Psychology of Gambling Part 1 Presumably, you’re here because you enjoy gambling. You know that the house has an edge, that it’s a lot of work to get good at gambling, and that you might walk out with less money than you came in with. So why do we love it so much? The answer runs much deeper than “it’s fun to win money.” It is attached at the most base levels of how we function. Gambling in Primates Did you know that we’re not the only species that gambles or takes an enjoyment from gambling? In fact, many primates engage in some form of gambling and even engage in some of the same fallacies that humans do. It may not be surprising to most that Rhesus monkeys take a liking to gambling in much the same way as humans. What is surprising is that they engage in it in the same ways that humans do. In an experiment done by Tommy Blanchard, Andreas Wilke, and Benjamin Y. Hayden at the University of Rochester in New York, three monkeys were tested by having them control a computer display with their eye movement.They each had two options to chose from. In each instance, the winning option was randomly selected. Unsurprisingly, the monkeys loved winning treats and continued to play due. Surprisingly, they engaged in the hot hand fallacy, where they continued to pick the option they perceived as winning more often. Contrary to what we might believe, the hot hand fallacy doesn’t come from our knowledge of statistics like its opposite, the gambler’s fallacy, does. It may come from the fact that our caveman ancestors needed to survive and survival meant finding food and water. They may be lucky and stumble upon a tree with a large amount of fruit on it, or a watering hole with plenty of animals to hunt, so they would continue going back to the same spot, even after a day or two when they didn’t find food. Why? Because in this instance, it really wasn’t random. It was luck that they found the place, but not luck that it continued. Quite simply, our brains aren’t quite wired to truly understand luck. Gambling in Pigeons Some avian animals also gamble much like humans. Pigeons, of all creatures, gamble almost just like someone at a slot machine or roulette table. While some people make the safe bets (all black, all red, choosing slots that spin a low number of wheels) most people will eventually graduate to betting on double-zero or going for the big win on the extremely unlikely slots. One study put pigeons in front of buttons that had different statistical probabilities of payout. One gave out a relatively consistent and somewhat frequent payout of a small number of food pellets. Another button gave out a rare, but large, payout of a lot of pellets. Unsurprisingly, the pigeons pecked away at the larger button over and over again once they found out that the bigger button gave out bigger rewards some of the time. In fact, the pigeons chose the lower chance but higher reward button 82% of the time even though in the long run they’d get significantly more food by picking the frequent, but lower payout, button. It’s fairly obvious why we would want to bet on the larger win, even if it has a lower chance to pay out. We love the idea of competing against the house and winning, the idea of a million dollars, and doing a lot of the things we’ve dreamed of doing but haven’t been able to due to financial constraints. One added feature is that people and animals almost always love really great surprises. From the simple and mundane surprise of finding a few dollars in a pair of jeans you just washed to the larger surprise of finding your new favorite restaurant, we’re willing to bet to get a pretty sweet windfall. You may be wondering what would happen if a pigeon could lose. You may be thinking that, unlike pigeons, we actually bet real money that we can really lose and that, if all we had to do was put a dollar on double-zero without risking that dollar, we would put it on double-zero every time. There are two problems with that. Again, putting money on double-zero (even if you won’t lose that money) means you’d almost certainly net less money than you would if you simply put money on red or black. The other consideration is that birds in the wild do risk quite a bit by going for the uncertain bets that pay out a lot when they do. Namely, they risk hunger. Now we know that both humans and animals love gambling and will sometimes choose the wrong choice when given one. But what exactly goes on in the brain to make us love the gambling experience as a whole?