Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


38th Annual Convention; Seattle, WA; 2012

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #294
CE Offered: None

A Pigeon Model of Human Gambling Behavior

Monday, May 28, 2012
9:00 AM–9:50 AM
6BC (Convention Center)
Domain: Basic Research
CE Instructor: Raymond C. Pitts, Ph.D.
Chair: Raymond C. Pitts (University of North Carolina, Wilmington)
THOMAS ZENTALL (University of Kentucky)
Thomas R. Zentall is DiSilvestro Professor of Arts and Sciences in Psychology. He was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at the Université de Lille, France, and was a Visiting Professor at the Universidad de Sevilla, Spain, and Keio University, Tokyo, Japan. Dr. Zentall received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He is currently Associate Editor of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and has served on the Executive Committee of Division 25 (The Analysis of Behavior) of the American Psychological Association. He has also served as President of Midwestern Psychological Association, President of Divisions 3 (Experimental Psychology) and 6 (Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology) of the American Psychological Association, Chair of the Governing Board of the Psychonomic Society, and President of the Comparative Cognition Society. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Eastern Psychological Association, and in 2010 he gave the Fred Keller Distinguished Lecture at EPA. Dr. Zentall has published research in concept learning, social learning, timing, memory, and choice behavior in humans, pigeons and dogs. Much of his recent research has focused on paradoxical human behavior such as cognitive dissonance and sub-optimal gambling and their explanation in simpler behavioral terms.

When humans engage in organized gambling, they are generally choosing sub-optimally. That is, losses are almost always greater than gains. We have developed a model of sub-optimal gambling in which animals prefer an occasional signalled high payoff (10 pellets 20% of the time; 2 pellets on average) rather then a reliable alternative with a signal for a lower payoff (3 pellets 100% of the time). This effect appears to result from the strong conditioned reinforcement associated with the stimulus that is followed by a high payoff. Surprisingly, although it is experienced four times as much, the stimulus that is never followed by reinforcement does not appear to result in significant conditioned inhibition. Similarly, human gamblers tend to overvalue wins and undervalue losses. We have also found that pigeons gamble less when food is less restricted (rich people gamble less than poor people) and they also gamble less when they have been exposed to an enriched environment rather than being kept in an individual cage (for humans, gambling is said to be a form of entertainment). This animal model may provide a useful analog to human gambling behavior, one that is free from the influence of human culture, language, social reinforcement, and other experiential biases.

Keyword(s): conditioned reinforcement, gambling, pigeons



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