Term of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Name

Master of Science in Experimental Psychology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Kent Bodily

Committee Member 1

Jessica Stagner

Committee Member 2

Lawrence Locker


Going against working assumptions of what is "natural", animals have been observed to "gamble" when choosing between a high-risk choice with a high reward, and a consistent alternative with a low reward that feeds them more over time. The Energy Budget Rule (EBR) claims that animals have a foraging goal they must reach to survive, and each attempt to forage has a cost; under certain conditions, a high risk "gamble" is the best option for survival. The present study attempts to observe human choice behavior in a task that tests EBR and assesses shifts in behavior over time as an increase or decrease in "cost" is introduced. Using a virtual videogame task, participants were randomly assigned to a either a positive or negative budget condition and given 30 opportunities to reach either an obtainable (in positive conditions) or unobtainable (in negative conditions) goal by choosing between a low-risk option with a consistent reward, or a high-risk alternative with an infrequent high reward. Participants experiencing a positive budget condition were expected to be risk averse. Participants experiencing a negative budget were expected to be risk prone. Cost was manipulated mid-game for the participants. The results of the study conflicted with the predictions of EBR. Participants experiencing a positive budget chose the high-risk option more often than participants experiencing a negative budget. The results showed that all participants quickly learned that it was advantageous to choose the low risk option. The results reveal the role of situational factors on human gambling behavior.

OCLC Number


Research Data and Supplementary Material