Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gambling In Animals

Jack Dikian
December 2010

A few days ago while chatting with a friend about animal behaviors - the thought occurred to me whether animals can behave in ways that resemble gambling as we know it.

Personality, certain predispositions, neural and neuro-chemical basis for gambling (and even that gambling is a form of deviant behavior) has been postulated as has a range of psychoanalytical theories. Pathological gambling is characterized by persistent, maladaptive gambling behavior, which disrupts personal and professional life.

On the other hand, some even (perhaps unreasonably) rationalize that gaming is no different to those many that undertake risky behaviors as part and parcel of their professional occupation - Making speculations about the economy, and in taking calculated risks with investments and so on.

In wondering about the propensity of gambling behaviors in animals, the deeply seated psychological perspectives such as those that suggest "true" gamblers want to lose all their money so that they can reach a state of nothingness and despair –That is they have a desire to actually lose their money, so as to be punished for unresolved tensions and internal conflicts in their lives.

So could perhaps neural and neuro-chemical basis for gambling be modelled by animals. It turns out that rats have been used to undertake experiments in gambling scenarios.

In one experiment Rats choose among four different options to earn as many sugar pellets as possible within a period of time. Each option is associated with the delivery of a different amount of reward, but also with a different probability and duration of punishing time-out periods during which reward cannot be earned.

The schedules are designed such that persistent choice of options linked with larger rewards result in fewer pellets earned per unit time. Rats learn to avoid these risky options to maximize their earnings, comparable with the optimal strategy.

In this case, the levels of Serotonergic and Dopaminergic agents was showen to impair and/or improve gambling performance in Rats.

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