Monkeys gamble, its a fact. And they do so similar to how humans behave when playing online pokies at an online casino, or making bets at a blackjack table. The theory is explored from various angles.
The Behavioural Similarities of Humans and Monkeys in Gambling
There is substantial research of monkeys in many fields with one of the most interesting being their behaviour when given money and the opportunity to bargain or gamble with this money. The results overwhelming prove that monkeys like humans lean towards the hot hand bias and that the impulse to always take a risk is inbuilt in the monkey just like it is inbuilt in the human. These studies have been used to help combat the addiction of many to gambling while also helping the online casino managements to understand how best to attract and keep players while not letting the player go over their limitations.
Duke University Experiment with Rhesus Monkey
There are numerous different experiments that have been conducted using different species of monkeys. Michael Platt, a neurobiologist at the Duke University Medical Centre devised an experiment in which male rhesus macaque monkeys were presented with two different lights on a screen. By looking at the safe light, the monkeys were always given the same fruit juice reward. The risky light rewarded the monkeys with a larger or smaller fruit juice. The monkeys always seem to prefer the riskier light even though they were not always guaranteed the large juice. Even when the odds where changed and the risk became greater, the monkeys still preferred the riskier light. In his paper and subsequent articles Platt concluded that the reactions and actions of the monkeys are very similar to those of humans, the possibility of getting a larger reward knocks out the memory of the previous lower reward and hence the inbuilt desire to gamble and always take a riskier stand in the belief that eventually it will pay off. More can be read on this subject in the Live Science article titled “Gambling Monkeys Compelled by Winner’s High” from August 2005.
The Capuchin Monkey Experiments at Yale University
Platt is not the only high flying academic who has looked into the many different behavioural aspects of the monkey and how their behaviour correlates to human behaviour. Keith Chen and Laurie Santos an economist and psychologist from Yale University embarked on a controlled experiment with capuchin monkeys. The team was not entirely sure what they were hoping to achieve with this experiment but wanted to observe the behaviour and tendencies of these small brained monkeys under the circumstances that were presented. Over a period of several weeks the monkeys, seven in total, where taught to use a special monkey money. This money was a small silver coloured coin that had a hole in the middle of it. The monkey was taught to exchange his money for Jell-O, grapes or apples. It took a number of weeks before the monkeys totally understood that they could exchange their single coin for a treat. Once the monkeys were completely au fait with the use of the monkey coin, Chen and Santos introduced another element to the experiment. Each morning the monkeys where given a number of coins to use in exchange for treats. The monkeys soon learnt to use these like money, trading the coins not just for treats but also services. By observing the monkeys, Chen and Santos noted that when the rewards were changed i.e. more grapes were given per coin; the monkeys reacted just like humans would if there was a sale. The monkeys bought more of the grapes because they could get more for their money. One morning the coins were substituted for pieces of cucumber cut like the coins, at first one of the monkeys was seen to be taking a bite from the piece of cucumber but then he seemed to have second thoughts and actually took the cucumber and tried to bargain with it for one of the treats. The observations on these small brained capuchin monkeys correlated to the first experiment that was conducted by Chen on them. The monkeys were fed endless marshmallows until they threw up, logic stats that they wouldn’t want anymore but they just kept on coming back for more. This is a form of risk taking or in effect gambling. It is part of the monkey’s natural instinct and is parallel with that of the human behaviour with money- human’s trade, exchange and gamble. Some of the monkeys were also observed trying to steal monkey coins for others, another similarity with humans!
Winning Streak Behavior in Monkeys and Humans
The similarities between humans and monkeys has been observed many times and not just in relation to money although this seems to be one of the most popular experiments conducted of late with many different creative experiments being carried out. Rochester University professor of cognitive sciences Tommy Blanchard devised a very basic computer game for the monkeys to play. There were three different levels to the game, two of the levels gave clear and defined answers to the monkeys and the third was totally random. Again treats were used to entice the monkeys to make choices. The monkeys showed in this experiment the streak behaviour that is present in all humans when playing online pokies or other online casino games. The monkeys continued to opt for the random choice even though it would not always reward the monkey with his treats. This type of behaviour directly correlates to the “hot hand bias” that is always talked about in gambling. The monkeys preferred to take the risk and stick with the random choice rather than the sure bet that would bring them a smaller reward each time. This is very similar behaviour to humans when gambling. The research proved that just like with humans the monkey prefers the risk taking believing that in the end it will pay off with larger total rewards.
Similarities between Monkeys and Humans in Taking Risks
Of the many different research projects that have been carried out using monkeys the most basic research has in fact proved that evolution is the key in explaining the behaviour of the human when presented with online pokies or one of the other online casino games. Just as a wild animal hunts for food and finds something under a stone he will go back to that same place or very close by to look for more food. The same occurs with humans and monkeys and it is all part of the evolutionary process. The monkey keeps going back to the same place even though it may be more risky but it is what he knows and there is some inbuilt logic that tells him subconsciously that that there is more chance of winning he stays in that position, this is the same logic as the hot hand bias, a well-known theory of gambling that purports that staying in the same position i.e. with the same bet such as an online roulette bet will eventually bring in a result for the player. Similar gambling theories have been created over the years and in reviewing these theories there is definitely some similarity drawn from the behaviour of the monkeys. The Martindale theory purports that after every losing bet, the player should bet more on that position so that eventually he will win back the total amount he has lost. This was seen in the Duke University experiment conducted by Michael Platt in which the monkeys kept going back to the riskier choice even though they were not guaranteed of a win but eventually the monkey in his subconscious believed that there would be a win and it would be large enough to make up for all of the losses that had been endured up until then.
In conclusion in can be surmised that the behaviour of monkeys definitely correlates to that of the human when given the tools to gamble. The concept of gambling is an age old system and not just about money, people and not it has been proven animals too, take a gamble on anything. It is a gamble whether to choose a certain house to buy or take a certain job, to choose one brand of toothpaste over another and to bet on one number of roulette or place a maximum bet on a game of online pokies. There is no real logic to how people place bets, yes there are strategies and a number of different tips that can help the player with his game but the bottom line is that the games are played on instinct that seems to be evolutionary. The human, just like the monkey has inbuilt instincts in him that direct him to make choices and most of these choices are based on risk rather than the educated decision. The information provided for each decision can be used towards making the decision but the ultimate decision is a risk factor that guides all of us through our lives whether gambling or crossing the street, playing online pokies or buying a new brand of bread.
References / Further Reading
Information and quotes in this article have been taken from a number of sources that include:
- ZME Science – How Scientists Taught Monkeys the Concept of Money- July 7 2011
- University of Rochester Science Research Paper – Monkeys Also Believe in Winning Streaks- Study Shows – July 27th 2014
- Live Science Periodical – Gambling Monkeys Compelled by Winners High – August 22 2005