Why do some individuals like gambling a lot?

0
70

Why do some people like gambling so much? What is the evolutionary root of this behaviour?

Hillary Shaw, Newport, Shropshire, UK

Observing bird behaviour at our garden feeding tray, it seems it may benefit animal communities to have a mix of risk-averse individuals, who will tend to dislike gambling, and risk lovers, who enjoy the thrill of gambling and, importantly, covet the potential gains and tolerate the losses.

Advertisement

When the bird seed is out, robins quickly arrive. Birds that are more timid wait several minutes in case there is a trap or a bird of prey. The robins’ safe eating reassures the timid birds. If all were bold, the toll from predators could be higher. If all were timid, less food could be eaten.

In human communities, it benefits everyone if some daring individuals risk injury to access a resource. Either just a daring few will get killed or the timid will see it is safe to access. These mixed communities can collectively access more resources.

Martin Jenkins, London, UK

“No convincing evolutionary explanation has ever been put forward to explain human stupidity”

This question assumes that all human behaviours must have an evolutionary root. Some don’t.

Some of our behaviours are based on our ability to make rational decisions, and others, like gambling, on the opposite. The gambler believes that because a bet occasionally gives a large return on investment, they can regularly achieve the same result.

This is an exciting prospect, but, as Samuel Johnson said, it is “the triumph of hope over experience”, or, in other words, human stupidity, for which no convincing evolutionary explanation has ever been put forward.

The only people who really like gambling are bookmakers, because the odds are in their favour.

To answer this question – or ask a new one – email [email protected]

Questions should be scientific enquiries about everyday phenomena, and both questions and answers should be concise. We reserve the right to edit items for clarity and style. Please include a postal address, daytime telephone number and email address.

New Scientist Ltd retains total editorial control over the published content and reserves all rights to reuse question and answer material that has been submitted by readers in any medium or in any format.

You can also submit answers by post to: The Last Word, New Scientist, 25 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ES.

Terms and conditions apply.