Speculators ask, “Why?”

To answer the fundamental issue, “Why do people gamble?,” this is the first of a series of articles.

In this case, the pigeon serves as our unusual hero. At least three well-publicized research on pigeons’ responses to slot-machine-like stimuli have been undertaken at institutions in the United Kingdom and North America over the past decade. Pigeons would be fed whenever a condition analogous to a slot machine’s winning combination was met. This essay from Inside Casino investigates this peculiar occurrence in an effort to better comprehend basic human psychology.


Human Nature Explains Why People Bet

Humans can’t help but gamble. We, as humans, are faced with choices every day. Some are major, while others have little or no impact. Some call for serious introspection, serious thought, and a delicate balancing act of right and wrong. There are times when we have to look back into the past for answers. Some of them are deliberate and calculated, but the majority are made on the fly.


This is the essence of free will, which everyone of us exercises daily. Every choice we make affects not only ourselves but also the individuals we interact with, whether we know them or not. Aside from truly altruistic deeds, we all make decisions and come up with different gambling strategies based on what we think would benefit us the most.


However, there is no objective standard for what is optimal. It may be the best course of action in terms of logic or security. It’s possible that, despite the dangers, this choice offers the best potential payoff and has a lasting impact on one’s life. Every single person on the planet is a gambler.


What causes someone to develop a gambling addiction?

The brain of a compulsive or problem gambler has captured the interest of scientists. Does it seem unique? Is there synchrony between the synapses? Have they noticed any declines? Are they just trying to win for the sake of winning, or do they actually think? Moreover, why do some people who enjoy the rush of gambling be able to stop when the enjoyment ceases, while others are unable to?


And then there are variations in when gambling is considered socially acceptable based on different cultures. A night out at a real money casino with some cocktails and a few bets may be a lot of fun. As an additional national hobby, betting on the football, the horses, or the pigeons is common. But what do you make of a person slouched over a fixed-odds betting terminal in a dimly lit high street shop with a few giant skewiff posters partially blocking their view?


I have asked a lot of rhetorical questions, I know. But let me propose still another possibility. This is purely speculative. In the spirit of “would you rather,” here are two options….


To what extent would you?

You get five presses and can select one of two buttons. If you push one button—let’s call it orange—you’ll receive $3 no matter what. Without fail. No probs, whatsoever. That’s fifteen dollars assuredly in the bank, as any mathematician can tell you. Let’s say the other button is purple; it has a lot more dynamism. The odds of winning the $10 prize are one in five presses. However, statistically, the odds are 4 out of 5 that you will receive nothing further.


Naturally, the mathematicians will inform you that you have a chance to earn up to $50 in 5 pushes. You might not win anything at all. And the odds of winning $10 are high. which is a difference of $5 from $15 (again, complex math).


Which option do you think is best? And what should one do? People can arbitrarily assess the risk and reward binary and rationalize their way into any set of button presses.


Now, without a doubt, we could spend all day pondering these questions of nurture versus nature against culture. There has to be a method to get to the meat of the matter at hand.


Speculators ask, “Why?” Pigeon Strength

Now let’s bring in the pigeons. Plus, pigeons serve a vital purpose. Scientists are trying to answer this question by conducting “gambling” tests with trained pigeons. The scientists want to explore, in their usual dispassionate fashion, what would happen if all the trappings of humanity—including the glitz and glamour of popular culture and the weight of unfettered free will—could be gradually stripped away.


Pigeons have been shown to be extremely clever creatures, even more so than several primate species. They are simple to acquire and can be educated in a controlled setting. So, pigeons are a great metaphor for the reasons behind why people bet.


Despite the pigeon’s high IQ, many people use the word “pigeon” in a derogatory sense. A pigeon is “a gullible person, especially one who is swindled in gambling or the victim of a confidence trick,” as defined by Google. It’s funny how the pigeon managed to distill the essence of gamblers down to its very fiber.


But let’s give the pigeon keepers and behavioral scientists what they want. Perhaps we might discover something about ourselves and our fascination with gambling by studying the common pigeon. Maybe we can get to the bottom of this basic question: why do people gamble?


A Look at Kentucky

The first major investigation of pigeons’ maladaptive choice behavior was conducted by Thomas Zentall and Jessica Stagner at the University of Kentucky in 2010 and was titled “Maladaptive choice behavior by pigeons: an animal analog and possible mechanism for gambling.”


Zentall and Stagner were able to observe a pigeon’s behavior and decision-making by conditioning the bird to associate specific visual cues with varying amounts of food rewards. Twenty percent of the time, ten food pellets would be awarded to a pigeon that pecked at a key with vertical lines. There is an 80% possibility that you will receive nothing. A key with horizontal lines on it would reward the bird with three pellets whenever it was pecked at.


After being exposed to the environment for an extended period of time, the pigeons developed an innate knowledge of the significance of each key. Pigeons probably can’t understand that by pressing the horizontal line keys, they’ll get 50% more pellets, but they do understand intuitively that this choice will result in a more consistent and reliable snack.


Six of the eight pigeons, however, persisted in pecking at the vertical line key in the hopes of striking it rich. Like humans, pigeons appear to have what can be called “selective memory.”


“The result suggests that the pigeons gave more weight to winning the jackpot and less weight to losing than optimally they should have,” adds Zentall.


To continue, Zentall explains that this is analogous to the “impulse control disorder” commonly observed in problem and compulsive gamblers. The disappointment of a setback doesn’t register the same way the elation of a triumphant victory does. Thus, it becomes impossible to make a well-rounded judgment in which the benefits and drawbacks are equally considered.


Speculators ask, “Why?”……As promised, here is Part 2!


The following links provide assistance for anyone who suspect they have a gambling addiction or problem:






Fellowship of Ex-Gamblers


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