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I’ve got a hot paw! Monkeys love to gamble – and also believe in winning and losing streaks, researchers find


Monkey are keen gamblers who share our belief in winning and losing streaks, researchers have revealed.

Scientists disagree about whether the ‘hot-hand bias’ is a cultural artifact picked up in childhood or a predisposition deeply ingrained in the structure of our cognitive architecture.
The new results suggests that the penchant to see patterns that actually don’t exist may be inherited—an evolutionary adaptation that may have provided our ancestors a selective advantage when foraging for food in the wild, according to lead author Tommy Blanchard, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester.

To measure whether monkeys actually believe in winning streaks, the researchers had to create a computerized game that was so captivating monkeys would want to play for hours.

‘Luckily, monkeys love to gamble,’ said Blanchard.

So the team devised a fast-paced task in which each monkey could choose right or left and receive a reward when they guessed correctly.
The researchers created three types of play, two with clear patterns (the correct answer tended to repeat on one side or to alternate from side to side) and a third in which the lucky pick was completely random.


Where clear patterns existed, the three rhesus monkeys in the study quickly guessed the correct sequence.

But in the random scenarios, the monkeys continued to make choices as if they expected a ‘streak’. In other words, even when rewards were random, the monkeys favored one side.

The monkeys showed the hot-hand bias consistently over weeks of play and an average of 1,244 trials per condition.

‘They had lots and lots of opportunities to get over this bias, to learn and change, and yet they continued to show the same tendency,’ said Blanchard.

The authors believe that the distribution of food in the wild, which is not random, may be the culprit behind the belief.


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