Impulsivity affects suboptimal gambling-like choice by pigeons

Abstract

Pigeons prefer a low-probability, high-payoff but suboptimal alternative over a reliable low-payoff optimal alternative (i.e., one that results in more food). This finding is analogous to suboptimal human monetary gambling because in both cases there appears to be an overemphasis of the occurrence of the winning event (a jackpot) and an underemphasis of losing events. In the present research we found that pigeons chose suboptimally to the degree that they were impulsive as indexed by the steeper slope of the hyperbolic delay-discounting function (i.e., the shorter the delay they would accept in a smaller-sooner/larger-later procedure). These correlational findings have implications for the mechanisms underlying suboptimal choice by humans (e.g., problem gamblers) and they suggest that high baseline levels of impulsivity can enhance acquisition of a gambling habit.

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