4 Interesting Things Science Tells Us About Animals That Gamble

Can you teach a rat to gamble? Would you beat a pigeon in a bet? Discover all there is to know about animals that gamble. 

Here, we take a look at some interesting science about the gambling preferences of different animals. I think you’ll be surprised by some of the things you learn.

1: You can’t beat a pigeon at the Monty Hall Problem.

The Monty Hall Problem is a weird gambling puzzle. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense to most humans. Here it is:

The Monty Hall Problem

  • There are 3 doors (A, B, & C).
  • Behind 1 door is a prize
  • Behind 2 doors is nothing
  • The game is to pick the door with the prize

 

Easy enough to understand.

  • Now pick a door that you hope has the prize (say you pick door A)
  • The game show host opens either door B or door C at random
  • He picked door B and, “Oh no! NO PRIZE!”

 

Now here’s the actual game:

  • The host will open a second door and you will win the prize if it’s there.
  • You are allowed to swap doors if you want.

 

What would you do? Stick with door A or swap to door C. Here’s a brief intermission while you decide what to do:

 

Most people believe that it makes no difference if you switch doors.

They WRONGLY ASSUME THE ODDS ARE 50/50.

If you stick with door A, you have a 33% chance of winning.

If you swap to door C, you have a 66% chance of winning.

It sounds all kinds of wrong, but it’s because you started the bet with 3 doors. Each had a 33% chance of winning or losing. That doesn’t change just because you opened one of the doors. Your door still has a 1 in 3 chance of winning.

However, because we don’t know if door C has a prize behind it. That means it has a 2 in 3 chance of having the prize.

Look, I’ll level with you: it IS confusing, but it doesn’t matter, because the odds of winning if you swap doors is 66%. If you stick, they drop to 33%.

And if you don’t believe me, play the game here and watch the statistics change as you keep clicking on the same door.

Pigeons are better than us at the Monty Hall gamble

Yes, scientists have discovered that pigeons understand the Monty Hall problem intuitively. They’ll swap doors for the better odds of winning.

Humans usually stick with their choice. The only exception is young kids – they’re more likely to swap doors when compared with adults, but don’t swap as often as pigeons do.

Freaky.

2: You can teach a rat to gamble

If you have a pet rat, you can teach it to gamble! I know some of you will read that and wonder who the heck keeps rats as pets, but people do. It passed through my friend group as a phase when we were teenagers and some of them have bought rats for their kids now.

Anyway, if you happen to have a pet rat, you can teach it to gamble as these scientists did. But do be careful not to harm any rats in the process – we do not endorse anything like that here.

Also, is it ethical to teach a rat to gamble? What if they develop a gambling problem?

Don’t worry.

You can get help for your ratters that develop gambling problems. You’ll have to take them to the University of British Columbia, though, where they managed to reduce behaviour associated with problem gambling in rats.

3: Apes calculate odds the same way apes (humans) do.

Technically, humans are a great ape, so you already know that apes can calculate odds, but did you know that other apes – besides humans – can also use odds to make calculated decisions?

Not only that, but they do it in similar ways to humans. Those of you who are up-to-date with animal sentience probably aren’t too surprised by this discovery, but I think it’s interesting.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute studied four great ape species (Bonobos, Gorillas, Chimpanzees and Orangutans). They found that all four species weighed safety and risk against the odds of receiving a reward.

They were given the choice of betting on a “safe bet” for a small bit of banana or gambling on a “riskier bet” for a larger bit of fruit. The odds of winning the risky bet became worse throughout the experiment.

When the odds of winning were higher, they were more likely to make risky bets. As the odds of winning reduced, they were less likely to make risky bets.

In other words, they became more cautious as the odds got worse.

Just like us!

For reasons unknown, Chimpanzees and Orangutans are bigger risk-takers than Bonobos and Gorillas. The former two would take riskier bets than the latter two.

4. Wolves are bigger gamblers than dogs are.

Is it because dogs are domesticated and wolves are still feral? Who knows. All I know is that when it comes to gambling, wolves take more risks than dogs do.

Scientists found that when given the ability to gamble away a food pellet (boring and untasty – or ‘unpelletable’ boom boom) for a 50/50 chance of winning either a stone (inedible) or a nice tasty steak (yum), wolves were much more likely than dogs were to gamble away the pellet.

 

A picture of an extremely cute labrador with floppy ears and his paws up near his face looking over a wall or fence - you can only see his/her face and front paws. It's to represent animals that gamble. There's no gambling involved. It's just incredibly cute.