared on the screen, the monkey could choose one of the objects by simply gazing at it. In one of the games the winning object was on the right side of the screen whilst in the other game, the winning object was on the left side of the screen. If the monkey would gaze at the winning object he would be rewarded with some juice. The monkeys quickly learned to play and correctly guessed the necessary answer in order to win a prize. The third screen however was completely random. This meant that the reward could be either for picking the object on the right side of the screen or the left side of the screen. When presented with the completely random screen the choices were made as if the monkeys expected their winning or losing streak to continue. In other words, even when the outcome was random the monkeys would follow a trend.
The findings of Blanchard’s research study demonstrate that the hot-hand bias or phenomena whereby we see patterns where none exist is common to both humans and primates. This commonality infers that evolution has primed our brains to look for patterns even where none occur.
SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MONKEY AND HUMAN GAMBLING
Every study involving monkeys and gambling that has been carried out to date has pointed to some overwhelming similarities between the behaviour of monkeys and humans:
- Monkeys and many humans will always choose to opt for a potentially larger reward in place of a smaller but more certain outcome.
- Much like humans, the monkeys at Yale were more likely to gamble on a game that had a potential win as opposed to a game with a potential loss even if the odds of winning at the game were identical.
- Monkeys, like humans, believe that there is a hot-handed bias involved in life whether this is a lucky roll on the basketball court or a string of lucky wins at the online casino when playing a game of online pokies, this belief helps explain why humans are likely to engage in risky behaviour in the first place. Our belief is based on the erroneous understanding that that we can somehow control events by finding a pattern even if no such pattern exists.
The similarities between the monkey and the human when it comes to gambling can help scientists and psychologists understand that people will sometimes act against their own self interest if a feeling or irrational thought overtakes their logic. Players can often lose large sums of money and act against their own financial best interests. If researchers are better able to understand and to pinpoint the biases and unnecessarily risky behaviour that humans partake in, then they may be better equipped to offer better therapeutic solutions and therapies for players who become addicted to gambling.
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In his research, Hayden also discovered that the monkey’s gambling behaviour was equally driven by the desire to win a reward as well as the value of finding out if they had won, this finding sheds new light on the region of the brain that is used by gamblers and particularly those with an addiction. This information is potentially very important for new treatments for psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders as well as gambling addiction.
As well as equipping therapists or psychologists to construct more helpful therapies for humans who are faced with a serious challenge such as a gambling addiction, these studies also highlight the similarities between humans and primates. Very often humans tend to assume that we have the upper cognitive hand and we are significantly intellectually superior to non-human primates, studies such as these help demonstrate that the differences between us when it comes to decision making are fairly marginal and far from being rational thinking human beings, the decisions that we make are often made without us having a clear idea why.
For a more detailed account of the study by Hayden et al,
The Hot Handed bias experiment explained in more detail.