Friday, June 11, 2010

Ball 7. Brainy Birds

Are you smarter than the average dove? Want to bet?

In a finding that gives new meaning to the word "birdbrain," researchers in Washington State say pigeons outperform people when it comes to playing a common probability game called the "Monty Hall Dilemma."

Named after the host of the TV game show, Let's Make A Deal, the Monty Hall problem asks contestants to find a prize behind three closed doors. The odds of winning can change as the game progresses, requiring players to think on their feet.

The Washington researchers found that pigeons can be trained to employ the best strategy to win. Humans, they found, aren’t such able students.

Wally Herbranson, who led the research, calls the findings “somewhat surprising” (to everyone, perhaps, but the game show's producers).

“The advantages afforded to us by our large, powerful brains are not absolute,” Herbranson says. “The Monty Hall problem is presumably one of those cases where less is more: our sophisticated cognitive abilities actually trip us up.”

This research appeared in the February issue of the Journal of Comparative Psychology.

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