Professor researches gambling



Jill Seelmeyer

Psychology is commonly thought of a as the study of human behavior. However, much can be learned about humans by the study of animals.

Recent research done by UK psychology professor Thomas Zentall suggests that human and animal behavior is more similar than biologists may think.

Zentall’s research, called comparative cognition research, has provided new information on the similarities between animal and human psychology, particularly in areas of self-control and social reinforcement .

Zentall received his Ph.D. in psychology at University of California, Berkley, and has worked at UK since 1975. He has performed research with a variety of animals, but primarily works with pigeons.

Zentall recently performed an experiment that tested whether pigeons have the same tendency to gamble as humans. The experiment provided the pigeons with one choice that ensured they would receive food pellets, while the other choice provided them with only a 20 percent chance that they would be rewarded with a ‘jackpot’ of pellets.

The results of the experiment showed that pigeons choose to gamble, possibly for the same reasons that humans do.

“There’s something at a fundamental level for the attraction to gambling,” Zentall said.

He said results such as these show “some complicated human behavior may not be as complicated as social scientists have said.”

Zentall’s findings are not only interesting, but also serve a practical purpose as well.

“If we can find out how to keep pigeons from gambling, was can possibly figure out how to prevent humans from gambling,” Zentall said.

Zentall plans to perform similar gambling experiments with rats, dogs and humans.

A book edited by Zentall, titled “Comparative Cognition,” was mentioned in an article about animal intelligence in an August issue of Time magazine.

“Zentall is an amazing researcher. said Holly Miller, a psychology graduate student who has worked with Zentall for 5 years. “He’s contributed so much to animal cognition research. It’s a nice thing to see his work recognized.”