POTSDAM — Andreas Wilke, assistant professor of psychology, may be on the doorstep of predicting who will be a gambling addict and who will not. The Clarkson professor was featured in a New York Times article late last week for his research on the hot-hand bias phenomenon in both humans and monkeys.
Mr. Wilke first explored the topic in his doctoral work at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, when conducting tests on humans. What he found then was that when his subjects searched for information, they made assumptions about where to find information next. Mr. Wilke said this behavior relates to the habits of humans’ hunter/gatherer ancestors, who when finding food or game assumed more could be found nearby. This is because these resources are naturally found in clumps instead of spread out, Mr. Wilke said.
“True randomness is rare in nature,” he said.
His most recent study went further, exploring the possibility that rhesus monkeys had the same tendency. Mr. Wilke, along with University of Rochester neuroscientist Dr. Benjamin Y. Hayden, conducted tests on rhesus monkeys to explore whether they see streaks like humans do — expecting, for example, that a game of chance will produce a win again after it has just done so.
“As far as I know, our study is the first to investigate the hot-hand phenomenon in non-human animals. I am not aware of any other published studies who do just that,” Mr. Wilke said.
According to New York Times reporter Carl Zimmer, Mr. Wilke and his colleagues found that when the monkeys played a game where streaks were common, “they couldn’t help guessing that a new rectangle would be the same as the previous one.”
However, Dr. H. Clark Barrett of the University of California, Los Angeles, said in Mr. Zimmer’s article that the results of Mr. Wilke’s monkey tests should be replicated to be sure of those conclusions.
So far Mr. Wilke’s tests have not been replicated, and he does not have the resources at Clarkson to perform the tests.
Nonetheless, Mr. Wilke is seeking funding to continue this research into an application phase, to possibly predict someday who might be susceptible to gambling addiction.
He has conducted one study in collaboration with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Gaming Commission that explored the possibility that gamblers have a higher tendency to see streaks than others. The study was funded jointly by grants from the National Center for Responsible Gaming and the T. Urling and Mabel Walker Research Fellowship Program of Northern New York.
“Our recent findings show that habitual gamblers have even stronger hot-hand biases than non-gamblers, which points to the possibility of a potential application. With some luck and more hard work, we may be able to develop novel screening tools to help clinicians determine who might be at risk of developing a gambling disorder,” Mr. Wilke said.
He has applied for more funds to continue studying this topic, but has not yet been given the green light.