Each pigeon was faced with three lit keys, one of which could be pecked for food. At the first peck, all three keys switched off and after a second, two came back on including the bird’s first choice. The computer, playing the part of Monty Hall, had selected one of the unpecked keys to deactivate. If the pigeon pecked the right key of the remaining two, it earned some grain. On the first day of testing, the pigeons switched on just a third of the trials. But after a month, all six birds switched almost every time, earning virtually the maximum grainy reward.
Then the students:
At first, they were equally likely to switch or stay. By the final trial, they were still only switching on two thirds of the trials. They had edged towards the right strategy but they were a long way from the ideal approach of the pigeons. And by the end of the study, they were showing no signs of further improvement.
There is something to be said about our preconceptions and how biased we can be when looking at data. Pigeons are immune to this.
Despite our best attempts at reasoning, most of us arrive at the wrong answer.
Pigeons, on the other hand, rely on experience to work out probabilities. They have a go, and they choose the strategy that seems to be paying off best.
I’ve written about the Monty Hall Problem here.
P.S. In case you missed the joke, look here.