Birds, Monty Hall, and Nothing to Sneeze At
Are birds smarter than mathematicians? Pigeons (Columba livia) perform optimally on a version of the Monty Hall Dilemma
Walter Herbranson & Julia Schroeder
Journal of Comparative Psychology, February 2010, Pages 1-13
Abstract: The “Monty Hall Dilemma” (MHD) is a well known probability puzzle in which a player tries to guess which of three doors conceals a desirable prize. After an initial choice is made, one of the remaining doors is opened, revealing no prize. The player is then given the option of staying with their initial guess or switching to the other unopened door. Most people opt to stay with their initial guess, despite the fact that switching doubles the probability of winning. A series of experiments investigated whether pigeons (Columba livia), like most humans, would fail to maximize their expected winnings in a version of the MHD. Birds completed multiple trials of a standard MHD, with the three response keys in an operant chamber serving as the three doors and access to mixed grain as the prize. Across experiments, the probability of gaining reinforcement for switching and staying was manipulated, and birds adjusted their probability of switching and staying to approximate the optimal strategy. Replication of the procedure with human participants showed that humans failed to adopt optimal strategies, even with extensive training.
Sneezing in Times of a Flu Pandemic: Public Sneezing Increases Perception of
Unrelated Risks and Shifts Preferences for Federal Spending
Spike Lee, Norbert Schwarz, Danielle Taubman & Mengyuan Hou
Psychological Science, forthcoming
"Exposure to a mundane event (a sneezing person) related to a salient health threat (a flu pandemic) increased the perception of a substantively related risk (contracting a major disease) and shifted policy preferences from other current priorities (green jobs) to the production of flu vaccines. Moreover, the heightened perception of risk generalized to threats that have no substantive relationship with influenza (heart disease and dying from crime or accidents). Such generalization across hazards is assumed to reflect reliance on current feelings in intuitive risk assessment (Johnson & Tversky, 1983; Loewenstein et al., 2001). Debriefing suggested that people have no insight into these processes; they assume that exposure to a sneeze may influence their perception of flu risk, but not their perception of
unrelated risks. Future research may fruitfully address the assumed affective mediation of the observed effects, their persistence over time, and the likely role of media attention to the hazard associated with the event, which was not manipulated in the present studies."
(Nod to Kevin L)
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