A new study published in the journal Psychological Review has suggested that the evolutionary link as to the behaviour of man pertaining to gambling has been revealed. Man tends to be ambivalent towards the risk involved in gambling: he loves to gamble in some situations and avoids it in others. Scientists from the University of Bristol believe they have explained this behaviour in terms of evolution.
Dave Mallpress, the lead author of the study, said:
“The fact that our risk preferences are inconsistent seems irrational but, in fact, this may have been a sensible way to behave in the changing, unpredictable environments our ancestors lived in.”
The researchers used a computer model to quantify the effects of risk-taking on the evolutionary success of an animal living in an environment that undergoes constant fluctuations throughout time.
The results showed that the reaction of the animal varies; in some situations, the best thing to do is to take a gamble while in others taking to safer methods is better.
The researchers superimposed these observations onto humans; they believe that humans might treat risk-taking in a similar way.
“When our wealth is increasing quickly we can protect our interests best by not taking risks, whereas when we are in serious financial difficulty, taking risks is essential if we ever want a chance to break free from spiralling debt,” explained Mr Mallpress.
“However, when earnings or debts are more modest, taking risks can give us the opportunity for wealth, and avoiding risks with insurance can keep us from serious problems.”
The strategy described above is known as the fourfold pattern of risk preferences. It is, in fact, a characteristic of the human decision-making process. It has often been considered to be an example of irrationality of behaviour.
The new model might help explain the behaviour in question. Moreover, the effects come from knowing that current conditions usually forecast conditions to happen in the future.