Experiments with monkeys and gambling can offer some interesting insights. Just like us, they appear to have certain biases and take some risks. They will behave in a way that’s usually beneficial to them, even if it doesn’t offer the same result. It’s not only humans that believe a “streak of luck” will continue or that a run of luck has to end.
Humans believe in a ‘hot hand’ or lucky streak
If you win at a gambling game, your chances of winning again don’t increase or decrease – they remain the same. However, something in human beings resists this fact. When gambling at an online casino, they believe that their streak of luck will continue. When you toss a coin, and you toss five heads in a row, this still means you have a fifty-fifty chance of tossing another head. The same applies to gambling games like roulette.
Monkeys show similar behavior
An experiment at the University of Rochester in New York State showed that monkeys appeared to have the same belief in a ‘hot hand’ or lucky streak as humans. Three monkeys had to control a computer display with their eye movements. They made choices by gazing to the right or to the left. They only had two options, one of which resulted in a reward. When the correct option was random, they still tended to select a previously winning option.
The Gambler’s Fallacy
What is known as the gambler’s fallacy is the opposite. It’s the belief that a run of luck has to end. In 1913, this belief became notorious in a Monte Carlo Casino. When the ball fell on black 26 times in a row, gamblers bet on red and lost millions when it continued to do so.
The psychology of gambling shows that when some people start to lose, they chase their losses. They should rather take a break because they tend to make bad decisions when they are anxious or stressed.
This behavior may not be irrational
What’s really interesting about the experiment is that monkeys’ actions are based on instinct and not knowledge about probabilities. Researchers argue that what’s happening is they realize it is usually beneficial to behave like this. As humans, we shouldn’t be so quick to consider such behavior as irrational.
When monkeys find a ripe banana, it may be a chance event, but it’s also likely that finding one banana on a tree means they will find more. The belief in a ‘hot hand’ may make you bet wrong and lose money. However, thinking that luck comes in a streak may be more useful than harmful in the long run.
Clues about why we take risks
Monkeys think about thinking just like human beings. Experiments show that they can reflect on their own thoughts. This is why experiments with monkeys relating to gambling can provide us with some clues about humans. Humans take risks, and monkeys do too. They will routinely opt to gamble for more food or water than settle for less.