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Pigeons outdo humans at solving 'Monty Hall' problem

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 Pigeons are better off than humans, when it comes to solving the 'Monty Hall' problem.

The new findings - involving the pigeons superior ability to solve a perplexing statistical problem - might in turn shed light on why humans are bad at solving certain kinds of problems, scientists added.

The so-called Monty Hall problem is a well-known puzzle named after the original host of the game show 'Let's Make A Deal', who presented contestants with three doors, one of which held a prize, the other two only goats.

The prize and the goats were placed randomly behind the doors beforehand, and stayed where they were throughout. After the contestant made a guess, Monty Hall would always open one of the remaining doors that he knew did not contain the prize. The player was then always given the option of staying with their initial guess or switching to the other unopened door.

Most people opted to stay with their initial guess, despite the fact that switching actually doubled the chances of winning.

The fact that people do badly at this problem is true across cultures, including Brazil, China, Sweden and the United States.

In order to explain why humans often fall short of the best strategy with this kind of problem, scientists investigated pigeons.

Pigeons often perform quite impressively on tasks requiring them to estimate relative probabilities, and sometimes even outdo human performance.

Scientists tested six pigeons with an apparatus with three keys. The keys lit up white to show a prize was available. After the birds pecked a key, one of the keys the bird did not choose deactivated, showing it was a wrong choice, and the other two lit up green. The pigeons were rewarded with bird feed if they made the right choice.

In the experiments, the birds quickly reached the best strategy for the Monty Hall problem - going from switching roughly 36 percent of the time on day one to some 96 percent of the time on day 30.

On the other hand, 12 undergraduate student volunteers failed to adopt the best strategy with a similar apparatus, even after 200 trials of practice each.

The scientists propose the curious difference between pigeon and human behaviour might be rooted in the difference between classical and empirical probability.

In classical probability, one tries to figure out every possible outcome and make predictions without collecting data. In empirical probability, one makes predictions after tracking outcomes over time.

Pigeons likely use empirical probability to solve the Monty Hall problem and appear to do so quite successfully.

"Different species often find very different solutions to the same problems. We humans have ways of tackling probability-based problems that generally work pretty well for us, the Monty Hall dilemma being one notable exception. Pigeons apparently have a different approach, one that just happens to be better suited to the Monty Hall dilemma," Live Science quoted Herbranson as saying.

The researchers detailed their findings in the latest issue of the Journal of Comparative Psychology. (ANI)

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