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Why people (and pigeons) always go for broke

Some people think that if we ignore the presence of ghosts (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show), we're gambling with our lives. Psychologists say that the human logic (or illogic) behind gambling is quite complex, because the concept of odds is too great (and scary?) for many human minds to comprehend. There's also the influence of media coverage, which reports on unusual events, like winning the lottery, as well as the social reinforcement of gambling for pleasure.

Psychologist Thomas Zentall has been working with pigeons for over 35 years, tested their affinity for gambling through pecking at lights for a predetermined numbers of pellets. He says, "It looks like none of these factors are important, because pigeons gamble in the absence of these factors. This suggests that there's a basic behavioral/ biological mechanism that seems to be true of a variety of species."

If the pigeons pecked on the left side, they would receive a green or a red light, and after 10 seconds, the red light yielded ten pellets but the green light yielded nothing. This led to an average of 2 pellets per trial. On the right side, each participating pigeon would receive yellow or blue lights, which both yielded 3 pellets of food per trial. Zentall says, "You'd think that pigeons would choose the right side, but they don't." They choose the left side each time, hoping to receive the 10 pellets, when zero was much more likely.

These results can be easily compared to commercial gambling and lotteries, with pellets representing dollars. "It's more efficient not to gamble, and the likelihood of winning is low, but pigeons do it anyway," Zentall says. "And so do people." What does this have to do with evolution? "If they behave sub-optimally, they would not survive, according to behavioral ecologists," says Zentall. "So, how does this behavior get here in the first place?

"We can understand the basis for gambling, but why has this evolved in people and in animals? In nature, probability isn't constant. Animals are attracted to stimuli that make it easy to predict the availability of food and approaching these stimuli often makes their occurrence more likely. In lab conditions, this isn't the case. In addition, humans remember the wins and not the losses, which has functional value in nature. Animals too, don't remember where they didn't find food, but do remember where they did." Thus, gambling like behavior may have survival value in nature, but not in the casino.

But gamblers like to think they're lucky (NOTE: If you want to listen to all of Anne Strieber's Mysterious Powers shows--including this one-- subscribe today!

NOTE: For a beautiful statement on ghosts and the film "Hereafter," by Dreamland host psychic medium Marla Frees, click here.

Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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