Gambling behavior


Risky decision-making is a broad topic that has links to psychology, economics, and ethology; and it is a topic that touches upon issues of public health, such as pathological gambling. This research project is designed to make comparative assessments of risky choices between human and nonhuman primates by extending an animal model of gambling behavior to verify or challenge the model’s application to human gambling behavior.  The gambling model has demonstrated that animals make more risky choices when they receive cues predictive of reward during a delay separating the choice and the outcome (e.g., like a slot machine teasing a win during a spin).  This model has experimental and face validity, but has not been tested under a wide range of conditions that resemble human gambling.  To evaluate whether this nonhuman animal model of gambling is validly applied to actual human gambling behavior, capuchin monkeys, rhesus monkeys, and human adults will be introduced to a cued-outcome risky-choice procedure to (1) evaluate whether monkeys’ increases in preference for risky choices when reward cues are present reflect motivational processes or biased cognition (where data suggesting motivational factors would better fit a model of gambling), (2) determine whether monkeys’ signal-induced risky decision-making resembles gambling-like behavior across a variety of conditions, (3) evaluate whether human performances are analogous to monkey performances to ensure that the procedures are comparable and to see whether susceptibility to reward cues predicts gambling behavior and impulsive choice in humans. 

Gambling behavior can have devastating effects on human health and wellbeing. Models of such behavior are needed in all areas – behavioral science and neuroscience. Animal models provide a full scientific approach to the problem of understanding why problem gambling occurs. The present application will assess the value of nonhuman primate models of gambling behavior, and importantly it will do so from a framework of well-established conditions that affect human gambling behavior. The direct comparison of monkeys and humans on functionally equivalent games of chance, with the opportunity to directly compare choice behavior in those contexts, offers unique insights into the nature of gambling – when it occurs, and why it occurs.

Selected Related Publications:

Smith, T. R., Beran, M. J., & Young, M. E. (2017). Gambling in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta): The effects of cues signaling risky choice outcomes. Learning & Behavior, 45, 288-299.