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WCALB | Keynote



An Animal Model of Human Gambling Behavior


Tom Zentall

Universityof Kentucky


Abstract--Humans buying lottery tickets are engaging in an activity that generally leads to losing money. Although animals are purported to engage in optimal foraging behavior and should be sensitive to the overall probability or amount of reinforcement, they can exhibit similar suboptimal behavior. This appears to result from the strong conditioned reinforcement associated with a stimulus always followed by reinforcement but little conditioned inhibition associated with the absence of reinforcement. Similarly, human gamblers tend to overvalue wins and undervalue losses. Other parallels to human gambling behavior have been found with pigeons.  Pigeons on a less restricted diet show a reduced tendency to choose suboptimally, as do pigeons with enriched social experience. 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 that may encourage human gambling.



Thomas Zentall is DiSilvestro Professor of Arts and Sciences at the University of Kentucky, Fellow in the Society of Experimental Psychologists and was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at Université de Lille, France. Dr. Zentall received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. He has served as President of the Midwestern Psychological Association, Eastern Psychological Association, Comparative Cognition Society as well as Governing Board Chair of the Psychonomic Society.