Gamble to live, live to gamble

I’ve posited before that humans may be genetically predisposed to gamble because, as hunter-gatherers, those who didn’t take risks starved to death and didn’t pass on their genes–or behaviors–to their offspring. Neuroscience is coming one step closer to proving this theory. From the Financial Times:

In an uncertain world, we are often pulled between sticking with what we know will reap rewards and exploring new options.

Now neuroscientists have discovered which parts of the brain are involved in exploration and which in exploiting the familiar.

By scanning the brains of volunteers as they gambled, Nathaniel Daw and colleagues at University College London found that trying out new things uses the frontopolar cortex and intraparietal sulcus – high-level regions of the brain – whereas falling back on familiar territory involves more primitive regions associated with reward and pleasure.

This brain activity may reflect the fact that exploring new options requires overriding the desire for immediate profit.

“Whether you are a stockbroker, a gambler choosing between slot machines or an animal trying to forage for food, the desire to select what seems the richest option is always balanced against the desire to choose a less familiar option that might turn out to serve better,” said Dr Daw. “This exploration is often critical to survival.”

The UCL researchers studied 14 people while they were playing for money on a range of computerised slot machines.

Players had to balance their desire to select the richest option, based on accumulated experience, against the desire to try another option that might have a bigger payoff.

To find out whether the subjects were using exploit- ative or exploratory gambling strategies, the scientists compared their human behaviour with the decisions made by intelligent robots; functional magnetic resonance imaging showed which brain areas were activated when exploring or exploiting.

The research is published in Nature.

Seek new options and survive

This is great research–hopefully I can get the funding to launch my proposed lecture series on “Gambling and the Emerging Future” and have these researchers come to Las Vegas to talk about the significance of their study. All I need is the funding….

Spread the love