herald

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Pigeons enjoy a flutter as they gamble for food

Pigeons feel the urge to gamble just like humans, scientists have learned.

Birds given the chance to play a pigeon "fruit machine" could not resist the lure of the jackpot -- even when the odds were stacked against them.

They appeared to be psychologically hooked in much the same way as humans who buy lottery tickets and visit casinos.

Researchers in the University of Kentucky set up an apparatus to test pigeon gambling tendencies with similarities to human slot machines. The birds were trained to peck on either of two keys that displayed projected vertical or horizontal lines as well as red, yellow, green and blue colours.

Pecking keys produced rewards of food pellets, which varied according to the displays. The "jackpot" prize of 10 pellets was only delivered after a key was pressed that presented a vertical line and a "signal" colour, for instance red.

Vertical lines associated with another colour produced zero pellets. By pecking a vertical line key, pigeons had a 20pc chance of winning 10 pellets but an 80pc chance of getting none.

If a bird pecked a key with a horizontal line, it was guaranteed three pellets whatever colours were presented.

Six of the eight pigeons taking part in the experiment showed a strong desire to keep pecking the vertical line key in the hope of winning the jackpot, the scientists found.

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