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Study: gamblers' brains not unlike those of pigeons

"Birds are distantly related to humans, yet we still share the same basic psychology that drives risk-taking," said Dr. Elliot Ludvig.
By Brooks Hays   |   Aug. 27, 2014 at 12:07 PM   |   Comments

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WARWICK, England, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- According to psychologists at Warwick University, in the United Kingdom, the risky decisions that gamblers make are similar to the tendencies of greedy pigeons.

Researchers arrived at the comparison and their conclusions after putting gamblers and pigeons through a series of tests, or chance games, featuring high-risk-high-reward decision making. When presented with four options -- two high-reward chances and two low-reward chances -- both human gamblers and pigeons were 35 percent more apt to gamble for high-value rewards, despite the increased risk. The tests also showed that gamblers and pigeons were equally influenced by their most recent gambling experience.

"Both humans and pigeons were shown to be less risk averse for high rewards then they were for low rewards and this is linked to our past memories and experiences of making risky decisions," said Dr. Elliot Ludvig, a psychologist at Warwick and lead author of the new study -- published this week in the journal Biology Letters.

"When people gamble, they often rely on past experiences with risk and rewards to make decisions," Ludvig explained. "What we found in this study is that both pigeons used these past experiences in very similar ways to guide their future gambling decisions."

Even though humans obviously have much larger brains than pigeons, Warwick says these new findings suggest risky behaviors utilize logic rooted in neural processes shared by both birds and humans.

"Birds are distantly related to humans, yet we still share the same basic psychology that drives risk-taking," Ludvig said. "This may be due to a shared common ancestry or similar evolutionary pressures."

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