Are we hardwired to believe?
Photo credit: Aiwok 

Empathetic behavior, the notion of justice, and reconciliation signs, once thought to be limited to humans, are also found in other species, especially in primates.

Among these traits we found both in humans and in other species, some, in some circumstances, can play tricks on us and even have dramatic consequences. This is the case of the hot-hand fallacy.

This cognitive bias is the deceptive belief that a person who has experienced success with a random event has a greater chance of winning the next attempts. This fallacy is well known by casinos, but much less by players...

 

Researchers at the University of Rochester had the fun idea to set up for rhesus monkeys a gambling game —which they quickly loved!

They were surprised to discover that the macaques, just like people, seek and establish patterns between sets even when they are totally random!

 

Benjamin Hayden, a co-author of the study, explains why we humans (but also apes) are subject to this bias and seek patterns even when we are surrounded by objectives evidences which clearly show us that we are wrong: "We could have difficulties understanding the meaning of 'aleatory' and 'hazard' because the distribution of food in the wild is not random. If you find a nice juicy beetle on the underside of a log, this is pretty good evidence that there might be a beetle in a similar location nearby, because beetles, like most food sources, tend to live near each other."

His colleague, Tommy Blanchard summarizes:

We often like to think we make decisions based only on the information we’re conscious of. But we’re not always aware of why we make certain decisions or believe certain things. We’re a complex mix of biases and heuristics and statistical reasoning.

This study —and others like it— suggest many of the bias are due to cognitive mechanisms we share with our primate relatives.

Read the study


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