A new psychology paper evolution and basic survival techniques adapted by early humans influence the decisions gamblers make when placing bets.
So if current counseling options for problem gamblers don't work, we can blame biology.
The scholars examined how gamblers made decision after they won or lost. They found that gamblers relied on their past experiences to predict what might happen in the future. But in games of chance where the outcome is completely random, this strategy doesn't work.
"If you are tossing a coin and it turns up heads five times in a row, we have this strong feeling that it will turn up tails on the sixth try," explains Jim Lyons, an associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University and lead researcher on the project. "But the chances are still exactly 50-50. The results of our work suggest, perhaps for the first time, that certain aspects of problem gambling behaviour may be related to hard-wired, basic neurobiological factors related to how we direct our attention."
How is using past experience to predict the future evolution? They are claiming it is hard-wired but their two experiments to test their hypothesis don't show it.
In the first, participants were asked to observe two targets being illuminated in random sequence. The researchers then gave them money to bet on which target would be illuminated. Participants maintained the amounts of their bets regardless of whether they won or lost. But in instances where they won, they were more likely to move their bets to the other target for their next wager.
In a second experiment, participants undertook the same test with a partner. Like the first experiment, players maintained the amount of their bets regardless of whether they won or lost. If their partner correctly guessed a target, they were more likely to move on to the next target when their turn came.
Dan Weeks, a psychologist at the University of Lethbridge, says humans have evolved to modify their behavior based on what they experience in the context of their location, which is sure to startle biologists. It could also mean we evolved to like certain car grills and thin presidents who are always in a hurry.
"Humans make rational decisions on a day-to-day basis based on experience. Think about someone picking apples in an orchard. Once the apples from the first tree are picked, it is a rational decision to move on to the next tree," he says.
Again, not evolution or our earliest ancestor would have been a skeleton staring at a depleted plant
"These are also important findings because they suggest that, at least in some cases, these behaviours might be resistant to current behavioural intervention strategies," says co-author Digby Elliott, professor of motor control and behavioural neurosciences at Liverpool John Moores University and professor emeritus at McMaster.
Next, they plan to examine how this sort of behavior may change as we age, since evidence suggests problem gambling can be particularly acute in the elderly. Yes, we are constantly evolving, it seems, even from year to year. Pity the poor evolutionary biologists who are going to have to undo all of this evolutionary psychology research in the coming decades.
Published in Frontiers in Psychology